A historic agreement aimed at creating a free-trade zone uniting 26 African countries and establishing Africa's biggest trading bloc was announced recently in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The proposed free-trade area would encompass the South African Development Community, the East African Community, and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, with a population of more than 600 million people and a combined domestic product of $1 trillion.
At a time when only 10 per cent of Africa's trade is within Africa, there is no question that the attempt will have huge benefits to the continent and the venture should be wholly supported. Currently, Africa is plagued with corruption at border posts, several barriers to free trade and different economies adopted by each country. Now, of course, it is also facing famine in the Horn of Africa. When the proposed free-trade area becomes a reality in three years, South African car manufacturers, for example, believe that their production will triple due to inter-African business.
A free-trade area of this size would dramatically reduce the costs of doing business between African states and increase the flow of trade within the continent. An agreement of this kind would enhance the continent's bargaining power when dealing with the rest of the world, which could help to improve the terms of trade between Africa, the United States and the European Union.
This is not the first time such a venture has been proposed. Skeptics look at the East African Community established in 1967, consisting of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, which was aborted in 1977 after 10 years in operation. Efforts to revive the community began in 1993, with the heads of state signing an agreement to establish a commission for East African co-operation. A free-trade area was created in East Africa again when Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania decided to join hands and form a trade bloc called East African Community in 2001. Kenya's then president Daniel arap Moi, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni and Tanzania's Benjamin Mkapa, formalized the treaty to pave the way for an economic and, ultimately, political union of the three countries. Burundi and Rwanda later joined the group; together, the five nations muster $40 billion in gross domestic product. The leaders agreed to create a free-trade zone within the region by pooling resources and promoting pro-liberalization policies, believing that they can prosper better as one unit than apart.
The East African Community, however, has had its fair share of disputes and disagreements. The main bone of contention has been the longheld perception that Kenya's economy - mainly the manufacturing sector - was more competitive than Tanzania and Uganda's despite the fact that it has been declining over the past few years under pressure from imports from the Middle East and inadequate infrastructure.
Increasing transportation costs to ship goods between Kenya and Uganda have also become an acute problem for the business community of East Africa. For instance, while it costs between $1,400 and $1,700 to ship a 13-metre container from Dubai to Mombasa, the average transportation and clearing cost for the same container between Mombasa and Kampala is $3,800. A 6.6-metre container costs a trader $2,250.
Ugandan traders are often forced to make costly and sometimes futile trips to Nairobi and Mombasa to demand faster clearance of freight and delivery, as their cargo remains in the ports for weeks or even months. The pileup of Ugandabound rail cargo at the Kenyan port of Mombasa has often reached crisis levels, threatening to paralyze the operations of several manufacturing companies in Uganda.
The proposed African trade area will require much more than the political will to materialize. Colonizing powers in Africa built railways from the interior to the coast to allow their products an outlet to the sea, but until transportation between the 55 inter-African nations is built, the success of African free trade will remain a pipe dream.
Each African nation will have to move toward greater democracy, ensuring free and fair elections, open contests for leadership positions, secure property rights, and a free press and independent judiciary. Each country will have to move significantly away from its authoritarian past.
African nations have faced turbulent times, politically and economically, and it is hoped that the advocates of the proposed free-trade region will be supported. On their part, African governments will have to focus on creating an economic environment that induces investment and risk-taking, while the private sector will have to act to take advantage of the new opportunities that regional integration offers for long-term expansion. In some countries, tribal factions, which dominate the political landscape, will have to be replaced by inter-African solidarity. The creation of a free-trade area is an effort that is truly worthy of support by everyone who has a stake in Africa's future - and that means all of us.
Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary-based freelance journalist and author.
July 29, 2011
Maternal Deaths Focus Harsh Light on Uganda
By CELIA W. DUGGER
ARUA, Uganda — Jennifer Anguko was slowly bleeding to death right in the maternity ward of a major public hospital. Only a lone midwife was on duty, the hospital later admitted, and no doctor examined her for 12 hours. An obstetrician who investigated the case said Ms. Anguko, the mother of three young children, had arrived in time to be saved.
Her husband, Valente Inziku, a teacher, frantically changed her blood-soaked bedclothes as her life seeped away. “I’m going to leave you,” she told him as he cradled her. He said she pleaded, “Look after our children.”
Half of the 340,000 deaths of women from pregnancy-related causes each year occur in Africa, almost all in anonymity. But Ms. Anguko was a popular elected official seeking treatment in a 400-bed hospital, and a lawsuit over her death may be the first legal test of an African government’s obligation to provide basic maternal care.
It also raises broader questions about the unintended impact of foreign aid on Africa’s struggling public health systems. As the United States and other donors have given African nations billions of dollars to fight AIDS and other infectious diseases, helping millions of people survive, most of the African governments have reduced their own share of domestic spending devoted to health, shifting to other priorities.
I don’t like watching the six o’clock news on TV as there are always depressing images of starving African women and children flickering across the screen. We have seen all this before, but in the latest episode, we see Somali women with dying babies stumbling into refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.
