Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Tigray and the Eritrean Refugees

 The United Nations has sounded the alarm over the severe effect of food shortages on the thousands of Eritrean refugees sheltering in camps in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, requesting “urgent access” to be able to deliver badly needed aid.

Communications and transport links to Tigray have been severed, and the UN and humanitarian agencies have pleaded for access to provide food, medicines and other supplies in the camps that sheltered nearly 100,000 Eritreans before the hostilities began.

“We, as humanitarians, have lost access and contact with the refugees since the last month that this fighting has been ongoing, and now there are worrying reports of attacks, of abductions and also of recruitments in and around these refugee camps,” UN refugee agency spokesman Babar Baloch told Al Jazeera“The camps will have now run out of food supplies – making hunger and malnutrition a real danger, a warning we have been issuing since the conflict began nearly a month ago.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, and he has rejected the idea of dialogue with the TPLF rebel leadership.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Will Biden Benefit Africa

 Democrat and Republican presidents have approached Africa primarily for access to, and control of extractive industries and for counter-terrorism operations. This approach, under the influence of the cold war, translated into the US supporting Africa’s strongmen.

The most prominent of these strongmen, including but not limited to Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema, in power since 1979; Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, head of state since 1986; Djibouti’s Ismail Omar Guelleh, in post since 1999; Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, ruling since 1994, and Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki, in power since 1993 have been responsible for more than 22 million deaths on the continent since independence in 1960. That is almost twice as many people forcibly transported from Africa during the transatlantic slave trade. Yet it seems no US president has found this troubling. The bloodiest killing field has been the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where brutal US-backed strongmen killed more than 5.4 million Congolese people over access and control of minerals between 1998 and 2008, and sparked outbreaks of disease, famine and the use of rape as a weapon of war.

Obama delivered almost nothing meaningful; not because of a Russian or Chinese veto at the UN security council but because in the first few years of his presidency some in his team sought to protect people such as Joseph Kabila, former president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose security forces were linked to killings and torture, and Paul Kagame, whose tight grip on the Rwanda presidency has earned him the tag of “benevolent dictator”. The result? Tragic. During the Obama presidency, 11 African strongmen clung to power, killing thousands of their citizens and displacing millions more. Yet almost not a single one of them faced a serious tit-for-tat consequences from the US – and this has been a colossal disaster for democratic forces across the continent.

The result? Tragic. During the Obama presidency, 11 African strongmen clung to power, killing thousands of their citizens and displacing millions more. Yet almost not a single one of them faced a serious tit-for-tat consequences from the US – and this has been a colossal disaster for democratic forces across the continent.

 Will the Biden-Harris administration end the US’s longstanding but shortsighted and destructive support for Africa’s strongmen? How may President Biden respond to #EndSars, a movement against police brutality in Nigeria, or #CongoIsBleeding, a campaign against exploitation in the mines of the DRC? What will he do to de-escalate growing tensions inside Ethiopia or in Eritrea.

Many are wondering whether or not Biden will refocus US policy and push for peace in Somalia, Libya, Cameroon or Mozambique? Will he support the creation of an international criminal tribunal for Congo to end the continuing killings and use of rape as a weapon of war and, simultaneously, jump-start development in Africa’s great lakes – a region that seems pitifully prone to strongmen and mass killing?

Answers to these questions are unclear. 

Obama didn’t deliver for Africa. Can Biden show black lives matter everywhere? | Global development | The Guardian

Monday, November 30, 2020

Gabon's Oil Woes

In Gabon, the petrol sector is the largest contributor to GDP, representing upwards of 20% of revenue, according to the World Bank. Most of the country’s petrol reserves – estimated at about two billion barrels – are concentrated in the area south of Port Gentil. A string of different oil companies have operated in the region since 1956. Total was the first company to drill and extract petrol in the area, before selling to Perenco in 2018. Perenco, which has an important presence across the African continent, is the primary producer of crude oil in Gabon and the second largest French oil company after Total.The structures on these sites are old and haven’t been properly maintained. The ocean, the land, the forests and the lakes in the area have all become increasingly polluted over the past three or four years. Sometimes you find petrol, its derivatives or acid in the lakes, sometimes you find it in the middle of the forest. 

 Residents of Étimboué in western Gabon have faced multiple oil spills over the past two years. This is ancestral land. People have been living here since well before independence in 1960. Some people have left because of the pollution but most people want to stay. They think that Perenco is letting the situation get worse in order to push them to leave. Exhausted and angry, they are speaking out against Perenco, an independent Anglo-French oil company with headquarters in Paris and London, which is currently extracting petrol from about fifty different oil fields in the area. Locals report that Perenco’s equipment is poorly maintained and out of date, likely causing the spills. This contamination has had wide-ranging effects on the local population, including health problems, water pollution, poisoned crops and fish. They haven’t carried out the clean-up operations properly and aren’t planning on paying out any damages to residents affected by the spills.

