Wednesday, October 18, 2017

It is not religion - it's poverty

A report estimates that extremism caused 33,000 deaths in Africa between 2011 and 2016, with related displacement and economic devastation causing some of the worst humanitarian disasters on the continent.

Almost 500 former– or in occasional cases current – voluntary recruits to extremist organizations such as Al Shabaab, Boko Haram or Ansar Dine were interviewed for the survey. Most cited lack of employment, healthcare, education, security and housing as reasons for joining the groups, with very few mentioning religious ideology.

Poverty is a blight, and one that disproportionately affects sub-Saharan Africa.  It means that if you want to address extremism, you must fight inequality too. The U.N. Development Programme, "Journey to Extremism in Africa: drivers, incentives and the tipping point for recruitment" presents compelling evidence that violent extremism can never be beaten if feelings of deprivation and marginalization, especially among the young, are not addressed.

In Kenya as in many other countries, the regions acknowledged to be flashpoints for radicalisation and violent extremism are synonymous with extreme poverty, high illiteracy levels and under-investment in basic services. The majority of those living in these regions have for years believed themselves to be excluded from the national development agenda.

The challenge of creating economic opportunities for Africa’s youth is monumental. Consider this. Every 24 hours, nearly 33,000 youth across Africa join the search for employment. About 60 percent will be joining the army of the unemployed, adding to existing social and economic pressures. If Africa is to curtail the spread of violent extremism and achieve sustainable development, there must be determined focus on the health, education and employment of disadvantaged youth.

Only by tackling entrenched inequalities both economic and gender-based can Africa achieve sustainable prosperity, and end the scourge of poverty. The World Socialist Movement never tires is repeating its call for the end of capitalism and the building of socialism.

CAR Chaos

Children are starving to death in Central African Republic because violence has forced aid workers to pull out. Four years after a conflict began between Muslim Seleka rebels and Christian "anti-balaka" militias, Central African Republic had seemed calm in the early part of the year. But violence has flared since May, turning the southeast into a virtual no-go area.

 The number of displaced people has jumped by 50 percent to 600,000 this year, in addition to 500,000 who have fled into neighbouring countries. Rochdi said 400,000 children were not going to school. Overcrowded camps averaging 30,000 displaced people are fertile recruiting grounds for armed groups, so the United Nations is trying to clear out weapons and fighters and get people back home wherever possible.

"There is no humanitarian assistance there. It's not even half, it's nothing, because it was just not possible for humanitarians to stay there," coordinator Najat Rochdi said. "We started already seeing children dying from severe malnutrition."

Lack of funds had already forced aid workers to halve food aid and in some places stop it completely, despite widespread malnutrition in children under five-years-old.

The U.N. peacekeeping force is only 11,600 strong, in a country the size of France and Belgium combined. The United States and Uganda withdrew their forces after declaring victory in April against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a marauding gang notorious for abducting and recruiting child soldiers. Rochdi said their withdrawal "left a vacuum" and LRA attacks had continued sporadically.

Somalia and South Sudan

Half of all South Sudanese depend on food aid. This is not only because of droughts, but also bloody power struggles. The main victims in this cycle of violence and hunger are women and children. Six million South Sudanese currently depend on food aid, which is half of all inhabitants of the country. According to South Sudanese journalist, Parach Mach, many of the crimes committed by armed groups are to do with the fact that even government soldiers are often starving. At least 79 humanitarian workers have died since the beginning of the civil war in southern Sudan.
 "Innocent civilian or armed fighter — many people no longer even make a distinction," says Mach.
Aid worker Thomas Hoerz explains,  "There are far too many young men have experienced feelings of self-worth behind the trigger of a gun." 

According to the UN, almost seven million people in Somalia, or half the population, currently depend on humanitarian aid. About 800.000 are on the brink of starvation. Somalia has been in the grip of a civil war since dictator Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991, Rival clans and warlords competing for power in Somalia have torn the country apart. The state has disintegrated, leaving powerful clans to fill the vacuum. With the government weak and dysfunctional, the country is on the verge of another famine. In the past three years, back-to-back droughts have swept the country and evidence is mounting that climate change is driving up the temperatures in the region, exacerbating the problems of the scarce rainfall. The Horn of Africa is turning into a semi-desert.

