Friday, April 16, 2021

South Africa - Profiting from misery

 


 Faced with the world’s worst contemporary humanitarian crisis in Yemen,  South Africa has abandoned this commitment to human rights in exchange for the chance to profit from weapons deals. In so doing, it has become complicit in war crimes in Yemen. All indications are that South Africa’s arms trade regulator, the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), continues to approve permits to export weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, despite the extensive public evidence of war crimes committed by those states. South Africa is one of the numerous states profiting from the conflict in Yemen.

South Africa has repeatedly expressed concern about the humanitarian suffering in Yemen. At international forums, South African officials have urged all parties to respect international law and to find a solution to the conflict. Yet, at the same time, the South African state has hypocritically given the green light to arms companies to sell weapons to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, two of the main parties accused of committing war crimes in Yemen.

 South Africa’s complicity in war crimes in Yemen, reveals that since the war in Yemen began, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have become the key market for South African weapons. In 2013, a little more than 3 percent of South African weapons exports went to these two states. In 2015 and 2016, this was up to 42.1 and 48.9 percent, respectively. Since the war in Yemen broke out, South African weapons worth more than 8 billion rands ($550m) have been sold to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The United Nations Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen and Amnesty International have identified many of these South African weapons in Yemen. These include drones, surveillance equipment, armoured vehicles, and most notoriously, 120mm mortar bombs, whose remnants were discovered at the site of an attack on civilians in the Yemeni city of Hodeidah. Two independent investigations, one of them by the UN experts group on Yemen, found it most likely that these mortars were manufactured by South African arms firm Rheinmetall Denel Munitions (RDM). RDM is a joint venture between German arms company Rheinmetall Waffe Munition GmbH (which holds a 51 percent stake) and South African state-owned arms company Denel (with 49 percent). RDM not only sells weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but has also established a munitions factory in Saudi Arabia in 2016. The factory specialises in, among other things, the production of 120mm mortar bombs.

In addition to the 120mm mortar remnants found at the site of an attack in Hodeidah, that have been identified as likely produced by South Africa’s RDM, Rheinmetall’s Italian subsidiary has also been implicated in supplying weapons used in civilian attacks in Yemen. Remnants of bombs used in an air attack by the Saudi-UAE coalition on Deir al-Hajari in northwest Yemen in 2016 were identified as being manufactured by RWM Italia – a Rheinmetall subsidiary in Italy. That attack killed a family of six, including a pregnant woman and her four young children.

Germany, another top supplier of weapons to the conflict in Yemen, was among the first to put a ban in place. In March 2018, a new coalition government in Germany imposed a ban on the export of any weapons from Germany to Saudi Arabia and other countries “directly involved” in the Yemen civil war. Despite the ban, Rheinmetall subsidiaries around the world including RDM in South Africa, have continued to supply weapons to Saudi Arabia. Activists have raised concerns that this is part of a pattern of “offshoring”, whereby Rheinmetall and other European arms companies use subsidiaries in other parts of the world to sidestep domestic bans. By 2019, Rheinmetall had direct or indirect holdings in a staggering 156 companies and offices or production facilities in 129 locations across 32 countries. This places Rheinmetall in a prime position to do precisely this.

South Africa has a choice to make. Will it continue to ignore the evidence of war crimes and attacks on civilians in Yemen? If it chooses to do so, companies like Rheinmetall will continue to use South Africa for exports despite domestic restrictions on sales to countries with dubious human rights records.

For the suffering in Yemen to end, corporations in South Africa too must stop profiteering from this unjust war.

South Africa is putting profit before Yemeni lives | Weapons News | Al Jazeera

Nigeria's Inflation

Food inflation rose to 22.95% in March, caused by wide-ranging price increases across items such as cereals, yam, meat, fish and fruits. Those soaring costs have been in part blamed on a worsening conflict between farmers and herders in Nigeria’s agriculture belt that Buhari has struggled to quash.  A weakening currency and higher fuel prices have also contributed to rising food prices.

Nigerians, who already spend more than half their earnings on food, have had to cut down. Just over 50% of all households reported reduced consumption between July and December last year due to the twin pressures of falling wages and rising food costs

 ‘I can’t simply afford to give my children what they really need in terms of food,’ said Feyintola Bolaji, a mother of three.

Not long after Nigeria revealed that one in three people in the continent’s largest economy were unemployed,  it announced that food inflation has accelerated at the highest pace in 15 years, compounding the misery of many households. Rising inflation has adversely affected the profitability of producers and is a major contributor to the low export penetration of made-in-Nigeria goods in the international market

 The coronavirus pandemic has robbed 70% of Nigerians of some form of income, 

More than half the population lives on less than $2 a day as  food insecurity worsens in the country.

The situation has also been exacerbated by import restrictions on certain staples, such as rice, that have remained in place despite Buhari reopening Nigeria’s land borders in December following a 16-month shutdown in an attempt to end rampant smuggling.