A group of locals first spoke out in October 2020 about the growing problem with pollution in the region. They pointed the finger at Perenco, which extracts 95,000 barrels per day in this area alone. The old pipelines, which were installed about 40 years ago, are constantly developing holes. Some of the pipelines are under water, others are underground. Some are even above ground. There are also very old oil wells, which are in poor condition, and they leak and cause spills as well. 

They use lake water for washing and cooking but it is polluted both upstream and downstream from the village, which means they can’t drink it. There are also all of the industrial plants that emit gas. There is one plant near the bridge, north of Lake Nkomi where they have flare stacks, which are used to burn off flammable gas. The process, called gas flaring, creates a lot of pollution. It is a means of getting rid of the gas that is extracted alongside the petrol. That pollutes the air, which then negatively affects health and the environment. Also noticed more and more respiratory problems among  younger children, especially asthma. 

George Mpaga, coordinator of an organisation called ROLBG, a French acronym meaning Free Network of Organisations for the Good Governance of Gabon, says that he is also worried about the effects of the pollution on the animals who live in the area, including antelopes, crocodiles and turtles. He is also worried for the fishermen, whose hauls are diminishing. 

Officials tend to just close their eyes to the problem. So do many of the national media outlets. There are only a few independent websites that have published the testimonies and complaints of locals living in this area. Perenco is often described in the media as an opaque organisation with close ties to the Gabonese government. Perenco doesn’t disclose its annual revenues or its internal governance structure. It has also been mentioned in several investigations by independent media outlets into matters of corruption.

Gabonese citizens raise the alarm over oil spills by French company Perenco (

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Zimbabwe Miners Dead

 Dozens are feared dead and others still trapped underground after an abandoned goldmine collapsed in Zimbabwe According to officials, nearly 30 miners remain unaccounted for Six miners have been rescued. Support pit props had apparently been damaged by blasting.

The mine collapse comes weeks after six miners died in Esigodini, southern Zimbabwe, while five others died in Chegutu when mines collapsed. Last year 24 miners died at Battlefields, Kadoma, 125km from Harare, when the shaft they were working was flooded following heavy rains.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Children pay the costs for chocolate

  Child labor remains a problem in cocoa farming. For years, the chocolate industry has promised to end the practice, but a new study shows it has actually increased. Despite decades of promises, success is still a long way off, as a new study by the NORC research institute at the University of Chicago shows.

 20 years ago, major chocolate manufactures like Mars and Nestle have promised to end the worst forms of child labor. They even set themselves clear goals and deadlines by signing the Harkin-Engel Protocol in 2001.

When the targets were missed, they were repeatedly postponed and adjusted. "In 2005, the deadline was extended to 2008, and then in 2008 to 2010," said Johannes Schorling from Inkota, a development policy network based in Berlin.

In 2010, a revised target was announced to reduce child labor by 70% come 2020. "That hasn't happened either, on the contrary child labor has actually increased over the last 10 years," Schorling told DW. According to the NORC study, the use of child labor is now at 45%, an increase of 14% points. Given the goal of a 70% reduction, such an increase might well be termed a complete failure.

1.6 million children in the two largest cocoa-growing countries, Ivory Coast and Ghana, work in cocoa farming, the study reports. Together the two nations produce around two-thirds of the world's cocoa beans.

On every second cocoa farm there, children as young as five have to pitch in instead of going to school because their parents are too poor to hire farm hands. Children are even used for more dangerous work, such as weeding or harvesting with machetes.

A big problem for farmers is the low price cocoa fetches on world markets. In recent years, a ton of cocoa beans brought in just over $2,000 (€1,680), only half of the price it fetched in the 1970s. The farmers must therefore be more productive. Market forces alone seem unable to ensure that farmers can actually secure a livelihood. It takes years for cocoa trees to produce good yields, so farmers cannot just grow something else when prices fall.

Farmers receive only a tiny fraction of what customers pay for a bar of chocolate. Most of the money goes to the chocolate companies and retail chains, which are mostly based in the US and Europe, and increasingly in Asia. Cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast earned only $0.78 a day on average, according to a study by Fairtrade, an NGO, compared with a living wage of $2.51.

Cocoa farming, cheap chocolate and child labor | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 26.11.2020

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Africa Needs To Be Powered By The Sun

  Access to electricity has fallen for the first time in seven years in sub-Saharan AfricaAn increase of 13 million people across sub-Saharan African countries did not have electricity this year, bringing the total figure to about 600 million people.

