Thursday, May 17, 2018

The real refugee issue

Violence and conflict in sub-Saharan Africa forced 15,000 people from their homes every day in 2017, double the previous year's figure, an international monitoring centre said.

The region accounted for nearly half the 11.8 million people worldwide who were displaced within their countries by conflict last year, according to a report from the  Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

Internal displacement is often a precursor to cross-border movement and can lead to further conflict as host communities struggle to accommodate newcomers, said Alexandra Bilak, director of IDMC. "It's a vicious cycle of vulnerability," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. 

Democratic Republic of Congo was the worst-hit country in Africa, with almost 2.2 million people forced from home last year, said the IDMC. South Sudan, Ethiopia and Central African Republic followed, together accounting for 2.1 million. In addition to the 5.5 million who fled conflict, 2.6 million people were forced from their homes because of storms and floods in sub-Saharan Africa in 2017, said IDMC.

People who flee conflict usually remain in their countries and only cross borders if they still feel threatened, said Rishi Ramrakha, head of logistics in Africa for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Internally displaced people (IDPs) remain under the protection of their government even when it is the cause of displacement. They often move to areas where it is difficult to deliver aid, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Bilak said the global community tended to focus more on the plight of people who flee across borders - refugees - often leaving those who flee within their countries without enough assistance. Internally displaced people (IDPs) remain under the protection of their government even when it is the cause of displacement. They often move to areas where it is difficult to deliver aid, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR). 

UNHCR has not yet released data on the number of people who fled across borders in 2017, but said that in 2016 there was an increase of 16 percent on the continent.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The New Imperialists

Chinese investment in Africa could be accelerating debt on the continent and creating economies which are “entirely dependent on China”, according to financial experts.
Around $86bn (£64bn) in loans were issued by China between 2000 and 2014 to finance over 3,000 infrastructure projects in Africa. Experts have warned that this level of investment may not be as rosy as it appears.
Zuneid Yousuf, from MBI Group, said:
“Infrastructure projects create jobs, provide an opportunity for skills development and the transfer of new technologies. However, these firms come under the guise of partnership, but this rhetoric, combined with genuine short-term benefits masks longer-term problems.”
One of the main issues around the Chinese approach is the dangerously high levels of debt that it brings, which could prove unsustainable for growing economies. There is also a risk that the continent becomes overly dependent on one country, which could allow it to hold an uncomfortably high level of influence...The reality in Africa is a model of globalisation that works only in China’s interests."
Zambia is an interesting case study of Africa-China relations. China is the largest foreign investor in the country, but it is often cited as an example of the limitations of Chinese investment. The top-down, large government loan model has led to tensions. One recent example is the problem of labour laws, and the news that Chinese investors in Zambia have been preventing labour representatives from being present at construction sites.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Emutai - Land Grab for Safaris

The Tanzanian government is putting foreign safari companies ahead of Maasai herding communities as environmental tensions grow on the fringes of the Serengeti national park, according to a new investigation. Although carried out in the name of conservation, these measures enable wealthy foreigners to watch or hunt lions, zebra, wildebeest, giraffes and other wildlife, while the authorities exclude local people and their cattle from watering holes and arable land, the institute says.
Hundreds of homes have been burned and tens of thousands of people driven from ancestral land in Loliondo in the Ngorongoro district in recent years to benefit high-end tourists and a Middle Eastern royal family, says the report by the California-based thinktank the Oakland Institute.
It says Thomson’s sister company, Tanzania Conservation Limited, is in a court battle with three Maasai villages over the ownership of 12,617 acres (5,106 hectares) of land in Loliondo which the company uses for safaris. The report says villagers have been driven off, assaulted or arrested by local police, park rangers or security guards.
The restricted access to land has made the Maasai more vulnerable to famine during drought years, the report says, noting appeals that locals have made for the government to change policies because of growing numbers of malnourished children.
The report also claims Maasai have been driven off land as a result of government ties with Otterlo Business Corporation, which organises hunting trips for the royal family of the United Arab Emirates and their guests who fly into a custom-built landing strip in Loliondo. Since Otterlo was first granted 400,000 hectares of land for hunting, the government has mounted successive eviction operations. 
Despite past government promises that the Maasai would never be evicted from their land, the report notes Serengeti national park rangers burned 114 bomas (traditional homes) in 2015 and another 185 in August of last year. Along with other demolitions, local media report more than 20,000 Maasai were left homeless. 
“Without access to grazing lands and watering holes, and without the ability to grow food for their communities, the Maasai are at risk of a new 21st-century period of emutai (eradication),” said Anuradha Mittal, the director of the Oakland Institute. 