“There is an urgent need for government to intentionally ensure price stability before the situation becomes deplorable,” the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria said in a statement.

 Food prices will remain elevated until the security crisis, which has prevented farmers from returning to their land, is resolved, said Cheta Nwanze, a lead partner with SBM Intelligence, a Nigerian research firm. That’s “unless the government does the sensible thing and allows food imports to happen,” he said.

‘It is really bad’: Nigerians go hungry as food inflation soars | Food News | Al Jazeera

Why France Controls Mali

 As long as Mali is exploited by outsiders, as long as poverty and inequality will continue to exist, leading to insurrections, rebellions and military coups, instability will persist.

The French war in Mali receives little media coverage outside the limited scope of French-speaking media, which has successfully branded this war as one against Islamic militants.

In 1892, France colonized that once-thriving African kingdom, exploiting its resources and reordering its territories as a way to weaken its population and to break down its social structures.

The formal end of French colonialism of Mali in 1960 was merely the end of a chapter, but definitely not the story itself. France remained present in Mali, in the Sahel and throughout Africa, defending its interests, exploiting the ample resources and working jointly with corrupt elites to maintain its dominance.

On March 2012  Captain Amadou Sanogo overthrew the nominally democratic government of Amadou Toumani Touré. He used the flimsy excuse of protesting Bamako’s failure to rein in the militancy of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) in the north. Sanogo’s pretense was quite clever, though, as it fit neatly into a grand narrative designed by various Western governments, lead among them France and the United States, who saw Islamic militancy as the greatest danger facing many parts of Africa, especially in the Sahel.

Sanogo’s coup angered African governments, but was somehow accommodated by Western powers. In the following months, northern militants managed to seize much of the impoverished northern regions, continuing their march towards Bamako itself. On December 20, 2012, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2085, which authorized the deployment of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali. Armed with what was understood to be a UN mandate, France launched its war in Mali, under the title of ‘Operation Serval’.

On July 15, 2014, France declared that ‘Operation Serval’ was successfully accomplished. Yet, almost immediately, on August 1, 2014, it declared another military mission, this time an open-ended war, ‘Operation Barkhane’ and included Paris’ own ‘coalition of the willing’, dubbed ‘G5 Sahel’. All former French colonies, the new coalition consisted of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

 According to Deutsche Welle, “The security situation has worsened, not only (in the) the north but (in) central Mali as well”, the German news agency recently reported, conveying a sense of chaos, with farmers fleeing their land and with “self-defense militias” carrying out their own operations to satisfy “their own agendas”, and so on.

 Even with a heavy French military presence, instability continued to plague Mali. The latest coup in the country took place in August 2020. Worse still, the various Tuareg forces, which have long challenged the foreign exploitation of the country, are now unifying under a single banner. The future of Mali is hardly promising.

So what was the point of the intervention? Certainly not to ‘restore democracy’ or ‘stabilize’ the country.

In a recent article,  Karen Jayes elaborates. “France’s interests in the region are primarily economic. Their military actions protect their access to oil and uranium in the region.”

Mali’s wealth of natural resources is central to France’s economy. “An incredible 75 percent of France’s electric power is generated by nuclear plants that are mostly fueled by uranium extracted on Mali’s border region of Kidal,” in the northern parts of the country. Therefore, it is unsurprising that France was ready to go to war as soon as militants proclaimed the Kidal region to be part of their independent nation-state of Azawad in April 2012.

The Clandestine War on Africa: France’s Endgame in Mali - CounterPunch.org

Atrocities in Tigray Continue

 Sexual violence is being used as a weapon of war in Ethiopia's Tigray region, where girls as young as 8 are being targeted and some women have reported being gang-raped over several days, U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock said. "There is no doubt that sexual violence is being used in this conflict as a weapon of war," Lowcock said, adding the majority of rapes were committed by men in uniform. 

"Nearly a quarter of reports received by one agency involve gang rape, with multiple men assaulting the victim; in some cases, women have been repeatedly raped over a period of days. Girls as young as eight are being targeted,"

He told the U.N. Security Council that the humanitarian crisis in Tigray had deteriorated over the past month and the United Nations had not seen any proof that Eritrean soldiers - accused of massacres and killings - have withdrawn.

"To be very clear: the conflict is not over and things are not improving," Lowcock said.

Lowcock said humanitarian access in Tigray remained a "huge problem" and that he had received a report earlier on Thursday that 150 people had died from hunger.

"This should alarm us all. It is a sign of what lies ahead if more action is not taken. Starvation as a weapon of war is a violation," Lowcock said.

Dr. Fasika Amdeselassie, the top public health official for the government-appointed interim administration in Tigray, told Reuters that at least 829 cases of sexual assault had been reported at five hospitals since the conflict began.

“Women are being kept in sexual slavery,” Fasika told Reuters.

Doctors at five public hospitals told Reuters that most of the rape victims described their attackers as either Ethiopian government soldiers or Eritrean troops. It was more common for women to report sexual violence by Eritrean soldiers, the doctors said.