This means that fewer people have been able to access air-conditioning across countries where “it is getting hotter”, Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, explained. “Air con is a key issue. Look, for example, to Japan. Nine out of 10 households have air con. In the United States, again, almost every household has air con. But when it comes to sub-Saharan Africa, it is one out of 20 households that have air con.”

Growing populations across sub-Saharan Africa are suffering from increasing extreme heat as the climate crisis worsens. The African continent has so far warmed at a faster rate than the global average. This is leading to an increase in deadly heatwaves.

More development of solar power across sub-Saharan African countries will be key to boosting access to electricity, according to Dr Birol.

“Sub-Saharan Africa has the richest potential for solar energy,” he said. “It gets back about 40 per cent of the world’s solar radiation and yet houses less than 1 per cent of solar electricity.” 

The amount of solar electricity generated across the whole of sub-Saharan Africa is currently around three times smaller than the amount in the UK, which receives a fraction of the sunshine.

Dr Birol said: “It is the cheapest source of electricity generation in sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world. I can see that solar power could well become the continent’s top electricity source..." Dr Birol said: “I don’t expect coal to play a key role in Africa’s energy future. Solar is the king of the global electricity markets, and soon it will be king of the African electricity sector.”

Electricity access is declining in sub-Saharan Africa but solar offers a way forward, says IEA chief | The Independent

Zambia Defaults on Debt Re-payment

 Zambia missed a $42.5m (£32m) coupon payment on its bonds in October and then missing another payment on 14 November meant it has become the first African country to default on its debts since the pandemic, leading to fears that a “debt tsunami” could engulf the continent’s most heavily indebted nations as the financial impact of coronavirus hits.

Zambia’s finance minister, Bwalya Ng’andu, blamed the banks and asset and fund managers who wanted to see more transparency over an estimated $3bn debt to China, but who refused to sign the necessary confidentiality agreements, he said.

 “The position of the Chinese banks is: ‘You’re not going to give anybody any information without the confidentiality agreements in place’.”

Even before the pandemic, Zambia was due to pay $1.7bn to service its debts this year – equating to more than 8% of the country’s GDP for 2020. But coronavirus plays a key role in the recent default. As financiers negotiate with finance ministers over repayment terms, the virus is depleting Zambia’s already fragile healthcare resources. So far Zambia has recorded almost 18,000 cases of the virus.

“It is simply immoral for bondholders to demand full repayment and to make huge profits on Zambia’s debt while the country struggles with Covid-19, a major economic crisis and spiralling poverty levels,” said Sarah-Jayne Clifton, director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which estimated that some financial institutions will make a 250% profit on their Zambian bonds.

“At a time when hospitals and healthcare systems are buckling under the strain of Covid-19, it is perverse that poor countries are having to pay $3bn a month in debt repayments to rich banks, investment funds or the World Bank, while their populations fall further into poverty and destitution,” said Chema Vera, Oxfam International’s interim executive director. “Debt needs to be cancelled, postponing it is futile.”

If Zambia has had to default, they could too. “Ghana looks very risky to me,” said Tim Jones, head of policy at the Jubilee Debt Campaign. He said Angola, Chad and Congo-Brazzaville were also at risk.

 The Institute of International Finance warned of a “debt tsunami” as global indebtedness topped $277tn in the third quarter of this year. In emerging markets, which are more likely to default, debt has risen by more than a quarter.

Zambia's default fuels fears of African 'debt tsunami' as Covid impact bites | Global development | The Guardian

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Ethiopia's Civil War

 Confidential UN papers warn that, despite talk of success, the Ethiopian army faces heavy resistance and regional stability is at risk. Ethiopian government forces are meeting heavy resistance and face a protracted “war of attrition” in the northern region of Tigray.

The UN assessment, interviews and other international aid organisation analyses all suggest any expectation of a rapid and decisive victory is optimistic, and that resistance is likely to stiffen as Tigray troops fall back into mountains east of Mekelle.

Information has been difficult to obtain and confirm with communications cut to Tigray and journalists banned. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people have been killed so far and many more have been displaced. More than 36,000 have fled into neighbouring Sudan, and large numbers are on the move within Tigray to avoid the fighting.

“Although Tigray regional forces may have initially been backfooted by the EDF’s swift advances, the terrain in eastern Tigray is easier to defend… and if they make a stand, they have the capability to stall the EDF advance,” one analysis reads, warning that this will then “change the dimension of the conflict from one of rapid movement into one of attrition”.

