Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Uganda's Aid to be Cut

 Over 1 million refugees in Uganda will face reduced food rations as a lack of international funding forces the UN World Food Programme to cut its relief program.

"COVID-19 must not be an excuse for the world to turn its back on refugees at this terrible time," said WFP Country Director El-Khidir Daloum. "We appreciate that donors fully funded our refugee operation in Uganda in 2019 but right now we are unable to keep up even basic food assistance and the poorest will suffer the most as we have to cut still further." 

Uganda hosts the largest number of refugees of any country in Africa, including thousands who have fled conflicts in the Congo, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Burundi. However, the WFP, the world's largest humanitarian aid organization has only secured half of the money it needs to support them. 

WFP spokesperson Tomson Phiri said the organization immediately needs another $95.8 million (€78.7 million) to avoid slashing refugee caloric intake and other aid. If the WFP is forced to take this step, it would be the second cut in Uganda since April.

Refugees in Uganda: Funding shortfall forces cut to UN food rations | News | DW | 22.12.2020

More Foreign Troops for CAR

 The Central African Republic is suffering re-newed violence days before voting set for 27 December. The violence comes following a major spike in political tensions exacerbated by the decision of the country’s Constitutional Court to block former President Francois Bozizé from running in elections. As the election draws closer, several armed groups entered the fray in what now looks like an attempt to halt the elections and depose Touadéra.

CAR has witnessed continuous fighting of varying intensity for decades and has been in a protracted crisis since 2013. In that year, a mostly Muslim rebel coalition known as the Seleka from the country’s north east rose against Bozizé’s government and briefly held power until regional countries pushed it to stand down. Non-Muslim “anti-balaka” forces sprang up to defend non-Muslims against the Seleka’s predation. Since this crisis, both former Seleka and anti-balaka factions have splintered, while new ones have formed. These armed groups have been responsible for widespread insecurity across the country as they battle each other and government forces for influence.

Russia will deploy 300 military "instructors" to the Central African Republic (CAR) to deal with what its foreign ministry calls a "sharp degradation of security".

 Russian mercenaries have already been working in CAR providing security for the government and helping safeguard key economic assets.

Rwanda, which has troops serving in the UN mission in CAR, has also announced it is bolstering their numbers in support of the government. At least 750 Rwandan soldiers and police officers have been operating under the UN peacekeeping force Minusca. The newly deployed forces will have "different rules of engagement which will enable them to protect our forces from being attacked, and protect civilians", Rwandan President Paul Kagame said. 

The CAR is one of Africa's poorest and most unstable countries, even though it is rich in resources like diamonds and uranium. The UN estimates that half of the population are dependent on humanitarian assistance and up to a fifth have been displaced.

Russia sends 300 military instructors to Central African Republic - BBC News

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Locust Plagues Persist

 The swarms of locusts have not disappeared even if the headlines have from the media.

Despite an "intense" international effort to combat a major, climate crisis-fueled invasion of desert locusts in Eastern African communities since January, a new generation of locust swarms is threatening the food security of millions of people in the Horn of Africa and Yemen, a United Nations agency warned.

FAO, which has been coordinating the global response, said in a statement that pest control actions across 10 countries costing about $200 million have prevented the loss of an estimated 2.7 million tonnes of cereal, worth nearly $800 million—enough food to feed 18 million people for a year.

"However, favorable weather conditions and widespread seasonal rains have caused extensive breeding in eastern Ethiopia and Somalia," FAO explained. "This was worsened by Cyclone Gati which brought flooding to northern Somalia last month allowing locust infestations to increase further in the coming months. New locust swarms are already forming and threatening to re-invade northern Kenya and breeding is also underway on both sides of the Red Sea, posing a new threat to Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen."

"For Kenya, the threat is imminent, it could happen any time now," Keith Cressman, the FAO's senior locust forecasting officer, told BBC News, which pointed out that this year had already featured the region's worst locust invasion in 70 years—and in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. "It could be as bad as what we've seen in the past year because the area of breeding ground in these countries is as big as 350,000 sq. km. (135,000 sq. miles)."

