Thursday, August 27, 2020

Ethiopian sweatshops and cancelled orders

The largest childrens' wear retailer in the US has cancelled millions of dollars worth of clothing orders from suppliers in Ethiopia because of the coronavirus pandemic, pushing companies into debt and leaving employees facing pay cuts. The Children’s Place is one of four leading US apparel brands sourcing goods from Ethiopia, alongside PVH, JC Penney and H&M. In its annual report last year, TCP cited Ethiopia as a “key sourcing region”. The Worker Rights Consortium said at least seven factories in Ethiopia were producing clothing for TCP stores, employing about 15,000 workers.

The Children’s Place (TCP), which has more than 1,000 stores in the US and 90 around the world and had a turnover of $2bn (£1.5bn) last year, cancelled orders from Ethiopia in March and delayed payments by six months for orders completed in January and February. Ethiopian suppliers claim that TCP has demanded retroactive rebates on products that had been shipped before the crisis. They said the company cited the force majeure clause (which frees companies from contractual obligations in the case of certain extreme events) in its contracts as a reason not to pay, due to Covid-19.

Suppliers said the cancellations have had serious consequences for their businesses. Some producers said they have been unable to pay their lenders due to the cancellations, which has left them crippled with debt after already buying raw materials and paying workers. Others have said the cut in orders was enough to wipe out their profits for the year. One supplier told the Guardian his company had lost its credit line after losing nearly $1m because of contract cancellations.

 “We are a company with 95% women workers. Some of the workers are mothers,” the supplier said. Asked what the company could do legally to recoup the hundreds of thousands of dollars lost, the supplier responded: “How do you fight such a big US corporation? They have endless pockets.”

Scott Nova, executive director at the Worker Rights Consortium, said: “We understand that The Children’s Place faces real financial challenges during this time. But this just represents a small fraction of their total cancellations globally. There are other brands, like PVH and H&M that have stepped up to pay. So can TCP, and they should.”

Ethiopian workers are the lowest paid in the global garment supply chain. Most of the country’s garment workers are young women who have migrated from poor rural areas.

According to a report by the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, the minimum wage for Ethiopian garment workers is $26 a month, compared with $95 in Bangladesh and $326 in China.

'Aida', 20, who has worked for a factory that produces clothing for TCP for three years, said her wages had been cut from $26 a month to $10 since March. 

“I am afraid I am going to lose my job because of the crisis and get expelled from my house when I can’t afford to pay my rent. Since the factory has stopped providing transportation I get up earlier and walk to work. It takes me around 50 minutes to get to the factory. The days I skip meals has become more frequent … I used to eat vegetables but now I usually consume only cornflour meals.”

'Tamru', 22, who works at the same factory, usually makes $27 a month, working nine hours a day, six days a week. He must pay for his own housing. Since orders were cut, the company stopped supplying buses to transport workers to the factories, and his wages have been cut in half. He told the Guardian that this had made buying basic food unaffordable.

“I can’t eat whenever I want to eat,” he said. “I sometimes skip dinner. I walk from home to work every day because the factory has stopped providing transport service and I can’t afford to pay for a bus. My work is so exhausting, I never sit, and the pay is very small to cover my expenses.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Congo Defeats Measles

 Congo (DRC) declared the end of the two-year outbreak of measles that claimed the lives of more than 7,000 children aged under five.

The outbreak was countered by vaccination on a massive scale, in which millions of children and infants were immunised.
"For the past month, we are able to say that this epidemic has been eliminated from across our territory," Health Minister Eteni Longondo told a press conference.
The first cases of measles in the latest outbreak were recorded in June 2018. As of January this year, the WHO had recorded more than 335,000 suspected cases of the disease, of which 6,362 were fatal. By way of comparison, the DRC -- a vast country the size of continental western Europe -- has recorded 9,891 cases of coronavirus, of which 251 were fatal.
"We can say that measles [in the DRC] no longer exists."