Now, the whole Horn of Africa, which includes Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Uganda, is suffering from the worst drought in 60 years. Drought and food shortages are not new to this part of Africa, and this time around, the region has experienced the driest year in decades. The Horn, with more than 40 per cent of its population of more than 160 million living in areas prone to extreme food shortages, also happens to be the poorest region on the continent.
Although the region basically has an agricultural-oriented economy, with the majority of the population being farmers, they lack machinery and fertilizer. Agriculture productivity usually remains low, even when farmers get enough rain. The amount of food produced is small and it’s insufficient to be placed in reserve for times of drought.
“One of the problems for the Horn of Africa is the food crisis is becoming more or less chronic,” says Abbas Gnamo, an Ethiopian-born academic who teaches African politics and conflict studies at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University.
Local farmers have also lost incentives to grow food because of cheaper imports and the dumping of food aid onto local markets. Gnamo pointed out that Ethiopia faced such a situation in 2005-2006, when the government didn’t have the capacity to store surplus food after the relief operation was over, thus it was forced to sell the food on the local market or give it away.
“The peasants who invested and worked hard, then had to sell (their food) at a lower price,” Gnamo said. “Then, they lost incentive, and then they reduced (production), because they felt if you cannot compete with imported food which is sold on market, then why should you produce more?”
Africa’s recent tragedy is likely to spark discussions over why despite years of foreign aid, it remains a condemned continent, always facing famine, malnutrition, disease, corruption and civil wars. United Nations agencies have estimated they will need $1 billion to cope with the problem. So far, donor nations have pledged $200 million – considered to be a drop in the bucket.
Should we ignore this greatest tragedy facing mankind? Don’t we feel anything when we see those tragic images of starving and dying children on television?
Foreign aid is always considered a double-edged sword. One school of thought supports it, while the other opposes it, believing that the recipient country does not give it to the people who need it the most.
Dambia Moyo, a Zambian-born, Oxford University-trained economist, blames foreign aid for contributing to Africa’s problems.
“The problem is aid is not benign, it’s maligned,” she says in her book, Dead Aid. Her solution is that foreign aid to Africa should be replaced with trade and direct investment.
Delivering food and supplies is difficult in many of these areas because foreign agencies face great problems in ensuring that aid reaches those who need it the most. There have been cases of foreign workers accused of being spies. Jihadists have kidnapped, killed and threatened many of them.
Somalia, a failed state, is a disaster, where violence, pirates, clan conflicts and terrorism are rampant. Already, Somali government forces and African Union troops had to battle insurgents in the capital Mogadishu in a bid to secure aid routes for drought victims. Al-Shabaab insurgents, who have vowed to topple the western-backed transitional government and chase out African Union troops, control large areas of southern Somalia.
No one denies that critics like Moyo make sense, but that doesn’t mean that we in the developed world should ignore this natural calamity. We have been taught to help people in need and this is a classical example of people in dire straits. Fortunately, there are sympathetic countries like Canada that are willing to help and have responded with speed. Bev Oda, Canada’s International Co-operation minister, has already announced a $25-million aid package after visiting the disaster areas in East Africa. To date, the federal government has pledged $72 million for humanitarian relief and it has agreed to match donations given by individuals.
Canadians are generous people who have responded to disasters in Haiti, Pakistan and elsewhere, and it is my hope that this famine plea will not go unheeded. Trustworthy aid agencies such as the Red Cross, UNICEF, Samaritan’s Purse Canada and Oxfam have come forward to collect individual donations. If each one of us vowed to give even a nominal amount to this worthy cause, maybe there is a chance to reach the target.
I am hoping that next time I see the six o’clock news, I will see faces of happy and smiling African children on television.
Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary-based journalist and author who has lived in Kenya and Tanzania.
November 24, 2011
African Union Force Makes Strides Inside Somalia
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
NAIROBI, Kenya — When the first batch of African Union peacekeepers landed at Mogadishu’s decrepit airport in 2007, they were immediately shelled by insurgents with mortars and given little chance of success. This was Somalia after all, the graveyard of several other doomed interventions, and the African Union soldiers were a last resort for a deeply troubled mission.
But four years later and nearly 10,000 soldiers strong, the African Union force in Somalia has hardened into a war-fighting machine — and it seems to be winning the war. Analysts say the African Union has done a better job of pacifying Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital and a hornet’s nest of Islamist militants, clan warlords, factional armies and countless glassy-eyed freelance gunmen, than any other outside force, including 25,000 American troops in the 1990s.
The peacekeepers have “performed better than anyone would have dreamed,” said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa program at the Atlantic Council, a Washington research institution.
Their surprising success has put the African Union in the driver’s seat of an intensifying international effort to wipe out Somalia’s Shabab militants, once and for all. Kenya, Ethiopia, the United States, France, Djibouti, Burundi and Uganda have all jumped in to some degree against the Shabab, a brutal and wily insurgent group that is considered both a regional menace and an international threat, with possible sleeper cells embedded in Somali communities in the United States and Europe.
The Shabab have been terrorizing Somalia for years, imposing a harsh and alien form of Islam, chopping off heads and unleashing suicide bombers, including Somali-Americans recruited from Minnesota. But the African Union has dealt the Shabab a crippling blow in Mogadishu, which is what may have encouraged Kenyan and Ethiopian forces to recently invade separate parts of Somalia in an unusual regional effort to spread the Shabab thin on several fronts and methodically eliminate them.
