Monday, November 30, 2020

Gabon's Oil Woes

In Gabon, the petrol sector is the largest contributor to GDP, representing upwards of 20% of revenue, according to the World Bank. Most of the country’s petrol reserves – estimated at about two billion barrels – are concentrated in the area south of Port Gentil. A string of different oil companies have operated in the region since 1956. Total was the first company to drill and extract petrol in the area, before selling to Perenco in 2018. Perenco, which has an important presence across the African continent, is the primary producer of crude oil in Gabon and the second largest French oil company after Total.The structures on these sites are old and haven’t been properly maintained. The ocean, the land, the forests and the lakes in the area have all become increasingly polluted over the past three or four years. Sometimes you find petrol, its derivatives or acid in the lakes, sometimes you find it in the middle of the forest. 

 Residents of Étimboué in western Gabon have faced multiple oil spills over the past two years. This is ancestral land. People have been living here since well before independence in 1960. Some people have left because of the pollution but most people want to stay. They think that Perenco is letting the situation get worse in order to push them to leave. Exhausted and angry, they are speaking out against Perenco, an independent Anglo-French oil company with headquarters in Paris and London, which is currently extracting petrol from about fifty different oil fields in the area. Locals report that Perenco’s equipment is poorly maintained and out of date, likely causing the spills. This contamination has had wide-ranging effects on the local population, including health problems, water pollution, poisoned crops and fish. They haven’t carried out the clean-up operations properly and aren’t planning on paying out any damages to residents affected by the spills.

A group of locals first spoke out in October 2020 about the growing problem with pollution in the region. They pointed the finger at Perenco, which extracts 95,000 barrels per day in this area alone. The old pipelines, which were installed about 40 years ago, are constantly developing holes. Some of the pipelines are under water, others are underground. Some are even above ground. There are also very old oil wells, which are in poor condition, and they leak and cause spills as well. 

They use lake water for washing and cooking but it is polluted both upstream and downstream from the village, which means they can’t drink it. There are also all of the industrial plants that emit gas. There is one plant near the bridge, north of Lake Nkomi where they have flare stacks, which are used to burn off flammable gas. The process, called gas flaring, creates a lot of pollution. It is a means of getting rid of the gas that is extracted alongside the petrol. That pollutes the air, which then negatively affects health and the environment. Also noticed more and more respiratory problems among  younger children, especially asthma. 

George Mpaga, coordinator of an organisation called ROLBG, a French acronym meaning Free Network of Organisations for the Good Governance of Gabon, says that he is also worried about the effects of the pollution on the animals who live in the area, including antelopes, crocodiles and turtles. He is also worried for the fishermen, whose hauls are diminishing. 

Officials tend to just close their eyes to the problem. So do many of the national media outlets. There are only a few independent websites that have published the testimonies and complaints of locals living in this area. Perenco is often described in the media as an opaque organisation with close ties to the Gabonese government. Perenco doesn’t disclose its annual revenues or its internal governance structure. It has also been mentioned in several investigations by independent media outlets into matters of corruption.

Gabonese citizens raise the alarm over oil spills by French company Perenco (

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Zimbabwe Miners Dead

 Dozens are feared dead and others still trapped underground after an abandoned goldmine collapsed in Zimbabwe According to officials, nearly 30 miners remain unaccounted for Six miners have been rescued. Support pit props had apparently been damaged by blasting.

The mine collapse comes weeks after six miners died in Esigodini, southern Zimbabwe, while five others died in Chegutu when mines collapsed. Last year 24 miners died at Battlefields, Kadoma, 125km from Harare, when the shaft they were working was flooded following heavy rains.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Children pay the costs for chocolate

  Child labor remains a problem in cocoa farming. For years, the chocolate industry has promised to end the practice, but a new study shows it has actually increased. Despite decades of promises, success is still a long way off, as a new study by the NORC research institute at the University of Chicago shows.

