Friday, February 16, 2018

The African Challenge

On January 17, Italy's parliament approved the deployment of up to 470 troops in Niger to combat "irregular migrant flows" and the trafficking of people towards Libya, and, from there, to Europe. A number of other European countries are pursuing similar policies, including France, Germany, and Spain.

The acronym OPL 245 means little, if anything, to most people. Yet, it is the name of the deal for the acquisition of the largest oil block (over 9 billion barrels of crude) in Africa. The $1.1bn invested by European oil and gas companies in the acquisition of this oil block would have covered over 80 percent of Nigeria's entire health budget for 2015. The ordinary citizens of Nigeria did not see a penny from the deal. The acquisition, finalised through blackmail, benefitted only a very limited number of corrupt officials and money launderers.

The natural resources (fuel, gold, gas etc) of most, if not all, African countries and a number of the states in the Eastern Mediterranean are still being syphoned off through offshore companies that, to a large extent, are linked to European and American companies and businessmen. As the Panama Papers confirmed, anonymous companies (about 1400) and tax havens are used to exploit the natural wealth of some of the world's poorest countries.

 People tend to migrate when they feel unsafe or unable to fulfil their needs. In this context, it is enough to mention that, according to data provided by the US State Department, "incidents of terrorism" increased by 6500 percent (199 attacks in 2002, 13,500 in 2014) since George W Bush started the so-called "war on terror" in 2001.

The total population of Africa will grow from the current 1.2 billion to 2.5 billion by 2050, while some European countries will see their populations decline or stay relatively stagnant over the same period. For example, the EU predicts Italy's population to decline from nearly 61 million to under 59 million by 2050.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Congo is getting worse

 A humanitarian disaster in eastern Congo is quickly worsening as aid agencies have been forced to pull back due to growing insecurity and slashed budgets, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said. Persistent clashes between government soldiers, local militias and foreign rebels in the eastern borderlands have worsened. The area around Beni has witnessed some of the worst violence in recent years.

More than 4.4 million people have been displaced in Democratic Republic of Congo amid rampant violence that has been aggravated by a political crisis sparked by President Joseph Kabila's refusal to step down at the end of his mandate in 2016.

"We are overwhelmed and underfunded," NRC head Jan Egeland told Reuters in an interview in the town of Beni in North Kivu province. "The crisis in Congo, especially here in the eastern part of Congo, is phenomenal. It is horrible. And we do not have the global solidarity and response that we need," he said. "Just outside of town, just here in Beni, there were several massacres in recent days," said Egeland, "These clashes go on endlessly. The civilian population comes in the crossfire."

Clearing the slums - clearing out the corruption

 Corruption, poor management and lack of public consultation have hurt repeated efforts to improve slums, including Kibera, the country's largest, researchers said.

Fieldworkers from Urban ARK, a global research programme, studied three projects in Kenya's slums and recommended future projects consult with affected communities in order to improve the chances of success. Future projects to improve slums must include residents' input rather than imposing solutions on them, said Jack Makau, the Kenyan representative of Slum Dwellers International, a network of urban-poor organisations.

"Working with the community is usually the best entry-point," Makau said.

Kibera, just 5 kilometres (3 miles) from Nairobi city centre, has seen three major upgrade programmes since 2004, but none has significantly improved slum-dwellers' living standards, the researchers said. One reason is a failure to communicate, said Ezekiel Rema, chairman of Muungano Wa Wanavijiji (MWW), which represents slum residents.

"The understanding of our people of slum upgrading (is that) it means slum evictions. That's why you find when a project is initiated it takes over 20 years to (get going)," he told a forum in Nairobi. 

One project Urban ARK studied was the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme, an initiative by the government and the United Nations' urban development agency UN Habitat to build high-rises for families in Kibera. The initiative saw about 1,200 families moved from mud homes to apartments, the ministry of housing said. However, it faced lawsuits from slum-dwellers angered at irregularities in the allocation process.

