Friday, October 30, 2020

The Locust Plague Spreading

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Polluting and Dangerous Cars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 23, 2020

The Soro Soke (Speak Up) Generation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sahel and Wealth Inequality

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Sahel's Problems

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

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

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

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

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

The Lekki Massacre in Nigeria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Child Labour and Chocolate

 Nearly 20 years after the world’s major chocolate manufacturers pledged to abolish employment abuses, hazardous child labour remains rife in their supply chains, a new study finds. Back in 2001, big brands such as Nestlé, Mars and Hershey signed a cross-sector accord aimed at eliminating egregious child labour. Despite missing deadlines to deliver on their pledge in 2005, 2008 and 2010, they continue to insist that ending the illegal practice remains their top concern. The overall proportion of children working has gone up by 14 percentage points in the past decade. 

Research from the University of Chicago finds that more than two-fifths (43%) of all children aged between five and 17 in cocoa-growing regions of Ghana and Ivory Coast – the world’s largest cocoa producers – are engaged in hazardous work.

In total, an estimated 1.5 million children work in cocoa production around the world, half of whom are found in these two west African nations alone. Hazardous work includes the use of sharp tools, working at night and exposure to agrochemical products, among other harmful activities.

 Chocolate giant Mars reiterated that child labour has no place in cocoa production and said it had committed $1bn to help “fix a broken supply chain”. Campaign groups dismiss such comments as a duplicitous smokescreen. Indeed, a lawsuit stating that international chocolate manufacturers knowingly profit from abuses against children is currently being heard in the US supreme court.

Charity Ryerson, founder of US campaign group Corporate Accountability Lab, echoes a widespread feeling that the chocolate industry is guilty of “mind-boggling hypocrisy”. If it wished to, it could end child labour tomorrow, she said.

“In the past 20 years, the cocoa industry has invested enormous skill and resources in public relations around sustainability, but the increase in child labour demonstrates it has utterly failed to bring that same expertise and investment to create real sustainability.”

According to the Fairtrade Foundation, only around 6% of the chocolate industry’s total revenues makes its way back to farmers.

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Sahel is Suffering

 Mark Lowcock, the UN’s undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, said the Sahel was facing tragedy after an “alarming deterioration” in recent years that had led to tens of millions of people being displaced, rising extremist violence, massive violations of human rights and growing political instability.

Africa’s Sahel region is at the centre of accelerating climate change and “a canary in the coalmine of our warming planet”, the United Nation’s top humanitarian official has said.

Some of the record 13.4 million people who need humanitarian assistance across the border areas of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have been forced to leave their homes by unprecedented flooding across west and central Africa, underlining the threat that erratic weather caused by climate change poses to lives and livelihoods in the region. On some projections the average daytime temperature in the Sahel is expected to rise by eight degrees by the end of the century. Traditional modes of agriculture are particularly vulnerable to shrinking resources such as grazing and water.

Though extreme weather events are occurring elsewhere in the world, communities in the Sahel are much less resilient to changes resulting from climate change. Rapid population growth and traditional lifestyles reinforce the problem, Lowcock told the Guardian.

“It is very striking how bad the climate problem is,” he said. “There is a totally inadequate level of international effort in helping these countries adapt to climate change.” 

Flagship environmental projects have failed to make a significant impact. The Great Green Wall was conceived in 2007 by the African Union as a 4,350-mile (7,000km) cross-continental barrier stretching from Senegal to Djibouti that would hold back the deserts of the Sahara and Sahel. Its supporters said it would improve livelihoods in one of the world’s poorest regions, capture carbon dioxide and reduce conflict, terrorism and migration. So far only the project has covered only 4% of its target area, according to a recent status report.

He explained that “There is no disagreement about the underlying problems, but there has not been adequate action taken. Whenever world leaders gather, the Sahel tends to be eighth, ninth or tenth on the list of things to talk about, so it never gets the attention it deserves. Unless we change course and do more things and do them differently, the risks of a geniune global tragedy is going to mount. Problems brewing in the Sahel have contagion potential … and the risks to Europe are particularly transparent.”

The EU’s special envoy to the Sahel, Ángel Losada Fernández, described a “perfect storm” of crises in the region. Experts say these feed Islamist militancy. In a report this year, the International Crisis Group said that if ongoing conflicts in the Sahel were attributed solely to climate change, there was a risk of underestimating the role of politics in the violence.