 20 years ago, major chocolate manufactures like Mars and Nestle have promised to end the worst forms of child labor. They even set themselves clear goals and deadlines by signing the Harkin-Engel Protocol in 2001.

When the targets were missed, they were repeatedly postponed and adjusted. "In 2005, the deadline was extended to 2008, and then in 2008 to 2010," said Johannes Schorling from Inkota, a development policy network based in Berlin.

In 2010, a revised target was announced to reduce child labor by 70% come 2020. "That hasn't happened either, on the contrary child labor has actually increased over the last 10 years," Schorling told DW. According to the NORC study, the use of child labor is now at 45%, an increase of 14% points. Given the goal of a 70% reduction, such an increase might well be termed a complete failure.

1.6 million children in the two largest cocoa-growing countries, Ivory Coast and Ghana, work in cocoa farming, the study reports. Together the two nations produce around two-thirds of the world's cocoa beans.

On every second cocoa farm there, children as young as five have to pitch in instead of going to school because their parents are too poor to hire farm hands. Children are even used for more dangerous work, such as weeding or harvesting with machetes.

A big problem for farmers is the low price cocoa fetches on world markets. In recent years, a ton of cocoa beans brought in just over $2,000 (€1,680), only half of the price it fetched in the 1970s. The farmers must therefore be more productive. Market forces alone seem unable to ensure that farmers can actually secure a livelihood. It takes years for cocoa trees to produce good yields, so farmers cannot just grow something else when prices fall.

Farmers receive only a tiny fraction of what customers pay for a bar of chocolate. Most of the money goes to the chocolate companies and retail chains, which are mostly based in the US and Europe, and increasingly in Asia. Cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast earned only $0.78 a day on average, according to a study by Fairtrade, an NGO, compared with a living wage of $2.51.

Cocoa farming, cheap chocolate and child labor | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 26.11.2020

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Africa Needs To Be Powered By The Sun

  Access to electricity has fallen for the first time in seven years in sub-Saharan AfricaAn increase of 13 million people across sub-Saharan African countries did not have electricity this year, bringing the total figure to about 600 million people.

This means that fewer people have been able to access air-conditioning across countries where “it is getting hotter”, Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, explained. “Air con is a key issue. Look, for example, to Japan. Nine out of 10 households have air con. In the United States, again, almost every household has air con. But when it comes to sub-Saharan Africa, it is one out of 20 households that have air con.”

Growing populations across sub-Saharan Africa are suffering from increasing extreme heat as the climate crisis worsens. The African continent has so far warmed at a faster rate than the global average. This is leading to an increase in deadly heatwaves.

More development of solar power across sub-Saharan African countries will be key to boosting access to electricity, according to Dr Birol.

“Sub-Saharan Africa has the richest potential for solar energy,” he said. “It gets back about 40 per cent of the world’s solar radiation and yet houses less than 1 per cent of solar electricity.” 

The amount of solar electricity generated across the whole of sub-Saharan Africa is currently around three times smaller than the amount in the UK, which receives a fraction of the sunshine.

Dr Birol said: “It is the cheapest source of electricity generation in sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world. I can see that solar power could well become the continent’s top electricity source..." Dr Birol said: “I don’t expect coal to play a key role in Africa’s energy future. Solar is the king of the global electricity markets, and soon it will be king of the African electricity sector.”

Electricity access is declining in sub-Saharan Africa but solar offers a way forward, says IEA chief | The Independent

Zambia Defaults on Debt Re-payment

 Zambia missed a $42.5m (£32m) coupon payment on its bonds in October and then missing another payment on 14 November meant it has become the first African country to default on its debts since the pandemic, leading to fears that a “debt tsunami” could engulf the continent’s most heavily indebted nations as the financial impact of coronavirus hits.

Zambia’s finance minister, Bwalya Ng’andu, blamed the banks and asset and fund managers who wanted to see more transparency over an estimated $3bn debt to China, but who refused to sign the necessary confidentiality agreements, he said.