"Most patients are living in overcrowded refugee camps, where there is not enough food or clean water," says Bishara Suleiman, a field health officer for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Between January and July 2017, the 28 clinics supported by the ICRC in Somalia treated almost 37,000 people, mostly for acute respiratory illnesses and diarrhea. "Malnutrition destroys the immune system," explains Bishara Suleiman. "Malnutrition itself is preventable but it is so widespread due to the collapse of the health system. Malnourished children and elderly people are particularly susceptible to infectious diseases, such as pneumonia or cholera." Chronic malnutrition also sets children back in their long-term development because it impedes neural development.  
The Islamist militants have imposed a ban on aid in areas it controls. Elsewhere, corrupt middlemen and authorities divert aid supplies for their own profit. Corruption is deeply entrenched in Somalia.  At a small market on the Via Roma in Mogadishu, for example, a 50-kilogram sack of rice intended as food aid from the World Food Program is on sale for $23 (19.50 euros). Buying in bulk earns a discount.
Michael Keating, the United Nations Special Envoy for Somalia, believes that widespread hunger in Somalia can be directly attributed to political failure. "In functioning societies, in which the institutions work reliably and in which freedom of expression prevails, there is hardly any hunger," he says. "It is something that always affects the poorest and weakest members of society. It is a direct product of social, economic and political processes."
Somalia has a new government since February 2017  and the Western-backed government wants to build a new, federal state. Foreign diplomats and businessmen are flocking to the country, including crisis profiteers hoping to turn a quick profit. Rents are skyrocketing and a housing bubble has developed in the capital. Corrupt ministers and parliamentarians are also involved with construction projects. Information Minister Abdirahman Omar Osman suggests that international aid isn't free of corruption. "The flow of money through the many multilateral sources should also be reviewed. But the focus is always on corruption on the Somali side." 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Algeria's drought and Climate Change

Algeria is not a big emitter of climate-changing gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. But warming driven by emissions from around the world is having big impacts there, including more extreme weather conditions. According to a report Algeria developed as part of its contribution to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change action, average annual rainfall in the country has fallen by more than 30 percent in recent decades. The country is also facing higher temperatures. Summer heat has soared in Batna province, in northeast Algeria, climbing from a maximum temperature of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit in 1990 to more than 107 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius) in 2017.

"You don't have to be a source of emissions to be affected," noted Adel Hanna, a climate modeling expert at the Institute for the Environment at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "That's why we call it a global effect." Hanna said that the two biggest climate worries for North Africa – water scarcity and higher temperatures – are feeding off each other, with limited rainfall rapidly evaporating from the soil in higher temperatures. "The net effect is the loss of water resources," Hanna said – something that affects all forms of agriculture, including grazing for livestock.

Around the region, herders are searching for water by digging new and deeper wells to reach aquifers. Some share water with neighboring landowners by taking turns using a common well.

"But by no means will this replace the need for better policy or support from government, and actually the global community, in addressing issues related to climate change," Hanna said.

Seeds of change

  In Matungulu, a sub-county of Machakos County in eastern Kenya, Samuel Wathome, belongs to a farmers’ group affiliated with the Institute for Culture and Ecology, a non-governmental organisation that is helping farmers tackle increasingly extreme weather by diversifying their crops and saving part of their harvest to replant in subsequent seasons. Annual precipitation in Matungulu is often below the national average, and because rainfall is so unreliable farmers plant their crops as soon as the first downpour arrives.
But harvests commonly fail here. The majority of farmers have only small pieces of land, and they rely heavily on planting maize, a crop that is proving vulnerable to drought. To deal with the threat, many farmers have begun changing what they grow, particularly by adding crops beyond maize.
“We are seeking alternatives to monoculture due to dwindling harvests,” said Samuel Wathome. Like others in the area, he also wants to stop buying expensive seed each year produced by big agricultural companies, fearing the combination of debt and more frequent crop failures could land him in trouble. These days, paying for expensive seed is a risk, he said.
 “Even as you grow the crops you are not sure if you will harvest enough to offset the costs,” he said. Now, as in the past, “farmers should own the seed selection process”, he said.
Right now, “food systems are controlled by a few companies and governments instead of farmers and consumers,” said Willy Douma, a Hivos programme officer.
 Hivos is a Dutch development organisation working with the Kenya Climate Innovation Centre, which promotes research and training to help farmers select and save seed, and diversify their crops while avoiding patent-protected seeds. It helps farmers lobby government for policies that will give them alternatives to using seed supplied by big agricultural companies.
Alessio Colussi, of the plant production and protection unit at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, said seed bought from international companies often produces bigger harvests in good years, but doesn’t always deliver reliable harvests in bad years. “In most cases the seeds are hybrids and potentially more productive but require a much more suitable set of environmental conditions in order to express their higher productive potential,” he said. Local seeds, on the other hand, may be less productive in good years but often are “capable of thriving well” in variable local conditions, he said.
Paul Ngwiri, a farmer from Matungulu, is one of a growing number of farmers in Matungulu who has switched away from using patented seed. Ngwiri said he is saving about 6,000 Kenya shillings ($60) a season as a result.  “I no longer buy seeds and fertilisers and spend less on insecticides,” he said, and his harvests have remained steady or increased.

 Most farmers in Malawi obtain seeds through one of two systems. The formal system includes Malawian and multinational seed companies, most of which have their own breeding, production and distribution programmes. The informal system, on the other hand, in which farmers save and exchange seed from their own fields, provides seed for the majority of small-scale farmers in Malawi. Some of Malawi's farmers are adamant about the advantages of being able to select their own seeds rather being limited to buying commercial hybrids.

The government is revising its more than 20-year-old policy and laws on seeds, and is developing a bill to protect the commercial rights of plant breeders. But critics charge that the effort to ensure the quality and supply of seeds the country needs was drafted largely with the interests of commercial companies – both national and international - in mind, rather than the country's food security. It would continue to require that any seed sold be certified first through the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development's agriculture technology approval committee.So far, farmer-run seed cooperatives are not  part of that system, said Mangani Katundu, a senior lecturer in nutrition and food security at the University of Malawi.