Noting that pest control efforts could slow or halt early next year without additional funding, FAO is seeking $40 million to increase its locust-related activities in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen in 2021. The agency warned that over 35 million people in total are already acutely food insecure across those five countries—a number that could rise by 3.5 million in the absence of urgent action.

"We have achieved much, but the battle against this relentless pest is not yet over," said FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu. "We must not waiver. Locusts keep growing day and night and risks are exacerbating food insecurity for vulnerable families across the affected region."

"We lost so much of our pastures and vegetation because of the locusts and as a result we are still losing a good number of our livestock," Gonjoba Guyo, a pastoralist in North Horr, Kenya, told the BBC.

"Most of the farms in Jowhar town have been destroyed by floods in the last six months now. The water is stagnant on the grounds and no one can farm in this state. On top of this flood problem, we have had locusts destroying the few vegetables and fruits remaining," said farmer Yusuf Ahmed.

UN Warns New Wave of Locust Swarms Threatens Food Security of Millions in East Africa | Common Dreams News

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Hunger in Zimbabwe

 Acute malnutrition cases are on the rise in Zimbabwe, as food shortages continue to take their toll. Statistics show that one in three children in Zimbabwe suffers from malnutrition. By the end of 2020, projections indicate that the number of hungry Zimbabweans will have risen by almost 50% to 8.6 million.

A Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment (ZimVac) report shows that the percentage of children receiving the minimum acceptable diet necessary for growth and development declined from 6.9% in 2019 to 2.1% in 2020.

Matabeleland, in the south-west of the country, has the highest cases of global acute malnutrition, with an estimated 74,267 children under the age of five affected, including at least 38,425 with severe acute malnutrition.

The declining situation in Zimbabwe, with both prolonged drought and the coronavirus lockdown, is now characterised by high stunting rates, and maternal and child mortality.

ZimVac says there is real concern around infant and young child malnutrition. Only 19% of women of childbearing age ate a diet that met the minimum nutritional limit this year, down from 43% in 2019. This has led to high maternal death rates, according to humanitarian agencies.

As the food crisis worsens in Zimbabwe, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been providing food supplements for malnourished children.

Last week, however, the WFP Zimbabwe director, Francesca Erdelmann, announced that the UN agency is facing a funding gap. “For our portfolio in Zimbabwe between now and the next six months we are short by about $240m [£180m]. These are not amounts of money that are easy to mobilise, and for most of our donors, it’s tough for them too,” Erdelmann said.

“So we really have to try and make sure that we can reach our targets and deliver the support to the people. But if we can’t, we are going to have to make some tough choices and target only the most vulnerable groups.”

‘We could have lost her’: Zimbabwe's children go hungry as crisis deepens | Nutrition and development | The Guardian

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Chocolate and Capitalist Competition

 The 100,000 cocoa farmers of Ghana’s Kuapa Kokoo co-operative eke out hardscrabble lives despite producing the raw material for a global chocolate industry worth an annual $100bn in retail sales.

The world’s two largest cocoa producing countries, Ivory Coast and Ghana, which account for 60 per cent of global production, have added a supplement to the sale price in an effort to alleviate poverty. But a dispute over whether global buyers were prepared to pay illustrates how hard it will be for the two nations to control and lift prices in an industry dominated by millions of smallholders.

“We are not asking too much from industry, just meet our cost of production and help us get something small to live,” said Mr Okyere aa representative of the co-operative. “I don’t think it’s too much to ask, because once they do that they can still make big profits.”

Antonie Fountain of the Voice Network said some of the confectionery groups were putting profits ahead of farmers’ wellbeing.

The disagreement centred on a $400-a-tonne “living income differential” (LID) added to the price of cocoa harvested from this crop year, bought from Ivory Coast and Ghana. In the past few years they have collaborated to try to raise the share farmers earn — just 6.6 per cent of the sale price of a bar of the confectionery.