Holocaust Denial?

Anger is building in Namibia over inaction by colonial-era power Germany, almost three years after talks began about an apology and reparations for the genocide of its indigenous Herero and Nama.

Helin Evrim Sommer is extremely angry. "The secret bilateral negotiations are not transparent, a farce in a sense,” the spokeswoman on development  for Germany's Left party criticized in an interview with DW. Even members of the German parliament don't know exactly where the talks between Germany and Namibia , once regarded as a prestige project, now stand, the lawmaker said. The position papers with the detailed claims out of Namibia and the offer put out by Germany are both classified. Whenever delegates meet, the outcome of the negotiation round remains likewise unclear – no more than a brief media statement follows. Consequently, no one in Germany takes notice of these negotiations.

All major parties acknowledged that Berlin should apologize for the genocide in its former colony of "German South West Africa” where tens of thousands of Herero and Nama were killed between 1904 and 1908.  Namibia is still waiting for that apology. There is no mention of it in the current German government's coalition agreement. 

A columnist from the government-owned New Era newspaper had accused the German Ambassador Christian Schlaga of denying German guilt for the genocide in a speech. 

"The populace is losing patience,” says Maximilian Weylandt of the Namibia office of the independent London-based think tank Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). "After more than two years there is still no outcome, and some people are asking whether Germany is really negotiating in good faith and is prepared to respond to the needs of Namibians.”

On the disputed question of compensation, for instance, two thirds of Namibian surveyed are in favor of compensation from Germany, a possibility Berlin had excluded at the outset of the talks.  Less than half of respondents in the IPPR survey said they believed its negotiations with Germany were good or "mostly good." A little over half want traditional representatives of the Herero and Nama to be involved. Some traditional Herero and Nama leaders have long criticized the Namibian government as being too soft on Germany. They are suing in a US federal court to be part of the negotiations between Windhoek and Berlin. 

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

"Agroecology is a real alternative to conventional agricultural production"

Agroecology is a better alternative than large-scale agriculture, both for the climate and for small farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to researcher Ellinor Isgren from Lund University in Sweden. This agricultural model preserves biodiversity and safeguards food supply while avoiding soil depletion.
She maintains that today's intensive, large-scale agriculture brings a major environmental impact in the form of soil depletion, high use of pesticides, high energy and water consumption and reduced biodiversity. Large areas are often cultivated with one or only a few different crops, making this type of agriculture vulnerable to pests, diseases and climate change.
Large-scale agriculture also requires major investments in the form of machinery, grains and seed, while utilising little labour. This means that poorer farmers in many African countries are excluded from the advantages of intensive agriculture: technological development, increased food production, access to the agricultural market and general economic growth.
Ellinor Isgren proposes agroecology as a possible alternative for small farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. The model is based on each farm being an integrated ecosystem, in which crops, plants and animals interact to create favourable conditions for cultivation. This alternative is knowledge-intensive, requiring farmers to have a lot of knowledge about the functioning of various components in the ecological system, as well as an ability to create synergies between plants, insects, crops and soil fertility. The model also rests on traditional farming methods.
"If farmers use the model correctly, they can increase their yields and ensure their food supply while preserving biodiversity and reducing their impact on the climate and soil depletion. They also become less vulnerable to climate change as they grow many different crops and improve the soil structure," she says.
Further benefits are that the system does not require major resources in the form of machinery, pesticides and fertiliser, as the cultivation model is mainly organic, so even poor small-holders can farm in this way.
There are also good conditions for scaling up the model for sale to domestic and international markets. This would require more research and better collaboration between various agricultural institutions to develop knowledge of how different ecosystems function together and how local conditions affect the fertility of plants and crops. Initiatives are also needed to train farmers in how to apply an agroecological model.
"There is currently no political will in Uganda to push development of the agricultural sector. This has left the market open to private investors and strong financial interests in the form of seed and pesticide companies." she says.

