Africa takes the reins
Debt relief was a major factor
For The Calgary Herald
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Welcome news about Africa's economic recovery was announced at the recent World Economic Forum's (WEF) annual general meeting on Africa, in Cape Town.
Africa's economy is expected to grow at an impressive rate of 6.2 per cent, compared to last year's 5.5 per cent expansion
African governments have been applauded by multilateral institutions and western governments for making a determined effort to undertake economic reforms aimed at ridding themselves of a past often plagued by disease, civil wars, famine, economic mismanagement and corruption.
Remittances from the continent's diasporas stand at $8 billion annually, compared with an approximate $1 billion during the mid-1980s, while direct foreign investment has mushroomed during the past two decades, rising to $19 billion in 2006, compared to $2.2 billion per annum during the early 1980s.
Much still needs to be done to increase the continent's economic growth to seven per cent annually, which is the minimum threshold required to cut poverty and disease by half in 2015 -- one of the key UN Millennium Development Goals.
A large part of the continent's current growth was fuelled by external factors, in particular debt relief, high commodity prices and an upbeat international economic environment.
Poor infrastructure, insufficient access to finance, corruption and bureaucratic red tape were flagged by foreign investors and multilateral financial institutions as some of the impediments to sustainable economic growth.
These challenges notwithstanding, it would be a disservice to the continent for the international community to dwell on what is wrong, rather than to build on the steady stream of successes, encapsulated in the sheer level of optimism, shared by millions of Africans, about their future.
The improvements on a macroeconomic level came about, not thanks to increased levels of aid, as many advocates of aid would like to claim, but because African states are more self-reliant and have increasingly taken responsibility for their economic fortunes and misfortunes.
Africans realize the West's pledges of aid are not the silver bullet required to drive economic growth and alleviate poverty, and that these pledges should be accepted with caution.
When, at their latest summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, the G-8 nations agreed to allocate $60 billion, of which $30 billion would come from the U.S., to fight tuberculosis, HIV-AIDS and malaria, African and western aid organizations and NGOs protested against what they called a futile attempt to repackage old and broken promises.
There is a great deal of reluctance on the part of AIDS advocates and health organizations, who work with millions of victims living with AIDS and other devastating diseases in Africa, to jump on the bandwagon and offer their unequivocal support to the G-8 and their grand pledges.
International aid groups were quick to criticize the latest pledges, pointing out the lack of a definite timetable for the disbursement of funds and the lack of specificity regarding the size of individual countries' contributions.
They also raised the issue of how much of these stipulated funds were new money and how much formed part of unfulfilled previous G-8 pledges. Oxfam argued the new $60-billion aid package actually amounted to a mere $3 billion in additional aid, given that the previous pledge, made at the 2005 G-8 summit at Gleneagles, was spread over several years.
At Gleneagles, G-8 leaders endorsed a plan to double their aid to Africa to $50 billion annually by 2010. The plan called for debt cancellation of at least $40 billion, owed by 18 of the world's poorest states, of which the majority are African. It also included an agreement on providing universal access to HIV-AIDS treatment.
However, their track record, thus far, left even more skeptics on both sides of the economic divide.
Given the criticism surrounding these pledges of aid, African economists and international aid agencies were quick to point out the dangers for any African leader relying on external intervention as a panacea for the continent's developmental challenges.
Global trade with Africa, as well as intercontinental trade, sound macroeconomic policies by host governments, economic liberalization, strengthening of the private sector, and increased direct foreign investment are the real keys to sustainable, long-term development in Africa.
Sound domestic policies are more important than external assistance in creating the right conditions for prosperity, stability and growth.
Hany Besada is a senior researcher at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, in Waterloo, Ont.
July 5, 2007
Africa: Land of Hope
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
In the early 1990s, Rwanda reinforced all the worst stereotypes of Africa: wretchedly poor, torn apart by war and seemingly destined to be an international basket case forever.
Yet now it has become the little nation that could. It is clean, safe and enjoying economic growth more than twice as fast as the U.S. or Europe. And Rwanda underscores something that is easy to forget: There are signs of a turnaround in Africa, and plenty of reason for optimism.
This is the last column from my win-a-trip journey in Africa with a student, Leana Wen, and a teacher, Will Okun, and the stories have been long on gloom and suffering. But there is also a cheerier side to Africa, and Rwanda reflects the continent's potential when there is both stability and good governance.
Dr. Paul Farmer, the Harvard public health specialist best known for his work in Haiti, is among a growing number of Americans who have begun working in Rwanda in part because it is so well-managed.
"The first time I got stopped by a policeman here, I thought, 'Oh, no! Am I going to get kidnapped, or worse?' " said Dr. Farmer. "I rolled down the window, and the policeman said, 'Put on your seat belt.' "
In the early 1960s, most of Africa was richer than Asia and many economists expected Africa to zoom far ahead of Asia. Back then, the World Bank named a group of African countries that it projected to grow at 7 percent annually.
Instead, Africa drove over a cliff. Of those countries with good data, one-third now have lower per capita incomes than they did at independence (typically about 1960), and the five worst-performing economies in the world from 1960 to 2001 were all in Africa.
What went wrong? The two most important reasons were that Africa was terribly governed and that it was torn apart by wars.
The problem of conflict is as bad as ever (Darfur sums it up), but governance is getting far better.