The Ivorian Conseil du Café-Cacao and the Ghana Cocoa Board this month accused the chocolate producers of trying to avoid the LID after US group Hershey took the rare step of sourcing cocoa beans from the futures market in New York. Analysts said this meant it did not have to pay the supplement.  It demonstrated the limited leverage held by producers.

Kobi Annan, Accra-based consultant at Songhai Advisory, a business intelligence firm asked, “...why do countries who produce 60 per cent of a commodity have no real power in setting its price?” 

A Ghanaian official commented: “Your negotiating position is not that strong, so you’re entirely dependent on public sentiment, environmental sustainability concerns, child labour concerns, income inequality concerns, to make the other party feel a little guilty so they contribute more.”

“If you want prices to rise, you do not produce considerably more than the market needs,” said Derek Chambers, former head of cocoa at French trader Sucden, remarked.

Part of the problem is that rising farmgate prices — set by the government — and an increase in sustainability programmes have encouraged millions of small farmers who are desperate for cash to produce more, weighing on market prices. This year, an election year in both countries, governments jointly raised the price by about 20 per cent to $2,600 a tonne, still $500 less than the Cocoa Barometer estimates farmers need to earn a living wage.  Global cocoa output has grown 18 per cent over the past five years to 4.7m tonnes, with top producer Ivory Coast producing 2.1m tonnes in the last crop year, up almost a third, according to the International Cocoa Organisation of producing and consuming countries. Ghana produced 800,000 tonnes, up 3 per cent.

There is now rising concern that Ivory Coast and Ghana will be left holding unsold cocoa in a year when the harvest is expected to be at record levels, analysts say.

Analysts said efforts by Ivory Coast and Ghana to collaborate and control prices would struggle — partly because of smallholders’ desire for cash and rival producers’ ability to expand market share.

West Africa vs Big Chocolate: Battle over price sours relations | Financial Times (

Coronavirus Vaccine Shortage

 Dr John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), called on developed countries to “show global cooperation” and “global solidarity”, warning that the continent of 1.3 billion people might not receive any vaccinations until April next year.

Dr Nkengasong said that rich countries had purchased “in excess of their needs while we in Africa are still struggling with the Covax facility.”

 Most African countries are relying on the Covax facility -  a global alliance of countries and institutions that seek to provide developing nations equitable access to vaccines. The Oxford-AstraZeneca partnership is currently the only vaccine-developer that has a deal to provide vaccines to the facility. 

 The People’s Vaccine Alliance estimated that around 90 per cent of the people in poorer countries will not be vaccinated next year. Around 70 poor countries will only be able to vaccinate one in 10 people, it said.

Africa’s top health official slams unequal distribution of Covid-19 vaccines (

Friday, December 11, 2020

Nigeria's Wealthy Migrants

 Every year poor Nigerians flee poverty and unrest at home. Now, rich Nigerians are planning their escape too. And they’re taking their money with them. Golden visas are the lesser-reported side of the Nigerian migration story. Every year thousands of Nigerians make their way to Europe via perilous crossings over the Sahara and Mediterranean. Now their wealthier counterparts are also making their way to Europe but via a different route.

Dapo has had a “backup plan” for getting out of Nigeria for some time. “I have Maltese citizenship. I can leave for there any time.”  Maltese citizenship can be acquired for a minimum investment of 800,000 euros ($947,180) through the Malta Citizenship by Investment Programme. He describes it as his “Plan B’’.

 A rapidly growing number of Nigerians who have bought so-called “golden visas” or foreign citizenships-by-investment this year. 92 countries around the world now allow wealthy individuals to become residents or citizens in return for a fee, sometimes as low as $100,000 but often several million dollars. 

“Flying out” of Nigeria is hard and not just because of the coronavirus pandemic. Just 26 countries allow Nigerian passport holders visa-free entry, many of them part of West Africa’s ECOWAS arrangement. Both the United Kingdom and Europe’s Schengen zone require Nigerians to obtain visas ahead of travelling.

For the wealthy, this is too much hassle. They don’t want to be queueing for visas for any EU country or whatever. Instead, why not purchase the citizenship of a country with visa-free access to Europe?