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Africa - Polio free

Africa has been declared free from wild polio by the independent body, the Africa Regional Certification Commission. Nigeria is the last African country to be declared free from wild polio, having accounted for more than half of all global cases less than a decade ago.
Polio usually affects children under five, sometimes leading to irreversible paralysis. Death can occur when breathing muscles are affected. Polio is a virus which spreads from person to person, usually through contaminated water. Two out of three strains of wild polio virus have been eradicated worldwide. On Tuesday, Africa has been declared free of the last remaining strain of wild poliovirus.
Twenty-five years ago thousands of children in Africa were paralysed by the virus. More than 95% of Africa's population has now been immunised.
The disease is now only found in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Ivory Coast's Despot

According to the Economist’s 2019 Democracy Indexmore than half of Africa’s 55 countries are ruled by a “life president” or – in the words of the report’s authors – “authoritarian regimes”.

 Just five months ago,  Ivory Coast's 78-year-old Alassane Ouattara had announced his retirement, pledging to “transfer power to a new generation”.  Now he has announced he would seek a third term in office after all.

What makes Ouattara’s decision to run for a third unconstitutional term particularly troubling is that the political climate in Ivory Coast is ripe for electoral crises. A full-scale civil war could make parts of the country’s south-east regions, where opposition to Ouattara is strongest, ungovernable, leading to further deterioration of socioeconomic conditions in the country.
This is especially worrying for a country ravaged by on-off civil unrest since the 2010 civil war that killed 3,000 and displaced approximately 300, 000 people. Last week at least five people were killed and more than 100 injured in three days of pre-election street clashes between opposition and security forces, heightening the tense atmosphere.
Ivory Coast, the world’s top producer of cocoa beans, should be one of the most economically prosperous countries in Africa. According to data from the International Cocoa Organisation, the country produces 45% of the cocoa in the $100bn (£76bn) global chocolate industry.
 Poverty levels remain high, with nearly half of the 25 million Ivorians living on $1.22 a day. Life expectancy stands at 54. Women make up more than 50% of those who are unemployed and at least 12% of the population is food insecure. Out of 189 countries, Ivory Coast is ranked 165 on the 2019 UN human development index, and 165 out of 189 on the gender inequality index.
Ouattara, who still enjoys the support of France, is defiant; becoming the latest in a long line of African leaders to push past a constitutionally imposed two term limit, a well-trodden path for life presidency. He believes he is indispensable to the welfare of his people and wellbeing of Ivory Coast, that there is no one among the 25 million Ivorians better suited for the job than him. It’s reminiscent of Cameroon’s ailing president, Paul Biya, who holds Africa’s record for the longest-serving “life president” at 42 years. 
Ouattara’s refuses to reform the electoral commission – long considered biased in his favour – to even up the playing field and spare the people potentially horrific electoral violence.
Ouattara doesn’t want to relinquish power because he doesn’t trust those around him and he is worried about accusations of the funnelling of government funds, among other things. The businesses that he and his family have built up in Ivory Coast and abroad have brought them millions of dollars.

Lesotho - Sweatshops and sex abuse

At one of the biggest garment factories in Maseru, the capital city of Lesotho, the managers never hired enough regular workers to complete the clothing orders that flooded in from Europe and the US. Instead, every morning, a few hours after the sewing machines had started whirring, a male supervisor would stroll out to the factory gates where dozens of women waited. As he approached, they would surge forward, pressing themselves close to the railings and calling out their names.
These women were known as the “dailies” – unemployed cutters and machinists who went from factory to factory looking for a few hours of casual work. Everyone knew what the women had to do to get picked from the crowd. Many would endure repeated harassment and sexual assault to secure a daily wage of just over £6 a day.