Extremist violence in the Sahel surged after a coalition of Islamists and local separatist tribesmen took control of much of northern Mali in 2012. An eight-year campaign led by French troops, the deployment of hundreds of US special forces, massive aid for local militaries and $1bn-a-year UN peacekeeping operation have been unable to decisively weaken the multiple overlapping insurgencies in the region and security has continued to deteriorate.

Lowcock said groups were expanding their territory but a future without Islamist militancy in the region was possible to imagine. “This is a relatively new phenomenon,” he said.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Repression by Law in Tanzania

 Tanzanian authorities have intensified a clampdown on opposition parties and media organizations ahead of nationwide voting on October 28, according to Amnesty International.

"Tanzania has come with repressive and unconstitutional laws," Roland Ebole, a researcher at Amnesty, said during a webinar to launch the report. "Every other month there are new laws, and you don't know when you are breaking the law."

President John Magufuli’s government is thwarting opposition politicians' campaign efforts by selectively applying the law ahead of national elections later this month, Amnesty International said.

Opposition leaders were facing harrassment, arbitary arrest and intimidation from authorities, whereas the ruling party was allowed to campaign free and unhindered.

Initially lauded for his bold anti-corruption statements, economic development, and infrastructure plans, Magufuli's autocratic style has turned him into an uncompromising leader and intolerant of any dissent. Magufuli's administration passed a raft of repressive legislation exerting an alarming level of control over the country's politics and society, according to Amnesty.

New regulations seek to limit international media coverage of Tanzania's elections. For instance, foreign journalists must now be accompanied by a government minder, and political parties have been warned that meeting foreign diplomats may violate laws governing political parties.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Upcoming elections

 Tanzania will be going to the polls on 28 October 2020 to elect the president, national assembly and local councillors. The semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar is, in addition, to elect its president and house of representatives. From a population of 55 million over 30 million are registered to vote at more than 80,000 polling stations.

Some 15 presidential contenders have entered the race for the State House, two of them in the front line. They are the incumbent Dr John Magufuli from the CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi) party, and Tundu Lissu from CHADEMA (Chama cha Democrasia na Maendeleo).

In Zanzibar it is a two-horse race between Dr Hassan Mwinyi (CCM) and Seif Sharrif Hamad from ATC (the Alliance for Change and Transparency-Patriotic)

Choose your poison. Strychnine or arsenic.

Nigeria's Police Thugs Disbanded

 Nigeria’s government has dissolved the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, commonly called Sars,  an infamous police unit plagued with allegations of extrajudicial killings and abuse.  Sars officers would be redeployed to other units, he said, and a “new policing arrangement” to replace it would soon be announced. Given a recurring cycle in Nigeria of public outrage leading to government pledges that are then perceived not to have brought about tangible change.

Amnesty International’s director in Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said. “The announcement falls short of demands for accountability and justice for abuses committed by the unit and police in general. The police authorities must state strongly the concrete steps they will take to ensure all officers alleged to have committed human rights violations are investigated and brought to justice."

“First it’s Sars and then it’s the whole police system, because even with ordinary policemen and women we are not safe,” Anuola, 26, said in Lagos.

“This is not just about Sars, it’s about ending police brutality,” said Ikechukwu Onanuku, a musician in Lagos, who led chants as a thousand marched in the affluent neighbourhood of Ikoyi, blocking a bridge and a roundabout. 

The right to protest is enshrined in Nigerian law, but protest movements are regularly suppressed as security forces often see them as threats to stability.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Lessons About Colonialism

  German students learn nothing about their country's colonial past. Events such as the genocide in Namibia are taught only at teachers' discretion. Now campaigners are aiming to change this.

Germany carried out a genocide of the Herero and Nama people in the country, which European powers called German South West Africa at the time. From 1884 to 1916, German colonial officials were also in charge in the west of Africa, in areas that are today the Togolese Republic and parts of Ghana. What was known as "Togoland" was considered to be a "model colony" by the German Empire. But here, too, the Germans exploited natural resources, denied the Togolese their rights and punished them with beatings.

Hendrik Witbooi on the $200 banknote of his home country, Namibia. High school students learn that Witbooi fought against the German occupation of what is now Namibia at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century. In Namibia, Witbooi is still honored as a hero for his fight to gain freedom from the German colonialists. But school students in Germany are very unlikely to know anything about Witbooi. 

This is because, at present, official school textbooks and curricula in German schools almost completely neglect the 30-year-long history of German colonialism in Africa and the western Pacific. It is not a part of official teaching materials in German schools. The topic is not taught at all in some German states and only touched on in others.