Not all bad news

According to UN projections, Africa is expected to account for more than half the world’s population growth over the next 35 years. More than 30 per cent of Africa’s population is between the age of 10 and 24, and will remain so for at least the next 20 years.
“With the right investments, these trends could be the region’s greatest asset,” said former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world views Africa through a prism of problems. “But when I look to Africa”, he predicted last month, “I see a continent of hope, promise and vast potential.”
With 55 years of study and research, the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI), based in Sweden, has an equally positive view of Africa.

Monday, May 07, 2018

The Fulani Crises

Whether in Mali, Niger or Nigeria, the nomadic Fulani herders often find themselves in conflict with farmers over scarce resources. But there is more to it than that: Often it becomes a struggle for political supremacy.

According to Reuters, armed men raided two villages earlier this week and killed at least 16 people belonging to the Tuareg ethnic group. By the end of April, at least 40 Tuareg had been killed. The governor of Menaka described the perpetrators as Fulani, who were linked to the terrorist group, the so-called "Islamic State" (IS). Maiga said the act may have been a retaliatory strike after the Tuareg had supported French troops in an anti-terrorist operation. In the Mopti region, several hundred kilometers west of Menaka, there is an Islamist Fulani preacher, Amadou Koufa. Since founding an armed group in 2015, the country's Fulani minority have come under suspicion of collaborating with extremists.

But it's not that simple, says Abdoulaye Sounaye from the Leibniz Center for Modern Oriental Studies (ZMO). "You cannot reduce everything to religion," he told DW. While this has great potential to mobilize people, it also has political and economic power. "Nevertheless, it would be more of a conflict between the population groups and the Malian government."

"Our politicians repeatedly call opposition groups terrorists. The same thing now is happening to the Fulani people. Because they are vulnerable people who live in the bush and are mainly uneducated, they use them as scapegoats." says DW journalist Usman Shehu 

The Fulani are one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa, with at least 25 million members. However, because the Fulani are scattered throughout the region, in most states they are a minority. Traditionally, they live as nomadic pastoralists. Conflicts occur frequently. There are various reasons for the conflict escalation. Businessman and philanthropist Mo Ibrahim says climate change is a driving factor. Ibrahim says the erosion of usable farming areas will exacerbate the dispute. "It happened in Darfur before, it's happening now in Nigeria — it's going to happen everywhere because you have two communities who, over hundreds of years, sorted out a certain mode of cooperation," he told DW. "Now with climate change, the herders need to drive their cattle into areas where they have never been before. And this requires sensitivity and quick action by governments to see how they can bring this community together. A new form of cooperation needs to be developed."

Nigerian journalist,  Aliyu Tilde, is part of a team that works to solve territorial conflicts on behalf of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) — especially in Mali and Nigeria, where Tilde says conflicts with the Fulani have escalated. "You'll find that whenever there is a conflict, it is not usually the Fulani who begin that conflict," he explained, "You will find that they were under attack and they were trying to protect themselves, or they were carrying out a reprisal attack." In Nigeria alone, one must distinguish between three types of incidents, says Tilde. First is the conflict over land between nomadic herders and farmers. However, if the Fulani's cattle destroyed farmland, this would usually be resolved locally. There is also the possibility of gang criminality. "This is a crime, which must be regarded as such," says Tilde. "If a state cannot enforce its laws, that's a problem." The third type is the most problematic: In the struggle for political supremacy in Nigerian states, local rulers would often strengthen their own ethnic groups and agitate against minorities. The consequence of this, says Tilde, is essentially "ethnic cleansing." For example, the Fulani recalled a bloodbath in Taraba state in June 2017, where around 200 people were massacred. For Major General Benjamin Ahanotu, there was no doubt that the goal was to wipe out the Fulani population.

Tilde says the lack of a state presence in Mali and Nigeria is the biggest problem. In areas where there are no job opportunities, young people are increasingly joining criminal groups. "These can be people of all ethnicities — Fulani, Haussa or Tuareg," he says. And when the state offers no security and crime goes unpunished, people turn to their own form of justice and the distrust between different population groups increases.