“A woman whose babies are going hungry will do anything to put food on the table,” said Thebelang Mohapi. The supervisors knew they held all the power. “Nobody ever stopped them. They did whatever they wanted to do.”
Last year, a report by an NGO, the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), revealed a widespread incidence of rape, sexual assault and harassment at multiple garment factories in Maseru. More than 120 women from three different factories testified that they had been forced to have sex with male supervisors in order to keep their jobs. Some alleged that they had been raped on the factory premises. Some said they had contracted HIV from supervisors who withheld their salaries until they agreed to have unprotected sex. Those who complained were sacked.
Outside the factories, Lesotho has one of the highest rates of rape and sexual violence in the world, and most women do not trust the police. “Inside our factories women didn’t report, because the management didn’t care and the women saw what happened to people like me who did speak out,” said Mohapi. “The people from the WRC were the first to ever ask us what was really happening, and to listen to what we had to say.”
These factories in Lesotho supply some of the most famous denim brands in the world. The Taiwanese company Nien Hsing, which owns the factories investigated by WRC, is a major supplier to Levi Strauss, Wrangler and US retailer The Children’s Place. The brands had all carried out social audits and factory inspections, which are supposed to detect human rights and labour violations, but none had picked up the degrading and abusive conditions the female workers endured.
The WRC report was the first to link major brands directly to sexual violence in Lesotho, but garment workers in India, Brazil, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Turkey, China, Bangladesh and Vietnam have also reported being assaulted, stalked, groped, harassed and raped in factories making clothing for international brands. An ActionAid report in 2019 estimated that 80% of all Bangladeshi garment workers had faced sexual violence in the workplace.
“Sexual harassment is the fashion industry’s dirty secret. Brands are rarely called to account for what is happening to women making their clothing,” said Aruna Kashyap, a campaigner and legal advocate for Human Rights Watch.
Compared to the multi-billion pound garment powerhouses of Bangladesh and China, the small, landlocked country of Lesotho, an enclave within South Africa, is an industry minnow, exporting just 90m pieces of clothing a year, compared with the 10bn pieces of clothing exported by Bangladesh each year. Yet one thing that Lesotho specialises in is denim. More than 26m pairs of jeans are made here every year, many of them for Levi’s, and this has become the fuel that keeps the country’s faltering economy running.
“Without the garment industry, the economy would just break down,” said Sam Mokhele, from the National Clothing and Textile Workers Union (NACTWU) union in Lesotho. The export garment industry accounts for more than 20% of the country’s GDP. “The Taiwanese clothing companies are now our biggest employer. There are 46,000 people working in the factories, most of them women whose families wouldn’t be able to eat if they closed.”
The vast majority – about 80% – of garment workers in Lesotho are female. Women are the main breadwinners for many families in Lesotho, often supporting extended families. Since the factories came to Maseru, the number of women employed in Lesotho has doubled. Yet the garment industry has not delivered the economic emancipation for women that it promised. Most of the women in Lesotho last year were paid less per month than the cost of a single pair of Levi’s jeans – about £60. And yet, for many, it is either this or nothing.
“At the end of the day, garment workers across the world are stigmatised and marginalised because they are poor women,” said Bobbie Sta Maria, a senior researcher at the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. “It is overwhelmingly women who do the badly paid, low-skilled manual labour, and almost universally men who are in positions of power over them. The brands benefit from this model and its lower production costs, because they know that women will accept poorly paid work to support their families.”
The fashion industry’s fast-moving production model exerts relentless pressure to produce more for less. The burden falls on suppliers in some of the world’s poorest countries, where there is high unemployment and little enforcement of labour and human rights standards. Now, as brands struggle to claw back lost profit from the coronavirus pandemic, that pressure is only likely to get worse. As workers get more desperate to keep their jobs, they will be less able to speak out
In March, when the pandemic hit, brands immediately started refusing to pay for orders already in production in factories. The knock-on effect has been swift and brutal: more than 1 million workers have alReady lost their jobs in Bangladesh. Many are already facing destitution. As wages are slashed and factories close, there has been a wave of attacks on labour rights campaigners and vulnerable workers, including pregnant women in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Myanmar. Already, the sexual abuse of women garment workers who desperately need jobs is on the rise. Now things are re-opening,  retailers are expecting to get significant discounts.
Even before the pandemic, factory supervisors were always stressed by the constant pressure to hit targets, and often took it out on the women. They would walk up and down the line screaming at them to work harder. It was a process of dehumanisation. “They would abuse us, calling us prostitutes and dogs,” she said. “If we had a big order, it got worse.”
The culture that allows sexual harassment and violence against women is deeply troubling for some of the male workers. Joseph Tlali, a father of four with more than 20 years of experience on the factory floor, is a supervisor at one of the factories exposed by the WRC report. “The supervisors just did what they wanted,” he said. “Even the junior managers were abusing women during their lunchtime. The factory manager would actually be watching them having sex on CCTV, but would not do anything to stop it. It was more like watching porn, you know? I would go home and look at my daughters sleeping and think: ‘You will never work in one of these places.’” He said the Taiwanese bosses didn’t care about how the supervisors were treating the women as long as they completed the orders, and the brands didn’t care as long as they got their clothes. “Nothing was done to keep the women safe,” he said. “They couldn’t tell their husbands because they thought they would be blamed. So really, they were completely on their own.”
The solution, Tlali said, had to start with fair pay. “The women need to be paid more, so that they feel they have a choice, and are not constantly just days away from destitution.”
Levi Strauss & Co is celebrated across the industry for its ethical procurement, and was one of the first fashion brands to demand that suppliers uphold human rights and labour standards. Yet its supply chains in Lesotho had still become infested with sexual violence. As one campaigner put it to me: “If it’s happening in Levi’s supply chain, then it’s happening everywhere.”
For years campaigners have been warning that codes of conduct and social audits not only don’t work, but can be misleading. By creating a veneer of corporate accountability, they allow brands to palm off responsibility for bad working conditions on to suppliers.
“These audits are not there to protect the worker – they are there to protect the reputation of the clothing companies,” said Aruna Kashyap of Human Rights Watch. "...If audits can’t pick up that a building is about to collapse then there is no way they could identify something as hidden and nuanced as gender-based violence,” Kashyap said. Regardless, when it comes to sexual harassment, fashion brands are not even asking the questions. “They simply don’t want to know.”
“When the inspectors come, they only ever talk to us in groups, and usually in front of our managers,” said Kabelo Sello. “Even if they talk to us alone, the management is watching, so if there is a complaint afterwards they know who who has talked. They never ask us any questions – they only say, “Are you happy at work?”, and we all nod.”