Since November, fighting between federal government troops and Tigray's former ruling party has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes in the mountainous region of about 5 million. The Eritreans have been helping the central government troops.

Sexual violence being used as weapon of war in Ethiopia's Tigray, U.N. says | Reuters

Thursday, April 15, 2021

‘We cannot drink oil’

 


Activists have accused French and Chinese oil firms of ignoring huge environmental risks after the signing of an agreement by Uganda, Tanzania and the oil companies Total and CNOOC for the construction of a £2.5bn oil pipeline, the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP.)  A letter signed by 38 civil society organisations across both east African countries said the parties had failed to address environmental concerns over the pipeline and had steamrollered over court and parliamentary processes. 260 African and international organisations sent an open letter to 25 commercial banks urging them not to finance the construction of the EACOP.

 It would be the world’s longest electrically heated pipeline, which will move crude oil from fields near Lake Albert in western Uganda 900 miles to Tanzania’s Indian Ocean seaport of Tanga. Uganda’s crude oil is highly viscous, so it must be heated to be kept liquid enough to flow. Uganda discovered reserves of crude near Lake Albert on its border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2006, and the landlocked country wants a pipeline to transport oil to international markets.

Diana Nabiruma, of the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), told the Guardian: “It is concerning that major agreements are being signed and the companies are being given the go-ahead to award contracts and start developing the Lake Albert oil project. The oil projects pose major environmental risks. Resources, some shared with countries such as the DRC, Tanzania and Kenya, including Lake Albert as well as Lake Victoria and rivers, are at risk of oil pollution.” She pointed out that “The resources support the fisheries, tourism and other economic activities. They are also important for food and water security. They therefore must be conserved.” Nabiruma accused the two east African governments of racing to sign deals before their citizens had been told how any risks would be “avoided, minimised or mitigated”.

The #StopEACOP alliance campaign condemned the decision to build the pipeline, which it says will displace 12,000 families and would be a huge environmental risk at a time of climate emergency, when the world needs to move away from fossil fuels.

Vanessa Nakate, founder of the Rise Up climate movement in Uganda, said: “There is no reason for Total to engage in oil exploration and the construction of the east Africa crude oil pipeline because this means fuelling the destruction of the planet and worsening the already existing climate disasters in the most affected areas. “There is no future in the fossil fuel industry and we cannot drink oil. We demand Total to rise up for the people and the planet.”


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

A million hungry in Mozambique

The World Food Programme (WFP) said that 950,000 people were now hungry in northern Mozambique  where a worsening conflict has driven hundreds of thousands from their homes,

“Families and individuals have had to abandon their belongings and livelihoods and flee for safety … adding to an already desperate situation in northern Mozambique,” said Tomson Phiri, a WFP spokesman.

Nearly a million people facing severe hunger in Mozambique | Humanitarian Crises News | Al Jazeera

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Millions face hunger in Somalia

 Save the Children says locust swarms, extreme weather and below average rainfall mean millions of people in Somalia will not have enough food.

Crop and vegetable production is expected to drop by up to 80% this season. Income from livestock sales, a mainstay of the Somali economy, is projected to fall by up to 55%.

Mothers are desperately trying to scrape together just one meal a day for their children. Some of them are already malnourished.

Projections say that this year, poor families in southern Somalia will only be able to source 15% of their food from their crops. In other difficult times, their crops have provided about half their food.

https://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-africa-47639452

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Kleptocracy of Congo-Brazzaville

  Congo-Brazzaville, a country of 5.5 million is not a democracy despite regular elections. First elected in 1979, President Sassou has been in power for 36 of the 61 years has been independent from France.

The economy is stagnant. Civil servants go months without wages and pensions. Hospitals go months without basic medicine. Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index ranks Congo-Brazzaville among the world’s top 20 most corrupt countries. The democracy watchdog Freedom House, which scores countries on their political and civic freedoms, lists Sassou’s Congo as “not free”. The UN’s Human Development Index positions the country at 149 out of 189, two points above Assad's Syria. 

 In last month’s presidential election it brought no surprises. After 36 years in power, Sassou was awarded 88% of the vote with a turnout of more than 67%. Accusations of vote irregularities, including ballot box stuffing, were widespread. His closest rival, who had urged for a “vote for change” died of Covid on the day of the vote.

 Most likely, the African Union, the US, the EU, the UK and former colonial power France will simply turn a blind eye to yet another disputed election result while Congolese are dying from extreme poverty. Sassou rules with an iron fist. During the 2021 campaign, Sassou ordered internet services to be shut down for almost a week, including on election day. The interior minister, Raymond Zéphirin Mboulou, not the electoral commission, announced his victory. Many of Sassou’s most vocal opponents, including his former challenger Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and his former minister André Okombi Salissa, have either been jailed, exiled or are dead. Not long before the March 2021 election, human rights defender Alexandre Ibacka Dzabana was arbitrarily arrested by Sassou’s intelligence officers. He is still detained in Brazzaville where he has been denied access to his lawyer and family. Yet there is barely any indignation from outside the country.

