Sunday, May 31, 2020

Russia and the Death Merchants

Russia has become the biggest arms supplier to Africa. Russia's growing interest in Africa is defined by not only economic, but also political and strategic reasons. Russia sees Africa as a key potential partner in the vision for a multipolar world order. Russia hosted the first-ever Russia-Africa summit in Sochi in 2019 as a way of further identifying cooperation possibilities across the continent. During the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that "the strengthening of ties with African countries is one of Russia's foreign policy priorities". Arms deals were at the center of attention at the summit. African delegates were invited to exhibitions of Russian weapons: from subsonic jet trainor Yakovlev Yak-130, the Pantsir missile system, and the Tor-M2KM surface-to-air missile systems to smaller arms including a new Kalashnikov AK-200 series assault rifle. 

In Russia's publicly available strategy documents, such as its foreign policy concept or defense doctrine, African states are defined as belonging to an unstable continent and posing an international threat in light of terrorist groups' activities, particularly in the North African region. Such documents highlight Russia's aims to expand interaction with Africa by developing beneficial trade and economic relations and supporting regional conflict and crisis prevention. This ongoing instability feeds a continuous market for arms — and for Russia, Africa represents a major market without a limit in the form of economic sanctions that came from the West after the annexation of Crimea. Africa is the continent where Russia can freely push one of the key elements of its exports: weapons. Arms trading accounts for 39% of Russia's defense industry revenue.
Once a major supplier during the Soviet era, Russia's role in Africa waned after the collapse of the USSR. But by 2000, Russia had made inroads again, and within the last two decades Russia has managed to become the biggest arms exporter to Africa. Currently, it accounts for 49% of total arms exports to Africa, according to the database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). 

Russia's state arms seller Rosoboronexport announced in April the first contract to supply assault boats to a country in sub-Saharan Africa. The recipient's identity is concealed. What is known: It marks the first export contract of Russian-made final naval products to this region in the last 20 years. While this news might not have caught much international attention, this new deal adds up to a pattern: Russia is building its path to gain a foothold in Africa and broaden its export map for arms on the continent. 

Since 2000, Russia's arms exports to Africa have grown significantly. The increases were mainly due to growth in Russia's arms exports to Algeria. Until now, Algeria remains the biggest recipient  of Russian arms in Africa, followed by Egypt, Sudan and Angola. According to Alexandra Kuimova, a researcher with SIPRI's Arms and Military Expenditure Program, the number of African countries buying Russian arms increased over the last two decades. In the early 2000s, 16 African countries were recipients of Russian arms. Between 2010 and 2019, the figure went up to 21.

Starting in 2015, Russia started selling arms to oil-rich Angola — mainly fighter aircraft and combat helicopters. The Angolan government in Luanda has long maintained strong ties with Moscow, dating back to the USSR. In 1996, Russia forgave 70% of Angola's $5 billion (€4.56 billion) in debt, which was mainly a result of several export credits the USSR had issued Angola for buying Soviet arms and military equipment. In the new millennium, Russia was a predictable choice for Angola to sign new arms deals — and within the last five years, Angola has become the third-biggest African client for Russian arms after Algeria and Egypt. Luanda's other suppliers are Bulgaria, Belarus, Italy and China, but their shares are small.

The situation was similar with Algeria, the largest importer of Russian arms on the African continent. Soviet-era connections allowed Russia to secure its monopoly on arms deals, and Moscow completely wrote off Algeria's $5.7 billion in debt in 2006. That same year, Algeria signed another arms deal to buy Russian weapons for $7.5 billion.

"Officials in these countries intrinsically look at Moscow from the Soviet-era links and Moscow has been able to maintain its influence. In some cases, like Algeria, it is done by debt release; sometimes by claiming that it will build repair facilities and manufacturing or maintenance facilities," says Paul Stronski, a senior fellow in the Carnegie Endowment's Russia and Eurasia Program.
Despite widespread international condemnation of Mugabe's regime, Russia stayed on the side of Zimbabwe: together with China, it vetoed the UN's Security Council resolution for an arms embargo in 2008 and criticized Western sanctions. Russia exports a number of both raw and finished materials to Zimbabwe, ranging from wood, wheat and fertilizers to printed materials, railway cars and electronics. Russia, in turn, imports coffee and tobacco from Zimbabwe.