Ladha: After 50 years, Tanzania is an African success story
By Mansoor LadhaDecember 8, 2011
Calgary, Alberta-20080717 Calgary author Mansoor Ladha has written a book on the history of Ismaili Muslims in Canada. Photo by Handout/ (For RELIGION section story by Graeme Morton)
Photograph by: Handout
A third generation Asian, I fled Tanzania in the 1970s, running away from President Julius Nyerere’s socialist policies. I was part of the Asian exodus that resulted from Nyerere’s nationalization policies, whereby Asian businesses, farms and even homes were taken over by the government without compensation.
Nyerere even nationalized the country’s leading English daily, The Standard, where I worked as features editor, forcing journalists to take out party memberships as a prerequisite to keeping their jobs. That’s when I decided to leave my beloved country, arguing I should keep my job because I am a good editor and not because I have a political party membership.
I vividly remember Dec. 9, 1961, as I watched with great joy and emotion, amid shouts of Uhuru, Uhuru (freedom, freedom), as the Union Jack was lowered for the last time and the new green, black and orange flag of the new nation, Tanganyika, was raised. With tears in my eyes, I witnessed this historic moment as Nyerere received the instruments of Tanganyika’s independence from Prince Philip.
Today, Tanzania — so named after it merged with the island of Zanzibar in 1964 — will be celebrating 50 years of independence amid pomp and festivities.
Nyerere placed Tanzania on the map by following an aggressive policy of socialism, taking an outspoken stand on foreign policy and showing unreserved support of Pan-Africanism. Nyerere believed that no country in Africa was free until all African nations were independent.
Freedom fighters and liberation organizations from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Angola and South West Africa converged on Dar es Salaam, the capital, making it the headquarters of Africa’s freedom movement. Everyone who was anyone visited Dar es Salaam during those years to meet Nyerere and the leaders of southern Africa’s liberation movements.
Nyerere, affectionately called Mwalimu (Swahili for teacher), used Tanzania as a pulpit to spread his socialist philosophy. As a university student in the 1960s, I worshipped the man as I admired him for squaring off with the U.S. and the colonial power, Britain, to try to create a just society. By the late 1960s, Tanzania had become one of the world’s poorest countries, suffering from a severe foreign debt burden, a decrease in foreign aid and a fall in the price of commodities. Nyerere’s solution was the collectivization of agriculture and large-scale nationalization. This vision, set out in the Arusha Declaration of 1967, was a unique blend of socialism and communal life.
I had the privilege of meeting Nyerere, first as a student leader and later as a journalist, and my adulation for him never diminished. When he retired in 1985, stepping down as president after 24 years, he was only the third modern African head of state to relinquish power voluntarily while in office. Although his socialist experiment failed, Nyerere, who died of leukemia on Oct. 14, 1999, will be remembered as a man dedicated to his countrymen, who wanted to develop the country without depending on western aid.
It was left to the succeeding leadership in Tanzania to dismantle government controls over the economy and to reverse Nyerere’s policies. This tremendous task fell upon three successors, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, Benjamin Mkapa and the present president, Jakaya Kikwete. It took three presidents to undo what Nyerere had done. During Mwinyi’s terms, Tanzania took the first steps to reversing Nyerere’s socialist policies.
Mwinyi relaxed import restrictions and encouraged private enterprise. He also introduced multi-party politics.
The next president, Mkapa, privatized state-owned corporations and instituted free market policies, arguing that attracting foreign investment would promote economic growth. So far, Kikwete’s government has received accolades across the country and in the donor community for fighting corruption, investing in people — particularly in education — and pushing for new investments.
Today, Tanzania is considered one of Africa’s most politically stable countries. Kikwete’s government has steered the country through challenging times, domestically, regionally and globally. The present government’s strategy has been to develop agriculture, as 75 per cent of Tanzanians live in rural areas and survive from working the land. There have been real improvements in health and education services, as well as in press and information since 2005.
Today, 97 per cent of children are in primary school, compared to only two per cent at independence.
Kikwete has also managed to improve his country’s status and boost Tanzania’s presence on the global stage. As chairman of the African Union in 2008, Kikwete was a key figure in peace talks that brought about a resolution to a violent political dispute in neighbouring Kenya.
A leading advocate of an economic free trade zone among its neighbours, Tanzania on July 1, 2010, formed a customs union with Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
There is no doubt that given the right political direction, Tanzania, a nation formed by people from 126 tribes, will be an African success story. A country with such diversity, to have survived for 50 years where several other countries have failed, is something to be proud of.
December 5, 2011
Vast and Fertile Ground in Africa for Science to Take Root
By G. PASCAL ZACHARY
He might have been content simply to teach thousands of university students in Uganda how to use computers, assemble them into networks, manage them and write basic software programs. In a poor African country with one of the world’s fastest-growing populations and rising Internet use, that alone would have been an enormous achievement.
But Venansius Baryamureeba had bigger ideas. In 2005, when he returned home with a doctorate from the University of Bergen in Norway, he was just one of a handful of computer scientists in Uganda. And his timing was right. The largely agricultural economy had been growing by about 7 percent annually, propelling an enormous expansion of the upper middle class and the urban elite’s aspirations for advanced training in science and engineering.