“After the EDF have reportedly ‘taken’ key towns such as Humera, Dansha, Shiraro, Alamata and Shire, and then pushed on with their advance, fighting has continued to be reported, or has subsequently erupted again in these locations,” one reliable account said. Well-trained and heavily armed frontline units from the Ethiopian army bypassing main towns to avoid costly urban fighting as they hurry towards Mekelle. But the militia and paramilitaries deployed in their wake are neither as well-equipped nor as disciplined and so are vulnerable to counter-attack.  If Ethiopian forces continue to advance, their supply lines and rear areas will become more vulnerable to guerilla attacks and casualties will mount.

The reports depict a complex and dynamic conflict across much of Tigray, with major clashes in the west of the region – as Ethiopian forces sought to advance towards the strategic town of Humera – and in the south-west, along the main road to Mekelle. Heavy fighting has also been reported around the town of Alamata, six miles from the border with neighbouring Amhara province which is fiercely loyal to the central government. Ethiopian planes have launched air strikes, and Tigrayans have fired missiles into Amhara and Eritrea, which has supported the offensive to remove the TPLF. At least one massacre has been reported: it has been blamed on retreating Tigrayan militia targeting a community seen as loyal to the central government, but there is no confirmation of this.

“Even if the EDF are successful in their mission to take Mekelle,” the UN assessment warns, “this will not necessarily end the conflict. It is likely that a protracted asymmetric conflict and insurgency would continue. From a humanitarian perspective, the longer the conflict is drawn out, the more severe the crisis will become.”

UN report deepens fears that Ethiopia Tigray conflict could be long and brutal | World news | The Guardian

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Girls in Africa

 Girls in Africa are being “condemned to a lifetime of discrimination and inequality” due to government failures. Africa is home to 308 million girls aged under 18. Yet, in many countries, only one in five girls has access to secondary school. One third of primary schools and a quarter of all secondary schools have no sanitation facilities. Sexual harassment and emotional abuse against girls by both teachers and peers is commonplace, forcing many girls to drop out of school entirely, according to the report. 

 The advocacy group African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) found they were routinely denied education; made to marry too young; endured sexual, physical and emotional abuse at home, work and school; were excluded from healthcare; and were unable to own or inherit property.

Although “significant strides” have been made over the past 30 years for girls, including improved access to schooling as well as better protection from exploitation, FGM and child marriage, the report from the pan-African group underlined that “these efforts are simply not enough”.

“African girls have endured harmful cultural beliefs, patriarchal gender attitudes and discriminatory laws, policies and practices for far too long,” said ACPF executive director Joan Nyanyuki. “Despite slow progress in some areas, girls across the continent continue to wake up to the daily reality of injustice. An entire generation of girls and young women is being failed.” 

High rates of child marriage and malnutrition, and very low levels of school enrolment made Chad and South Sudan the worst places in Africa to be born a girl, the report found. South Sudan and Chad are joined by Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, Central African Republic and Comoros at the bottom.In contrast, Mauritius was the best, being among the countries to have reformed their laws on girls’ rights, and harmonised them with international standards. The island nation has the highest rate of pre-primary education and all pregnant teenagers have access to antenatal care, the report found. Following Mauritius, the most girl-friendly countries in Africa are Tunisia, South Africa, Seychelles, Algeria, Cabo Verde and Namibia.

“Girls in Africa today are respected and valued far less than boys, and are denied the same life chances. Inequality and discrimination remains the norm. This has to change, and change now.”

African governments failing girls on equality, report finds | Global development | The Guardian

Friday, November 20, 2020

Zimbabwe's Sex Trade and the Pandemic

 When the first COVID-19 case was detected in March, Zimbabwe rapidly went into lockdown. The lockdown, followed by a curfew in July, forced traders off the streets, while the closure of Zimbabwe's borders for all non-essential travel cut off a lifeline for 1 million informal cross-border traders, said economist Victor Bhoroma. 6 million Zimbabweans who work in small businesses and informal trade were severely affected. The lockdowns in the tourism and hospitality sector, transport, aviation and leisure services, manufacturing, fast food and retailing and sports have resulted in massive layoffs.  

The southern African nation is experiencing its worst economic crisis in a decade, with crippling hyperinflation, unemployment, strikes by public workers and shortages of food, medicine and foreign currency. Zimbabweans say life is difficult, with inflation above 700%, rocketing prices for basic goods, electricity and petrol, and lagging salaries - prompting teachers to refuse to return to work without a pay rise last month.

Sex workers and charities providing them with health care services said the number of women selling sex has increased, particularly young girls facing hunger at home.

"We have a lot of cases coming to us of girls who were now engaged in transactional sex because of the increase in the household poverty," said Beatrice Savadye, director of Roots Africa, a local charity supporting young people.