Russian companies are also involved in diamond and gold mining projects in the country. According to Gugu Dube, a researcher at the Transnational Threats and International Crime program in the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria, Russia has been scaling up activities in the mining of resources such as coltan, cobalt, gold, and diamonds in several other countries across Africa. In Zimbabwe, Russian companies are also involved in a joint venture of the Darwendale project — mining and smelting one of the world's largest deposits of platinum group metal — for which production is planned in 2021.
Arms deals with Russia do not demand political or human rights conditions. In some cases, Russia has managed to fill the gap where European or American suppliers stepped out. For example, in 2014, government soldiers in Nigeria were accused of human rights abuses against suspects in the country's fight against Boko Haram. Afterwards, the US cancelled a shipment of attack helicopters, even though the deal had already been signed. That same year, Nigeria placed an order and received six Mi-35M combat helicopters from Russia. Egypt is a similar case. After a military coup in 2013, the US started cutting military aid and arms supplies to the country. This left Russia (together with France, another leading arms exporter) with an open opportunity; the country quickly intensified arms transfers to Egypt. From 2009 to 2018, Russia accounted for 31% of Egypt's imports of major weapons.

African Develoment Bank Under Scrutiny

Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB) is now being questioned after a string of corruption and abuse of office allegations from his own staff spilled into the open. 
The board of governors of the 55-year-old institution met on Tuesday to discuss whether to bring in an outside investigator into the allegations concerning the Nigerian's conduct just days after an initial internal inquiry that cleared him. Its ethics committee carried out an investigation and declared that  Adesina was "totally exonerated of all allegations made against him" and recommended that the board of governors adopt its conclusions. In early May, the board's chair - Ivorian Planning Minister Nialé Kaba - wrote to shareholders that the African finance ministers who supervise the bank's management intended to clear  Adesina. The prospects of an independent probe comes only three months before he was expected to be re-elected unopposed at its annual general meeting in August. 

The 20-point allegations of "impunity and bad governance" from unnamed employees have exposed a rift between Adesina and ordinary staff.  The "Group of Concerned Staff Members of the AfDB" claimed that Adesina has used the bank's resources for self-promotion and personal gain while also paying out huge but undeserved severance packages to staff who resigned mysteriously, and favouring his fellow Nigerians. The whistleblowers have accused Adesina of major conflicts of interest in his dealings with current and former employees, unethical conduct and preferential treatment.
The BBC has obtained the original whistleblowers' email from January 2020, sent to two executive directors of the bank, Yano Takuji (Japanese) and Steven Dowd (American), and the British director for its Integrity and Anti-Corruption Department Alan Bacarese. In an April update circulated to a wider pool of senior managers, the whistleblowers said the Ethics Committee headed by Takuji failed to examine their concerns.

Adesina is an eloquent advocate for Africa and the bank and a good fundraiser, but his detractors say he promises more than he delivers.
"His administration hasn't always been fantastic and perhaps he has run roughshod over some people. Maybe the practices haven't always been what they should be, and the feeling is that the board just whitewashed the investigation," the insider said.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Right about Kenya (2006)


Letters to the Editors from the May 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors
The letter “Wrong on Kenya?” (March Socialist Standard) by Okoth Osewe can’t be taken as a passing cloud.
Osewe knows very well, if he has been existing in Kenya, that no attempt at socialism has been made here.  Those few who have talked about it are, like him, opportunist or capitalism’s apologists.  Thus his Kenya Socialist Democratic Alliance (KSDA) party is non-existent or it exists only on paper.
On the issue of the constitution, Osewe knows very well that this process was hijacked by opportunists(like him) and politicians.  During the campaign for either yes or no, it was clear that these were campaigns not to either reject or support the document, but to propel some people to positions of leadership.  Many politicians saw this as an opportunity to prepare themselves for next years general election. 
Why people like Osewe “pambana” (struggle) join the campaigns for the draft leaves a lot to be explained.  Why the need to use so much money to campaign for the rejection of the draft?
The No campaign was lead by politicians (like Osewe) who are always opposing the government.  The campaign was tribalistic, hatred was obvious, propaganda for swing vote. Those who always think that they are the ones who can lead  (and not be led) positioned themselves in the Orange Democratic Movement(ODM).  This wasn’t a campaign for a constitution but for proper elections.  Kenyans know better.
Socialism can only be brought about by a majority of workers organising for it.  Politicians like Osewe and many others will not, will never get anywhere near establishing socialism.
Kenyan workers know that their situation has never improved despite our constitution being amended so many times since independence. The situation isn’t likely to get anywhere even with the introduction of the so-called “Bomas Draft”, “Wako draft” or any other document.  Reforms which have come and gone haven’t made changes in our lives. 
Kenya is surely ripe for socialism but people like Osewe will only manage to have beautiful socialist titles but will never manage to organise Kenyans for socialism.
I invite him to join us in our struggle for common ownership, democratic control and leaderless cause.
Only when we join hands will our desire for socialism materialise.  And then socialism will rule the world, Kenya included, in the not too distant future.