Emboldened by Uganda’s relative peace and prosperity, Dr. Baryamureeba founded a new college that includes departments of computer science and computer engineering at creaky Makerere University, in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. At the top of a hill near the university’s entrance, overlooking the derelict law school to one side and a derelict school mosque to the other, two gleaming glass buildings went up seemingly without a hitch. So many undergraduates swarmed them that the faculty held classes at midnight to accommodate them.
Dr. Baryamureeba wanted more than a vocational school; he also created a graduate program he hoped would someday turn out dozens of Ph.D. scientists who would themselves become college professors and help push the boundaries of global research.
Improbably, his vision is gaining traction at Makerere. Young homegrown scientists there are now nearing completion of their Ph.D.’s. And faculty members are carrying out cutting-edge experiments. They are seeking to endow cellphones with the “intelligence,” embedded in tiny software programs animated by mathematical algorithms, to identify diseases in crops or malaria in a person’s bloodstream.
Ernest Mwebaze, a doctoral student and lecturer, said there are still serious obstacles to pursuing such research in Uganda, including unreliable Internet service and power failures. But he also said the potential upside is huge.
“Uganda offers several unique research challenges and problems whose solutions can actually have a greater marginal benefit than, say, solutions to problems in Europe,” he said.
Each Monday, in a laboratory of thrumming computers, Mr. Mwebaze teaches a small class on artificial intelligence to 10 graduate students, highlighting this esoteric field, the subject of his doctorate research.
And the potential for Africans trained in Africa to conduct science attuned to the realities of Africa is not limited to computing. “There’s a growing interest in research, and science generally, in the region,” said Calestous Juma, a Harvard professor who specializes in the study of technology and development.
The rapid spread of cellphones has fueled an appreciation among Africans for the practical uses of science and technology. And the children of the African elite are also seeing career possibilities in computing science and engineering, beyond the traditional disciplines of medicine, law and finance or the more typical scientific callings of crop and soil science.
“Computer science appeals to a generation of urban students raised on a diet of digital devices,” said Chanda Chisala of Zambia Online, a software development company and Internet provider in the Zambian capital, Lusaka.
The field also may appeal to chronically underfinanced African universities because the study of computer science is relatively inexpensive. No big atom smashers are needed, as in physics; no giant telescopes, as in astronomy.
Computer science in Africa, to be sure, is still held back by the perception that it is preferable to study and work in Europe or the United States, even if that means leaving Africa permanently. This must change for computer science to flourish in the region. Georgia Tech researchers recommended in a study that African educators reinforce efforts to mold computer science curriculum to meet “local needs.”
A shortage of skilled teachers also remains a problem. The continent’s leading computer science departments — based on research publications — are all in South Africa. Yet even there, the number of university-level teachers is limited. “Our C.S. departments are much smaller than counterparts in the U.S.,” said Bill Tucker, an American who is a senior lecturer at the University of Western Cape.
And differing ethical practices in African and American academic institutions complicate matters. When V. S. Subrahmanian, a computer scientist at the University of Maryland, decided to forge a research partnership last year with Nigerian professors, he was enthusiastically received. But when he provided a Nigerian computer center with data compiled by Maryland, the center started selling it. Dr. Subramanian, who thought the data should have been openly available for scholars, found the experience “very troubling.”
Dr. Baryamureeba’s commitment has helped Makerere overcome such obstacles. He now leads the entire university, ensuring that computer science and engineering have high-level support. Partnerships with universities in Norway and the Netherlands have also proved crucial. Graduate students from Uganda have been able to study both at home and abroad. And the European universities promise not to poach them, requiring that the students return to Uganda to get their doctorates.
There’s also a palpable sense among young scholars that Africa is cool — and that universities are improving just enough to advance the scientific ambitions of Western scientists.
Consider John Quinn, a Scot. He attended Cambridge and received a doctorate in computer science from the University of Edinburgh. Searching for an unconventional research experience, he contacted Makerere just as Dr. Baryamureeba was casting about for international talent to bolster his faculty. Dr. Quinn accepted, and has never looked back. An artificial intelligence research group he formed has received financing from Microsoft and Google. One project involves designing code that turns a cellphone into a sophisticated microscope. He presented his research on diagnosing malaria over the phone at an international conference in San Francisco in August.
“There’s a growing awareness of the need to focus, to specialize and to become internationally competitive,” Dr. Quinn said of himself and his colleagues.
One potentially practical and profitable benefit partly explains the interest of computer companies in Dr. Quinn’s research: Turning cellphones into cheap microscopes and pattern-recognition devices could help people in the developed world lower costs of instant diagnosis of minor medical problems.
So far, Dr. Quinn’s reputation has only been enhanced by his work in Uganda, and he’s earning decent pay. Postdoctoral salaries for European computer scientists are not that much different from the roughly $3,000 a month Dr. Quinn earns at Makerere. That has him thinking he will stay awhile in Kampala. He’d initially planned to stick it out for two years, but he’s now already four years into his African university tenure and sees a lot of running room in computer science — for himself, and for Africa.
Josh Kron contributed reporting from Kampala, Uganda.