The Mali Coup

"We are not holding on to power, but we are holding on to the stability of the country," Colonel-Major Ismael Wague said in his address to Malians. "This will allow us to organise, within an agreed reasonable timeframe, general elections to equip Mali with strong institutions, which are able to better manage our daily lives and restore confidence between the government and the governed."

Manu Lekunze, a lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, said both ECOWAS and the UN were selective in their condemnations and should have listened to the Malians who have been taking to the streets for weeks.

"Malians are not happy. The army is coming out to do what the protesters were demanding. The protesters were demanding for Keita to resign for a very long time. His removal is an opportunity for the country to take a new path," Lekunze told Al Jazeera.  Tens of thousands of protesters, unhappy with rampant corruption, alleged election irregularities and worsening insecurity that has rendered large parts of Mali ungovernable, have rallied in Bamako since June calling for Keita's departure. "France, ECOWAS, UN and the AU have come out and said, 'we don't want unconstitutional change' but you see unconstitutional activities going on across Africa. In Ivory Coast, you have a president seeking a third term and the UN is saying nothing about it. In Guinea-Conakry, not far from Mali, the president is seeking a third term. So, the constitutional argument is not really an argument," he added.

The spark for the political crisis was a decision by the Constitutional Court in April to overturn the results of parliamentary polls for 31 seats, in a move that handed 10 more seats to Keita's party. The protests turned violent in July when a crackdown by security forces during three days of unrest killed at least 14 protesters and bystanders, according to rights groups. Keita came to power after winning a 2013 election held the following year after another military coup forced the then-government of Amadou Toumani Toure out of office.

Marie-Roger Biloa, an analyst at Africa International Media Group, said Keita's removal by the army did not come as a surprise. "The situation has been deteriorating for years in Mali and the country has been in an open crisis for weeks now," Biloa told Al Jazeera.
Boubacar Sangare, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) think-tank, explained, "The apparent support of the coup by a section of the population says a lot about how they perceive state institutions and the constitution. It also showcases the depth of disarray and decay in which those institutions find themselves,"

Monday, August 17, 2020

Reparations for Burundi?