Patrick Ndege,
Nairobi, Kenya

Thursday, May 28, 2020

COVID-19 and Refugees and IDPs

"We are waiting to die from Covid-19." 

These chilling words, uttered by a Somalia refugee in Mogadishu, encapsulate the fears of refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in Africa.

As the Covid-19 pandemic begins to ravage African countries, the lives of refugees and IDPs hang in the balance. Few African governments are paying sufficient attention to the plight of refugees and IDPs. This must change if we are to avert a catastrophe. If there is no plan responding to the needs of IDPs and refugees, other relief efforts will fail. Today in Africa, there are 84,634 confirmed cases of Covid-19, 32,494 recovered and more than 2,766 people have died. The actual number of those infected is likely much higher due to limited testing capacity. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned us to prepare for the worst. 

These are more than just numbers. They are families, friends, communities, and our fellow human beings. We need action. 

For countries with weak health infrastructures and limited resources, hope for stopping the pandemic lies in containment. The window of opportunity for containment is shutting fast. According to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Africa hosts 18 million displaced people, 12 million of whom are displaced within their own countries as a result of violence or forced migration. 

While most African governments are implementing and enforcing prevention strategies such as handwashing, wearing masks in public, travel restrictions, curfews, and stay-at-home orders, many people cannot comply. Stay-at-home orders could mean a death sentence for those facing persecution from extremists, or whose homes are in areas targeted by U.S. drone strikes.

Refugees in Africa live in horrific conditions, packed into crowded camps and unsanitary environments with limited provisions. Internally displaced people generally live in informal settlements around big cities without access to water, food, and medical services. Many IDPs already experience poor health because of lack of healthcare, food, and clean water. In refugee camps and IDP settlements, water and hand sanitizer are rare commodities.  How does one self-isolate in an open-air camp with hundreds of other people, or in a makeshift shelter with multiple people in it, surrounded by a thousand other temporary structures?

In Somalia, there are only 20 intensive care unit beds in the whole country of 15 million people, one Covid-19 testing facility, and few healthcare workers. More than two million IDPs live in temporary carton-made shelters or open-air dwelling spaces.  

In Kenya, the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps host more than 400,000 people. In both camps, physical distancing is a big challenge—refugees live in close quarters and must queue to fetch water and food. 

In Zimbabwe, over four million people are displaced due to political violence, natural disasters and resettlement initiatives. The onset of Covid-19 has heightened already existing challenges of economic security, social service delivery, and nutrition and food access.

After elections violence in 2015, thousands of Burundians fled to neighboring countries. Some refugees are now returning home, but there are still more than 335,000 Burundian refugees in Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda. Natural disasters within Burundi have led to the internal displacement of more than 112,000 people. 

There are reports of governments showing negligence and hostility to refugees and displaced people, refusing them access to asylum or services. Some governments have suspended refugee and IDP intake processes, leaving many in limbo. A pandemic does not justify breaking international laws that protect the rights of refugees and internally displaced persons. Governments must honor their commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees refugees the right to seek asylum from persecution, and the provision of safety in the host country.

In addition to providing masks, sanitizers, water, food, and health services, IDPs and refugees need assistance to move out of unsafe conditions. With so many empty hotel rooms, governments could work with the private sector to shift people into hotel rooms and boarding schools. This would save lives.