 “The position of the Chinese banks is: ‘You’re not going to give anybody any information without the confidentiality agreements in place’.”

Even before the pandemic, Zambia was due to pay $1.7bn to service its debts this year – equating to more than 8% of the country’s GDP for 2020. But coronavirus plays a key role in the recent default. As financiers negotiate with finance ministers over repayment terms, the virus is depleting Zambia’s already fragile healthcare resources. So far Zambia has recorded almost 18,000 cases of the virus.

“It is simply immoral for bondholders to demand full repayment and to make huge profits on Zambia’s debt while the country struggles with Covid-19, a major economic crisis and spiralling poverty levels,” said Sarah-Jayne Clifton, director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which estimated that some financial institutions will make a 250% profit on their Zambian bonds.

“At a time when hospitals and healthcare systems are buckling under the strain of Covid-19, it is perverse that poor countries are having to pay $3bn a month in debt repayments to rich banks, investment funds or the World Bank, while their populations fall further into poverty and destitution,” said Chema Vera, Oxfam International’s interim executive director. “Debt needs to be cancelled, postponing it is futile.”

If Zambia has had to default, they could too. “Ghana looks very risky to me,” said Tim Jones, head of policy at the Jubilee Debt Campaign. He said Angola, Chad and Congo-Brazzaville were also at risk.

 The Institute of International Finance warned of a “debt tsunami” as global indebtedness topped $277tn in the third quarter of this year. In emerging markets, which are more likely to default, debt has risen by more than a quarter.

Zambia's default fuels fears of African 'debt tsunami' as Covid impact bites | Global development | The Guardian

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Ethiopia's Civil War

 Confidential UN papers warn that, despite talk of success, the Ethiopian army faces heavy resistance and regional stability is at risk. Ethiopian government forces are meeting heavy resistance and face a protracted “war of attrition” in the northern region of Tigray.

The UN assessment, interviews and other international aid organisation analyses all suggest any expectation of a rapid and decisive victory is optimistic, and that resistance is likely to stiffen as Tigray troops fall back into mountains east of Mekelle.

Information has been difficult to obtain and confirm with communications cut to Tigray and journalists banned. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people have been killed so far and many more have been displaced. More than 36,000 have fled into neighbouring Sudan, and large numbers are on the move within Tigray to avoid the fighting.

“Although Tigray regional forces may have initially been backfooted by the EDF’s swift advances, the terrain in eastern Tigray is easier to defend… and if they make a stand, they have the capability to stall the EDF advance,” one analysis reads, warning that this will then “change the dimension of the conflict from one of rapid movement into one of attrition”.

“After the EDF have reportedly ‘taken’ key towns such as Humera, Dansha, Shiraro, Alamata and Shire, and then pushed on with their advance, fighting has continued to be reported, or has subsequently erupted again in these locations,” one reliable account said. Well-trained and heavily armed frontline units from the Ethiopian army bypassing main towns to avoid costly urban fighting as they hurry towards Mekelle. But the militia and paramilitaries deployed in their wake are neither as well-equipped nor as disciplined and so are vulnerable to counter-attack.  If Ethiopian forces continue to advance, their supply lines and rear areas will become more vulnerable to guerilla attacks and casualties will mount.

The reports depict a complex and dynamic conflict across much of Tigray, with major clashes in the west of the region – as Ethiopian forces sought to advance towards the strategic town of Humera – and in the south-west, along the main road to Mekelle. Heavy fighting has also been reported around the town of Alamata, six miles from the border with neighbouring Amhara province which is fiercely loyal to the central government. Ethiopian planes have launched air strikes, and Tigrayans have fired missiles into Amhara and Eritrea, which has supported the offensive to remove the TPLF. At least one massacre has been reported: it has been blamed on retreating Tigrayan militia targeting a community seen as loyal to the central government, but there is no confirmation of this.