"Hunger drives us into sex trade," said Hazel Zemura, who has sold sex for a decade and works for Women Against All Forms of Discrimination, which runs health programmes for sex workers. "As our incomes, like the cross border trading - the importation of weaves and makeup kits from China for resale - got eroded during the lockdown, we had to turn to men for survival."

 Coronavirus restrictions have made sex work riskier as women have been unable to get free condoms from their usual clinics and illegal brothels in residential areas and downtown nightclubs have closed. The closure of brothels has pushed sex workers into riskier places, like secluded fields and deserted buildings, said Charmaine Dube, programme coordinator for the sex worker rights group Pow Wow in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Russian Eyes Are On Africa

  Putin approved the creation of a Russian naval facility in Sudan capable of mooring nuclear-powered surface vessels, clearing the way for Moscow’s first substantial military foothold in Africa since the Soviet fall. 

“Our base in Sudan will be another argument for others to hear us and take heed,” said an opinion piece in TASS about the new facility.

The new facility, earmarked to be built in the vicinity of Port Sudan, will be capable of accommodating up to 300 military and civilian personnel and improve Russia’s ability to operate in the Indian Ocean, expanding its influence in Africa.  The hub would be used for repair and resupply operations and as a place where Russian naval personnel could take rest, it said.  The new facility will make it easier for the Russian Navy to operate in the Indian Ocean by being able to fly in replacement crews for its long-range ships.

The land for the base will be supplied for free by Sudan and Moscow would get the right to bring in any weapons, ammunition and other equipment it needs through Sudan’s airports and ports to support the new facility.

Moscow is keen to increase its influence in Africa, a continent with sprawling mineral wealth, and potentially lucrative markets for Russian-manufactured weapons. It is jockeying for influence and a military foothold in Africa with other nations, including China.

It has also forecast that Russia will fortify its new African outpost with advanced surface-to-air missile systems, allowing it to create a no-fly zone for miles around. 

Djibouti is home to Chinese, U.S. and French naval bases, while other navies often use its port.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Africa's Debt Problem Returns

 It is predicted that African countries will pay out more than $10bn to creditors this year and next year alone. 

More than half will go to City asset management firms, like BlackRock, which employs former UK chancellor George Osborne on £650,000 a year, and Fidelity Investments.  BlackRock, which is said to hold more than $1bn of African sovereign bonds,

Zambia, which like many African countries is spending more repaying debt than it is on health and primary education, looks set to become the first African country to default on its debts to bondholders since the pandemic began.

According to Save the Children, a failure to tackle the debt crisis will see child poverty numbers rise from 307 million to 354 million in the poorest countries covered by the initiative. It warns that millions more children will go unvaccinated, while untreated killer diseases, such as pneumonia, malaria and diarrhoea, could reverse gains in child mortality built up over the last two decades. 

 Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children, said, “Money that should be going into health clinics, nutrition programmes and schools is being siphoned off to repay unpayable debts to commercial creditors and China. To speak plainly, this is a violation of child rights.”

Prosperity Preacher Absconds


Millionaire preacher Shepherd Bushiri, out on bail in South Africa has fled to his native Malawi. He was arrested for fraud and money laundering in October in a multimillion-dollar case but got bail on November.

The self-proclaimed prophet is known for his “miracles” and wildly extravagant lifestyle and has made huge investments in the mining, telecommunications and luxury sectors. His wealth comes from donations from followers of his Enlightened Christian Gathering church in the South African capital, Pretoria.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Morocco Vs. Polisario

Western Sahara, a vast swath of desert on Africa’s Atlantic coast, is a disputed former Spanish colony.

 The pro-independence Polisario Front in Western Sahara  said  that Morocco had broken their ceasefire and “ignited war.” It warned that “the entry of any Moroccan military, security or civil entity” into the Guerguerat buffer zone “will be considered as a flagrant aggression to which the Sahrawi side will respond vigorously in self-defence and to defend its national sovereignty”.

“This will also mean the end of the ceasefire and the beginning of a new war across the region,” the Polisario Front said.

Morocco denied there had been any armed clashes between the sides and said the three-decade truce remained in place. Morocco said its troops have launched an operation in a no man’s land on the southern border of Western Sahara to end “provocations.” Morocco said its troops have launched an operation in a no man’s land on the southern border of Western Sahara to end “provocations.” 

The Polisario Front, which fought a war for independence from 1975 to 1991, demands a referendum on self-determination.

The two sides signed a ceasefire in September 1991 under the aegis of the UN after 16 years of war, but the planned referendum has been repeatedly postponed due to a dispute between Rabat and the Polisario over the composition of the electorate and the status of the territory.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Nigeria's Food Shortage

 The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has seen an increase in malnutrition rates among children in nutrition centres it supports in Nigeria. The number of children treated by the outpatient nutrition program grew by 20%, while the number of severe malnutrition cases rose by 10%, compared to the same period last year.