The East African country is a former German colony and lived under Belgian rule until gaining independence almost 60 years ago. From 1890, Germany colonized Burundi, which became part of German East Africa. Although less well-known than other colonial powers, Germany was at one time the fourth-largest colonial power in the world.

In addition to German East Africa, which was made up of present-day Rwanda and parts of Tanzania in addition to Burundi, Germany had territories in what is now Ghana and Namibia and elsewhere. After WWI, the country was ruled by Belgium, until it gained its independence in 1962. Its leaders plan to ask the two ex-rulers to pay damages — and not just cash. 

Burundi wants Germany and Belgium to pay €36 billion ($42.6 billion) in reparations for colonial rule. The country also intends to demand the European countries return stolen historical artifacts and archive material.

During the colonial era, the ruling powers strengthened the divide between the Hutu and Tutsi groups. This contributed to deadly ethnic conflict between them in the 1970s and then another civil war for 12 years from 1993, which killed some 300,000 people. The Belgium government carried out a program of kidnapping biracial children from Burundi and then Belgium Congo during the 1940s and 50s.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Not Alright with AGRA

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is a favorite cause among Western donors. But a study finds that the work of the organization is actually counterproductive. The accusations against AGRA are particularly serious as the organization is a favorite among Western donors. 

Its website is full of figures, highlighting some of the organization's self-declared milestones such as the 550 million euros ($650 million) it has invested across the continent, the 119 seed companies AGRA has founded, the 700 scientific papers it has financed, and the almost 23 million small farmers the organization has reportedly impacted.  AGRA had set itself the ambitious objective of doubling the earnings of 20 million small farmers by 2020 while halving food shortages in 20 African countries. This is what the organization had pledged to do when it was founded in 2006.

 The figures highlighted in the report do not paint AGRA in a good light: The number of starving people in AGRA's 13 partner countries across Africa is said not to have fallen at all but is reported to rather have risen — by almost a third.

Agricultural output is purported to have risen at a slower rate than before ever since AGRA's involvement began in eight of those countries. In two of those countries, it even decreased over that period, according to the analysis.

 Farmers in Zambia, for example, were subsequently forced to take out loans to buy such fertilizer and seeds, adding that when their anticipated proceeds failed to materialize, they were no longer able to repay their debts.

Zambian agricultural expert Mutinta Nketani says that when an organization like AGRA "fails to achieve the goals it had set itself, all alarm bells should go off — not only amid civil society, but also amid AGRA itself as well as its donors." Nketani wants to know: "Whose interests does AGRA actually represent? In most cases, it's the interests of private companies, such as seed and fertilizer producers. And in Zambia, those are mostly multinational corporations."

The AGRA initiative was founded in 2006 by two US organizations: The Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. The Gates Foundation alone has so far supported AGRA with the equivalent of 498 million euros ($589 million). Both those US-American foundations remain its largest donors to date.  

Dr. Agnes Kalibata, AGRA's President, has built up a strong international network and knows how to go about getting people to listen to her.

AGRA's growing influence is also the result of an offensive public relations campaign: AGRA has always been open to responding to media interviews, inviting journalists to pen guest commentaries, and paying their travel expenses to cover AGRA events. It is only now, in the midst of the mounting allegations against AGRA, that the organization for the first time failed to answer an interview request by Deutsche Welle for days. Eventually, AGRA's head of strategy, Andrew Cox, replied,: "We reject the criticism arising of this 'analysis', which was not conducted in a transparent manner. AGRA was not afforded any opportunity to comment on these ‘results.' We therefore find it impossible to comment any further.”

 Nketani might meanwhile be rather disappointed to hear that; she wants to witness a radical sea change on how investors deal with African agriculture: "They must support agricultural projects based on local techniques and experience,” she said in an interview, adding that every without AGRA's help, African farmers already know how to produce seeds and organic fertilizers while protecting the environment.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Chad's Kleptocracy

Since 1990, the year Idriss Déby seized power, ousting his mentor Hissène Habré in a bloody war, Chad – a landlocked former French colony that separates the Sahara in the north from the savannah in the south – has consistently ranked at the bottom of the index, fluctuating between 160 and 187 (out of 189).