“Even if the EDF are successful in their mission to take Mekelle,” the UN assessment warns, “this will not necessarily end the conflict. It is likely that a protracted asymmetric conflict and insurgency would continue. From a humanitarian perspective, the longer the conflict is drawn out, the more severe the crisis will become.”

UN report deepens fears that Ethiopia Tigray conflict could be long and brutal | World news | The Guardian

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Girls in Africa

 Girls in Africa are being “condemned to a lifetime of discrimination and inequality” due to government failures. Africa is home to 308 million girls aged under 18. Yet, in many countries, only one in five girls has access to secondary school. One third of primary schools and a quarter of all secondary schools have no sanitation facilities. Sexual harassment and emotional abuse against girls by both teachers and peers is commonplace, forcing many girls to drop out of school entirely, according to the report. 

 The advocacy group African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) found they were routinely denied education; made to marry too young; endured sexual, physical and emotional abuse at home, work and school; were excluded from healthcare; and were unable to own or inherit property.

Although “significant strides” have been made over the past 30 years for girls, including improved access to schooling as well as better protection from exploitation, FGM and child marriage, the report from the pan-African group underlined that “these efforts are simply not enough”.

“African girls have endured harmful cultural beliefs, patriarchal gender attitudes and discriminatory laws, policies and practices for far too long,” said ACPF executive director Joan Nyanyuki. “Despite slow progress in some areas, girls across the continent continue to wake up to the daily reality of injustice. An entire generation of girls and young women is being failed.” 

High rates of child marriage and malnutrition, and very low levels of school enrolment made Chad and South Sudan the worst places in Africa to be born a girl, the report found. South Sudan and Chad are joined by Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, Central African Republic and Comoros at the bottom.In contrast, Mauritius was the best, being among the countries to have reformed their laws on girls’ rights, and harmonised them with international standards. The island nation has the highest rate of pre-primary education and all pregnant teenagers have access to antenatal care, the report found. Following Mauritius, the most girl-friendly countries in Africa are Tunisia, South Africa, Seychelles, Algeria, Cabo Verde and Namibia.

“Girls in Africa today are respected and valued far less than boys, and are denied the same life chances. Inequality and discrimination remains the norm. This has to change, and change now.”

African governments failing girls on equality, report finds | Global development | The Guardian

Friday, November 20, 2020

Zimbabwe's Sex Trade and the Pandemic

 When the first COVID-19 case was detected in March, Zimbabwe rapidly went into lockdown. The lockdown, followed by a curfew in July, forced traders off the streets, while the closure of Zimbabwe's borders for all non-essential travel cut off a lifeline for 1 million informal cross-border traders, said economist Victor Bhoroma. 6 million Zimbabweans who work in small businesses and informal trade were severely affected. The lockdowns in the tourism and hospitality sector, transport, aviation and leisure services, manufacturing, fast food and retailing and sports have resulted in massive layoffs.  

The southern African nation is experiencing its worst economic crisis in a decade, with crippling hyperinflation, unemployment, strikes by public workers and shortages of food, medicine and foreign currency. Zimbabweans say life is difficult, with inflation above 700%, rocketing prices for basic goods, electricity and petrol, and lagging salaries - prompting teachers to refuse to return to work without a pay rise last month.

Sex workers and charities providing them with health care services said the number of women selling sex has increased, particularly young girls facing hunger at home.

"We have a lot of cases coming to us of girls who were now engaged in transactional sex because of the increase in the household poverty," said Beatrice Savadye, director of Roots Africa, a local charity supporting young people.

"Hunger drives us into sex trade," said Hazel Zemura, who has sold sex for a decade and works for Women Against All Forms of Discrimination, which runs health programmes for sex workers. "As our incomes, like the cross border trading - the importation of weaves and makeup kits from China for resale - got eroded during the lockdown, we had to turn to men for survival."