 "What we are seeing now is just the tip of an iceberg, and we are very concerned by the trend, especially in Maiduguri," says Thomas Ndambu, ICRC nutritionist. "I am certain that when Nigerian Red Cross volunteers resume their community outreach, the numbers will surge."

"Everywhere we work the food prices have gone up, in some places they doubled. It means that millions of people in the North-East of Nigeria do not have enough to eat," said Ruth Mwakiuna Muriungi, economic security programs coordinator for the ICRC. 

Almost two million people in the North-East are currently displaced and do not have access to their agricultural land and production tools. In many areas of the Lake Chad region, insecurity and movement restrictions have limited farmers ability to plant crops.

Kano, Nigeria's major seeds producer, was among the areas hit the hardest by the pandemic during the planting season, which affected seed processing and transportation. As a result, many farmers could not obtain seeds or received them too late. The ICRC, one of the major contributors to the agricultural sector in the North-East, managed to obtain less than 60% of the seeds it was originally planning to distribute to vulnerable communities.

With Nigeria depending on food import for a tenth of its food needs, border closures and restrictions on movement during spring and summer months have also affected the availability of food in the markets. Extreme weather is another factor influencing food production in Nigeria. For example, Adamawa state has experienced dry spells at the beginning of the agricultural season, which is expected to have a negative impact on the production of maize in the area.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Tigray Conflict and Civilians

 Aid agencies are unable to restock food, health and other emergency supplies to Ethiopia’s conflict-torn northern Tigray region and it may trigger a refugee crisis, the United Nations has warned. Prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, embarked on a military campaign against the regional ruling group, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, last week after accusing them of attacking a federal military base.

Aid groups were  concerned about the protection of children, women, the elderly and the disabled, from the military clashes, UN OCHA said. “Transport is not allowed to and from Tigray, as a result of which shortages of basic commodities are reportedly appearing, impacting the most vulnerable first and the most,” UN OCHA said. 

Sudan has received more than 10,000 Ethiopian refugees since the fighting started.

EU and Indifference

 Disputed elections in the Ivory Coast and Guinea, violence in Nigeria: many West Africans hope for foreign support, but the European Union has kept itself at a distance.

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara should not have even been on the ballot. But the already two-term leader wanted a third stint in office, and through a legal loophole, Ouattara stood for re-election. Despite bitter opposition and risking peace in the Ivory Coast, the ploy worked. The Ivorian election commission said Ouattara won a staggering 94% of the vote, boycotted by the opposition. The opposition has refused to recognize the election results, and violent protests have already resulted in deaths. Ivory Coast's political crisis is far from over. 

The European Union has hardly reacted. If the EU's inaction seems familiar, it's because it is. In 2020, Guinea's 83-year-old President, Alpha Conde, had the nation's constitution changed, stood for election, and won. There too, violent protests and accusations of voting manipulation were rife. But Brussels had only words of warning for Guinea even though the election's credibility was in question.

Events in Nigeria have received similar treatment.  The government is under increasing pressure as primarily young people led mass protests against suppression, police violence, and state corruption. Police have responded brutally, leaving at least 12 people dead so far. And still, the EU has remained silent.

Many people in affected West African countries are dismayed at the EU's apparent passivity. "This indifference shows the international community doesn't want to get involved beyond a certain point," says Ramadan Diallo, a political scientist at the University of Sonfonia-Conakry in Guinea.

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Locust Plague Spreading

 The locust plague spreads further south.  Experience of the locust plague in East Africa has shown that both regional cooperation and finances are lacking, making it even more difficult to stop the insatiable swarms.

Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and most recently Angola have already been affected. The livelihoods of farmers and cattle herders, who are already dealing with food shortages caused by a crippling drought, are at stake.

According to Mathew Abang, southern Africa's Crop Production Officer for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the effects in rural areas is already substantial. In Zambia alone, locusts have already infested some 300,000 hectares (741,000 hectares). Meanwhile, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) reports 45 million people could be facing food shortages.

Atinkut Mezgebu Wubneh, the head of Agriculture and Rural Development of Tigray in northern Ethiopia, has first hand knowledge of coordinating an inter-regional effort to stop a locust plague

"The sustainable solution is that the remedial measures can't be done separately. The countries should come together and act in a well-organised way," he told DW. "Otherwise it is difficult to combat the desert locust as the insect moves across countries."