April 15, 2012
Africa’s Free Press Problem
By MOHAMED KEITA
AS Africa’s economies grow, an insidious attack on press freedom is under way. Independent African journalists covering the continent’s development are now frequently persecuted for critical reporting on the misuse of public finances, corruption and the activities of foreign investors.
Why this disturbing trend? In the West, cynicism about African democracy has led governments to narrow their development priorities to poverty reduction and stability; individual liberties like press freedom have dropped off the agenda, making it easier for authoritarian rulers to go after journalists more aggressively. In the 1990s, leaders like Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia were praised by the West as political and social reformers. Today, the West extols these men for achieving growth and maintaining stability, which they do largely with a nearly absolute grip over all national institutions and the press.
Then there’s the influence of China, which surpassed the West as Africa’s largest trading partner in 2009. Ever since, China has been deepening technical and media ties with African governments to counter the kind of critical press coverage that both parties demonize as neocolonialist.
In January, Beijing issued a white paper calling for accelerated expansion of China’s news media abroad and the deployment of a press corps of 100,000 around the world, particularly in priority regions like Africa. In the last few months alone, China established its first TV news hub in Kenya and a print publication in South Africa. The state-run Xinhua news agency already operates more than 20 bureaus in Africa. More than 200 African government press officers received Chinese training between 2004 and 2011 in order to produce what the Communist Party propaganda chief, Li Changchun, called “truthful” coverage of development fueled by China’s activities.
China and African governments tend to agree that the press should focus on collective achievements and mobilize public support for the state, rather than report on divisive issues or so-called negative news.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Ethiopia, which remains one of the West’s foremost recipients of development assistance and whose largest trading partner and main source of foreign investment is China. The prisons in Ethiopia, like those in China, are now filled with journalists and dissidents, and critical Web sites are blocked.
This is particularly troubling in Ethiopia, a country where investigative journalism once saved countless lives. In the 1980s, the tyrannical president Mengistu Haile Mariam denied that a famine was happening in Ethiopia, even as it deepened. The world did not move to assist millions of starving Ethiopians until international journalists broke the dictator’s stranglehold on information.
Nearly three decades later, Ethiopia is still mired in a cycle of humanitarian crises and conflicts. But today, journalists are denied independent access to sensitive areas and risk up to 20 years in prison if they report about opposition groups designated by the government as terrorists. “We are not supposed to take pictures of obviously malnourished kids,” an Ethiopia-based reporter recently told me. “We are effectively prevented from going to areas and health facilities where severely malnourished kids are, or are being treated.”
This silencing in turn frustrates the ability of aid groups to quickly mobilize funds when help is needed. And with civil society, the political opposition and the press severely restricted, there is hardly any domestic scrutiny over how the government uses billions of dollars of international assistance from Western governments.
Rwanda is another worrisome case. The volume of trade between Rwanda and China increased fivefold between 2005 and 2009. During the same period, the government has eviscerated virtually all critical press and opposition and has begun filtering Rwandan dissident news Web sites based abroad.
As powerful political and economic interests tied to China’s investments seek to stamp out independent reporting, a free African press is needed more than ever, as a key institution of development, a consumer watchdog and a way for the public to contextualize official statistics about joblessness, inflation and other social and economic concerns. But support for the press, in order to be effective, will have to mean more than just supporting journalism training and publishing capacity; if such efforts are to succeed, they must be integrated into a wider strategy of political and media reforms.
Mohamed Keita is the Africa advocacy coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
June 17, 2012
Africa’s Hidden Water Wealth
By ALAN MacDONALD
FOR a continent where more than 300 million people lack access to safe drinking water, Africa is sitting on a lot of it.
The journal Environmental Research Letters recently published a set of maps of groundwater resources in Africa, the results of two years of research led by the British Geological Survey and financed by the British Department for International Development. The research showed that in Africa the volume of water naturally stored underground within the cracks and pores of rocks is much larger (possibly 20 times more) than the 8,000 cubic miles of water visible in lakes and rivers. This water holds enormous potential to help people and nations move out of poverty, produce more food and better adapt to climate change. But it also could lead to tensions between neighboring countries.
At least 45 transboundary aquifers have been identified in Africa so far, and competition sometimes leads to serious tensions. However, since groundwater moves very slowly (usually less than three feet per day), shared aquifers should be seen as vehicles for cooperation, rather than competition, and identifying and characterizing the aquifers is the first step.
Recognizing this, in December 2011 the United Nations General Assembly called upon its members to begin working toward a common goal: the effective management of their shared groundwater resources.
At the moment, the main constraint on supplying safe drinking water is lack of money. If there is sufficient investment in investigating groundwater, and water wells are carefully sited, it is usually possible to drill a well that can provide enough safe water for communities at a reasonable cost. Groundwater responds slowly to droughts and floods and, as a result, is much more resilient to climate variability than water supplies drawn from rivers or ponds. Therefore, serious and sustained investment in water wells and pumps will help provide a reliable and secure water supply to a significant number of those without safe drinking water.
Money on its own, however, will not solve drinking-water problems. About 30 percent of Africa’s water wells are no longer operational, so donors like the World Bank, the Gates Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development need to get serious about maintenance and sustainability of services. New water supplies tend to gravitate to the better off, so investment in new services should be aimed at more remote areas where many of the poorest live; and with increased groundwater use comes the need for more qualified and experienced people to develop and manage the resource.