 It is an oil-rich country. Congo-Brazzaville is Africa’s sixth-biggest oil producer, earning huge revenues. However, amid Sassou’s kleptocracy, the country remains paradoxically poor, with nearly half the population living below the poverty line.

The theft is a family affair. 

His daughter Julienne Sassou Nguesso and her husband, Guy Johnson, have been charged with corruption and money laundering in France. 

Global Witness alleged in April 2019 that his other daughter Claudia Sassou Nguesso, who is an MP and the president’s head of communications, received almost $20m (£15m) of apparently stolen state funds and used it to buy a luxury flat in Trump Tower, New York.

His son, Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso, also an elected member of the Congolese parliament, is being groomed to succeed his father. He also allegedly took more than $50m from the Congolese treasury funds for his personal gain, according to a Global Witness.

In 2019, Sassou announced the discovery of new oil deposits which would increase the republic’s daily production from 350,000 barrels a day to 980,000, tripling Congo’s revenues from the oil and natural gas sector. Perhaps this is why power has not changed hands by the ballot box, and serious reforms have not been enacted, while the international community sees nothing, hears nothing and does nothing.

Sassou rules like an emperor while Congolese die from extreme poverty | Congo-Brazzaville | The Guardian

Friday, April 09, 2021

Namibia is failing

 The legitimacy of the former liberation movement, the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), has steadily been eroded due to a combination of factors. These have included socioeconomic decline, SWAPO’s increasingly outdated populist narrative, financial scandals, and elite self-enrichment. In addition, opposition has grown in the form of electoral support for new parties.

After independence from South Africa in 1990 it won elections by huge margins, enabling it to entrench its power. Like other former liberation movements, its legitimacy centered on the idea that citizens owed the party unconditional loyalty in return for liberation. But heroic narratives tend to have a sell by date. If people feel neglected, their loyalty will decline. Since 2015 it’s become increasingly clear that SWAPO has lost appeal among the younger generation as the struggle for liberation passes into history. This generation expects good governance and measures it not in rhetoric, but in delivery. After all, they were born into an independent state. Their number as voters is about to become a majority.

 Namibia's relative wealth is anything but fairly distributed. Inequality remains at staggering proportions. According to the latest United Nations Human Development Report, over half of employed Namibians earn less than US$95 (N$ 1,400) a month. Even among those in paid employment this amounts to less than the average per capita income for sub-Saharan Africa.

Why many won't be celebrating Namibia's independence day — Quartz Africa (qz.com)

Africa's Poverty

 


Contrary to the situation in other parts of the world where the number of poor people has declined, Nigeria and other sub-Saharan African countries currently account for half of the global poor. 

In 1990, East Asia accounted for half of the global poor, whereas some 15 per cent lived in sub-Saharan Africa; by 2015 forecasts, this is almost exactly reversed: sub-Saharan Africa accounts for half of the global poor, with some 12 per cent living in East Asia. Poverty is declining in all regions but it is becoming deeper and more entrenched in countries that are either conflict-ridden or overly dependent on commodity exports. That poverty has become an ever-present situation in sub-Saharan Africa.

Political leaders most of whom are used to mouthing the cliché that we have no business being poor. However, what most of them fail to understand is that poverty goes beyond the shortage of common things such as food, clothing, shelter and safe drinking water, all of which determine the quality of life. It is inclusive of educational attainment and gender inequality, for example. 

According to most findings, poverty in sub-Saharan Africa can largely be attributed to the region’s venality and impuissant economic and social policies. Others assert that the region’s economic woes lie in the lack of well-structured institutions. However, poverty in sub-Saharan Africa could be traceable to a number of factors like lack of democracy, poor management of resource and revenues, high level of corruption, weak rule of law, and lack of infrastructure. Other factors which can also be both causes and after-effects of poverty are overpopulation, crime, war, discrimination, poor access to affordable health care, malnutrition, diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS, which overwhelmingly afflict poor sub-Saharan African countries.

The inability of governments to control or effectively manage things like erosion, desertification and overgrazing, geographic factors such as access to fertile land, fresh water, minerals, energy, and other natural resources have continued to contribute to the expanding poverty in the sub-continent. Yet those living in poverty, experts say, suffer lower life expectancy as millions of people die every year due to lower access to quality healthcare induced by poverty.

It is also important to tackle high level corruption which has in most of the countries, exacerbated the poverty of majority of the people. By diverting scarce resources to private hands at the expense of much needed projects such as schools, hospitals, roads and reliable institutions, poverty is being reinforced. 

TACKLING POVERTY IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA | THISDAYLIVE

Hunger Spreads

 Nearly 20 million people face a food crisis in West Africa and the Sahel region as the vast area is torn by conflicts and the coronavirus pandemic, experts warned.