"It’s very difficult to control a hungry person"

 Nearly 500,000 refugees in Uganda do not have enough to eat as a result of severe cuts to food aid and Covid-19 restrictions. 400,000 refugees are considered to be at crisis hunger levels and 135,130 children acutely malnourished and in urgent need of treatment.

The latest analysis showed more than 91,000 people living in 13 refugee settlements in Uganda are experiencing extreme levels of hunger. Bidi Bidi, in northern Uganda, home to more than 232,000 people, is the most seriously affected.

In April, the World Food Programme (WFP) in Uganda announced a 30% reduction to food rations and cash transfers to more than 1.4 million refugees who have fled violence in neighbouring South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. The WFP has warned that it may have to make another 10% cut in aid this month.

“Unfortunately, this coincided with the start of the Covid-19 crisis in Uganda and the subsequent lockdown restrictions by the government of Uganda, which were also put in effect in refugee settlements,” said El-Khidir Daloum, WFP director for Uganda. “Due to these movement restrictions, refugees were not able to work outside the settlements to add to the food assistance provided by WFP through earnings from agricultural work, or to take on other livelihood opportunities.”

WFP needed $15.3m (£11.8m) to provide full rations to refugees living in settlements until the end of the year and has  warned that the severe food shortages will push many of the refugees to the brink of starvation and will increase tensions within host communities. 

“This is a serious source of instability,” said Jude Ssebuliba, head of programmes at the Food Rights Alliance. “It’s very difficult to control a hungry person...This crisis came as a result of the state depending so much on foreign aid to feed the refugees.”

Dismas Nkunda, executive director of Atrocities Watch Africa, said any further reductions in food aid would be a “near death trap” for refugees. “We need to mobilise funds for these vulnerable people to live normal lives,” he said. The refugees had already suffered, they must not now become victims of the Covid-19, he added. “It’s double jeopardy for them.”

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Africa's Pandemic Threat

 Of the 49 million people who could fall below the extreme poverty line because of the pandemic, nearly half (23 million) will probably be in sub-Saharan Africa. The recession will also break the expansion of the "middle class" – which has tripled in the last three decades – known for seeking better jobs, better education, and democratic reforms. And it is the youth who will pay the heaviest price: while 95 percent of workers aged 15 to 24 are in the informal sector, they are the first to be hit by the disruption of economic activity, which, according to the African Union, could lead to the disappearance of 20 million jobs.

For Africa as for the rest of the world, austerity is not an option.

 Women’s workloads have increased even more: those who were already spending more than 12.5 billion hours a day caring for children deprived of schools, the elderly, the sick and their homes without pay are on the verge of exhaustion.

Africa is losing nearly $89 billion a year in illicit financial flows equivalent to 3.7 percent of the continent’s GDP, amounting to more than it receives in development aid, a new United Nation study shows.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Sexual Abuse - Africa's Hidden Pandemic

 The United Nations has called  gender-based violence (GBV) the "shadow pandemic". 

Liberia recorded a 50% increase in gender-based violence in the first half of this year. Between January and June, there were more than 600 reported rape cases. The number for the whole of 2018 was 803 in the West African country.

Nigeria also saw an increase of sexual violence during the curfews. Two cases in June, in which young women were raped and killed, shocked the country.

 In Kenya, local media reported almost 4,000 schoolgirls becoming pregnant when schools were closed during the lockdown. In most cases they had allegedly been raped by relatives or police officers.

In the Central African Republic another increase: 27% more instances of rape, and 69% more cases where women and children were hurt.

Cameroonian Kitty Chrys-Tayl launched an online campaign called "I Decided to Live" to force decision-makers to listen. "The subject of sexism must be dealt with in schools," the journalist said. "For that, one needs political will, because it's about damage caused by gender-based violence and the rape culture."

 South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said: "The scourge of gender-based violence continues to stalk our country, as the men of our country declared war on the women". 

According to the latest statistics from the South African Police Service, every three hours a woman is murdered in the country.

"The situation was already bad for women before the pandemic. The pandemic merely lifted the veil from what was not being seen," Jean Paul Murunga of the women's' rights organization Equality Now told DW. "It doesn't mean the problem wasn't there. It was there, and this helps open the government's eyes to the real situation."

So far, the measures taken against gender-based violence have been ineffective, despite South Africa's National Strategic Plan. The strategy was implemented in May to address prevention, protection, accountability, support and healing.