 Coronavirus restrictions have made sex work riskier as women have been unable to get free condoms from their usual clinics and illegal brothels in residential areas and downtown nightclubs have closed. The closure of brothels has pushed sex workers into riskier places, like secluded fields and deserted buildings, said Charmaine Dube, programme coordinator for the sex worker rights group Pow Wow in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Russian Eyes Are On Africa

  Putin approved the creation of a Russian naval facility in Sudan capable of mooring nuclear-powered surface vessels, clearing the way for Moscow’s first substantial military foothold in Africa since the Soviet fall. 

“Our base in Sudan will be another argument for others to hear us and take heed,” said an opinion piece in TASS about the new facility.

The new facility, earmarked to be built in the vicinity of Port Sudan, will be capable of accommodating up to 300 military and civilian personnel and improve Russia’s ability to operate in the Indian Ocean, expanding its influence in Africa.  The hub would be used for repair and resupply operations and as a place where Russian naval personnel could take rest, it said.  The new facility will make it easier for the Russian Navy to operate in the Indian Ocean by being able to fly in replacement crews for its long-range ships.

The land for the base will be supplied for free by Sudan and Moscow would get the right to bring in any weapons, ammunition and other equipment it needs through Sudan’s airports and ports to support the new facility.

Moscow is keen to increase its influence in Africa, a continent with sprawling mineral wealth, and potentially lucrative markets for Russian-manufactured weapons. It is jockeying for influence and a military foothold in Africa with other nations, including China.

It has also forecast that Russia will fortify its new African outpost with advanced surface-to-air missile systems, allowing it to create a no-fly zone for miles around. 

Djibouti is home to Chinese, U.S. and French naval bases, while other navies often use its port.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Africa's Debt Problem Returns

 It is predicted that African countries will pay out more than $10bn to creditors this year and next year alone. 

More than half will go to City asset management firms, like BlackRock, which employs former UK chancellor George Osborne on £650,000 a year, and Fidelity Investments.  BlackRock, which is said to hold more than $1bn of African sovereign bonds,

Zambia, which like many African countries is spending more repaying debt than it is on health and primary education, looks set to become the first African country to default on its debts to bondholders since the pandemic began.

According to Save the Children, a failure to tackle the debt crisis will see child poverty numbers rise from 307 million to 354 million in the poorest countries covered by the initiative. It warns that millions more children will go unvaccinated, while untreated killer diseases, such as pneumonia, malaria and diarrhoea, could reverse gains in child mortality built up over the last two decades. 

 Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children, said, “Money that should be going into health clinics, nutrition programmes and schools is being siphoned off to repay unpayable debts to commercial creditors and China. To speak plainly, this is a violation of child rights.”

Prosperity Preacher Absconds


Millionaire preacher Shepherd Bushiri, out on bail in South Africa has fled to his native Malawi. He was arrested for fraud and money laundering in October in a multimillion-dollar case but got bail on November.

The self-proclaimed prophet is known for his “miracles” and wildly extravagant lifestyle and has made huge investments in the mining, telecommunications and luxury sectors. His wealth comes from donations from followers of his Enlightened Christian Gathering church in the South African capital, Pretoria.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Morocco Vs. Polisario

Western Sahara, a vast swath of desert on Africa’s Atlantic coast, is a disputed former Spanish colony.

 The pro-independence Polisario Front in Western Sahara  said  that Morocco had broken their ceasefire and “ignited war.” It warned that “the entry of any Moroccan military, security or civil entity” into the Guerguerat buffer zone “will be considered as a flagrant aggression to which the Sahrawi side will respond vigorously in self-defence and to defend its national sovereignty”.

“This will also mean the end of the ceasefire and the beginning of a new war across the region,” the Polisario Front said.

Morocco denied there had been any armed clashes between the sides and said the three-decade truce remained in place. Morocco said its troops have launched an operation in a no man’s land on the southern border of Western Sahara to end “provocations.” Morocco said its troops have launched an operation in a no man’s land on the southern border of Western Sahara to end “provocations.” 

