Wednesday, February 26, 2020

From Ethiopia to Arabia

160,000 people – almost all Ethiopians – travel the perilous, 1200-kilometer route from destitute provinces in their home country to the Republic of Djibouti. 
From there, if they can find the money to pay smugglers, they are taken across the narrow Bab Al Mandeb Strait, or through the Gulf of Aden, into war-torn Yemen.

There, at the mercy of human traffickers who may kidnap, rape and extort more money – from them and from their relatives back home – they head north to the Saudi Arabian border.

After crossing minefields and deadly killing grounds, they may make it into the kingdom, where traffickers may also continue to exploit them – and where the Saudi police try to hunt them down for forcible deportation. Of the forced repatriation of undocumented immigrants in recent times,  the IOM estimates about 340,000 Ethiopians deported this way since 2017. Despite the horror,  many who are deported back to Ethiopia subsequently try again.

Yet they may also, if they are very lucky, find their goal: a low paid job in the unregistered economy.
“About 10,000 people move through Djibouti this way every month heading for Arabia, and the figures are continuing to climb,” says Olivia Akumu, Regional Coordinator for East Africa with the Mixed Migration Center in Nairobi. We always hear about migrants in the Mediterranean but the truth is, the biggest numbers of migrants we have are these people, trying to get into Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.”

According to the World Bank, Ethiopia's per capita annual income in 2018 was only US$772.31, or about $2 a day.
“Almost all of the migrants recently have been moving for economic reasons,” says Yvonne Ndege, spokesperson for the International Organization of Migration.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Chocolate Exploitation

In West Africa, where 60% of the world's cocoa is grown, the average female cocoa farmer earns as little as 23p a day., highlighting a gender pay gap in the global chocolate industry, according to Fairtrade. That figure is well below the extreme global poverty line of £1.40 a day.

The UK chocolate industry is worth at least £4bn a year, with Britons consuming more per person than any other European country.
In the Ivory Coast, despite carrying out 68% of the labour, which involves planting and harvesting, hacking cocoa pods, fermenting, drying and bagging up the cocoa beans - as well as domestic duties in the home - women have fewer rights than men, receive less money and are often landless.
"Often the woman does two thirds of the work for less than a third of the income, meaning a bitter taste to the sweet treat," Louisa Cox, director of impact at the Fairtrade Foundation, said. "If the cocoa industry is serious about a long-term sustainable future for their business then they must truly sweeten the deal and invest more in the women behind our chocolate."

Julia Nicoara, director of public engagement at the Fairtrade Foundation, said: "Many of us don't know the bitter truth of exploited farmers behind much of our chocolate, with women doing much more of the work for much less of the pay."

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Burkina Faso Chaos

More than 4,000 people are being forced to flee their homes daily in Burkina Faso as attacks on civilians by armed groups increase in number and frequency, the United Nations has warned.
"People fleeing the violence report attacks on their villages by militant groups, killing, raping, pillaging. Terrified of these attacks, residents have left everything behind to find safety." 

In a statement on Friday, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said more than 700,000 people were displaced in the past 12 months, with an estimated 150,000 of them being uprooted in the last three weeks alone.
Burkina Faso borders Mali to the northwest and Niger to the east, with all three Sahelian countries hit by a swiftly deteriorating security situation.

Last month, the UN envoy for West Africa told the Security Council that attacks have increased fivefold in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger since 2016, with more than 4,000 deaths reported in 2019.

Many parts of the Sahel that have seen the most fighting are severely underdeveloped. The multiple armed groups operating in the region, a semi-arid swathe of land beneath the Sahara, have exploited poverty as well as religious and ethnic divisions for recruitment. Meanwhile, the military campaigns by the ill-equipped national armies have also been marred by human rights abuses, which analysts say have pushed some civilians into the arms of fighters.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

China's Africa

A Chinese economic slowdown could especially hit countries that are part of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) — 40 of Africa's 54 countries had signed agreements with China to be part of it by September 2019.

Chinese companies are building the vast majority of roads, ports, airports and other transportation infrastructure across Africa. In 2018, they accounted for 62% of the market share on the continent, according to Berlin-based European International Contractors (EIC). 