 The situation could worsen between June and August, with as many as 27 million people needing immediate food aid, or nearly one in 10 people in 14 countries.

In Nigeria alone, 12.8 million people could face a food crisis "or worse" this summer, according to the Food Crisis Prevention Network, which includes representatives of governments, NGOs, lenders and UN agencies.

In addition to conflict, the displacement of 5.6 million people, weak economies and the pandemic have worsened food shortages in the region, according to the network.

Nearly three million people could face a food crisis in Burkina Faso in the coming months, 2.3 million in Niger, 1.8 million each in Chad and Sierra Leone, 1.3 million in Mali and nearly one million in Liberia.

Niger's former prime minister Ibrahim Mayaki, honorary president of the Sahel and West Africa Club, said, "It is essential we change the way we deal with crises. It means investing in the long term to address the root causes of famine and malnutrition."

West Africa faces worsening food crisis: Experts | Africanews

Thursday, April 08, 2021

The irony of Africa – a continent so rich, yet so poor


 Africa is not poor. Africa is rich in resources, but the continent and its people have been exploited for decades and mis-governed.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with its untapped deposits of raw minerals estimated to be worth in excess of $24-trillion, is widely considered to be the richest country in the world. It has large reserves of cobalt, gold, gems, copper, timber and uranium. However, the most valuable resource that the DRC possesses is its large reserve of diamonds. It has one of the largest forest reserves in Africa, the world’s second-largest rainforest and about half of the hydroelectric potential of the continent.

Zambia is the continent’s biggest copper producer and has the world’s ninth richest copper deposits. The big four mines, Barrick Lumwana, FQM Kansanshi, Motani and Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), account for around 80% of Zambia’s annual copper production. Most copper is used in electrical equipment such as wiring and motors, in construction, and industrial machinery (such as heat exchangers).  Barrick Lumwana is wholly owned by the Canadian company Barrick, which is one of the world’s largest gold mining companies. The other three each have a majority foreign shareholding. The Zambian government, through its investment holding company, ZCCM-IH, is a minority shareholder in nearly all of them.

Ghana is Africa’s largest gold producer and is also a major producer of bauxite, manganese and diamonds with 23 large-scale mining companies. There are also over 300 registered small-scale mining groups and 90 mine support service companies. The mining industry in Ghana accounts for some 5% of the country’s GDP and minerals make up 37% of total exports, of which gold contributes over 90% of the total mineral exports.

 70% of the world’s cocoa beans come from four West African countries, namely Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are by far the two largest producers of cocoa, accounting for more than 50% of the world’s cocoa.

Nigeria is the world’s 11th-largest and Africa’s biggest crude oil producer, with 18 operating pipelines and an average daily production of over two million barrels in 2019. The petroleum industry accounts for about 9% of Nigeria’s GDP and for over 90% of oil export value.

Arlit, the uranium mining operation in  Niger, ranks as the fourth largest in the world by uranium production. 

The Rio Tinto-operated Rössing uranium mine, located in Namibia, is the sixth-largest uranium producing mine.  Langer Heinrich uranium mine, located in the  40km southeast of Rössing, is the ninth-largest uranium producing mine in the world.

South Africa is a member of the G20 and WEF; sits on the UN Security Council. The South Deep gold mine in South Africa is one of the largest gold mines in the world, by reserves. South Africa also produces coal.

None of the African countries benefit and all export, only to re-import finished products, often at about 10 times the original cost. 

This guarantees jobs on other continents, mostly Europe, but condemns Africa to a self-perpetuating, vicious cycle of abject poverty.

The irony of Africa and Covid-19 – a continent so ric... (dailymaverick.co.za)

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

South Sudan Corruption

 


“Every time there is a crisis, the government ignores its citizens, relies on international aid, (and) doesn’t help its own people,” said Edmund Yakani, head of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, or CEPO, a civil society group in South Sudan.

The European Union, the United States and the World Bank has provided more than $100m for the COVID-19 response, while the International Monetary Fund has given some $200m in loans. 

“The wealth of this country – from oil and elsewhere – bypasses its people, siphoned off in secrecy with no public accountability for how it is spent,” said David Shearer, the United Nations’ head of mission in South Sudan, in his final address to the UN Security Council in March. The international community, he noted, had failed to question its role in South Sudan’s continuing dependence on foreign aid.

A black market appeared for COVID-19 tests that were supposed to be free. Tests were offered for $50, while test certificates needed for ground and air travel were sold for $400. 

In January, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, released a worrying report (PDF), detailing an overview of South Sudan’s bleak humanitarian situation. Opaque bureaucratic and regulatory snags had also resulted in “diverted resources that would have otherwise been used for lifesaving supplies”, the report noted.

The health ministry also handpicked at least 500 largely untrained staff from the ministry to work on the response and be paid between $450 and $1,500 a month with donor funds. Although it is not uncommon to hire untrained workers in emergency responses many of the proposed salaries were triple what skilled civil servants would normally earn, and the government has failed in recent years to pay health workers for months.