Another project, the National Youth Service (NYS) Slum Upgrade Initiative, engaged young people to build houses and toilets, and provide daily cleanup activities in Kibera and other slums across the country. It was dogged by scandal and eventually closed after tens of millions of dollars went missing, leading the minister of devolution and planning to resign in November 2015.

A third - the Railways Project - tried forcibly to evict people living alongside the railway in Kibera and move them to new housing elsewhere. It was halted after community activists intervened to prevent the evictions.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Why is Africa still hungry?

According to the United Nations, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence of undernourishment, affecting about 23 per cent of the population. The situation is worse in Eastern Africa, where the prevalence of undernutrition was about 34 per cent in 2016.
The African Development Bank estimates that Africa spends about $35 billion (Sh3.53 trillion) annually on food importation, and that is estimated to increase to about $110 billion by 2025. Moreover, the number of undernourished people in Africa will rise to 320 million in 2025, up from 240 million in 2015. 

At 57.7 per cent, Burundi has the highest proportion of stunting on the continent. The average stunting rate in East Africa is estimated at 44 per cent. An estimated 3.4 million Kenyans in 23 of the 47 counties were food insecure in September 2017. This was a whopping 31 per cent increase from February 2017. As a result, about 421,000 children under five and 39,000 pregnant and lactating mothers faced acute malnutrition.

Why is Africa still hungry many decades after the colonialists left Africans to run their own affairs? Why is Africa still hungry when the continent recorded the highest GDP growth and is on the upswing? Why does agriculture, which employs more than 70 per cent of Africa’s workforce, contribute the least to the continent’s GDP? Why is Africa still hungry when it is jam-packed with NGOs, civil society, research and academic institutions focused on agriculture? Why is Africa hungry when the World Bank, AfDB and foundations such the Bill and Melinda Gates and Rockefeller foundations and MasterCard have made available hundreds of millions of dollars to fund agriculture. Why is Africa still hungry when thousands of African researchers have received higher training in agronomy, economics, soil science, crop and animal breeding, agroforestry, finance and insurance? Why is Africa hungry when each country has an agriculture department and a plethora of policies and strategies? 

Africa has 65 per cent of the world’s uncultivated land. Moreover, the country with the youngest population in the world.

The answer is Capitalism

Monday, February 12, 2018

Background to Aparthied (1968)

From the October 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

The system of Apartheid thought out and applied by the National Party regime in South Africa is a consciously racist one. There is a long history of repressive and discriminatory legislation aimed against the ‘‘non-white’’, and in particular the African population. The National Party under its leaders Hertzog, Malan, Strijdom and Verwoerd reduced the limited representation of the none-white population until today it is non-existent.

In an effort to stem the rising nationalist fervour among Africans and prevent the consolidation of opposition forces, as represented by the African and Indian National Congresses, and elements of the "Communist" and Liberal Parties, the government has extended the normal ruling class policy of divide and rule to include actual geographical separation. There have thus been created so-called “Bantustans” which, as a scheme on paper, has been so often used by the hypocritical supporters of Apartheid as a conscience absolver. In fact the “Bantustans” or “Black Homelands” amount to nothing more than a large number of scattered reserves covering about one-seventh of South Africa’s territory, much of it of the poorest quality. Claims by the National Party as to the self-governing nature of the reserves are quite false.

The self-set task of the government has been not so much the preservation of the traditional African tribal system as its re-creation. Much of the tribal system was destroyed long ago by military defeat in a series of wars waged against conquest, as well as by the widespread adoption of Christianity. If the government had directed all the resources of the state into a genuine attempt to build up the remnants of the tribal society, it may have halted the clock for a while, but it could not have turned it back. As it was they were unwilling to lose the economic advantage of African farm and factory workers, not to mention personal lackeys. The result has only been to continue and sharpen the internal strife, with the government becoming more desperate and openly repressive in their attempts to safeguard the dominance of the Afrikaner farmer class.