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Polluting and Dangerous Cars

 Millions of highly polluting used cars from rich countries are being "dumped" on developing nations, according to a UN report. Between 2015 and 2018, some 14 million older, poor quality vehicles were exported from Europe, Japan and the US.

Four out of five were sold to poorer countries, with more than half going to Africa. Experts say that up to 80% failed to meet minimum safety and environmental standards in exporting countries. Many of the vehicles have also been tampered with to remove valuable parts. They cut out catalytic converters, because the platinum value is worth $500. And they put in a piece of steel pipe and weld it back in. They have illegally removed the airbags, because they have a value in Europe, they have illegally removed the anti-lock brake system because it has a value and is being sold on the black market. As well as causing accidents, these cars make air pollution worse and contribute heavily to climate change.

 Researchers found that regulations on car imports in the majority of the 146 countries they studied were "weak" or "very weak".

Many of the vehicles did not meet a vehicle emission standard that is called Euro 4," said Rob de Jong, from Unep, one of the report's authors. The Euro 4 car standard came into force in Europe in January 2005. That means that those vehicles emit 90% more emissions because they are not meeting this minimal standard.

According to the authors, these cars are responsible for increased levels of road accidents in many poorer African and Asian countries. The cars are also pumping out fine particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, which are major sources of air pollution in many cities.

"In 2017, the average age of a diesel vehicle imported into Uganda was over 20 years old," said Jane Akumu, also from Unep. "This is the same story for Zimbabwe. In fact, around 30 countries of Africa do not have any age limit on cars. So, any kind of car of any kind of age, can come in."

The growing realisation of the dangers posed by these cars has seen several importing countries stiffen their regulations. Morocco only permits cars less than five years old to be imported. Kenya also has an age limit of eight years for imported cars. On a regional level, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), representing 15 countries, has set cleaner fuel and vehicle standards from January 2021.

Friday, October 23, 2020

The Soro Soke (Speak Up) Generation.

 Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu’s on October 11 announced that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) would be disbanded.  This was the fifth time in as many years that this  unit had been “reformed” or “disbanded” and it is abundantly clear that the government is not serious about tackling police violence. 

The scepticism of protestors proved justified, as on October 13 Adamu announced the creation of a new unit – Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) – to replace SARS.

 The frustrations expressed in the streets of Nigerian cities, from Lagos to Port Harcourt to Abuja, are about far more than the crimes of a police unit. Nigerian youth are rediscovering their power, picking up the mantle of the cultural and political resistance that in the past helped snatch the country back from the jaws of military dictatorship. Young people are still turning out daily in huge numbers to shut down the operations of major toll gates such as the Lekki-Ikoyi bridge in Lagos and roundabouts such as the Berger Junction in the Federal Capital Territory.

Protesters are raising funds to distribute supplies such as food, water and raincoats to the front lines, with an efficiency that has shamed the government’s failed attempts to distribute supplies at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite a budget of 36.3 billion naira ($95.2m)

Nigerian youth are rediscovering a power that few suspected they had. 

This culture of violence and wanton disregard for human rights within the unit did not emerge on its own. Rather, it reflects the moral bankruptcy of the system the Nigerian ruling elite have maintained in the country, as they have sought to enrich themselves illegally. SARS was just one of many police units used to protect the criminally rich from the consequences of the extreme poverty that surrounds them.

 Between 1960 and 2005, around $20 trillion was stolen from the national treasury. 

According to Oxfam, while the five wealthiest Nigerians have a combined net worth of $29.9bn, 112 million Nigerians continue to live in poverty.

Among the poor, paradoxically, are also the police officers tasked with protecting the rich. Their salaries are desperately low and paid irregularly. According to a 2018 pay scale, a police sergeant made 582,000 naira ($1,600) per year. By contrast, a senator’s basic salary was over 750,000 naira ($2,100) a month, in addition to an expenses allowance of 13.5m naira ($37,500).

The same year, after a showdown with labour unions, the government increased the national minimum wage to 30,000 naira ($83) a month – far below the 50,000 naira ($138) that had been demanded.

So long as the gross inequality exists, disbanding SARS is simply a case of moving the problem around, not resolving it. The brutality with which pro-democracy movements were crushed as they arose periodically had produced a profound fear of challenging those in power. Everyone knew Nigeria is in a bad state, the corruption flagrant, the public services nonexistent, but to do something about it was unthinkable. The history of Nigerian resistance to authoritarian rule was erased so effectively that when General Sani Abacha, who seized power shortly after the annulled 1993 election, died in 1998, many saw it simply as divine intervention. The young people in the streets are making history, leading a struggle that is not that different from their parents’ and grandparents’.