The Polisario Front, which fought a war for independence from 1975 to 1991, demands a referendum on self-determination.

The two sides signed a ceasefire in September 1991 under the aegis of the UN after 16 years of war, but the planned referendum has been repeatedly postponed due to a dispute between Rabat and the Polisario over the composition of the electorate and the status of the territory.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Nigeria's Food Shortage

 The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has seen an increase in malnutrition rates among children in nutrition centres it supports in Nigeria. The number of children treated by the outpatient nutrition program grew by 20%, while the number of severe malnutrition cases rose by 10%, compared to the same period last year.

 "What we are seeing now is just the tip of an iceberg, and we are very concerned by the trend, especially in Maiduguri," says Thomas Ndambu, ICRC nutritionist. "I am certain that when Nigerian Red Cross volunteers resume their community outreach, the numbers will surge."

"Everywhere we work the food prices have gone up, in some places they doubled. It means that millions of people in the North-East of Nigeria do not have enough to eat," said Ruth Mwakiuna Muriungi, economic security programs coordinator for the ICRC. 

Almost two million people in the North-East are currently displaced and do not have access to their agricultural land and production tools. In many areas of the Lake Chad region, insecurity and movement restrictions have limited farmers ability to plant crops.

Kano, Nigeria's major seeds producer, was among the areas hit the hardest by the pandemic during the planting season, which affected seed processing and transportation. As a result, many farmers could not obtain seeds or received them too late. The ICRC, one of the major contributors to the agricultural sector in the North-East, managed to obtain less than 60% of the seeds it was originally planning to distribute to vulnerable communities.

With Nigeria depending on food import for a tenth of its food needs, border closures and restrictions on movement during spring and summer months have also affected the availability of food in the markets. Extreme weather is another factor influencing food production in Nigeria. For example, Adamawa state has experienced dry spells at the beginning of the agricultural season, which is expected to have a negative impact on the production of maize in the area.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Tigray Conflict and Civilians

 Aid agencies are unable to restock food, health and other emergency supplies to Ethiopia’s conflict-torn northern Tigray region and it may trigger a refugee crisis, the United Nations has warned. Prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, embarked on a military campaign against the regional ruling group, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, last week after accusing them of attacking a federal military base.

Aid groups were  concerned about the protection of children, women, the elderly and the disabled, from the military clashes, UN OCHA said. “Transport is not allowed to and from Tigray, as a result of which shortages of basic commodities are reportedly appearing, impacting the most vulnerable first and the most,” UN OCHA said. 

Sudan has received more than 10,000 Ethiopian refugees since the fighting started.

EU and Indifference

 Disputed elections in the Ivory Coast and Guinea, violence in Nigeria: many West Africans hope for foreign support, but the European Union has kept itself at a distance.

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara should not have even been on the ballot. But the already two-term leader wanted a third stint in office, and through a legal loophole, Ouattara stood for re-election. Despite bitter opposition and risking peace in the Ivory Coast, the ploy worked. The Ivorian election commission said Ouattara won a staggering 94% of the vote, boycotted by the opposition. The opposition has refused to recognize the election results, and violent protests have already resulted in deaths. Ivory Coast's political crisis is far from over. 

The European Union has hardly reacted. If the EU's inaction seems familiar, it's because it is. In 2020, Guinea's 83-year-old President, Alpha Conde, had the nation's constitution changed, stood for election, and won. There too, violent protests and accusations of voting manipulation were rife. But Brussels had only words of warning for Guinea even though the election's credibility was in question.

Events in Nigeria have received similar treatment.  The government is under increasing pressure as primarily young people led mass protests against suppression, police violence, and state corruption. Police have responded brutally, leaving at least 12 people dead so far. And still, the EU has remained silent.

Many people in affected West African countries are dismayed at the EU's apparent passivity. "This indifference shows the international community doesn't want to get involved beyond a certain point," says Ramadan Diallo, a political scientist at the University of Sonfonia-Conakry in Guinea.