A major concern is that people may use the groundwater for whatever seems like a good idea at the time in a way that is unsustainable. There is much discussion about food insecurity in Africa, and at first glance irrigation based on groundwater seems like the perfect answer. However, it is not that simple. Our maps show that away from the large aquifers under the Sahara there are not many places where you can drill a water well and expect to pump out enough water to sustain center pivot irrigators like those in Nebraska. A potential compromise may be to encourage small-scale irrigation using lower yielding water wells. This approach will also require significant investment in expertise within Africa in groundwater development and governance and in reducing the costs of drilling and pumps.
And what about all that water under the Sahara? As inviting as it is, unfortunately this fossil water is not that easy to get at, requiring expensive, deep water wells and large pipelines to move the water to where people need it. Libya is the one country to have invested heavily in using Saharan groundwater, having spent some $20 billion to supply water to the coastal cities and for irrigation.
We should not be distracted by the large aquifers below the Sahara and dreams of cross-continental pipelines. The priority must be to serve those who still have to take unsafe drinking water from ponds and holes in dry riverbeds — and to do this sensibly and sustainably. We should get on with the job of getting drilling costs down and construction standards up and supporting and developing groundwater professionals in Africa. Then we can concentrate on helping communities, small towns and whole nations to sustainably develop and protect the groundwater under their feet.
Alan MacDonald is a principal hydrogeologist at the British Geological Survey.
June 27, 2012
Beijing, a Boon for Africa
By DAMBISA MOYO
IN June 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a speech in Zambia warning of a “new colonialism” threatening the African continent. “We saw that during colonial times, it is easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave,” she said, in a thinly veiled swipe at China.
In 2009, China became Africa’s single largest trading partner, surpassing the United States. And China’s foreign direct investment in Africa has skyrocketed from under $100 million in 2003 to more than $12 billion in 2011.
Since China began seriously investing in Africa in 2005, it has been routinely cast as a stealthy imperialist with a voracious appetite for commodities and no qualms about exploiting Africans to get them. It is no wonder that the American government is lashing out at its new competitor — while China has made huge investments in Africa, the United States has stood on the sidelines and watched its influence on the continent fade.
Despite all the scaremongering, China’s motives for investing in Africa are actually quite pure. To satisfy China’s population and prevent a crisis of legitimacy for their rule, leaders in Beijing need to keep economic growth rates high and continue to bring hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. And to do so, China needs arable land, oil and minerals. Pursuing imperial or colonial ambitions with masses of impoverished people at home would be wholly irrational and out of sync with China’s current strategic thinking.
Moreover, the evidence does not support a claim that Africans themselves feel exploited. To the contrary, China’s role is broadly welcomed across the continent. A 2007 Pew Research Center survey of 10 sub-Saharan African countries found that Africans overwhelmingly viewed Chinese economic growth as beneficial. In virtually all countries surveyed, China’s involvement was viewed in a much more positive light than America’s; in Senegal, 86 percent said China’s role in their country helped make things better, compared with 56 percent who felt that way about America’s role. In Kenya, 91 percent of respondents said they believed China’s influence was positive, versus only 74 percent for the United States.
And the charge that Chinese companies prefer to ship Chinese employees (and even prisoners) to work in Africa rather than hire local African workers flies in the face of employment data. In countries like my own, Zambia, the ratio of African to Chinese workers has exceeded 13:1 recently, and there is no evidence of Chinese prisoners working there.
Of course, China should not have a free pass to run roughshod over workers’ rights or the environment. Human rights violations, environmental abuses and corruption deserve serious and objective investigation. But to finger-point and paint China’s approach in Africa as uniformly hostile to workers is largely unsubstantiated.
If anything, the bulk of responsibility for abuses lies with African leaders themselves. The 2011 Human Rights Watch Report “You’ll Be Fired If You Refuse,” which described a series of alleged labor and human rights abuses in Chinese-owned Zambian copper mines, missed a fundamental point: the onus of policing social policy and protecting the environment is on local governments, and it is local policy makers who should ultimately be held accountable and responsible if and when egregious failures occur.
China’s critics ignore the root cause of why many African leaders are corrupt and unaccountable to their populations. For decades, many African governments have abdicated their responsibilities at home in return for the vast sums of money they receive from courting international donors and catering to them. Even well-intentioned aid undermines accountability. Aid severs the link between Africans and their governments, because citizens generally have no say in how the aid dollars are spent and governments too often respond to the needs of donors, rather than those of their citizens.
In a functioning democracy, a government receives revenues (largely in the form of taxes) from its citizens, and in return promises to provide public goods and services, like education, national security and infrastructure. If the government fails to deliver on its promises, it runs the risk of being voted out.
The fact that so many African governments can stay in power by relying on foreign aid that has few strings attached, instead of revenues from their own populations, allows corrupt politicians to remain in charge. Thankfully, the decrease in the flow of Western aid since the 2008 financial crisis offers a chance to remedy this structural failure so that, like others in the world, Africans can finally hold their governments accountable.