Egypt's Prisons

It is a hard figure to gauge but most estimates place the number of people in Egyptian prisons at more than 100,000, including those in pretrial detention.

According to official figures, the criminal justice system is well past the brink, with prisons at 160% over capacity and jails at 300% over capacity. Those conditions mean that prisoners are often forced to sleep  on bare concrete floors in squalid facilities that lack adequate equipment to mitigate Egypt's extreme weather.
"Detention conditions in Egypt are, in general, overcrowded to the extent that sometimes detainees cannot sleep at the same time because there's not enough space, so they sleep in shifts," said Amr Magdi, Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. "There's not enough space there for everyone to stretch."
An activist writer and former detainee confirmed the overcrowded conditions and abuses committed in Egyptian prisons.
"In the cell, we were 70 people in a tiny room," said the writer, "We were taking turns sitting down on the floor, not even sleeping. The rest of us had to stand but we couldn't move. Walking was a luxury." The activist said more than a dozen children under the age of 16, including girls, had been taken to an interrogation room during their time at the detention facility. "I couldn't tell from the screams whether they were interrogating the boys or the girls," the activist said.

Overcrowded conditions and abuse further undermine the lives of prisoners when access to basic healthcare is denied. For many detainees with chronic diseases, receiving adequate treatment is improbable, at best.
"It's very difficult for someone to actually get transferred to a hospital," Magdi said. "Even when this happens, they usually go to the hospital for a test and then go right back to prison, despite the fact that their condition might warrant hospitalization."

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Other Plague

New swarms of locusts are increasing the risk of food insecurity for millions of people in East and Central Africa who are already reeling from the impact of Covid-19 and flooding, humanitarian agency Oxfam has said in a new report.
Locust invasions in recent months are estimated to have destroyed thousands of hectares of crops in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.
Heavy rains that have led to flooding have also created favourable conditions for the breeding of locusts.
The latest generation of swarms, feared to be as big as 400 times larger than the original swarms, are expected to hatch in June when crops are ready for harvest
East Africa’s Desert Locust Control Organisation has told the BBC that the coronavirus pandemic has hindered efforts to control the invasion as importing pesticide to the region has become expensive.
Last week the World Bank approved $160m (£130m) for Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda in the form of grants and low-interest loans to help farmers and herders impacted by the invasions.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Food Crisis in Nigeria

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has said that Nigerian farmers must produce enough for the country to eat, saying that the country has "no money to import" food. 

“I hope the rainy season would be bountiful so that we can get a lot of food,” Buhari said. “I wish the farmers will go to farms so that we can produce what we need in sufficient quantity so that we don’t have to import food. In any case, we don’t have any money to import food. So, we must produce what we are going to eat.”
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Programme, even before the Covid-19 crisis, farmers had not been able to satisfy demand for Nigeria’s population of some 200 million. Although the agricultural sector remains a major employer, it has suffered years of neglect as the country’s economy focused heavily on oil revenue. 
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Programme, even before the Covid-19 crisis, farmers had not been able to satisfy demand for Nigeria’s population of some 200 million. Although the agricultural sector remains a major employer, it has suffered years of neglect as the country’s economy focused heavily on oil revenue.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Remittances to Africa

According to estimates from the World Bank, the total amount of remittances during the coronavirus crisis is expected to plummet like never before — by up to 20% worldwide.

"This is unprecedented in the history of remittance flows ever since we started monitoring them since the 1980s," says Dilip Ratha from the World Bank. Africa will be particularly hard hit by the slump: The World Bank anticipates a decline in remittance flows of up to 23.1%. In 2019, a total of $48 billion (€42 billion) worth of money transfers were sent to sub-Saharan Africa. This year, the figure is likely to be closer to around $37 billion (€34 billion).
This isn't due to a lack of will. "A large number of migrant workers are lower-skilled," says Ratha. "They are also in the informal sector, for example in retail stores, hotels, tourism, farm workers." Many of these sectors have had to cease operations due to lockdown or social distancing measures.