'Bimpe', a wealthy Nigerian, has three passports. One Nigerian, which she says she never uses, and two from Caribbean nations: St Kitts and Nevis; and Grenada. The St Kitts and Nevis passport, which cost her $400,000 via a real estate investment programme, was useful when she travelled between London and New York on business as it allows for visa-free travel to the UK and Europe. Her investment to gain a Grenada passport for herself and her sons took the form of a $300,000 stake in the Six Senses La Sagesse hotel on the Caribbean island, which she bought in 2015 through a property development group called Range Developments. Like most countries offering their citizenship for sale, Grenada allows real estate investments to qualify for a passport. Bimpe has never been to Grenada. In fact, since there is no obligation for citizenship investors to ever visit Grenada.

Investing in a foreign citizenship is not illegal for Nigerians, but the issue of wealthy citizens moving their assets overseas is a thorny one in Nigeria, where about $15bn is lost to tax evasion every year, according to the country’s Federal Inland Revenue Service. Much of that money finds its way to the Caribbean.

The tax benefits of an overseas citizenship are undoubtedly attractive. Citizens can become tax residents of countries like Dominica, where there is no wealth or inheritance tax, or Grenada which offers “corporate tax incentives”. In Europe, Malta has long been courting hedge funds with its light-touch regulations.

The loss of wealth from Nigeria has severe implications for levels of employment in the country. With wealthy businesspeople investing their capital outside Nigeria rather than in it, there is less funding for local businesses or government projects which might otherwise generate employment. This, in turn is causing more poorer Nigerians to want to move overseas as well, in search of better work opportunities. The more wealth taken out of Nigeria, the fewer jobs available to its poorest.

The wealthy Nigerians buying citizenship overseas | Nigeria News | Al Jazeera

Kenya's Over-Paid Politicians

 The High Court in Kenya has ordered the country's 416 lawmakers pay back 1.2bn shillings ($10m; £7.5m) after ruling that the money had been unlawfully given to them as housing allowances, local media report.

The Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) had encroached on the mandate of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) by granting the lawmakers the allowance, it ruled.

Each lawmaker would be required to repay 2.8m shillings to the government within the next year, Kenya's Star newspaper reported.

Kenyan MPs are among the highest paid in the world, and have often been accused by non-governmental organisations of fleecing taxpayers.

Morocco and America - Tit for Tat

 Morocco has become the latest Arab League country to agree to normalise relations with Israel which for all practical purposes was simply legitimising an existing relationship between the two nations. Back in 2017, The Economist carried an article that  50,000 Israelis feel safe enough to visit an Arab country, Morocco, every year. 110 synagogues have been refurbished there. Morocco also issues hundreds of passports each year to Israeli Jews of Moroccan descent, of whom there are almost half a million live in Israel —“the better to travel in the Arab world,” says a recent recipient. It takes a month, no security questions asked.

But to get Morocco to formally establish normal relations with Israel, the USA has now recognised Morocco's claim over the disputed Western Sahara territory. 

 Sidi Omar, the Polisario Front's representative to the UN, said Western Sahara's "legal status is determined by international law and UN resolutions".

"The move shows that Morocco's regime is willing to sell its soul to maintain its illegal occupation of parts of Western Sahara," he wrote.

Morocco latest country to normalise ties with Israel in US-brokered deal - BBC News

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Nigeria's Baby-Factories

 Police have rescued six women and four children from a “baby-making” factory after raiding the unlawful premises in the Mowe area of Ogun, a state in southwestern Nigeria. The women told police they had been forcibly detained and raped before their newborn children were illegally sold on the black market.

Children born in so-called baby factories are typically put up for adoption, forced into child labour, trafficked into sex work, or even killed as part of rituals. One of the enslaved women told reporters newborn boys were sold for 250,000 Nigerian naira (£491) and girls are sold for 200,000 naira (£393).