Yet Chad should be a stable and rich country. It sits atop reserves of some of the world’s most precious natural resources, including uranium and gold, and pumps about 130,000 barrels of crude oil a day, generating billions of dollars in annual revenues. But, not surprisingly, very little has trickled down to the population, who remain desperately poor.
In October, the Global Hunger Index listed Chad as experiencing “alarming” levels of hunger. This heartbreaking level of poverty and 68-year-old Déby’s misrule are not coincidental. It’s part of a pattern causing devastation across the continent.  In a country of 15 million, there are about 100 hospitals, and a few hundred qualified doctors. According to the UN, 8% of infants do not survive their first year and 20% do not live to see their fifth birthday. Of the population, 70% cannot read or write, 80% live in total poverty on less than a dollar a day, and 90% are unemployed. The average citizen lives to the age of 53. In 2019, Transparency International placed the country 162 (out of 180) in its annual list of the most corrupt countries in the world. On top of all this, Lake Chad – the principal life source of the Sahel – is shrinking in the climate crisis, placing the poverty-ravaged population at even greater risk of famine.
Déby rules with absolute power. He is in effect “president for life” and does not tolerate any challenge from the public, opposition parties or civil society groups. Chad’s parliament revised the constitution to allow him to retain the office until 2033, when he will be 81. Unsurprisingly, this week he went a step further to cement his autocracy and at the same time further eroded the prospect of change. To mark Chad’s 60th anniversary, on 11 August he made himself “Maréchal du Tchad”. He even dressed like Mobutu Sese Seko, another kleptocrat, when he made himself “Maréchal du Zaire”. It is all a desperate attempt to strengthen the idea that he personally embodies Chad’s stability and security in the global anti-jihadist fight in the Sahel, which has made it increasingly difficult for many to imagine a peaceful transition from him to any successor.
In fact, during his 30-year reign every state institution – the courts, the media, the opposition, civil society – has been destroyed; an old-style way to keep himself in power. The country’s oil money – 80% of which was earmarked for agriculture, health, education and infrastructure – seems to have been diverted to almost anything but to lift Chadian people out of poverty. Déby’s government has not only squandered hundreds of millions of petrodollars, leaving Chadians with only debts and broken institutions, but also indulged in vast spending – and even borrowing – to equip his security forces with the latest weapons to repress citizens, opponents and campaigners demanding food and reforms.
But Déby’s main backer, France, remains quiet, raising uncomfortable questions: when will France decolonise and stop supporting brutal leaders like Déby – or, for that matter, Ali Bongo in Gabon, Alassane Ouattara in Ivory Coast or Faure Gnassingbé in Togo – holding their people and their country in the past, both economically and politically?

Nigeria and the Pain of the Pandemic

In Alapere, Lagos, This working-class Lagos community has been reeling from job losses, a collapse in informal services, and rising food and transport costs.  For Africa’s largest economy, the pandemic has precipitated a crisis at a time when many people were already in difficulty. The pandemic has wrought a swift descent from struggle into crisis. Millions of job losses are projected this year. 

Juliana Chokpa, a 38-year-old cleaner, pay of 35,000 naira (£70) a month, working in a lavish home 20 miles away in Banana Island, the city’s most affluent enclave, was suddenly halved in March when her employers left the country as coronavirus cases began to rise. Weeks later, with government lockdown measures taking hold, her husband, a driver for an international corporate firm, was told his pay would be cut by two-thirds because the staff he had been driving were working from home.

 “We don’t see any virus but we see suffering,” she explains. “What do we do? Things are a struggle and we have children. They don’t know what these difficulties mean. They just want to know they can have their cereal, can enjoy things. Sometimes we borrow, sometimes we get help from people. It’s only God sustaining us,” she says.

The fallout from the pandemic has tipped economic ecosystems over the edge. While Juliana wealthier employers’s have been affected by the lockdown, they are better insulated from the disruption. The knock-on effects further down the chain are more profound.