The Nigerian State of Kaduna recently introduced a law which allows for rapists of children under the age of 14 to be chemically castrated. Following popular protests, all state governors declared a state of emergency due to gender-based violence.

Meanwhile, in Malawi, the Supreme Court ordered the police in a small town to compensate victims of sexual abuse by officers.

Little has been done to eradicate the root of the problem. Government budgets rarely include money for concrete measures.  

"The main reason we have violence against women in our country is the low status women have," says Lesley Ann Foster, chair of the Masimanyane Women's Rights International in South Africa. "It's about patriarchy, it's about strength and power, it's about social norms and standards. The latter are so weak when it comes to women that women are easily disposed of. They're killed, they're raped, they're beaten up. The country is not addressing this. There isn't enough of a push to advance gender equality," Foster told DW. "There's not enough respect for the dignity of women, for their life, their safety and protection."

This is also the opinion of Kenyan women's rights activist Murunga. "Historically, a lot of African countries are patriarchal in nature. For a long time, women and girls have been seen as unequal to the male gender. So issues affecting women and girls take a longer time to get onto the table." As long as governments consist only of men, gender-based violence will remain a "shadow pandemic". According to Murunga, one thing above all must change: African governments must include more women able to speak for and with other women. One problem is the low representation of women . "Therefore, issues affecting women and girls don't get priority," he added. Often, the focus is on topics like infrastructure, roads and military, "but not on budgeting for health and family planning."

Mozambique's Malaise

Three years since fighting began in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, victims of the conflict that has killed more than 2,000 people are no closer to justice today, Amnesty International has said. The violent attacks in Cabo Delgado by the armed group “Al-Shabaab”  (no known relation to Somalia’s Al-Shabaab) grew by 300 percent in the first four months of 2020, compared to the same period last year, Amnesty said.

The violent attacks in Cabo Delgado have triggered a humanitarian crisis, with more than 300,000 internally displaced people and 712,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance, Amnesty International said.

More than 350,000 people are facing severe food insecurity, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“This armed group  is responsible for untold suffering in Cabo Delgado. They have reduced people’s homes to ashes through coordinated arson attacks, killed and beheaded civilians, looted food and property and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa. “There is evidence the security forces have also committed crimes under international law and human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings. These crimes are compounded by the fact that Mozambican authorities won’t allow local and international journalists and researchers to document this situation without repercussions.” Amnesty verified gruesome footage from the region showing attempted beheading, torture and other ill-treatment. It has verified a video showing the extrajudicial killing of an unidentified, naked, pregnant woman in Mocimboa da Praia who was attempting to flee north along the R698 road on the western side of the town of Awasse in Cabo Delgado. Men who appeared to be members of the Mozambique Defence Armed Forces (FADM) first beat her and then shot her 36 times.

Al-Shabaab’s attacks are partly motivated by grievances over the centralisation of power in the capital Maputo and the social and economic exclusion of the people of Cabo Delgado, Amnesty said.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Africa - The testing lab for Europe

 Robert Koch legacy lives on across Germany. The city of Berlin is full of plaques, monuments, and statues bearing his name and praising his medical accomplishments. The German federal agency responsible for disease control and prevention, which is currently leading the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is also named after Koch.

Best known for his research on cholera and tuberculosis, Koch is considered to be the founder of modern microbiology and one of the finest scientists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1905 for his research on tuberculosis and gained international acclaim for his discoveries. His four postulates, used to establish a causative relationship between a microbe and a disease, are taught in high school biology lessons to this day, solidifying young students’ understanding of disease, infection, and environment.

Today, Koch’s discoveries and accomplishments are well known and highly celebrated in Germany and across the world.

In 1906, he set up a sleeping sick “concentration camp” for East Africans, and started to “treat” them with Atoxyl – a reagent containing arsenic – even though it was known to cause pain, blindness and even death. At the turn of the 20th century, epidemics of trypanosomiasis, or “sleeping sickness” as it is more commonly known, started to appear across Africa. A vector-borne parasitic disease causing apathy, slow movement, speech disorders, physical weakness and death, sleeping sickness raised alarm among European colonisers on the continent who feared that its spread could slow down the African workforce, and subsequently their colonial projects.  When sleeping sickness struck Africa over a century ago, the disease was poorly understood. While its dangers were well known, both in Europe and in Africa, little could be done to prevent its spread.