Inevitably the already restricted freedom of speech and press has been removed in an effort to bolster the apartheid regime. Both the African and Indian National Congress that had been so successful in breaking down political apathy among farmers and workers are now banned. One of the most far-reaching attacks on democracy made by the government has been the Suppression of Communism Act. The wide definition given to ‘communism’ and the absolute authority given to the Minister has meant its use against any and all opponents of the regime. Govan Mbeki, the author of The Peasants Revolt was detained in solitary confinement for two months under this law before being acquitted of the charge against him. He was only one of many African political organisers to be subjected to this same sort of treatment. Radio and the press are also subject to censorship and the introduction of television is actively resisted by the S. African state.

In the field of education, the non-white population is at a serious disadvantage both through the type and amount available, though education for white workers is warped in many spheres, in particular, that of race. A large number of distortions appear in the history textbooks provided for both white and non-white pupils. Two myths, in particular, are widely believed, namely that the Dutch landed in an empty territory, and that clashes with African tribes were always violent, with massacres of innocent unsuspecting whites by the Africans. This is in complete contradiction to the accounts of many early travellers. The addition of “race studies” to many school curricula has been fraught with danger from the very beginning, though perhaps more for what it left out than for what it included. There is, for instance, a high percentage of space devoted to “Bantu tribal life in the reserves” but very little to “Bantu in Urban Areas” which has resulted in the whole picture becoming distorted, and most white children left utterly ignorant of the industrial shanties and slums, and the general frustrations suffered by non-white workers.

The policy of Apartheid has been and continues to be, a definite hindrance to industrial expansion in South Africa. While it has provided a vast supply of cheap unskilled labour, it has ignored the pressures of world competition toward the need for increased technical skill and specialisation. The National Bureau for Educational and Social Research reported in 1962 a shortage of 12 per cent among junior scientists and 10 per cent among professional engineers without taking account of posts filled by inadequately trained labour. In its annual Economic Review the South African Reserve Bank drew attention to “an insufficient supply of certain classes of skilled manpower. Such shortages were evident, for example, in the building, iron and steel, general engineering and motor industries”. The Minister of Education, forecast a shortage of 1,500 doctors in 1965, and this in a field which has been more open to Africans than other professions. Capitalist groans at this state of affairs have been echoed by the National Developments Foundation of South Africa, as the following speech by Dr. F. Meyer, its President demonstrates:
  Why cannot we increase productivity and bring down the cost of living? Why cannot we modernise our factories? Why cannot we improve or expand our marketing and selling? and hundreds of similar questions you may ask. The answers arc all the same, namely: because we do not have the trained managerial executive and technical manpower to plan, organize and administer these things. The opportunities are there. We can get the money, the materials and the equipment, but we cannot lay our hands on the trained manpower to turn ideas into action.
It may fairly be said that the capitalist class in South Africa are for the most part opposed to the strict apartheid measures that have been applied, even though their representation on the political field, through first the Unionist and later the United Party, has been one of compromise with the numerically predominant Afrikaner Nationalists currently entrenched in the seat of power The more radical Progressive Party and the now dissolved Liberal party forthrightly called for a multi-racial South Africa taking an attitude very similar to that put forward by W. H. Hutt in his The Economics of the Colour Barpublished in 1964 — “When we buy a product in the free market we do not ask about the sex, race, nationality or political opinions of the producer. All we are interested in is whether it is good value for money”. 

In spite of the ideology of Apartheid and its associated practices, the complete separation of people into tribal and ethnic groupings has proved impossible. With such a closely integrated economic structure, and with all the important harbour facilities, the best arable land, and mineral wealth owned by “white" people, it could not have been otherwise. Hampered as they arc industrialisation and urbanisation continue. in many cases with restrictive employment laws being openly breached. Between 1962 and 1964 the African population of Johannesburg increased from 609,100 to 706,389. Increasing numbers are being recruited through the labour bureaux in the Transkei. The figures are endless, all of them testify to the impossibility of complete separation. They reveal the policy of apartheid as a scheme for the subjection of non-white farmers and workers in the interests of Afrikaner farmers.

That the capitalist class will gain political as well as economic control of South Africa is inevitable. The question remains—when and how. Should the National Party remain in power, unwilling to make any sort of compromise then violence will be the only alternative—a bloody revolt will commence, the result of stifled opinion and pent-up frustrations of years of racism.