China's engagement of the continent over the past two decades has partly been behind the reactivation of the growing interest from Africa's traditional partners, and changed the "terms of engagement," according to Hannah Marais, one of the authors of Deloitte Africa's 2019 "Africa Construction Trends Report." This has assisted to reposition Africa as a commercial opportunity rather than a recipient of donor funds.

"The China-Africa relationship has shifted the conversation around Africa," Marais told DW during a phone call.
Chinese companies aren't just profiting from Beijing's support. They also benefit from European funds. African countries also borrow money from European and multilateral development banks, such the European Investment Bank and the World Bank. The governments tend to choose Chinese contractors because they are cheaper. And that's a global trend. 
Chinese companies are now receiving more World Bank funds, according to the Rhodium Group. "Chinese firms captured as much as 21% of all World Bank transportation infrastructure project value in 2018, up from 12% in 2014," it says. 
Meanwhile, European companies often find themselves competing with each other. Chinese firms tend to work together. Every country in the EU focuses on its own construction industry, experts say. 
Hans Joachim Bliss of the Federation of German Contractors (HDB) said, "One company can't compete with a state-owned company from China."

Friday, February 21, 2020

Benin's Slaughterhouse Scandal

People across Benin have been shocked and horrified by photos of the largest slaughterhouse in Cotonou.  Observers spoke out about the high level of dysfunction that has led to such unsanitary conditions at the facility. Huge amounts of pork and beef are processed every day at the slaughterhouse. That meat is then sold at the main markets in the city. 

NGO Bénin Diaspora Assistance, received complaints from butchers and sent collaborators on the ground to go and investigate the slaughterhouse.

 "The butchers who work in the Cotonou slaughterhouse are forced to work in extremely unsanitary conditions. The butchers use water from a borehole that isn’t drinkable. The dirty water that they’ve used then flows into the yard because all of the drains are blocked. This polluted water then seeps into the ground and is again extracted when the butchers draw water from the borehole to wash the meat.For a period lasting several months, the slaughterhouse didn’t even have any electricity.They hadn’t paid their bills so the national energy company came and cut off the power. That meant that the cold room used to conserve meat wasn’t working.This is a serious public health problem. It was the butchers who work at the slaughterhouse who sounded the alarm, which meant we could then investigate the high level of dysfunction at the facility and denounce it." 
One of the butchers who uses the facility spoke out about the poor management.

"There are serious problems with hygiene in the slaughterhouse. We became ill from all of the nauseating and overpowering smells. Since late November, there hasn’t been water or electricity at the facility so we have to use water from a borehole, which isn’t drinkable.Our meat went bad because management kept shutting down the cold room that is meant to preserve it. They said that they wanted to save money. They once shut it between 9am and 4am the next morning. We lost a lot. It’s terrible management because we pay at least 13,000 CFA francs [20 euros] for each cow that we slaughter there and 500 CFA francs CFA [75 euro cents] for each sheep."

Thursday, February 20, 2020

African turmoil (1965)

“Malawi,” said Dr. Hastings Banda recently, “is at war.” He is not the first of the leaders of the new States on the African continent to-make such a declaration.
Egypt, we have been told, is at war. So is Zambia. Nigeria and the Congo are immersed in internal conflicts of varying intensity. And so on.
There have been, of course, no formal declarations of war. But that is not what Dr. Banda and his counterparts mean when they use the word.
The new states are struggling to establish themselves against pressures both external and internal. One of their governments’ problems is to break down the old tribal allegiances and substitute a wider ranging patriotism.
Africans who once thought of themselves as belonging to this or that tribe, under this or that chief, must now be persuaded that it is better to belong to a developing capitalist nation, under this or that leader or dictator.
And how is this achieved? The techniques are wearyingly familiar. There are the patriotic declarations, the empty mysticism over the new flag, the dark warnings of impending danger from outside, the calls to arms. There is also the synthetic worship of the new nation’s leader—the personality cults of men like Nkrumah and Banda.
Part of this process is the “discovery” of alleged plots against the security of the state. Dr. Banda said that his former Foreign Minister, Mr. Chiume, is combining with the Zanzibar rebel Mr. Okello in a scheme to invade Malawi. Neighbouring Zambia is to spend £7 million on “defence and internal security,” double its border posts and step up its naval forces on the boundary rivers and lakes.
Dr. Banda appealed to the Malawi people to arrest any strangers and report them to the Congress Party; “ Investigate every strange face,” he said.
This is like a small-scale re-enactment of Europe in the Thirties. It is also reminiscent of the spy-scares which helped to keep war fever up to pitch during the two world wars.
But the African nationalists always claimed, when they were struggling for power, that they would be above the tricks and subterfuges of the old colonialist powers.
There need be no surprise that they have turned out to be different. Tricks and lies are always used in the fights between capitalist powers. As the new, African states enter these fights, it is inevitable that they should use the time honoured methods.
Perhaps Dr. Banda is right; perhaps Malawi is at war, for in war the first casualty has always been the truth.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Oil Curse in South Sudan