Nevertheless, scientists in Germany came up with several remedies that they believed could be effective against sleeping sickness, as well as other illnesses widespread in Europe, such as syphilis. They tested these remedies on animals, but growing suspicions about medical experiments on humans in Europe meant these concoctions could not be tried on German test subjects. In Africa, however, there was no comparable public resistance, and colonial authorities cared little about the impact such experiments could have on Africans.

There is no question that Koch designed, set up, and personally ran medical concentration camps in East Africa, causing immeasurable suffering and pain for thousands of people. The influence Koch had on colonial Africa was not limited to the few years he spent on the continent. Moreover, his decision to conduct on African people medical experiments that were deemed too dangerous for Europeans had overreaching consequences that influence the way the Western scientific community treats Africans to this day.  Koch main task was to test these remedies – many of them containing poisonous substances like arsenic – on humans. It is hard to determine whether Koch’s primary concern was to cure East Africans suffering from this horrible disease or to use them as guinea pigs to ascertain the efficiency of remedies that can also be used in the treatment of other illnesses widely affecting Europeans. Koch’s actions directly contributed to the colonial oppression of African people. European colonial officials did not think twice before using Africans as test subjects, without seeking their acquiescence or informing them of the risks.

After arriving in East Africa, Koch established the Bugula sleeping sickness research camp and started “treating” up to 1,000 people a day with Atoxyl and other untested reagents. As historian Manuela Bauche explains, it is unclear how this many locals ended up in Koch’s camp, and whether they were informed of the likely effects the toxic “treatments” would have on their bodies.

Koch’s experiences and experiments in the Bugula camp set the standard for combating sleeping sickness in Germany’s African colonies. Not only did Atoxyl establish itself as the standard drug in the treatment of sleeping sickness, but Koch’s proposal to establish many more “concentration camps” – the name he himself gave to these facilities – to isolate the sick from the healthy and continue human experimentations, were taken to heart by German authorities.

By the time Koch left the continent in October 1907, three sleeping sick “concentration camps” had been established in German East Africa, and five such institutions were found in the German West African colonies, that is, present-day Togo and Cameroon. In these camps, as Wolfgang U Eckart explains in his research paper, The Colony as Laboratory: German Sleeping Sickness Campaigns in German East Africa, thousands of Africans became the objects of dangerous therapeutical and pharmacological research. Scientists running the camps routinely gave different doses of Atoxyl to their “patients” and monitored the side effects they experienced. According to Pittsburg University historian Mary K Webel, at the Bugula camp established by Koch himself, test subjects were made to wear wooden identification tags around their necks or wrists and subjected to a series of dehumanising assessments. Their eyes, ears, and limbs were regularly punctured with needles in an effort to extract what scientists called Krankenmaterial, or “sick material”, from their bodies. The data collected in these camps was eventually shared with British officials, who were also trying to tackle sleeping sickness outbreaks in their colonies.

Faced with a deadly epidemic that could devastate the labour force and crash the economy, Koch and his contemporaries embarked on a quest to find a cure or at least a method to contain the spread of the disease. By choosing to conduct experiments that they deemed too dangerous for European populations on Africans, they created and sustained racial hierarchies of experimentation. Koch not only poisoned thousands of people but also contributed to the widespread acceptance of the idea that, when it comes to medical ethics, different rules apply to Africa and Europe. As we continue to search for a vaccine or potential cure for the novel coronavirus, it is important to take heed from the dark chapters of the past, so that Africa is no longer a living laboratory for western scientists.

In April 2020, two French doctors suggested in a TV show that a potential vaccine for coronavirus should first be tested on people in Africa.  Jean-Paul Mira, head of the intensive care unit at the Cochin Hospital in Paris. “Should we not do this study in Africa where there are no masks, no treatment or intensive care, a little bit like it’s been done for certain AIDS studies, where among prostitutes, we try things, because we know that they are highly exposed and don’t protect themselves?”

South Sudan is Self-Destructing

  South Sudan has made no concrete steps toward national healing more than two years after the end of a civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people and sent more than 2 million people fleeing, a new United Nations report says.

Now some government forces are fueling new fighting by arming community militias with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns to attack neighboring communities, says the report by the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan. It’s a bleak look at what the authors call “the government’s manifest lack of political will to end impunity for serious crimes.”

The “staggering scale” of sexual violence, as well as corruption and the use of starvation as a weapon of conflict, remain dangers in a country ranked as one of the worst in the world to live. More than half the population is hungry, and COVID-19 is spreading through a nation whose health system was largely shattered.