"These migrants are vulnerable," says Ratha. "They are the first ones to be let go or their wages fall fast."
Without their own bank account, many of the migrants and their relatives have to process transfers via financial service providers such as Western Union, Moneygram or Ria. These industry giants charge high fees, but have few branches. So local business — often Afro shops or hairdressers — serve as transfer agencies. But many have been forced to close during the coronavirus crisis. This means the money can usually only reach Africa through side channels.

€105 billion would be needed for Africa to cope with the consequences of the pandemic. So far, foreign donors have pledged over €65 billion — this still leaves a gap of €40 billion. And that's the kind of money that many governments can't easily find: The pandemic is expected to shrink the economy by more than 5% this year, as the continent prepares to face its first recession in 25 years.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Burundi's Election

Burundi's elections fails to be free and credible.

A general election is underway on Wednesday in the East African nation of Burundi, where President Pierre Nkurunziza is stepping aside after 15 years of rule that has seen massive repression of opposition politicians, civil society and independent media.

Burundians will choose a new president, parliamentarians and local councillors in the elections, which are being held without regional or international election observers.
Doudou Diene, president of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi at OHCHR, the United Nations body mandated to promote and protect human rights, explained, "So what we have documented is that the conditions - the debate and the democratic factors - necessary to perform a credible and a free elections are not met accurately in Burundi. This is why we are letting the international community know about this situation."

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

'Anti-apartheid' denounced (1970)


From the May 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anti-apartheid was denounced as a slogan of British imperialism at a meeting in Conway Hall, London, on 16 March addressed by I. B. Tabata, President of the Unity Movement of South Africa and N. Honono, President of the All-African Convention (a constituent organisation of the Unity Movement).

The South African ruling class, argued Tabata (what follows is only a summary of his arguments not an exact report of his speech), was split over how to govern the millions of African workers and peasants on whose labour the South African capitalist economy rested. The bulk of the industrial wealth of South Africa was owned either by capitalists from Britain or the English-speaking section of the White population. British imperialism had come to realise that it was no longer necessary to govern places like India and Africa by means of direct colonial rule. They had learned that it was cheaper and less inconvenient to rule through “independent” governments. However the bulk of the South African electorate, made up of White workers and farmers, was Afrikaans-speaking and traditionally opposed to British imperialism. They followed the lead of the Nationalist Party which preached that the only way to govern the Africans was by police methods. Brutal apartheid was the implementation of this policy of suppression. This the British capitalists and their counter-parts in South Africa, like gold magnate Oppenheimer, regarded as unnecessary and even dangerous in that it could provoke unrest and violence that would endanger their investments. They would prefer to rule through the White opposition parties (with their policy of less rigid segregation) or even, if necessary through organisations like the African National Congress. The “anti-apartheid" campaign by obscuring the class struggle of the African peasants and workers against capitalist exploitation and oppression, served their interests. As the Unity Movement put it in their pamphlet The Revolutionary Road for South Africa:
  In terms of the South African set-up, anti-apartheid means anti-Afrikaner Nationalist Government. It means the return to power of the English speaking sections. It means the entrenchment of imperialism in South Africa and all that that connotes for the exploitation of the mass of the Black population.
This is an analysis which the Socialist Party of Great Britain would largely endorse and is one reason why we do not take part in single-issue campaigns such as “Boycott South African Goods” and "Stop the Cricket Tour”. It is in fact in line with what we ourselves have long argued: that the rigid apartheid imposed by a government drawing its support from a farm-orientated electorate is a hindrance to the development of capitalism in South Africa and is against the interests of both the South African capitalist class and the international capitalists who have investments there. We have always rejected the facile view that apartheid is imposed by these capitalists in order to protect their investments.

The Socialist Party is of course opposed to apartheid, but to separate the struggle against apartheid and other forms of oppression and discrimination from the general struggle for Socialism (which will mean the emancipation of all mankind, irrespective of race or sex) is to play into the hands of that section of the South African ruling class that is opposed to apartheid.

We also have fundamental criticisms of the programme and policy of the Unity Movement, which is heavily influenced by obsolete trotskyist ideas about Russia and China being “workers states”, about leadership and "transitional demands” and about guerilla warfare. Nevertheless, on the issue of anti-apartheid, we concede that they take up a basically correct position. Wc doubt however whether their supporters in this country, who include Tariq Ali, really understand the full implications of this line of argument.