Environmental reports that suggested there may be a link between oil drilling in South Sudan and severe health problems for the local population were buried by the government, according to people with close knowledge of the oil industry in the nation.

Reports dating back to 2013 show that the government and oil companies have been aware for years that contamination from drilling could be damaging the health of local residents. But little has been done to clean up the mess, say locals. Promises by the government and the oil companies to tackle the pollution have repeatedly been broken, they say. The reports, obtained by the Associated Press from people with close knowledge of the oil operations, one of whom works in the industry, also contain accounts of “alarming” birth defects, miscarriages and other health problems among people living near oil fields and soldiers who have been stationed there. Residents also describe women being unable to get pregnant.
“South Sudan is running one of the dirtiest and poorest managed oil operations on the planet,” said Egbert Wesselink, the former head of a European coalition of more than 50 non-profit organisations focused on the impacts of the country's oil sector. He worked on the oil fields in South Sudan before the country gained independence in 2011, and now works with PAX, a Dutch-based human rights organisation.
Community leaders and politicians in the oil-rich areas in Upper Nile and Unity state accuse South Sudan's government and the two main oil consortiums, the Chinese-led Dar Petroleum Operating Co and the Greater Pioneer Operating Co, of neglecting the issue and trying to silence those who have tried to expose the problem.
Local residents have reported births of stillborn babies with severe deformities. One child had a "gaping hole" in its stomach, another was born without eyes or a nose.
“We're losing children,” said Nyaweir Ayik Monyuak, chair of the Women's Association in Melut, Upper Nile state, who lost two children of her own between 2008 and 2011. Many women can't even get pregnant, Ms Monyuak said.
Many of the residents said the health problems got worse after people started drinking water from white containers that had earlier been used by Dar Petroleum during drilling to separate crude oil from water.
The containers, which were also mentioned in the 2013 report, had hazardous substance warning labels. The chemicals are supposed to be “taken to a suitable and authorised waste disposal site”, according to a spokesperson for Clariant, one of the world's leading speciality chemical companies.
“Under no circumstances should these empty containers be used by people for any reason, in particular for holding drinking water,” said Rick Steiner, an oil pollution adviser in Alaska who consults for governments, aid groups and the United Nations on oil spills.
Soil and water samples from the area, and biological samples from soldiers who had been stationed there were analysed at the National Health Laboratory Service in South Africa. They found mercury levels in the water were seven times what is permissible under US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, and manganese concentrations were 10 times higher than the EPA allows, according to a summary of the study obtained by the Associated Press. The chemicals were also found in the soil and in urine samples from some of the soldiers.
“These results are clearly indicating that heavy metals and petrochemicals have contaminated the area,” the summary stated, and it recommended more studies to see if the pollution is connected with the health problems.
The most recent study, from November 2018, was commissioned by Dar Petroleum to assess the chemical contamination in its oil fields and the surrounding areas. Researchers documented hundreds of waste pits filled with water contaminated with arsenic and lead. They also found "extremely high" levels of hydrocarbons such as benzene in the soil.
The report recommended a five-year clean-up that would cost about $58m (£44m). South Sudan expects its oil industry to generate $99m (£76m) in revenue each month from July 2019 to June 2020, according to the national budget. No clean-up has yet been undertaken, residents say.​
South Sudan has the seventh highest rate of pollution-related deaths in the world, according to the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, an organisation of national environment ministries, international development organisations and NGOs. Oil accounts for almost all the country's exports and more than 40 per cent of its GDP, according to the World Bank.