With approximately 60 percent of Africa’s population under age 24, foreign investment and job creation are the only forces that can reduce poverty and stave off the sort of political upheaval that has swept the Arab world. And China’s rush for resources has spawned much-needed trade and investment and created a large market for African exports — a huge benefit for a continent seeking rapid economic growth.
Dambisa Moyo, an economist, is the author of “Winner Take All: China’s Race for Resources and What It Means for the World.”
Many sub-Saharan African countries are well ahead of Western states in terms of female representation in politics. The payoff could be huge.
NAIROBI — The proportion of women heads of state worldwide is paltry: about 11 percent [pdf]. In North Africa, despite recent dramatic changes in regimes, the new boss looks much like the old; he is still male.
But south of the Sahara lies a more promising story.
The Nobel laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is in her second term as Liberia’s president. Malawi’s newest chief executive is Joyce Banda, a vice president who peacefully transitioned to power following the death of the longtime ruler Bingu wa Mutharika. And last week, Senegal held the first round of parliamentary elections in which half of all candidates must be women. The results are still out, but female representation should increase from the current 23 percent.
Similar quotas have been passed in 20 sub-Saharan nations, six of which top the world in female representation. Rwanda is number one, with 56 percent of seats in Parliament held by women. These figures put African countries well ahead of the United States, France and Japan, which are just at or fall below the 19 percent mark.
It’s a shift from traditionally patriarchal power structures, with a potentially large payoff. Aloysia Inyumba, Rwanda’s former minister for gender, told me at a conference for women’s history month in South Africa, “There’s a general understanding and appreciation that if things are going to be better in Africa, women are going to have a key role.”
The very presence of female politicians has been shown to diversify the policy agenda and promote equity and justice. Banda, for one, stood up to the African Union when it planned to host President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, at a summit meeting in Malawi’s capital. After Banda announced that she would allow Bashir to be extradited if he came, the male-dominated regional body moved the summit to Ethiopia.
Of course, obstacles to female participation in politics persist. Here in Kenya, a new Constitution mandates that one-third of seats in Parliament be held by women, but in a front-page roundup of candidates for next year’s presidential election, the biggest local daily failed to mention the former minister Martha Karua, who is running. And then there’s Kenya’s Elections Act, passed in 2011, which requires higher education for anyone seeking higher office.
In Kenya and elsewhere, career politicians with name recognition and money to burn win regional elections but then struggle to make decisions regarding national security, agricultural policy, fiscal issues and free speech. According to Mzalendo, a Kenyan watchdog group, just 37 percent of the members of Kenya’s current parliament have secondary degrees “from a university recognized in Kenya.”
Though basically well intentioned, the law risks stifling women’s participation. Before primary schooling in Africa became free, bias favoring male children left many girls out of the educational loop. While millions of the earlier generations did receive quality instruction, most females at the age of community leadership are far from Ph.Ds.
I’m all for informed policymaking, but the belief that fancy education means intelligent leadership has its flaws. Humility, business experience, social connections and emotional intelligence are at least as important as fluency in the academy.
To encourage worthy female candidates, the idea of what qualifies someone for higher office should be broadened, not limited. Beth Mugo, the Kenyan public health minister who enjoys one of the better track records for service delivery and responsiveness, earned her stripes running a television station and helping women borrow money so they could start businesses.
Banda herself was mocked — and by the outgoing first lady — for having once worked as a market vendor. She came up with an easy retort: “I’m proud of it because the majority of women in Malawi are like us.” They’re enterprising, creative, hard-working — fit for office.
Dayo Olopade is a journalist covering global politics and development policy. She is writing a book about innovation in Africa.
Jihadists’ Fierce Justice Drives Thousands to Flee Mali
By ADAM NOSSITER
MBERA, Mauritania — The vast desert expanse of northern Mali has become a magnet for Islamic extremists who have tightened their grip on Timbuktu and other far-flung towns, imposing a strict form of justice that is prompting tens of thousands of people to flee what some are likening to an African Afghanistan.
Rattled recent arrivals at a 92,000-person makeshift camp here at Mauritania’s remote eastern edge describe an influx of jihadists — some homegrown and others possibly from afar — intent on imposing an Islam of lash and gun on Malian Muslims who have long coexisted with Western tourists in the fabled town of Timbuktu.
The conditions here in Mbera are grim, with many of the Malians sick, hungry and bewildered. But that is better, refugees said in interviews Tuesday, than the grueling life turned upside-down that an unexpected Islamist military triumph inflicted on their lives in a vast region in the heart of West Africa.
Refugees from such places as Timbuktu, Goundam, Gao and Kidal described witnessing repeated whippings, beatings and other punishments in the streets, ostensibly for having violated strict Islamic law, and some of those who fled said they had been subjected to this harsh justice themselves.
With $20 Billion Loan Pledge, China Strengthens Its Ties to African Nations
By JANE PERLEZ
BEIJING — President Hu Jintao said Thursday that China would lend $20 billion to African governments for infrastructure and agriculture in the next three years, in a speech to a gathering of African leaders.
The loans outlined by Mr. Hu, which doubled the amount offered at the last such conference here, in 2009, signaled that China was pressing ahead with aid programs in African nations with abundant energy and mineral resources but with more focus on grass-roots projects.