Donors have largely provided most of South Sudan’s healthcare funding for years. Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) alone spent more than 85 million euros ($100m) on health across 19 locations in the country in 2019. In the 2019-2020 budget (PDF), South Sudan’s government allocated nearly $14m to the health ministry, but a separate government report (PDF) detailing official expenditures shows that only $3m of that had been received nine months into the fiscal year.

After the pandemic struck, South Sudan allocated $5.48m for the response from April 1 through September 30, 2020, according to government documents shared with reporters by a government official who asked not to be named. 

Of those funds, $3.8m in contracts was awarded to a South Sudanese company with Lebanese and South Sudanese shareholders, AFK Concept Ltd. As part of pandemic preparations, the company was meant to renovate the Dr John Garang Infectious Disease Center in Juba. Part of that amount included $22,500 for landscaping and $168,000 for painting – costs nearly double those of other companies reporters contacted for estimates of similar work. The 250-bed facility was meant to be the main hospital for COVID-19 patients. As of April 2021, however, it was still being used largely for storage. Hospital staff told reporters although renovations had been made, the work failed to meet the needs of an infectious disease centre, including too few toilets and structures that were inadequate to quarantine infected patients. An inflated contract awarded to a company to renovate a hospital that still sits empty.

And the government authorised one small outfit to produce hand sanitiser. The Drug and Food Control Authority gave Sinco Medical the authorisation to manufacture and distribute the sanitiser – while banning imports of the product as people scrambled to find supplies. In March 2020, the Drug and Food Control Authority told a businessman and his colleagues they would not be allowed to import 100,000 bottles of hand sanitiser from Kenya but instead had to buy from Sinco. People across the country struggled to find sanitiser months after coronavirus cases started to emerge. Prices had soared more than tenfold, according to a May report by the Sudd Institute, a local think-tank that has researched the economic consequences of COVID-19.

Corruption claims spark new concerns about aid to South Sudan | Coronavirus pandemic News | Al Jazeera

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Conservation Colonialism

 A rather lengthy but informative essay on the relationships of nature conservativism and the present dispossession of the pastoralists in Kenya.

Conservancy Beyond the Pale - CounterPunch.org

Monday, April 05, 2021

The Travesty of Kenya's Vaccination Campaign

 Kenya’s COVID-19 vaccination programme has been hampered by outright cheating, confusion and profiteering.

“Vaccine nationalism” or the hoarding of vaccine supplies by Western countries at the expense of poorer populations in much of the rest of the world has predictably led not just to a shortage of supplies within the richer states, including members of the European Union, but crucially, it has meant that access remains an even bigger obstacle  for poorer countries.

In Kenya the pandemic has also turned out to be a cash cow for politically connected “tenderpreneurs” who have quickly established companies for the sole purpose of stealing some of the $71m allocated to buy emergency personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and hospitals across the country.  Elected officials have got together to hatch schemes that funnelled money from the public purse into their pockets.

The vaccine rollout plan involved three phases, the last two of which were to run concurrently. In phase one, between February and June 2021, 1.25 million health workers, security and immigration officials would be vaccinated. In phases two and three, from July 2021 to June 2022, nearly 10 million over-50s and over-18s with underlying health conditions and five million of those considered vulnerable, such as those in informal settlements, would be immunised. The plan quickly fell apart almost as soon as its rollout began. Politicians self-servingly demanded that they should be given priority. They were swiftly joined in the queue-jumping by other members of the the elite,  businessmen, civil servants and even journalists, safe in the impunity that has always shielded them from accountability.

 Different factions within the government pushing different vaccines. While one faction backs the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine which was being rolled out, another has procured Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and begun to distribute it using private facilities. The state has now banned the private importation of vaccines, arguing that it is safeguarding against counterfeits. Though that is a danger that should not be discounted, there has not been a suggestion that what was in the market was fake. Further, rather than tighten its regulatory regime, the state is throwing out the baby with the bathwater, further reducing, rather than expanding, the stock of vaccines accessible to the population.

What is going on with Kenya’s COVID-19 vaccine drive? | Coronavirus pandemic News | Al Jazeera

Gay in Ghana


 An often-repeated argument in the ongoing resistance to gay rights advocacy in Ghana is that ‘gayness’ is alien to Ghanaian culture. Critics of gay rights advocacy in Ghana suggest that the practice is a foreign import.

The variety of people making this claim in churches, streets, marketplaces, parliament and cabinet meetings is remarkable. In 2006, the Spectator, a Ghanaian newspaper, interviewed Ghanaians on their views on homosexuality. Almost all the respondents responded in the negative and branded homosexuality as foreign. Aaron Mike Oquaye, a former speaker of the Ghanaian Parliament, said Ghanaians are “increasingly becoming fed up with external forces trying to force alien cultures on them”. Arthur Kennedy, another influential politician in Ghana, claimed to not understand why advocates of gay rights are “forcing Africa to embrace homosexuality”. And just a few weeks ago, the president of the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, Paul Frimpong-Manso, called on the Ghanaian government to summon foreign diplomats supporting homosexuality.