The landscape of South Sudan has been scarred by oil drilling, which has left hundreds of open waste pits, and contaminated the water and soil with toxic chemicals and heavy metals including mercury, manganese, and arsenic.

Exposure to such substances can lead to a variety of health problems including cancer, respiratory problems, impotence and stillbirths, according to the World Health Organisation.
Phillips Anyang Ngong, a human rights lawyer, explained, “Companies are violating the law and the government is not intervening. It's a crisis that needs immediate attention now.”

Health experts with experience tackling oil pollution say companies often try to hide any connection between pollution and health problems. 

“Polluters try as much as possible not to let connections be drawn from pollution to health issues, they try to connect it to something else, like genetics. This is a known tactic,” said Nnimmo Bassey, executive director for health at the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, a not-for-profit environmental group based in Nigeria.

Environmental experts say there is little incentive for multinational companies to do anything because it is easy to get away with things in impoverished countries like South Sudan.
“No one's really watching. The government is neither willing nor able to monitor and enforce its own environmental laws,” said Luke Patey, senior researcher studying China's oil investments in Africa at the Danish Institute for International Studies. He said the result is “a vicious cycle of negligence”.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Cameroon Curse of Gold

Between 2017 and 2019, at least 115 children and adults drowned or were buried alive by landfalls in the mostly abandoned pits in the East and Adamawa regions of Cameroon, according to Forests and Rural Development (Foder), a local watchdog that is alone in tracking the accidents and deaths.

“The whole area was not at all secure,” says Sah, whose fury is clear as he describes how gold mining pits in the region – which locals call “tombs” – have been left open and abandoned by Chinese companies, among others.

Cameroon has one of the richest subsoils in Africa.

Since 2008, gold prices have risen and informal mining has spread widely across the continent. In recent years, more than 400 mining sites have been dug open by dozens of mining companies in Cameroon, predominantly from China, but also from South Korea, Greece, South Africa and elsewhere, according to Foder. Some British companies advertise online that they conduct gold exploration programmes in the country.
Cameroonian law obliges anyone exploiting a mining site to close and restore it before departing. In practice, however, once miners finish digging up gold from pits of up to 100 metres deep, they simply move on to the next project. Few – if any – mining holes are properly restored.

The scale of this is vast, says Eric Etoga, a Cameroonian activist who has been researching the extractive industries for years for Global Youth Dynamic, a local NGO. 

According to a study he produced in June 2019 for the Publish What You Pay campaign group, mining companies had left 248 open mining holes in in one area of east Cameroon alone.

 “We need sanctions – without them, people continue to do whatever they want,” said Etoga.

The Cameroonian branch of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global body that promotes itself as setting the “global standard to promote the open and accountable management of oil, gas and mineral resources”, also failed to address the deaths in the mines, simply forwarding government reassurances that the numbers of mortalities in abandoned pits have significantly decreased over the past two years.

Not a single signpost or diagram was seen in the seven sites visited by the Guardian, as unaccompanied young children walked barefoot or wearing flip-flops in the dangerous areas. Women with babies tied on their backs were seen descending into the mines with no protection or safety precautions.

On paper, some British companies extracting gold in Cameroon praise the benefits of the business for local populations, claiming that it helps villagers to survive financially. On the ground, some of the youths working in gold mines confirm that the industry enables them to earn money, which they would otherwise have been unable to do in an underdeveloped region that lacks basic services, including a steady electricity supply.

Yet, when it comes to the open mining pits, corporate reassurances that the holes will be filled up and restored ring hollow. The landscape of eastern Cameroon, which in the past used to provide fertile farming ground for the local population, nowadays resembles the surface of the moon, with giant holes puncturing the once green landscape. As the midday sun heated the pits, the brown, polluted waters inside reek of chemical waste, attracting clouds of buzzing mosquitoes that spread malaria, dengue fever and other killer diseases.