Instead of peacebuilding and accountability, “political violence is spiraling out of control at the inter-communal level but driven by national actors who arm ethnic militias and paramilitary groups with military-grade weapons using the ostensible cover of cattle-raiding, which in turn leads to reprisals and revenge killings – all under the cover and control of parties to the conflict in South Sudan,” the report says.

Despite the formal end of the war, vicious fighting continues in parts of the country including Jonglei state, where hundreds of people have been killed this year. The survivors now face flooding that has displaced more than a half-million people, further imperiling food security as prices rise amid the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on travel.

In September, the U.N. secretary-general warned that South Sudan is one of four countries that face the risk of famine. In Jonglei, he said, the attacks on agricultural and pastoral land and the looting of livestock and food has left more than 1.4 million people facing crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity. At least 350,000 children have severe or moderate acute malnutrition.

Monday, October 05, 2020

Pro-Family but Anti-Women

  ‘Pro-family’ campaigners who glorify motherhood and encourage women to give birth (and often also oppose the use of contraception) have been strangely unmoved by the traumas experienced by women giving birth during COVID-19. For ‘pro-family’ campaigners, sex should lead to pregnancy and pregnancy to childbirth. You’d think they would be speaking out about increasingly risky pregnancies. Instead, it is human rights groups like the Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network and Women’s Link Worldwide that are defending pregnant women.  ‘Pro-family’ groups seem to be ignoring the very people who are walking their chosen pregnancy path at a time when sweeping state actions to control the coronavirus pandemic are cutting women’s access to maternity care.  “Pro-family” campaigners seem to have been unmoved by the maternal health traumas faced by African women who have done exactly what they seem to desire for all sexually-active women: pregnancy, and childbirth.

Why? These groups have not shut down during the pandemic; they’ve been quite busy.

Under lockdowns across Africa, pregnant women have missed check-ups, been denied care at health facilitiesresorted to risky home births and died in childbirth. In Kenya, one woman named Vidia Nduku died after boda boda drivers refused to take her to hospital, fearing trouble with the police during a dawn-to-dusk curfew. OpenDemocracy has found reports of such traumas – with deadly consequences for women – in at least six African countries. But ‘pro-family’ activists have not raised their voices or started petitions about this.

The Kenya Christian Professionals Forum has hosted webinars to rally people against a proposed Reproductive Healthcare Bill, which they say will legalise abortion. (In reality, all the bill does is reiterate what Kenyan law already allows – the termination of pregnancy when a woman’s life is threatened). Kathy Kageni-Oganga, a preacher who erected controversial anti-abortion billboards in Nairobi in 2019, has also actively campaigned against the proposed legislation. On 16 August she urged her congregation to write to the senate to oppose it and later celebrated on Facebook when the bill was halted for further public hearings. Foreign groups have also been involved in this recent battle – including CitizenGo, a- Madrid-based organisation that has close ties to the far-right in Spain. In Kenya, it has mobilised opposition to the bill and its local representative, Ann Kioko, was invited to address the parliamentary committee considering the legislation. Based in Nairobi, and with a continent-wide campaigning brief, Kioko has emerged as one of Kenya’s most vocal and active ‘pro-family’ activists.

In June, Kioko presented a CitizenGo online petition against the bill to parliament, saying it was signed by 20,000 people. The trouble with this is: the group’s petitions, while aiming to influence local policy, can be signed by anyone anywhere in the world and they don’t show you where their signatories are based. , Kioko said the petition was signed by “citizens”. But it would be surprising if 20,000 Kenyans had actually signed it: CitizenGo’s Africa Twitter account has fewer than 750 followers and its Facebook page has fewer than 5,000 likes – and it’s not clear where in the world those followers are based either.

CitizenGo Africa petitions target health policy in the name of pro-family values across the continent. One of these petitions targeted Namibian health minister Ester Muinjangue after she tabled a motion in parliament to discuss decriminalisating abortion services. Another petition opposes comprehensive sexuality education in South African schools.

CitizenGo Africa has also targeted international government aid for sexual and reproductive health in Africa. It launched a petition against Canada's international development minister, Karina Gould, for earmarking $8.9 million for access to contraception, and a similar petition against Swedish aid.

Could it be that these campaigners don’t care about women’s well-being and only want to control their bodies by reducing their reproductive health options so they give birth at whatever cost to their health? It certainly seems that way.