The anthropologist James Christenson, who published what is probably the first-ever study of homosexuality in Ghana in the 1950s, established that “men who have sex with men” were an integral, but obscured, part of Ghanaian culture and sexual relations. In my research, an elderly interviewee disclosed that the practice of supi and piu (by-words for gay and lesbian sex in Ghana) amongst students was not unheard of, especially in single-sex schools, when they were children in the 1970s.

The notion that same-sex relations simply 'appeared' in Ghana as a Western import or through contact with (white) foreigners is cast into further doubt by Dela Attipoe, a Ghanaian expert who has similarly studied the history of homosexuality in Ghana. He concluded that “It is not a recent phenomenon being visited on Ghana and Ghanaians by ‘whites’ or foreigners”, and that “It is practically happening everywhere, particularly where people gather for celebrations and merry making in urban areas, along with other places most people would never suspect.” A research participant of mine similarly exclaimed when I asked about the oft-stated view that ‘gayness’ is foreign to Ghanaians:

"If they say that, I ask them whether having sex is foreign. Because these sexual orientations have always been there. You talk to people, old and young and you would know that it has always been around ... It has always been in the schools and universities. It has been with us."

In 2017, the Ghana Aids Commission estimated that approximately 1% of the adult male population – some 55,000 people – are gay men. This figure is likely to be much higher when we consider the silences and hidden nature of same-sex relations in the country. This view is supported by the vast number of Ghanaian gay men seeking lovers on websites such as Friendfinder, Gay-datanta, Boyfriend.name and others. The issue, therefore, is that social and political constraints have made it difficult for gay men to openly declare their status. In my research, many indicated that they prefer the silence because ‘coming out of the closet’ could provoke family and public backlash. The ongoing furore about the opening of an LGBT+ office (which has since been closed down by the authorities) shows their fears were not unfounded.

The pretence that homosexuality is a foreign import is an attempt to avoid acknowledging the obvious in a society that is deeply conservative and religious. It also shows a lack of awareness of the colonial footprints in how same-sex relations came to be regarded as a criminal offence in a way that supi and pui were not. And it represents the quest to nullify the sexual rights claims of the thousands of Ghanaians who identify as homosexuals. Attributing LGBT+ identities and sexualities to a ‘foreign attack’ on Ghanaians provides a convenient basis from which to deny such demands

Setting the record straight by showing the place of these groups within Ghanaian society past, present, and future is, therefore, an important step in the quest to unravel truths and myths on homosexuality in Ghana. In a nutshell, homosexuality is evident in Ghana and is not traceable to foreign infiltration and/or decadence. Ghanaians, like other races, have a wide range of sexual choices before them. Homosexuality is part of those choices.

Homosexuality isn't alien to Ghanaian society | openDemocracy



Sunday, April 04, 2021

African Poverty

 Extreme poverty has largely become a problem of only one part of the world – sub-Saharan Africa. 

According to the World Bank in 2018, the region was projected to host more than 90% of the world’s extreme poor by 2030.

That means that more than 400 million people were expected to live on less than $1.90 (£1.40) a day a decade away from now, in sub-Saharan Africa alone, before the arrival of Covid-19.

 More than 70% of the extreme poor in the region, according to the World Bank, live in only 10 of the 46 countries that comprise sub-Saharan Africa. 

According to the South Africa-based civil society advocacy alliance Civicus, only 1% of all official aid (ie funding from agencies like USAid and UKAid).

 An even smaller portion of all humanitarian assistance (that is, all charitable global anti-poverty funding), goes directly to grassroots organisations in the global south.

As a poor Ugandan farmer, white and black people ignore my advice on poverty | Uganda | The Guardian

The Congolese are hungry and sick

 Around 27.3 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or above), making the central African country the host of the highest number of people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in the world.

 A third of the population analysed is experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or above), with 6% to 7 in Emergency (IPC Phase 4), adding up to 6.7 million people in this situation.

Measles is once again on the rise in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The recent upsurge in cases – more than 13,000 since January 1st – is a major source of concern for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Between 2018 and 2020, the worst measles epidemic ever recorded in DRC tore through the country. In just two years, more than 460,000 children contracted the disease and nearly 8,000 died from it. Three-quarters of them were under five.  An inexpensive and 85 per cent efficient vaccine exists, which protects vaccinated people for decades. Measles is the most contagious disease in the world, nearly 10 times more than COVID-19. Winning the fight in the DRC against this killer will require a vaccine coverage of 95 per cent with two doses per child, and regular mop-up campaigns to vaccinate those who slip through the cracks, including in the most vulnerable, difficult to access areas. But we are still very, very far from this.