“Cooks, cleaners, house-helps, they’ve lost their jobs or had their salaries reduced. It’s the same thing: their bosses have travelled, or have less income so can’t pay them like before,” she says. 

Transport costs have doubled since the government introduced social distancing, limiting passenger numbers to half of normal capacity. Transport providers, also contending with rising fuel costs, responded by raising fares. For millions on low incomes, increases of 200 naira (£0.40) are upending. “My husband stays at work during the week now because to go back and forth is too expensive,” she says. Now she often has to care for their four children alone. 

The troubles of many businesses impacted by lockdown measures and trade restrictions, had affected nearly all parts of economic life. A crash in oil prices in April, has further depressed Nigeria’s already strained government revenues according to Mma Ekeruche, an economist. “The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is unique,” she said, affecting aviation, hospitality and entertainment businesses among the most severely. “Another group that will be hard hit are those in the informal sector, who are dependent on daily income and are without recourse to savings,” she added. The government have quickly responded with financial help, including loans to medium and small business and cash transfers to some poor and vulnerable households. While the programs are likely to have an impact, criticisms have grown that they do not effectively target those in need. “The very poor such as the artisans and rural farmers are likely to be financially excluded,” Ekeruche said. A national register collated by the government to identify poorer citizens eligible for social welfare, only captures a fraction of those requiring help. 

42% of employed Nigerians have lost their jobs during the pandemic, a sobering survey by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said in June, and 80% of households contacted reported lower incomes compared with last year. Already, 82 million Nigerians live on less than $1 a day. Nigeria’s economy was predicted to contract by 5.4%, the International Monetary Fund said, while the government anticipated that unemployment could rise by half to 33%.

Jammeh's Corruption in The Gambia

The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking the forfeiture of a Maryland property belonging to former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh worth some US$3.5 million, which he is believed to have acquired through illegal activities during his two decades at the helm of the West African nation. 

“Yahya Jammeh conspired with his family members and close associates to utilize a host of shell companies and overseas trusts to launder his corrupt proceeds throughout the world, including through the purchase of a multimillion-dollar mansion in Potomac, Maryland,” said a DOJ statement. According to the DOJ, the Maryland property was officially purchased through a trust set up by Jammeh’s wife.

It is estimated that he stole nearly a billion dollars over that period. As president, along with an inner circle of advisors he looted state industries including everything from telecommunications to oil and gas reserves and allowed his country to be a laundromat for money

Sudan's Race Question

Sudan is an ethnically diverse country. While the majority is made up of Muslim Arab-speaking tribes of various backgrounds, there are many non-Arabised ethnic groups, including, Nubians, Beja, Fur, Nuba (ethnically different from Nubians), Fallata and others. These communities have been historically marginalised, discriminated against and politically ostracised.

Part of the reason for this has to do with British colonialism, which favoured some tribes over others, but much of it also is related to Sudan's pre-colonial history. In the seventh century, the Christian Nubian state of Makuria concluded a treaty (known as al-Baqt) with Egypt's Arab conquers, which among other provisions included the transfer of 360 slaves per year to new Egyptian rulers. This established Sudan as a source of slaves for Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. 

Over the following centuries, Arab tribes gradually migrated into Sudanese lands and intermarried with the local Black African population, thus gradually Arabising it. Some of these tribes engaged in the slave trade. The gradual Arabisation dislocated culturally parts of Sudan from Africa, solidifying the belief of Arab superiority and native non-Arabised inferiority and laying the foundations of modern Sudan's identity crisis. Those who were enslaved were almost exclusively members of the non-Muslim non-Arabised tribes. After independence, the Sudanese society continued to be plagued by this historical legacy. 