China is Cameroon’s biggest foreign investor and trading partner, operating a wide range of infrastructure projects, from constructing roads to building football stadiums. In January 2019, one of China’s top diplomats, Yang Jiechi, visited the Central African nation.

Yet, in eastern Cameroon, the visit prompted protests, as miners picketed outside a Chinese-run gold mining project in the village of Ngoura, blocking access.
In December 2017, in the nearby village of Ngoe Ngoe, nine people were killed during a land fall in a deep mine left open by the Chinese company Lu and Lang. The pit had been abandoned by workers less than a month earlier.

Chinese and other foreign companies are not the only ones responsible. In 2017, Narma Ndoyama, a farmer, lost his 28-year-old son after he was buried alive in a mine landslide in the Longa Mali village, eastern Cameroon.

“Now his wife is alone trying to provide for five children,” says Ndoyama, adding that the average of 1,500 west African CFA francs (£1.91) he makes each day from farming leaves him unable to help much. Ndoyama alleges that the mine in which his son died belonged to Société Camerounaise d’Exploitation Minière (SCEM), a company owned by Ali Bachir, a prominent member of Cameroon’s national assembly from the ruling party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement.

The party is led by Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, who, aged 87, is currently Africa’s second longest-ruling autocrat (after Equatorial Guinea’s president Teodoro Obiang).

Ndoyama said that he had tried to press SCEM officials to launch an inquiry into his son’s death in the hope of getting some desperately needed compensation for the family, but received no response. “The gendarmerie came to do an investigation, but there was no follow up,” he says. “The state lets people just die in the holes.”
Cameroonians signed a petition, initiated by Foder, that called on the government to force mining companies to abide by the law and close the open pits.

“Honourable ministers, how many more deaths do you want in order to put an end to this?,” the petitioners asked. “These irresponsible mining companies… are pillaging us and they are killing us. These poisonous lakes, these gold pits have become tombs.”
As the presence of mining companies destroys farm land, pollutes water sources and poisons the local fish, instead of digging the ground for crops the locals are now digging for gold in order to survive. Processing such gold poses serious health hazards.

Mercury is an essential tool in some types of gold extraction because of its ability to bind gold particles together. Yet it is also a poison – whether its fumes are inhaled, its particles are eaten through contaminated fish or water, or simply if someone touches it with their bare hands.

Besides lung damage it can lead to memory loss, irritability, depression, kidney failure, tremors, numbness and discoloured, peeling or scaly skin. Extreme mercury poisoning can cause paralysis, coma, or insanity. In a 2018 study measuring blood mercury levels in miners in eastern Cameroon, almost one in 10 (9.1%) of the miners had blood that was chronically intoxicated with mercury.

Marie Louise, a mother of five in her 40s living in Longa Mali, is handling mercury freely as she stands ankle-deep in a pool of opaque mustard coloured water just metres from her front door. Her children stand in the water with her, watching her form a tiny, ladybird-sized blob to sell for $2 (£1.53) for a local dealer. Silvery globules spread into the water as the children splash and rub their eyes, while Marie Louise massages the remaining mercury with her hands.

The Cameroonian mining code forbids the use of mercury for this purpose due to its toxic health effects. Gold mining companies operating here are quick to cite this. Yet, on the ground, the use of mercury is freely observed at many gold mining sites, often just a few hundred metres away from local policemen who are seen slumbering in the shade of mango trees.

“I know the dangers,” Marie Louise admitted. ”But it’s money. Without this, how will we live?,” she says, adding that the children also sometimes use mercury to help with gold processing.

“When we see that the belly is empty, we have to do it in order to eat,” she adds, gesturing to her children.

“The more I research it, the more I realise that people are taking advantage from people’s ignorance,” says Etoga. “If it had been a population that had been sufficiently educated, who had a good level of knowledge, it wouldn’t be happening. But there, many people don’t know anything – especially if they spend their time in the mines instead of going to school.

“Some say that gold has brought us so much money, so many millions. But if you weigh it against all that we have lost, you will see that we’ve gained nothing. Nothing at all.”