Democratic Republic of Congo: Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Snapshot | March 2021 - Democratic Republic of the Congo | ReliefWeb

In DRC, measles is spreading and killing again in what seems to be a never-ending fight - Democratic Republic of the Congo | ReliefWeb

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Coal in Africa

 In South Africa, power outages are not the exception but the rule. The country's power grid and power plants are outdated, and energy demand has increased.  Like South Africa — where around 90% of energy comes from coal — other African countries have embarked on coal mining. Botswana, Tanzania, and Mozambique are among the leading countries. About 34 coal-fired power plants currently produce roughly 53 gigawatts, supplying one-third of the continent's electricity needs. 19 of these power plants are located in South Africa.

According to NJ Ayuk, executive chairman of the African Energy Chamber, explains "Coal — in some countries that have it — is in abundance, efficient, and convenient," Ayuk told DW, adding that the logistics are already in place compared to most countries that lack infrastructure for renewables.

Help and support with coal energy in Africa come from China, Russia, and France. "These countries often supply the finance and technology, and it makes sense for them to tap into resources that already exist and build the economy."

For Ayuk, there is an alternative to coal. "Gas is cleaner than coal and could be used for power plants as we prepare to use renewable energy." Africa boasts of substantial gas reserves. For example, Mozambique, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal have recently discovered gas deposits.

Many plans for new coal-fired power plants have not even been implemented yet, Stephen Karekezi, chairman of the non-governmental organization Africa Energy Policy Research in Kenya told DW. "Even if they were realized, the impact on global climate change will not be noticeable," he added. 

Africa's one billion people contribute only between 1 and 1.5% of global greenhouse emissions, Karekezi said.

Africa plans to establish 25 new coal power plants. The organization Energy for Growth Hub, which has examined the projects in more detail, found that only one small plant in Niger with a capacity of around 100 megawatts is to be completed soon. Nine other projects could come online in the future, but construction has not yet begun. The remaining 14 plants have either already been canceled or are unlikely to be completed. Among them is the planned coal-fired power plant near the Kenyan coastal town of Lamu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Chinese-backed project has had its license revoked after environmentalists sued.

For Greenpeace, there is no reason why African countries should invest in coal-fired power plants. "The impact is immense. We feel it in South Africa. Burning coal produces toxic substances like carbon dioxide, and acid rain changes our groundwater — all dangers for the environment and health," Nhlanhla Sibisi, a climate and energy expert, told DW. He said the continent has diverse potential for renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal. "The cost of solar can no longer count as a factor because it has dropped a lot."

For example, Kenya gets 25% of its electricity needs from renewable sources, and African countries can increase this approach. "Governments need to make a shift towards renewables through better implementation of relevant policies and legislation," Sibisi said, adding that this is the only way to prevent a climate crisis.

Africa digs for coal to meet energy demands amid climate concerns | Africa | DW | 02.04.2021

Friday, April 02, 2021

The Cost of Cobalt to the Congo

Cobalt is vital for the manufacture of lithium batteries used in electric cars and the DRC has at least 60 percent of the world’s reserves – mostly in and around Katanga.

 The West’s growing appetite for cobalt, a metal vital for electric cars, could be causing birth defects in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the Katanga region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), increasing numbers of babies are being born with horrific birth defects. Some of this, scientists say, is due to a huge surge in the global demand for cobalt – a metallic element that is playing a key role in the battle to reduce carbon emissions and slow climate change.

According to research published in The Lancet medical journal and elsewhere, cobalt extraction, smelting and other related industrial practices in the region are polluting the environment and contaminating people working in the mines or living close to them. 

The health consequences are dire – especially for pregnant women and the children they bear.

The Cost of Cobalt | Health News | Al Jazeera

Vaccine Delayed for Africans

 The director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong,  has warned that India’s temporary hold on major exports of AstraZeneca’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine will undermine the continent’s inoculation plans and could have a “catastrophic” impact if extended.

The Serum Institute of India (SII) recently announced that as many as 90 million doses of the shot destined for the COVAX initiative worldwide will be delayed through the end of April as India’s government grapples with a spike in infections among the country’s 1.4 billion people. India’s move is aimed at making sure it could meet local demand.

“If the delay continues, I hope it’s a delay and not a ban, that would be catastrophic for meeting our vaccinations schedule,” Nkengasong said at a news conference in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

The African Union had planned to vaccinate 30-35 percent of the continent’s population by the end of the year, Nkengasong said. The AU’s target primarily relies on supplies from COVAX, through which 64 countries including many in Africa are supposed to get doses from the SII. 

“To be so reliant on one manufacturer is a massive concern,” a United Nations health official involved in the rollout in Africa explained.

Ghana has so far received 600,000 of the 2.4 million AstraZeneca shots it was due to get through COVAX by the end of May. It has been told that more shots will only arrive in June, Kwame Amponsa-Achiano, head of the vaccine rollout, told Reuters.

‘Catastrophic’: Africa CDC issues warning over India shot delays | Coronavirus pandemic News | Al Jazeera