Tsitsi Matekaire, at Equality Now, a non-government organisation which promotes the rights of women and girls, told The Independent so-called baby factories have been operating in Nigeria for many years. The campaigner added: “As far back as 2006, UNESCO reported the first cases. This phenomenon is prevalent in many parts of Nigeria and has been previously reported in the states of Abia, Lagos and Ebonyi. The ‘baby factories’ are often disguised as orphanages, maternity homes, or religious centres, and involve large networks of operators. There is no doubt that this is a form of sexual exploitation and abuse." Matekaire went on to explain, “The victims are extremely vulnerable women and girls, who are trafficked or coerced to these places. They are held against their will, raped, forced to carry pregnancies and then have their babies sold to profit their exploiters.”

She said Equality Now and local women’s organisations in Nigeria flagged this issue to the government and the African Union Committee on the Rights and Welfare of Children back in 2019.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Tigray and the Eritrean Refugees

 The United Nations has sounded the alarm over the severe effect of food shortages on the thousands of Eritrean refugees sheltering in camps in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, requesting “urgent access” to be able to deliver badly needed aid.

Communications and transport links to Tigray have been severed, and the UN and humanitarian agencies have pleaded for access to provide food, medicines and other supplies in the camps that sheltered nearly 100,000 Eritreans before the hostilities began.

“We, as humanitarians, have lost access and contact with the refugees since the last month that this fighting has been ongoing, and now there are worrying reports of attacks, of abductions and also of recruitments in and around these refugee camps,” UN refugee agency spokesman Babar Baloch told Al Jazeera“The camps will have now run out of food supplies – making hunger and malnutrition a real danger, a warning we have been issuing since the conflict began nearly a month ago.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, and he has rejected the idea of dialogue with the TPLF rebel leadership.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Will Biden Benefit Africa

 Democrat and Republican presidents have approached Africa primarily for access to, and control of extractive industries and for counter-terrorism operations. This approach, under the influence of the cold war, translated into the US supporting Africa’s strongmen.

The most prominent of these strongmen, including but not limited to Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema, in power since 1979; Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, head of state since 1986; Djibouti’s Ismail Omar Guelleh, in post since 1999; Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, ruling since 1994, and Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki, in power since 1993 have been responsible for more than 22 million deaths on the continent since independence in 1960. That is almost twice as many people forcibly transported from Africa during the transatlantic slave trade. Yet it seems no US president has found this troubling. The bloodiest killing field has been the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where brutal US-backed strongmen killed more than 5.4 million Congolese people over access and control of minerals between 1998 and 2008, and sparked outbreaks of disease, famine and the use of rape as a weapon of war.

Obama delivered almost nothing meaningful; not because of a Russian or Chinese veto at the UN security council but because in the first few years of his presidency some in his team sought to protect people such as Joseph Kabila, former president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose security forces were linked to killings and torture, and Paul Kagame, whose tight grip on the Rwanda presidency has earned him the tag of “benevolent dictator”. The result? Tragic. During the Obama presidency, 11 African strongmen clung to power, killing thousands of their citizens and displacing millions more. Yet almost not a single one of them faced a serious tit-for-tat consequences from the US – and this has been a colossal disaster for democratic forces across the continent.

The result? Tragic. During the Obama presidency, 11 African strongmen clung to power, killing thousands of their citizens and displacing millions more. Yet almost not a single one of them faced a serious tit-for-tat consequences from the US – and this has been a colossal disaster for democratic forces across the continent.

 Will the Biden-Harris administration end the US’s longstanding but shortsighted and destructive support for Africa’s strongmen? How may President Biden respond to #EndSars, a movement against police brutality in Nigeria, or #CongoIsBleeding, a campaign against exploitation in the mines of the DRC? What will he do to de-escalate growing tensions inside Ethiopia or in Eritrea.

Many are wondering whether or not Biden will refocus US policy and push for peace in Somalia, Libya, Cameroon or Mozambique? Will he support the creation of an international criminal tribunal for Congo to end the continuing killings and use of rape as a weapon of war and, simultaneously, jump-start development in Africa’s great lakes – a region that seems pitifully prone to strongmen and mass killing?

Answers to these questions are unclear. 

Obama didn’t deliver for Africa. Can Biden show black lives matter everywhere? | Global development | The Guardian