Saturday, July 04, 2020

Zimbabwean Misery

With a rapidly devaluing currency and hyperinflation last measured in May at close to 800 percent on an annual basis, most Zimbabweans have haplessly watched their earnings evaporate. Some cannot afford to feed themselves any more  - a loaf of bread currently costs $1.
In 2009, soaring inflation prompted Zimbabwe to ditch its failing sovereign currency in favour of a series of foreign currencies led by the United States dollar. But "dollarising" the economy hit a major bump in 2015 when greenbacks started vanishing from the formal banking system.

In a bid to end the US dollar shortage, Zimbabwe's central bank in 2016 introduced bond notes - a form of surrogate currency - that was backed by a $200m bond facility from the Africa Export-Import Bank. But black market speculation quickly eroded the bond note's value, triggering a shortage that the central bank tried to offset by creating electronic notes.
In February 2019, bond notes - both physical and electronic - were merged into the Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) dollar, also known as the Zimdollar.
In June last year, the government banned transacting in all foreign currencies and eventually introduced a new Zimbabwean dollar in November.
"The crisis has reached tipping point, for sure," said economist Victor Bhoroma, citing the "high levels of inflation, serious wage compression for labour, income and exchange rate losses for businesses, persistent fuel shortages, corruption and high levels of starvation".
Professionals have also been hit by the economic meltdown. The highest-paid teacher in February earned a salary of 4,600 Zimbabwean dollars ($51) at the black market rate of $1:90 Zimbabwean dollars. Last month, the salaries of government workers were raised by 50 percent, but soaring inflation means the increase will make little difference.
And with the local currency losing purchasing power as the US dollar continues to appreciate against it, civil servants have been demanding US dollar-denominated salaries. On Monday, nurses began a new round of industrial action.
"The [Zimbabwean] $3,000 [$33.3] average salary we earn is not sufficient to cover basic needs without even adding the costs required to attend work," the Zimbabwe Nurses' Association (ZINA), which represents about 15,000 state nurses, said in a statement.
Bhoroma, the economist, said bold reforms are required to extricate Zimbabwe out of the crisis.
"Zimbabwe's problems lie in the culture of governance in government, the spirit of cronyism in our leadership, policy inconsistency and decaying institutions. So, in a way, it's the system and structure of governance that needs to change not the faces in leadership that come from the ruling party in government. Zimbabwe critically needs reforms more than anything at the present moment."

Africa's Suffering

The Western  world view has no room for inconvenient facts like the continuing legacy of the slave trade and colonialism as well as that Africa is actually a net creditor to the rest of the world - a 2014 analysis of 39 African countries found that what had been extracted from them between 1970 and 2010 and parked offshore was more than four times as much as they owed in external debt, and nearly equal to what they had received in foreign direct investment and aid combined.
It also drives what  author Teju Cole called the White Savior Industrial Complex, which prioritises "having a big emotional experience that validates privilege" above justice and addressing the racist systems of oppression and extraction that buttress that privilege at the cost of immiserating a large proportion of the globe. 
According to the Suffering in Silence report produced annually by CARE International, nine of the 10 most under-reported humanitarian crises of 2019 were happening in Africa, the sole exception being North Korea's malnutrition calamity. It cites the European Commission's definition of forgotten humanitarian crises as those that "receive insufficient international aid and attention, notably in terms of media coverage".

The Billionaire looting the Congo

Israeli billionaire mining investor Dan Gertler has denied that he had tried to evade US sanctions in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
An investigation by the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF) and campaign group Global Witness said he had used a global money laundering network to get around US sanctions and extract mineral wealth from DR Congo.
The report by the two rights organisations published on Thursday cited evidence indicating that Gertler had moved millions of dollars through Afriland First Bank’s branch in DR Congo in order to dodge the sanctions.
"Gertler appears to have used a money laundering network stretching from Democratic Republic of Congo to Europe and Israel to evade US sanctions against him, funnel millions of dollars abroad, and acquire new mining assets in DR Congo," the report said.
Its said its findings were "based on documents provided by whistleblowers despite great risks to their personal safety".
The report pointed to leaked bank documents allegedly showing millions of dollars moving in and out of Afriland accounts opened by people with ties to Gertler, Reuters news agency reported.
Gertler denied the allegations: “I have no relationship whatsoever with numerous individuals supposedly identified in this story and the cash deposits referred to are fictitious or have nothing to do with me, or anyone on my behalf."
In 2017 the United States froze all the assets and accounts of Gertler, a close ally of former DR Congo President Joseph Kabila - accusing the billionaire of profiting from massive resource corruption in Africa.
According to the US Treasury Department, DR Congo lost more than $1.36bn (£1bn) between 2010 and 2012 in state revenues from under-priced mining assets sold to offshore companies tied to the billionaire.

Tanzania Becomes a Middle-Income Nation

Tanzania is now officially a middle-income country after the World Bank published a reviewed classification of world economies.
The East African nation enters into that bracket of middle-income countries with a GNI per capita of between $1,006 (£806) and $3,955 - a rough measure of each person's annual national income.
Last year, Tanzania’s economy grew by 6.8% in 2019 and 7% in 2018, one of the fastest growth rates in the world.
According to analysts, this rate of growth has been going for over a decade, and continued after President John Magufuli took office.
The country is the second largest economy in the region and now joins Kenya as the second East Africa Community member state in the middle-income bracket.
Will it make any difference to the poor?