Many farmers say that traditional crop seeds – rather than the newer varieties sold by big companies – are more accessible and cheaper, suit local conditions better, and can yield better harvests in the face of climate change.  Some farmers and activists say the revised policy does not do enough to protect farmers' rights to plant the seed of their choice. Billy Mayaya, a human rights activist spearheading a right-to-food campaign in Malawi, stressed the importance of recognising farmers' rights when the Plant Breeders' Bill comes before Parliament.

Herbert Mwalukomo, programme director at the Malawi-based Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy, one of the NGOs that met with the government, said focusing on improved varieties and the formal seed system alone will not address Malawi's food security needs - not least because over 70 percent of the rural farming population relies on the informal seed system. "Under the informal system, farmers save, sell and exchange farm-saved seed among themselves. It is for this reason that we believe the right approach should be an integrated system in which both the formal and informal systems complement each other," Mwalukomo said.

Mybeius Mkandawire, a farmer who lives in Rumphi district, said that hybrids planted in the past season had failed to impress farmers when compared to the local varieties. Local Tchayilosi groundnuts, for instance, outperformed a key commercial variety, which had failed to cope with scarce rainfall, he said.
Edwin Kasambanyati, from Lobi in Dedza district, described how he and fellow farmers select seeds for the next planting season while the crop is standing in the field, choosing healthy maize cobs with straight lines and large kernels.
"We preserve selected seed using indigenous knowledge," Kasambanyati said. "We hang the maize cobs above the fireplace, exposing them to smoke, and this prevents any pest attack. We also use ash or crushed tobacco leaves to increase the shelf life and prevent damage by pests."
Yohane Kadzuwa, a chief of Kamenya village, also in Dedza, pointed to his crop of dark-coloured maize locally known as Chisowa, and said it had flourished thanks to organic fertiliser made from crop residue. Kadzuwa said his variety was covered in hard leaves that pests could not penetrate.
"This is not the case with hybrids that open up when the cob has matured, thus making them prone to decay due to moisture," he said.

Chad's Misery

There are few places in the world more impoverished than Chad.  It ranks 186 out of 188 countries on the UN's most recent Human Development Index, which compares wealth, health, and key indicators across the world. And within Chad, the Lake Region is one of the poorest of all. It is a place where only 10 doctors are currently working. One fisherman, Ibrahim, said 10 years ago the people around Lake Chad "lived like kings" with a ready supply of fish, vegetables, and goats.

In Chad, 350,000 people are in danger of starvation due to failing food supplies, losing their animals, their lands and crops, and being unable to carry out activities like fishing.

The massive movements of people and difficulties in growing crops or distributing aid have left more than 8 million people on the brink of starvation.

Life expectancy in Chad is a dismal 52 years. Average per capita income last year was less than $2,000

Eight years ago, Boko Haram militants crossed the border from Nigeria and launched their first attacks in Chad, in the Lake Region. They plundered entire villages, murdered civilians and forced thousands to flee, in a jihadist war that still rages today. The war by Boko Haram has ruined the lives of millions of people across the lake region that stretches across the borders of Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria. Tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Boko Haram have ended up in camps where they are entirely reliant on aid to survive. Those who survived the jihadists' attacks face daily, grinding hunger. 

Ending the Exode by BDL in Niger

While 8 out of ten Nigeriens depend on farming widespread soil degradation and climate variability make it difficult to sustain a family all year long.  Niger is used to men migrating to neighboring countries from January to April after the harvests, searching for casual labour, during what they call the Exode. Niger is also fast becoming a migration hub towards North Africa and Europe.

Niger experiences drought at least once every two years. Only one percent of the country’s land receives more than 600 mm of rain each year, and just 12 percent of land can sustain agriculture. There is an ongoing food and nutrition crisis across the Sahel and Nigeriens, especially women and their children, suffer as they have less access to productive land to produce food. More than half of Sahel lands are degraded. Nigeriens are among the poorest, but also the fastest growing population with 4% annual growth rate. Pressure on agricultural lands means farmers cultivate fragile and marginal lands. Unsustainable grazing and farming practices like the clearing of tree cover to plant staple food crops of millet and sorghum, and removal of crop residues to feed animals without alternatives to renew soil fertility have accelerated this land degradation.

In 2013, Niger launched the ambitious 3N initiative (Nigeriens Nourishing Nigeriens) to tackle this food security through “agricultural and political transformation”. More inclusive land access, as requested by the upcoming Conference on Land Policy in Africa next November, would be a good step forward. This is an urgent need for Nigerien women who have much limited access to agricultural land and farm assets, despite their central role for family nutrition.

A hard red watertight lateritic layer prevents water seeping into the soil and plants to grow. Rural communities have abandoned these degraded common lands to free-range grazing animals and firewood harvesting, as not much grain can be produced there. However, because these soils are rich in clay, they can retain water much better than the sandy soils. And could be a precious food resource during the rainy season if the compacted layer is broken. This is the rationale of the Bio-reclamation of Degraded Lands (BDL) system. BDL combines indigenous water-harvesting techniques, application of organic matter and plantation of high-value trees and vegetables. 