China’s aid to Africa has expanded rapidly in the last decade as the continent has become a major source of oil from Sudan and Angola, and copper from Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. China has come under heavy criticism for offering its aid without conditioning it on human rights performance or governance, especially in the case of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan.
At the same time, its projects — roads, pipelines and ports — have focused on benefiting China’s extractive industries, not African people, critics say. The infrastructure is generally built with Chinese labor.
The president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, addressed the meeting and praised China’s approach, saying it was preferred to Africa’s experience with Europe. “We are particularly pleased that in our relationship with China, we are equals and that agreements entered into are for mutual gain,” Mr. Zuma said.
However, he was also quoted as saying: “Africa’s commitment to China’s development has been demonstrated by supply of raw materials, other products and technology transfer. This trade pattern is unsustainable in the long term. Africa’s past economic experience with Europe dictates a need to be cautious when entering into partnerships with other economies.”
In his speech, Mr. Hu said China would train 30,000 Africans, offer 18,000 scholarships and send 1,500 medical personnel to Africa. He said China would mount programs to improve drinking water and protect forests, new endeavors for China.
Pursuing Soft Power, China Puts Stamp on Africa’s News
By ANDREW JACOBS
NAIROBI, Kenya — China’s investment prowess and construction know-how is widely on display in this long-congested African capital. A $200 million ring road is being built and partly financed by Beijing. The international airport is undergoing a $208 million expansion supported by the Chinese, whose loans also paid for a working-class housing complex that residents have nicknamed the Great Wall apartments.
But Beijing’s efforts to win Kenyan affections involve much more than bricks and concrete. The country’s most popular English-language newspapers are flecked with articles by the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua. Television viewers can get their international news from either CCTV, the Chinese broadcasting behemoth, or CNC World, Xinhua’s English-language start-up. On the radio, just a few notches over from Voice of America and the BBC, China Radio International offers Mandarin instruction along with upbeat accounts of Chinese-African cooperation and the global perambulations of Chinese leaders.
“You would have to be blind not to notice the Chinese media’s arrival in Kenya,” said Eric Shimoli, a top editor at Kenya’s most widely read newspaper, The Daily Nation, which entered into a partnership with Xinhua last year. “It’s a full-on charm offensive.”
At a time when most Western broadcasting and newspaper companies are retrenching, China’s state-run news media giants are rapidly expanding in Africa and across the developing world. They are hoping to bolster China’s image and influence around the globe, particularly in regions rich in the natural resources needed to fuel China’s powerhouse industries and help feed its immense population.
The $7 billion campaign, part of a Chinese Communist Party bid to expand the country’s soft power, is based in part on the notion that biased Western news media have painted a distorted portrait of China.
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November 10, 2012
As Coal Boosts Mozambique, the Rural Poor Are Left Behind
By LYDIA POLGREEN
CATEME, Mozambique — When Augusto Conselho Chachoka and his neighbors heard that the world’s biggest coal mine was to be built on their land, a tantalizing new future floated before them. Instead of scraping by as subsistence farmers, they would earn wages as miners, they thought. The mining company would build them sturdy new houses, it seemed. Finally, a slice of the wealth that has propelled Mozambique from its war-addled past to its newfound status as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies would be theirs.
Instead, they ended up being moved 25 miles away from the mine, living in crumbling, leaky houses, farming barren plots of land, far from any kind of jobs that the mine might create and farther than ever from Mozambique’s growth miracle.
“Development is coming, but the development is going to certain areas and certain people,” Mr. Chachoka said, taking a break from trying to coax enough food from his scraggly field to feed his six children.
Mozambique is one of the poorest nations in the world, broken by a brutal colonial legacy, a 16-year civil war and failed experiments with Marxist economic policy. But it is also one of the so-called African Lions: countries that are growing at well above 6 percent annually, even amid the global downturn.
Mozambique is poised for a long economic boom, driven by its vast deposits of coal and natural gas. Vale, the Brazilian mining company, is planning to invest $6 billion in its coal operation near here, and other coal giants like Rio Tinto will soon begin producing coal in the Tete region of northern Mozambique.
Gas projects could bring in far more, as much as $70 billion, according to World Bank estimates. Mozambique’s location on Africa’s southeastern coast means it is perfectly positioned to feed hungry markets in southern and eastern Asia. These investments mean that income from natural resources could easily outstrip the outsized contribution foreign aid makes to its $5 billion annual budget.
The country has been growing at a rapid clip for the past two decades, in fact, since the end of its brutal civil war. Yet, after a substantial drop in the first postwar decade, gains against poverty have slowed substantially, analysts say, leaving millions stuck below the poverty line and raising tough questions about whether Africa’s resource boom can effectively raise the standard of living of its people.
“You get these rich countries with poor people,” said the economist Joseph Stiglitz, who recently visited Mozambique and has written on the struggle of resource-rich countries to develop. “You have all this money flowing in, but you don’t have real job creation and you don’t have sustained growth.”
It is a problem in resource-rich countries across Africa. In a largely upbeat assessment of Africa’s growth prospects, the World Bank said in October that rapidly growing economies powered by oil, gas and minerals have seen poverty levels fall more slowly than countries without those resources
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