Michael Bradley

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Fact of the Day

In a recent report of the African Development Bank, the bank said that about 152 million Nigerians now lived below $2 a day which means poverty is on the increase and that Nigeria may have the highest number of poor population by the end of 2019, overtaking India. 

Friday, February 09, 2018

World Bank Leeches

A new World Bank reports documents the continent’s impoverishment by rampant minerals, oil and gas extraction — but the bank enforces policies that feed it. Africa desperately needs diversification from mining, but governments remain influenced by trans-national corporations intent on extraction. Even within the World Bank such bias is evident, as the case of Zambia shows.World Bank staff work not in Zambians’ interests, but on behalf of other international banks and trans-national corporations. From 2002-08, Zambia’s president Levy Mwanawasa came under severe privatisation pressure from the World Bank so as to repay older loans, including those taken out by his corrupt predecessor, Frederick Chiluba. That debt should have been repudiated and cancelled.

When privatising Africa’s largest copper mine, Konkola, Mwanawasa should have received $400m for Zambia’s treasury. But the buyer, Vedanta CEO Anil Agarwal, bragged to a 2014 investment conference in Bangalore how he tricked Mwanawasa into accepting only $25m. "It’s been nine years and, since then, every year it is giving us a minimum of $500m to $1bn."

From 1990-2015 many African countries suffered massive shrinkage in adjusted net savings, including Angola (68% of its wealth), the Republic of the Congo (49%) and Equatorial Guinea (39%).
There are two ways to address trans-national corporations’ capture of African mineral wealth: bottom-up through direct action to block extraction, or top-down through reforms. The latter is exemplified by the African Union’s 2009 alternative mining vision (AMV).
It proclaims, "Arguably the most important vehicle for building local capital are the foreign resource investors — trans-national corporations — who have the requisite capital, skills and expertise."
South African activist Chris Rutledge opposed this neo-liberal logic in a 2017 ActionAid report titled, The AMV: Are we repackaging a colonial paradigm?
"By ramping up models of maximum extraction, the AMV once again stands in direct opposition to our own priorities to ensure resilient livelihoods and securing climate justice. And it does not address the structural causes of structural violence experienced by women, girls and affected communities," it says.

Congo - The People Flee

 On Jan. 13, the Congolese army announced a general offensive against the ADF after an attack on a U.N. base in December blamed on the ADF that killed 15 Tanzanian peacekeepers. The  military offensive launched last month by Congolese troops against Ugandan militants in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is likely to force nearly 370,000 people from their homes, the United Nations said. The fallout from a joint effort by Congo and Uganda to defeat the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) will compound Africa's worst displacement crisis and further stretch meagre humanitarian resources.

Persistent conflict in Congo's eastern borderlands with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi and insurrection in the centre of the country have displaced 4.3 million people internally. Last year, it led the United Nations to declare Congo a level three humanitarian emergency - on par with Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

The campaign against the ADF is expected to displace 196,300 people in Beni territory and another 173,200 people in neighbouring Lubero territory, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a report.

More than 532,000 people in the two territories near the Ugandan border fled their homes in 2016 and 2017, largely driven out by attacks by the ADF and other armed groups as well as military responses, the report said. 

"The absence of protection measures for civilians in the most affected zones risks worsening. The risk of shells falling on civilian sites ... cannot be excluded," it said.

Uganda's Child Labor

A new law introduced in 2016 which criminalizes child labor has failed to stop exploitation due to inadequate implementation. More than 2 million children in Uganda are estimated to be still affected.

The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) claims 45% of children from households living below the poverty line are forced out of school to work and supplement their parents' incomes, with children aged between 5 and 17 years the worst at risk. But although the government approved the Children Amendment Act in 2016, which officially criminalizes child labor, follow-ups on identified cases are often not carried out.

The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) who are required to tackle child labor say many challenges come with the job – not least of which is the lack of will among the country's leaders to implement the laws, as they seek political popularity.