The idea is to restore productivity of the barren lateritic soils by using traditional water-harvesting planting techniques, like half-moons or zai pits, for the cultivation of high value vegetables and trees, instead of millets or sorghum as farmers used to do. The impact on incomes and family nutrition makes the intensive labor investment worthwhile.

Over 10,770 women have been trained in BDL, planting nutritious vegetables like okras, sorrel or protein-rich leafy vegetable Senna obtusifolia, together with drought tolerant trees like vitamin C rich Pomme de Sahel (Ziziphus mauritiana), moringa, sweet tamarind, marula or Australian acacia depending on the families’ needs. In addition to supplementary food, trees can also provide firewood or fodder, shade and live fencing to protect the farming plots against errant livestock. The other BDL innovation is to negotiate with land owners and the local authorities (village institutions and municipalities) to guarantee land use rights of degraded commons to a women’s group over a long period (fifteen years).  BDL is like a green oasis in middle of barren lands that attracts goats and other livestock that don’t have much to eat at this time. To avoid conflicts with herders, it is not recommended to use degraded lands near pasture. Because of free grazing roaming pastoralism in Niger, solid tall fencing or thorny hedges are essential to protect the plants from the start. A close source of water is essential for minimum watering of trees until they are well established. The women’s group for each plot has six trees to take care off. But too much water is not good either as trees have to develop their roots deep in the soil. Watering once a week is enough for the first 2-3 years.

 Research has shown that a 200 m2 BDL plot could yield an annual income of FCFA 50,000 (approximately 100 US dollars), which is equivalent to what men traditionally earn from millet production per hectare. A mid-term evaluation has estimated that women engaged in BDL groups have doubled their incomes compared to other non BDL families.

Impact on family nutrition is also undeniable. Vegetable and trees improve diet diversity and bring essential nutrients that the staple foods like millets and sorghum do not have. For instance, the leaves of moringa, a tree originated from Ethiopia, are packed with three times more iron than spinach and four times more calcium than milk. Women also dry surplus okras they gain during the production glut in August-September, so that they cook it later, providing nutritious food supplementation for up to 5 months during the dry season.  

Clarification of land ownership with the local authorities is also very important as in some cases, potential owners try to claim the land once the plot becomes productive. 

BDL ticks many boxes: gender, food and nutrition security and climate resilience. We need to scale up this inclusive farming practice so more families in rural Niger nurture their roots in a more food secure community.

Food Insecurity in South Africa

Estimates on the number of South Africans going hungry every day run into the millions according to various sources, including Statistics SA (Stats SA), researchers and organisations working to fight hunger. This is despite producing enough staple foods as well as having the capacity to import food if needed, to meet the basic nutritional requirements of its growing population. Data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation indicates that South Africa’s aggregate food supplies have been steadily rising for the past 20 years to 2013, not only in absolute terms but faster than population growth. Food supplies increased from around 2 800 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day in the mid-1990s to over 3 000 kcal/capita/day by 2013.  Access to that food is determined mainly by affordability.

The right to food is enshrined in both international and national law.  The Constitution is clear that every South African citizen has a right to sufficient food. This idea is reiterated in the National Development Plan (NDP) and is meant to be operationalised by the work being done throughout government and within the agricultural, manufacturing and retail sectors.

Although South Africa may be food secure at the national level, the same cannot be said about households, especially in rural areas. A sizeable number of households and individuals are still food insecure, not as a result of food availability, but largely due to a lack of purchasing power brought on by high unemployment rates and other socio-economic factors.

The latest Stats SA General Household Survey (2016) indicates that about 1.97 million households and 7.39 million persons were still vulnerable to hunger in 2016, a majority of whom are living in rural provinces. This despite the fact that, between 2002 and 2016, the percentage of households that experienced hunger decreased from 23.8% to 11.8%, while the percentage of individuals who experienced hunger decreased from 29.3% to 13.4%.

Food access problems are most common in North West, where 36.6% of households had inadequate or severely inadequate food access in 2016. Instances of inadequate or severely inadequate access to food are also observed in the Northern Cape.

Quote of the Day

"Africa fed the world, but the world eats without Africa." Dr. E. Obiri Addo, 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Can Africa Industrialise?