Friday, July 03, 2020

DRC Misery

The news from the DR of the Congo is rarely good. 

Over one million people from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) have been forced to seek refuge in neighboring countries since the beginning of 2020, according to a report by the UN's refugee agency, the UNHCR.

 A total of 5 million people have so far been uprooted from DR Congo. According to the report, DR Congo has one of the highest rates of internal displacement in the world.

The UNHCR said that it had recorded several events of killing, mutilation, sexual violence and looting in the country in the last eight weeks. "UNHCR and its partners have recorded multiple attacks by armed groups on displacement sites and villages", said the report.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Dirty Diesel in Nigeria

Black market fuel made from stolen oil in rudimentary “bush” refineries hidden deep in the creeks and swamps of the Niger delta is less polluting than the highly toxic diesel and petrol that Europe exports to Nigeria. The extreme toxicity of the “official” fuel exported from Europe surprised researchers who took samples of diesel sold in government-licensed filling stations in Port Harcourt and Lagos. They found that on average the fuel exceeded EU pollution limits by as much as 204 times, and by 43 times the level for gasoline. Laboratory analysis also showed that the black market fuel was highly polluting but of a higher quality than the imported diesel and gasoline. The average “unofficial” diesel tested exceeded the level of EU sulphur standards 152 times, and 40 times the level for gasoline. 

Shell, Exxon, Chevron and other major oil companies extract and export up to 2m barrels a day of high quality, low sulphur “Bonny Light” crude from the Niger delta. But very little of this oil is refined in the country because its four state-owned refineries are dysfunctional or have closed80% of Nigeria’s petroleum products come from the Netherlands and Belgium. The two countries have some of Europe’s largest refineries.

International dealers export to Nigeria around 900,000 tonnes a year of low-grade, “dirty” fuel, made in Dutch, Belgian and other European refineries, and hundreds of small-scale artisanal refineries produce large quantities of illegal fuel from oil stolen from the network of oil pipelines that criss-cross the Niger delta. Illegal artisanal refineries are said by SDN to be growing fast in number and scale, now producing 5-20% of all the gasoline and diesel consumed in Nigeria from the estimated 175,000 barrels of crude oil stolen each year. The bush refineries are highly dangerous and frequently explode, adding to air, water and soil pollution in the mangrove swamps. But they are an important source of income for communities.

The net result, says international resource watchdog group Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) in a new report, is that Nigeria has some of the worst air pollution in the world, with dense clouds of choking soot hanging over gridlocked cities leading to a rise in serious health conditions as well as damaged vehicles. Nigeria ranks fourth in the world for deaths caused by air pollution. The air quality in cities like Port Harcourt, Aba, Onitsha and Kaduna has reached crisis levels of pollution in recent years, and there is mounting evidence of rising asthma, lung, heart and respiratory diseases. The SDN report calculates that around half the air pollution in Port Harcourt, a city of more than 3 million people, comes from the burning of official and unofficial fuel. The rest comes from nearby gas flaring, other industries, and the burning of rubbish.

Levels of particulate matter in Port Harcourt and Lagos, says SDN, are 20% worse than Delhi in India, the most polluted capital city in the world, where emergency levels of photochemical smogs are common. In 2016, the River Niger port city of Onitsha was said by the World Health Organization to be the world’s most polluted city, the concentration of PM10s – soot particles – was recorded at 594 micrograms per cubic metre; compared with the WHO safe limit of 66.

“Our research suggests that Nigeria is having dirty fuel dumped on it that cannot be sold to other countries with higher and better implemented standards. The situation is so bad that the average diesels sampled are of an even lower quality that that produced by artisanal refining camps in the creeks of the Niger delta,” said Florence Kayemba, SDN programme manager.

More than half of developing countries, mainly in Africa and Latin America, still use high-sulphur fuels which have long been illegal to burn in western countries. In Nigeria the practice is encouraged by an opaque fuel subsidy system that keeps prices relatively low at the pumps, but is widely thought to fuel corruption. Refineries in Europe are allowed to make the fuel if countries agree to accept it.

“The Niger delta already suffers environmental, health and livelihood impacts from decades of oil spill pollution, gas flaring and artisanal refining. This research indicates that it not only experiences the repercussions of producing crude oil, but also in the consumption of dirty official and unofficial fuels,” said the report.

A Dutch government report in 2018, that European refineries and commodity brokers were blending crude oil with benzene and other carcinogenic chemicals to create fuels hundreds of times over European pollution limits for the weakly-regulated African market. This was said to be causing significant particulate pollution, damage to vehicles, and adverse health impacts for local populations.

Nigeria, along with Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Benin promised in 2017 to stop the imports of “Africa quality” oil products as part of a UN environment programme initiative. But while Ghana has acted, reducing sulphur from 3,000 to 50 parts per million, Nigeria has argued that it needs more time to adapt.

South Africa's Police Brutality

 As the killing of George Floyd sparked protests worldwide, South Africans joined calls for action against police brutality following the deaths of at least 10 black people at the hands of law enforcement under a coronavirus lockdown. Thousands have attended Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg to protest violence by security forces implementing the lockdown - and prior to the pandemic - directed mainly at poor, black communities.
"This brutality and violence is not at all new. What is new is that during this lockdown, a harsher spotlight has been shone on these abuses," said Thato Masiangoako, a researcher for the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa.
More than 42,000 complaints were made about the police between 2012 and 2019, including rape, killings and torture, according to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), the police watchdog.