The protests reflect the growing ingenuity of Nigeria’s youth in the face of hardship. Tech, culture and enterprise have thrived despite the significant material and bureaucratic barriers. You would be hard-pressed to find a young Nigerian who is not trying to start a business – from food, to hair, to tech – while waiting for job opportunities to open up in the increasingly tough economic climate. This entrepreneurial spirit has earned Nigeria the title of Africa’s unofficial tech capital and it is being brought to bear in this struggle. For a leader-free movement, the swiftness and moral clarity with which the protestors have been able to counter disinformation has been striking. Although major Nigerian TV stations ignored the protest as they emerged. Young Nigerians are tweeting to build awareness and get solidarity. 

 Challenging the deference to power that has been instilled in them, Nigeria’s youth are renaming themselves the Soro Soke (speak up) Generation. They have been forged through extreme hardships and despite this, in the face of violence and suppression, they fight to make Nigeria afresh for all Nigerians.

Sahel and Wealth Inequality

  Unequal access to wealth is one of the main causes of worsening violence in West Africa's Sahel, which has forced millions to flee their homes. While Islamist groups are active in the troubled region, just south of the Sahara desert, the unrest is driven more by inequality than poverty or religious beliefs, found a study commissioned by the aid group Catholic Relief Services (CRS).  In Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in April, many of whom said youth unemployment and lack of economic opportunities were the main cause of violence, driving many to join armed groups.

"Community members are saying, 'We see people in the capital cities who have all this wealth but in these rural areas we don't have any of this'," said Patrick Williams, CRS programme manager for the Sahel Peace Initiative. "It's not that people are poor, it's that the wealth, the resources that are there, aren't equitably managed and shared," Williams told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The wealthiest 1% of West Africans own more than everyone else in the region combined, and their governments are doing the least in Africa to reduce inequality through policies like taxation and social spending, Oxfam said last year.

 In Burkina Faso, grazing areas and water resources are being depleted and locals feel aggrieved over restrictions on access to national parks, said Nadia Adam, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS). "Unequal access to wealth and resources is one of the drivers of conflict in the region," said Adam, who works in Mali for the African think-tank.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Sahel's Problems

 The European Commission this week pledged $27.8 million in humanitarian support to the Sahel region as floods and the coronavirus pandemic exacerbate the stability in a region deeply in conflict. While the figure is less than 2 percent of the $2.4 billion that the United Nations has appealed for, Amnesty International researcher Ousmane Diallo told IPS that despite past donations from international development partners to Sahelian countries, the situation hasn’t improved over the years.

In June, Amnesty International released a report that pointed out a range of concerns in the region that have been exacerbated by the pandemic: human rights violations, food insecurity, and enforced disappearances among other concerns.

 In the less than two years, internal displacement in the region has increased 20 times.

Diallo of Amnesty International echoed similar concerns and added that a “a plethora of armed groups acting in the Sahel have increased over the years.” He explained, "This is because the structural issues have not been challenged,” Diallo told IPS. “Because there have been a lot of donations given to Sahelian countries, many activities done by international development partners, but the situations on the ground haven’t improved. There are more internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the ground, and more refugees.”

The crisis in the region has been further exacerbated by both climate change, as well as the current coronavirus pandemic. Mark Lowcock, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said climate change in the Sahel region is accelerating faster than anywhere else in the world.One key concern, he said, is that the “root causes that drive humanitarian needs” — such as chronic poverty, underdevelopment, impact of dramatic development growth, and climate change among other issues — are not being properly addressed.

The Lekki Massacre in Nigeria

According to witnesses, dozens of soldiers disembarked from at least four trucks, flanked by police officers. They approached the scene of a major protest site where more than a thousand people had taken over a toll gate in Lekki, a large district in Lagos Island. Almost instantly, hundreds were forced to flee as a rain of bullets rang out. First into the air, and then towards the crowds.

 Amnesty International said at least 12 people were killed by soldiers and police in the shootings.

It has fuelled outrage at the Nigerian government and security forces for clamping down on one of the most striking protest movements in decades in Nigeria. 

Lagos’ governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, caused outrage by claiming that there were no casualties. Nigeria’s army claimed that reports which accused soldiers of shooting at the scene were false.

Protester Emmanuel Edet, 28, said, “It was soldiers. Do they think we don’t know what the army look like again?” he said.

Emmanuella Fortte, a 23-year-old poet, said the protests had been a place of inspiration. “It shows us what we can achieve together, our generation, pooling our own resources and gifts,” she said. She fled on Tuesday as the shooting began.

Despite the shootings, the protests were just the beginning of a long-term quest for change, she said. “I’m just glad to be home and to rest but soon, we go again. We cannot afford to back down now. Nigeria will never ever move forward if we back down.”