In a bid to find out if African countries can “break into global manufacturing in a substantial way” Center for Global Development researchers used World Bank data to look at 5,500 firms in 29 countries. They compared labor and capital costs, and productivity and efficiency of manufacturing in sub-Saharan Africa with similar countries outside Africa. They did not have good news for most of the region.
They found factories in Africa were almost always more expensive to start and run. Looking at overall costs, small African firms were 39% more expensive than comparative firms elsewhere while medium and large firms were around 50% more expensive.
In a middle-income African country like South Africa: Labor costs were described as “very high” despite unemployment levels as high as 30%. A mix of structural factors, restrictive labor laws, and high minimum wages mean the continent’s most advanced economy, is “not likely to emerge as a strong competitor in labor-intensive industry in the foreseeable future.”
Stable, coastal countries like Senegal, Kenya, and Tanzania seem like strong candidates for a role in global manufacturing, yet they’re still too expensive. The labor cost per Kenyan worker is $2,118 compared with Bangladesh, where it’s $835. The capital cost per Kenyan worker is nearly $10,000, but is less than $1,100 per worker in Bangladesh. As a middle-income country, Kenya does have a higher GDP per capita ($1,116) versus Bangladesh ($853), but low income Senegal (GDP per capital $775) is still twice as expensive as Bangladesh in terms of labor and capital costs.
Ethiopia, may well be the exception and become a center for manufacturing with the best likelihood of being the “New China” as labor costs rise in the “world’s factory” and social issues such as child labor arise in some other Asian countries. Fashion brands like H&M, Guess, and J. Crew are already finding potential in Ethiopia, one of the few African countries whose labor costs ($909) are close to Bangladesh.
African manufacturing costs are so high mainly due to  lack of infrastructure such as transport networks and stable electricity in many poor African countries plus low levels of education will mean factory running costs and training the African worker are going to be more expensive than they need to be.

World Food Day/ World Hunger Day

Globally, 108 million people faced food crises in 2016, compared to about 80 million in 2015 – an increase of 35%, according to the 2017 Global Report on Food Crises. Another 123 million people were ‘stressed’, contributing to around 230 million such food insecure people in 2016, of whom 72% were in Africa.
The highest hunger levels are in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) according to the Global Hunger Index 2016. The number of ‘undernourished’ or hungry people in Africa increased from about 182 million in the early 1990s to around 233 million in 2016 according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), while the global number declined from about a billion to approximately 795 million.
This is a cruel irony as many countries in Africa have the highest proportion of potential arable land. According to a 2012 FAO report, for African sub-regions except North Africa, between 21% and 37% of their land area face few climate, soil or terrain constraints to rain-fed crop production. Despite its potential, vast tracts of arable land remain idle, due to decades of official neglect of agriculture.
Africa was transformed from a net food exporter into a net food importer in the 1980s despite its vast agricultural potential, so international food price hikes have contributed to African hunger. But many still typically blame higher population growth, natural calamities, and conflicts for hunger on the continent. 
 African countries were told that they need not invest in agriculture as imports would be cheaper and Africns were promised that private investment and exports would soon follow cuts in public investment, thus paying for imports. Between 1980 and 2007, Africa’s total net food imports grew at an average of 3.4% per year in real terms. Imports of basic foodstuffs, especially cereals, have risen sharply. Tragically, food security suffered. In 1980, Africa’s agricultural investments were comparable to those in Latin America and Caribbean (LAC). But while LAC agricultural investment increased 2.6 fold between 1980 and 2007, it increased by much less in Africa. Meanwhile, agricultural investments in Asia went from three to eight times more than in Africa as African government investments in agricultural research remained paltry. African agricultural productivity has not only suffered, but also African agriculture remains less resilient to climate change and extreme weather conditions. Africa is now comparable to Haiti where food agriculture was destroyed by subsidised food imports from the US and Europe.
 Africa became the only continent to see a massive increase in poverty by the end of the 20th century. And despite the minerals-led extractive commodities growth boom, nearly half the continent’s population now lives in poverty. ‘Neoliberalism’ was ‘oversold’, causing ‘lost decades’ for Africa. The World Bank’s Poverty in Rising Africa shows that the number of Africans in extreme poverty increased by more than 100 million between 1990 and 2012 to about 330 million. It projects that “the world’s extreme poor will be increasingly concentrated in Africa”.
 A World Bank report notes the growing demand for farmland. Approximately 56 million hectares worth of large-scale farmland deals were announced in 2009, compared to less than four million hectares yearly before 2008. More than 70% of these deals involved Africa. In most such deals, local community concerns are often ignored to benefit big investors and their allies in government. For example, Feronia Inc – a company based in Canada and owned by the development finance institutions of various European governments – controls 120,000 hectares of oil palm plantations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Land grabbing by foreign companies for commercial farming in Africa is threatening smallholder agricultural productivity, vital for reducing poverty and hunger on the continent. In the process, they have been marginalising local communities, particularly ‘indigenous’ populations and compromising food security.
Advocates of large-scale land acquisitions claim that such deals are generating jobs locally and improving access to infrastructure. However, loss of community access to land and other natural resources, increased conflicts over livelihoods and greater inequality are among some common adverse consequences. Local rural populations have often been dispossessed with little consultation or adequate compensation, as in Tanzania, when Swedish-based Agro EcoEnergy acquired 20,000 hectares for a sugarcane plantation and ethanol production.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Somalia heart break

A permanent feature of capitalism, are the proxy wars being waged over the planet, fueled by religious extremism and the fall-out of military misadventures by the raw material raiding,  of the dominant capitalist players.

 This is not featuring as a major event on the main news stories on western media. It was buried in a corner on the BBC, the day it happened.

  A massive bomb attack in a busy area of the Somali capital Mogadishu has killed at least 85 people, officials say.