Indeed, political and economic power was almost exclusively in the hands of members of the Arabised tribes.
This oppression and marginalisation had led to the first Sudanese civil war (1955-72) and then in the 1980s to another one. When al-Bashir came to power through a military coup in 1989 backed by Islamist forces, this situation deteriorated further. Discrimination and violence against non-Muslims and non-Arabs got worse, as his regime sought to frame the conflict in religious terms.
Protesters in Khartoum, Omdurman, and elsewhere faced beatings, shootings, rape and torture. Those who perpetrated these brutal acts were the same fighters who had been deployed in Darfur to wreak havoc on impoverished and marginalised communities. The protests brought together citizens from all over the country and cross-communal solidarity started to emerge, as people shared their stories of violence and pain.
And then one day in February, during a protest in Khartoum, the crowd broke into a new chant: "Ya unsuri w maghrur, kol albalad Darfur [hey you racist and arrogant, all the country is Darfur]." This was probably the first time that so many people in the north faced off with the military regime and showed solidarity with Darfur. This was the Black Lives Matter moment of Sudan. Thus the country united. The dictator fell. And a new beginning was promised to people of all ethnicities and colours. 
But more than a year later, not only are racial slurs still regularly used for non-Arab Sudanese people, but little has changed for Darfurians and other marginalised communities as well. In July, violence erupted in the region once again, killing at least 60 people. According to the United Nations, some 2,500 people had to flee to Chad as the situation remains unstable. The Sudanese media, which now supposedly enjoys more freedom than under al-Bashir, ignored the news, demonstrating just how little Darfurian lives matter in Khartoum.   The Sudanese elite continues to deny its Africanness and behaves like a settler-colonial authority. But common people, who last year were in the streets fighting for a better future for their country, also seemed uninterested. 
There will be no progress until the anti-racism struggle at home and worldwide has to be an integral part of that process and stand with our brothers and sisters in Darfur, in the rest of Africa and the rest of the world.  

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Namibia Rejects Germany's Compensation Offer

 Former colonial powers have been deeply reluctant to acknowledge the violence associated with their imperial history.
Namibia has rejected a German offer of compensation for the mass murder of tens of thousands of indigenous people more than a century ago. 
German occupiers in Namibia almost destroyed the Herero and Nama peoples between 1904 and 1908 as they consolidated their rule in the new colony in south-west Africa in what many historians have described the bloodshed as the first genocide of the 20th century. German officials rejected the use of the word “genocide” to describe the killings of the Herero and Namaqua until July 2015, when the then foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, issued a “political guideline” indicating that the massacre should be referred to as “a war crime and a genocide”. The German government is also very reluctant to use the word “reparations” in a declaration accompanying any agreement with the Namibian government. Germany had proposed an alternative description of cash payments as “healing the wounds”.
Namibia’s president, Hage Geingob, said on Tuesday that the most recent offer “for reparations made by the German government … is not acceptable” and needed to be “revised”.
No details were provided on Berlin’s proposal, but unconfirmed media reports have referred to a miserly sum of €10m.
In 1884 as European powers scrambled to carve up the continent, Germany annexed a territory on the south-west coast. Land was confiscated, livestock plundered, and native people were subjected to racially motivated violence, rape and murder. In January 1904 the Herero people – also called the Ovaherero – rebelled. The smaller Nama tribe joined the uprising the following year.
In response, colonial rulers forced tens of thousands of Herero into the Kalahari desert, their wells poisoned and food supplies cut. Others were rounded up and placed in concentration camps. Half of the Nama population also died, many in disease-ridden death camps such as the infamous site on Shark Island, in the coastal town of Lüderitz. 
Germany’s 29-year rule in a second colony, which eventually became Tanzaniawas also bloody. Tens of thousands of people were starved, tortured and killed as colonial forces crushed rebellions.
Belgium long refused to officially recognise the cost of its invasion and exploitation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it is thought that about 10 million people – roughly half the population – died during its rule. Only in June did King Philippe express his “deepest regrets” for the brutality of his country’s reign over the vast, troubled state.
In 2013 the British government said it “sincerely regrets” acts of torture carried out against Kenyans fighting for liberation from colonial rule in the 1950s and 1960s. It said it would pay out £19.9m to 5,200 Kenyans who were found to have been tortured.
Hussein Mwinyi, a Tanzanian government minister, told parliamentarians in February that officials were closely watching “steps taken by Kenya and Namibia governments in seeking reparations from Britain and German governments respectively”.