Senegal and Mauritania as positive examples where "Such conflicts now do not exist because of the implementation of legal factors in place between the two countries," says Tilde. Cattle herds have to be registered and cannot cross the border unnoticed. Alternate areas are designated for the cattle, so that they do not graze on farmland. In Cameroon, the Fulani herdsmen have a better deal, says Usman Shehu, with full rights and obligations. The state receives taxes from the shepherds — but heavy penalties are imposed if their cattle are robbed or killed.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Malawi's Albinism

The dismembered corpse of 22-year-old McDonald Masambuka, an albino, was found buried in southern Malawi several weeks after he went missing in March. Several body parts were missing.

Malawi is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for people with albinism - a lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes - who are targeted so that their body parts can be used in magical potions and other ritual practices. The United Nations' top expert on albinism has said people with the condition risk "extinction" in Malawi due to relentless attacks fuelled by superstitions. 

Malawi suspended capital punishment more than 20 years ago as it embraced democratic reforms. Although the death penalty still exists in law, it has been declared unconstitutional. Information minister Nicholas Dausi said international rights groups and donors were preventing the government from using the death penalty to deter such crimes in Malawi, where people with albinism are hunted down for their body parts.
 "They are stopping us from enforcing capital punishment," Dausi was quoted by local media as saying at Masambuka's funeral last month. "Yet in their countries they execute murderers. Is this fair?"

Human rights groups said the focus on the death penalty was misplaced and the government should step up its efforts to investigate unsolved murders and protect people with albinism. "We never have any experience where the death penalty has been successful as a deterrent," said Overstone Kondowe, head of the Association of People with Albinism in Malawi (APAM), which helps about 3,400 people with the condition.

APAM has recorded 146 attacks in Malawi since 2014. About one in 20,000 people worldwide have the congenital disorder, with higher rates in sub-Saharan Africa.
Only five of 22 murders reported since 2014 are in court, said Kondowe, with 17 unsolved. "We don't have even have a suspect and nobody has been prosecuted," he said of the 17 cases, adding that the police should reopen them now that they have better equipment. "We didn't have facilities of DNA testing to help with the investigation, so we're seeking that because the current capacity can help to shed light on who was responsible."

Rights groups called on the government to establish a commission of inquiry to find out who is behind the attacks, amid claims that they are organised by criminal gangs.

"There is a green light with the recent case where we have seen high profile people involved," said Timothy Mtambo, who heads the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, a charity. "We believe a good investigation can open up our windows as to who is behind the trade ... We would be able to say we have unveiled the market and done away with the roots. It should invest in preventative measures, not 'curing' the problem," he said. "It needs to understand where we have people with albinism, which can help in drawing security plans. Currently there is no proper programme."

Kenya's Land Wars

Millions of Kenyans are landless. Many were displaced during the colonial era. Others lost their land due to ethnic clashes, corruption or because their parents did not write a will, said National Land Commission chairman Muhammad Swazuri. One of the underlying problems is that most people do not have title deeds to their land, while some plots are registered to multiple owners due to corruption in the lands ministry.

Land and water-related conflicts are flaring up across Kenya, amid drought, population growth and high unemployment. Climate change is worsening tensions, as erratic rains push farmers and herders deeper into poverty. Clashes over land are common across east Africa's biggest economy, from Sengwer and Ogiek hunter gatherers fighting to return to their ancestral forests to coastal squatters trying to hold on to land that has been sold to developers. Gun battles between herders in Kenya's arid north over access to grazing and water is linked to communal ownership, said Kamau Ngugi, head of the Nairobi-based National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, which supports land rights activists.

Land, climate and population pressures are driving many landless Kenyans to encroach on nearby rivers, wetlands and other natural resources to survive, experts said. Kenya's wetlands - areas like marshes or swamps that are often covered with shallow water - make up between 3 and 6 percent of its land surface, according to the environment ministry. They are important for biodiversity, flood regulation and as a source of water for drinking and agriculture, but they are being degraded by encroaching agriculture, mineral exploitation and pollution. In Mount Kenya forest, fruit and vegetable farms have replaced natural thickets along river banks which used to hold the soil together.