 Dozens more were wounded when a lorry packed with explosives detonated near the entrance of a hotel on Saturday.

 It is one of the deadliest attacks in Somalia since the Islamist al-Shabab group launched its insurgency in 2007.

 It is not clear who staged the attacks. Mogadishu is a regular target for al-Shabab, which is battling the government.

The Fuel Crisis in South Sudan

 South Sudan soon will enter its fifth year of fighting amid starvation, mass displacement and allegations of war crimes.

Ninety-eight percent of South Sudan’s economy comes from oil, but the country faces one of its worst fuel crises since civil war began in 2013. Civilians feel the brunt of the crisis. Drivers often hire people to sleep in their parked cars at the pumps while they borrow other transport to keep working. Ffuel on the black market for almost 10 times the usual price. Instead of paying 1,200 South Sudanese pounds ($6.50) for 60 liters at the pump, it can be up to 10,800 South Sudanese pounds ($58) for just 20 liters.

South Sudan has Africa’s third-largest oil reserves, with 3.5 billion barrels. Based on government figures, current production should bring in hundreds of millions of dollars a year. But without refineries, the country exports crude oil and must import fuel.

The situation deteriorated when the government “started monopolizing the fuel trade” by kicking out private oil companies to control access to U.S. dollars, says Edmund Yakani, executive director of the nonprofit Community Empowerment for Progress Organization.
Nile Petroleum says it can afford to bring in only enough fuel to serve one-third of South Sudan’s population. It denies expelling private companies, saying the economic crisis forced them to leave. Many are accusing the government of corruption and of worsening the country’s overall crisis. Nile Petroleum denies wrongdoing, blaming the lack of funds on a reduction in South Sudan’s oil production from almost 300,000 barrels a day before the civil war to roughly 130,000. It says declining global oil prices and the civil war’s damage to oil facilities have hurt.

“Instead of using oil revenue to provide public services and improve the livelihoods of South Sudan’s population, the ruling clique has used these funds to procure weapons, finance a horrific civil war and enrich themselves,” says J.R. Mailey, director of the investigative team at The Sentry, a Washington-based group that has reported on links between corruption and mass atrocities.

“The money’s being kept abroad,” a member of South Sudan’s parliament, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of his safety, told The Associated Press. The money the government should be receiving for oil exports is enough to fuel the entire country, the lawmaker says.

Government soldiers have been accused of threatening civilians at gas stations and cutting in line to stock up on fuel to sell illegally.
“If someone tells you to move with a gun you can’t argue,” says Simon Kinuthia, a driver in Juba. “Fuel is connected to everything,” Kinuthia says. “And right now, it’s making people suffer.”

America's Secret Wars

 Four US special forces soldiers embedded with a larger unit of Nigerien troop died in an ambush earlier this month in western Niger.  They were attacked by up to 50 militants armed with truck-mounted heavy machine guns as they left a meeting with local community leaders a few dozen kilometres from the remote town of Tongo Tongo. . The Associated Press and The New York Times both reported that the U.S. personnel involved were U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers and the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) is presently regionally aligned to provide support to U.S. Africa Command.Several Nigeriens were also killed and were reportedly part of the specialized Bataillon Sécurité et Renseignement (BSR), or Security and Intelligence Battalion. 
Reuters reported that the attackers were from al-Sahraoui’s group, which calls itself the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. An equally likely culprit could be the much larger Jamaat Nosrat Al Islam wal Mouslimin — the "Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims" 
The 800-strong US presence in Niger is little-known to most Americans.  The Americans are in the process of building a second $100 million base in northern Niger.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Educating Girls

Wednesday was International Day of the Girl
In 'Wealth and Poverty of Nations',  historian David Landes wrote that the economic implications of gender discrimination are too huge for nations who want to thrive. “To deny women is to deprive a country of labour and talent,” he said. Landes argued that the best clue to a nation’s growth and development potential is the status and role of women. The more opportunities they get, the higher the chance for economic success. On a global level, addressing the gender gap in education could yield between $112 billion and $152 billion a year in developing countries.
ONE, an global campaigning and advocacy organisation of more than eight million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable diseases, particularly in Africa, launched a report titled: ‘The Toughest Places for a Girl to Get an Education’. Out of the 10 countries that topped the list, nine were from Africa, with Afghanistan completing the list. 
“To improve girls’ education globally, we need to pay special attention to Africa,” the report said. “No African countries are among the best performing 25 per cent of all countries ranked, and only four African countries (seven per cent) are in the best-performing 50 per cent of ranked countries. Overall, African countries had a median score of 52, compared with the Americas at 79, Asia also at 79 and Europe at 87.”
While most policymakers on the continent agree that educating girls is important, there is little on the continent that reflects such belief. In South Sudan, the country which tops ONE’s notorious index, 73 per cent of girls don’t go to primary school and its government spends just 2.6 per cent of its total budget on education. In Burkina Faso, just one per cent of girls complete secondary school. And, in Ethiopia, two in every five girls marry before their 18th birthday, and nearly one in five marries before they reach 15 years of age.
Nigeria, perhaps Africa’s most promising economic giant, is ranked 27th on the index, which collected and analysed data for 122 United Nations member countries. However, the country’s ‘kind’ ranking is masked by acute regional disparities. In the country’s North-east region, for example, “the violent extremist group Boko Haram (which translates as ‘western education is forbidden’) poses increased obstacles to girls completing their education. Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in 2014. As of 2016, over 1,000 schools in the region had been damaged or destroyed and 1,500 schools had closed. This means that while Nigeria as a whole doesn’t make our list of toughest countries, at a regional level North-east Nigeria is a tougher place for a girl to get educated than other regions in the country. In Nigeria’s South-south geopolitical zone, five per cent of girls have never been to school, whereas this figure increases more than 10-fold (to 52 per cent) in the North-east,” the report said.
“The problem with Nigeria is that we have good policies but implementation is the problem,” Makka said. “You cannot leave over 50 per cent of girls in the North uneducated and think you are ready for the future. It does not make sense.”
One characteristic evident in every country in the index’s top 10 is conflict and poverty. But poor countries are not necessarily condemned to poor performance. Burundi has the world’s lowest national income per capital at $286 USD, but it outperforms 18 other wealthier countries. And, ironically, the benefits of educating the girl-child far outweigh the cost. “Our research shows a strong relationship between girls’ primary school completion rates and their literacy rates,” the ONE report said. 
When more girls are in school, a country’s adolescent fertility rates are likely to dip. This, of course, extends to the rise of more women who wait until adulthood to have children and are armed with much more sophisticated knowledge-tools to make better decisions for their health and future offspring.

Still scramblng over Africa

For centuries, outside powers have clashed in Africa, often exploiting weaknesses or divisions across the continent to grasp at power and resources. The second half of the 19th century, for instance, saw the “scramble for Africa” as European nations divided nearly all of the continent into colonies. Several times competition between colonial powers nearly led to war in Europe. In the second half of the 20th century, during the Cold War, Africa was torn as Western nations—first the outgoing European colonizers and later the United States—supported friendly governments and political movements against allies of the Soviet Union, China and Cuba.

 Knowing about the past does not always prevent repeating it. There are signs that another round of competition between external powers in Africa may be on the way. If history holds, this one could end up as badly for the continent as past ones.  In the 19th and 20th century, the external powers involved in Africa were mostly after the same thing: control of territory, the allegiance of friendly regimes or access to raw material. Today the major external actors in Africa have different motives and goals.

China, the other global power active across Africa, no longer seeks alliances with like-minded regimes like it did during the Cold War, but rather markets and raw materials. From 1995 to 2015, trade between China and countries in sub-Saharan Africa grew 40-fold. By 2015, over 20 percent of overall exports from Africa headed for China. Along the way, the continent has become China’s second-largest supplier of petroleum after the Middle East. Beijing, in turn, has invested heavily in African infrastructure and developed markets for Chinese manufactured goods. China is becoming more deeply involved in African security to protect its commercial interests and citizens. China feels the impact of terrorism: In 2015, three employees of the China Railway Construction Corporation were killed during a militant attack in Bamako, Mali. Many Chinese ships have been targeted by Somali pirates in recent years.  China has responded with an increased role in peacekeeping and anti-piracy operations in Africa. China recently opened its first military base outside Asia in the tiny nation of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. Chinese officials have stated that the purpose of the base is to support their anti-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia, but security forecasting company Stratfor noted that it could be used to project Chinese airpower in Africa if Beijing wanted.

America’s is also concerned in quelling extremism, particularly violent Islamic extremism. Al-Qaida has offshoots and partners across much of the northern half of Africa and tentacles in other parts. Like Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Donald Trump is using the U.S. military, particularly special operations forces, to help African security forces find, understand, contain and hopefully eradicate armed extremist movements. European nations, such as the United Kingdom, France and Portugal—all former colonial powers in Africa—are working in conjunction with the United States to strengthen African security forces.

Other external powers may also expand their activities in Africa. Last month, Turkey opened its largest overseas base in Somalia, where it will train some 10,000 Somali troops. Writing for Defense One, Abdi Latif Dahir argued that Africa“remains central” to Turkey’s “global expansion strategy.” Russia was deeply involved in Africa during the Cold War and would like to revive its arms sales there. So too would North Korea. And there is always a chance that Iran will pursue a foothold in Africa as a platform for its wider ambitions.

In 1898, there was a war scare in Europe sparked by an incident in the town of Fashoda on the White Nile, in what is now South Sudan. British and French forces on the ground there briefly confronted each other over control of an isolated fort. In the context of Great Britain and France’s imperial tussle for control of East Africa, the standoff quickly escalated back home, inflaming British and French public opinion and leading to calls for war. The British and French governments, as well as others in Europe with their own colonial interests in Africa, did not intend for this to happen, but events nearly spiraled beyond their control before they reached an agreement to de-escalate.  The United States must remember this bit of history. As external powers maneuver in Africa, American policymakers must be careful to avoid some modern-day reprise of the Fashoda Incident.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Uganda's Food Crisis

11 million Ugandans (30 per cent) eat food described as “unacceptable” inferior in quality (nutrients) and volume (amounts). human development, Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) has said.