"Land tenure and destruction of natural resources is interlinked," said Violet Matiru, a conservationist with Millennium Community Development Initiatives, which works to restore ecosystems in Kenya.n"Without land ownership, people will adopt available solutions."

Until a decade ago, the Chuka and Tharaka people co-existed peacefully as the Naka River - with plentiful water and fish - flowed downstream to join the Tana, Kenya's longest river, he said. But water volumes dropped, triggering conflict.

Phyllis Mugeni was watering her greens when she spotted a dozen armed men advancing from the lowlands to attack farmers working on the banks of the River Naka in the foothills of Mount Kenya. Mugeni, a member of the Chuka community, living some 200 km (124 miles) northeast of the capital, Nairobi, saw that the men were Tharaka herders, who rely on the river to water their goats and cattle - and ran. 
"They came early in the morning, armed with bows and arrows," said the 44-year-old mother of three. "They were shouting war cries, saying that people from the upper region were killing their families and livestock because there was no water in the river." 
At least 10 people were injured during the August attack, said Ngai Mutuoboro, chairman of Atiriri Bururi ma Chuka, a conservation group that lobbies for Chuka land rights.

"When drought comes, the Tharaka people go upstream to trace where the waters have stopped flowing." Mwenda Gataya, a county official, said his Tharaka community have no choice but to rely on rivers because there are no other reliable water sources.

The county government's environmental head, Evelyn Kaari, said politicians were at fault. "Politicians have always misused the struggle for resources in the county to incite Tharaka voters against supporting an aspirant from Chuka and vice versa," she said.

Press Freedom

Media freedom is considered non-existent, having collapsed in 2001 when a brutal state crackdown on independent media saw waves of arrests. President Isaias Afeworki is widely regarded as a "predator" of press freedom and uses the national media as his mouthpiece. Writers, broadcasters and artists are censored and information is blatantly withheld from citizens.
The government has called social media "a new form of terrorism" andblocks it frequently. Radio and television broadcasts were blocked for two weeks in March in the run-up to elections. Newspapers publishing reports which displease officials are banned and journalists and publishers detained.
Khartoum adheres to so-called pre-publication censorship, detains journalists arbitrarily and openly interferes in news production. The Freedom of Information law of 2015 is dismissed as yet another means to ensure government control over public information. Journalists must pass a test and seek permission to work.
Journalists risk arbitrary arrest, assault and intimidation. In recent months the government has clamped down on social media platforms and cyber-activists in particular. The internet has been blocked countrywide since March 28. It followed an internet blackout ahead of civil society demonstrations and a protest by the media dubbed "a day without press." 
Independent local and foreign journalists face difficulties as they try to go about their work. Security forces destroy equipment to disrupt media operations. Privately-owned media organizations have no access to advertising.  
South Sudan
Journalists are forced by the government to avoid coverage of conflict.Foreign media have reported being harassed and bannedfrom the young country, where at least 10 journalists have reportedly been killed since 2011.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Media watchdogs say journalists have been murdered, beaten, detained and threatened since Joseph Kabila took over the presidency from his father in 2001. International media outlets complain that the government often jams radio signals or cuts transmission. Protests by the opposition prompt authorites to disconnect or disrupt the internet. 
State repression towards press freedom and the intimidation of journalists is widespread. State-controlled media is increasingly replacing independent radio stations, most of which were forced to close during an attempted coup three years ago. Hundreds of journalists have fled the country since 2015. Many are now in Rwanda, Kenya and Belgium. 
Critics say President John Magufuli has deliberately targeted freedom of expression since he came into office in 2015. Journalists have been arrested or have disappeared altogether. Media organizations have been shut down for lengthy periods of time and newspapers barred from publishing. Laws that can be used against the media have been tightened.
The absolute monarchy has a reputation for obstructing access to information and actively preventing journalists from doing their jobs. The media is subject to strict laws and reporters are often taken to court over their coverage. Media self-censorship is considered systematic. One editor recently fled the country after reporting on shady business deals linked to King Mswati III.
The government has a stranglehold on the media and journalists work under highly restrictive conditions. Along with Eritrea, the country has one of the highest rates of arrested journalists in sub-Saharan Africa. Social media plaforms are sometimes blocked by the state and diaspora print and broadcast media outlets are regularly targeted.