This means that those Ugandans are likely to be undernourished or are easy targets for diseases. It also points to just how bad acute food insecurity is in the country today. 

 As many as three million Ugandans (8 per cent) eat the poorest food not fit for human consumption. 

Also, as many as 8.4 million (22 per cent) were on the borderline between good and bad food.

“Fighting malnutrition is critical to the country’s food security situation since this condition is responsible for the deaths of many Ugandans, reduced agricultural productivity and poverty, among others,” said Ubos.
According to the 2011 Uganda Nutrition Action Plan, inadequate dietary intake is the main driver of malnutrition, especially due to seasonality in food production, earning patterns, and variability in food prices.
Ubos found that the number of Ugandans living below the poverty line has increased to 10 million people in 2016/17, from 6.6 million three years ago. 

Hungry times again

Global hunger has fallen more than a quarter since 2000, but conflict and climate shocks are beginning to reverse these gains.

Nearly half of the 119 countries surveyed had "serious", "alarming" or "extremely alarming" hunger levels between 2012 and 2016, with war-torn Central African Republic worst affected, followed by Chad, Sierra Leone, Madagascar and Zambia. South Sudan and Somalia, which are at risk of renewed famine, were among 13 countries excluded from the index due to lack of data.

"Conflict and climate-related shocks are at the heart of this problem," said Dominic MacSorley, chief executive of Concern, which compiled the report along with the International Food Policy Research Institute and Welthungerhilfe. The United Nations said last month that global hunger levels have risen for the first time in more than a decade, now affecting 11 percent of the world's population

About half of the populations in the hungriest countries were short of food, it said.

Women, girls and ethnic minorities are most at risk of hunger, which causes nearly half of deaths in under fives, it said. 

"The world needs to act as one community with the shared goal of ensuring not a single child goes to bed hungry each night and no-one is left behind," MacSorley said.

Migrants dying in the Sahara

West African migrants trying to reach Europe are dying in far greater numbers in the Sahara than in the Mediterranean. So far this year 2,569 migrant deaths have been recorded in the central Mediterranean.

"One thing we still don't have is any estimate of number of deaths in the desert," Richard Danziger, the U.N. International Organization for Migration director for West and Central Africa, told a news conference in Geneva. "We assume, and I think we have said before, that it has to be at least double those who die in the Mediterranean."

In Niger, a main transit route, people smugglers were increasingly scared of the authorities, which might make them more prone to abandon migrants in the desert, he said. "Right now they are looking for alternative routes, I think at least equally dangerous," he said. "When you plug one hole, other holes are going to open up," Danziger said.

Niger had two routes to Libya: one closer to Chad that was used to smuggle migrants and one closer to the Algerian border that was far more dangerous and was used by extremist groups and for drugs and gun-running. An alternative was through northern Mali, a region beset by conflicts between rival groups. The route considered the safest was along the western coast of Africa, via Senegal, Mauritania and Morocco to the Strait of Gibraltar, and migrant flows there had increased.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Cocoa Wars

A land dispute has driven thousands of farmers off illegal plantations in Ivory Coast's main cocoa belt, threatening the start of the harvest in the world's top producer. Humanitarian workers and local government officials said at least 3,000 people had already been displaced by the violence.
Ivory Coast's main production area has for decades been subject to explosive disputes over land ownership between native groups in the area and migrants from neighbouring countries and other parts of Ivory Coast. The latest dispute broke out between members of the We alliance from the Guere, Yacouba and Wobe ethnic groups, who entered the Cavally and Gouin-Debe forest reserves in western Ivory Coast and threatened ethnic Baoules and migrants from Burkina Faso farming there. 40 percent of Ivorian cocoa production comes from illegal plantations. Cocoa farmers have illegally set up plantations within Ivory Coast's national parks and forest reserves for decades, but the phenomenon accelerated during and after a decade-long political crisis and civil war, which ended in 2011. Tensions over land ownership were a major factor contributing to the political crisis, and western cocoa growing areas saw some of the worst violence during two civil wars in 2002-2003 and 2011.
 Hundreds of families, recently pushed out of the forests, camped out on the premises of a local government building in the town of Guiglo, seeking to shelter their children and meagre belongings from the rain.
"They threatened to kill us if we didn't leave the village within 10 minutes," said Gouin-Debe cocoa farmer Pierre Koffi Kouame. "There are around 30 small villages in the area where we live and all of them were visited by these youths. "We don't do anyone any harm. We just grow cocoa," he said.
"All we want is to take back our land from the outsiders who have occupied it for years," said Rigobert Toualy, a member of the We alliance in Guiglo.
The 2017/18 cocoa season in Ivory Coast began on Oct. 1 following a record harvest of over 2 million tonnes last season. Most growing areas will hit peak production within the next three months.
"The cocoa is already there and many pods are ripe and should have already been harvested last week," said Sylvain Kouadio, who fled his plantation near the town of Blolequin late last month. "If nothing is done, the cocoa is going to rot. It must not stay on the trees too long."