Increasingly there are new leaders like Paul Kagame here in Rwanda who are honest, intelligent and capable. President Kagame reads Harvard Business Review and is an African version of Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore. Both are authoritarian, repressive and quirky (Mr. Kagame banned plastic bags to curb litter). Both did wonders for their countries' living standards. And both are blunt.
I asked President Kagame why Asian countries that used to be at the same income level as Africa are now so much richer. He offered one reason that bowled me over: perhaps Asians are today more ambitious and work harder.
"I'm hesitant to talk about the issue of culture, but I have to — and we have to work on it — that culture of hard work, that culture of being ambitious and wanting to achieve," he said, adding: "I believe that those values were in Africans, but I don't know what dampened it — what killed it."
Wow. It's a bullish sign whenever a leader is willing to be self-critical, but in fact lackadaisical work may have more to do with malaria, anemia, worms and misrule than with culture.
And when African countries have enjoyed stability and sound policies, they have often thrived. Indeed, the fastest-growing country in the world from 1960 to 2001 was Botswana (South Korea was second, and Singapore and China tied for third).
More and more African countries are now following the Botswana model of welcoming investors and obeying markets. Aside from Rwanda, countries like Mozambique, Benin, Tanzania, Liberia and Mauritius are among those trying to build a future on trade more than aid.
"We're not going to say 'We don't need aid,' " Mr. Kagame said. "But there's no question about trade being more important than aid. There's no question about that."
Rwanda is trying to develop high-value exports like pomegranate juice that it could air-freight to Western countries. One of the best kinds of aid that the West could provide would be to expand the African Growth and Opportunity Act program, which encourages imports from Africa.
After decades of stagnation, Africa has now been growing solidly for several years, and this year the average economic growth rate is expected to rise again, to about 6 percent. To me, much of Africa feels like India in the early 1990s as it was reforming its economy and setting the stage for today's boom.
So here's an investment tip: Buy real estate in Benin and Rwanda.
July 22, 2007
Africa, Offline: Waiting for the Web
By RON NIXON
ON a muggy day in Kigali in 2003, some of the highest-ranking officials in the Rwandan government, including President Paul Kagame, flanked an American businessman, Greg Wyler, as he boldly described how he could help turn their small country into a hub of Internet activity.
Mr. Wyler, an executive based in Boston who made his fortune during the tech boom, said he would lace Rwanda with fiber optic cables, connecting schools, government institutions and homes with low-cost, high-speed Internet service. Until that point, Mr. Wyler, 37, had never set foot in Africa — he was invited by a Rwandan government official he had met at a wedding. Mr. Wyler never expected to start a business there; he simply wanted to try to help the war-torn country.
Even so, Mr. Wyler’s company, Terracom, was granted a contract to connect 300 schools to the Internet. Later, the company would buy 99 percent of the shares in Rwandatel, the country’s national telecommunications company, for $20 million.
But after nearly four years, most of the benefits hailed by him and his company have failed to materialize, Rwandan officials say. “The bottom line is that he promised many things and didn’t deliver,” said Albert Butare, the country’s telecommunications minister.
Mr. Wyler says he sees things quite differently, and he and Rwandan officials will probably never agree on why their joint venture has been so slow to get off the ground. But Terracom’s tale is more than a story about a business dispute in Rwanda. It is also emblematic of what can happen when good intentions run into the technical, political and business realities of Africa.
Attempts to bring affordable high-speed Internet service to the masses have made little headway on the continent. Less than 4 percent of Africa’s population is connected to the Web; most subscribers are in North African countries and the republic of South Africa.
A lack of infrastructure is the biggest problem. In many countries, communications networks were destroyed during years of civil conflict, and continuing political instability deters governments or companies from investing in new systems. E-mail messages and phone calls sent from some African countries have to be routed through Britain, or even the United States, increasing expenses and delivery times. About 75 percent of African Internet traffic is routed this way and costs African countries billions of extra dollars each year that they would not incur if their infrastructure was up to speed.
“Most African governments haven’t paid much attention to their infrastructure,” said Vincent Oria, an associate professor of computer science at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and a native of the Ivory Coast. “In places where hunger, AIDS and poverty are rampant, they didn’t see it as critical until now.”
Africa’s only connection to the network of computers and fiber optic cables that are the Internet’s backbone is a $600 million undersea cable running from Portugal down the west coast of Africa. Built in 2002, the cable was supposed to provide cheaper and faster Web access, but so far that has not happened.
Prices remain high because the national telecommunications linked to the cable maintain a monopoly over access, squeezing out potential competitors. And plans for a fiber optic cable along the East African coast have stalled over similar access issues. Most countries in Eastern Africa, like Rwanda, depend on slower satellite technology for Internet service.
The result is that Africa remains the least connected region in the world, and the digital gap between it and the developed world is widening rapidly. “Unless you can offer Internet access that is the same as the rest of the world, Africa can’t be part of the global economy or academic environment,” said Lawrence H. Landweber, professor emeritus of computer science at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who was also part of an early effort to bring the Web to Africa in the mid-1990s. “The benefits of the Internet age will bypass the continent.”
RWANDAN officials were especially interested in wiring primary and secondary schools, seeing information technology as crucial to modernizing the country’s rural economy. Some 90 percent of the country’s eight million people work in agriculture.
But as of mid-July, only one-third of the 300 schools covered in Terracom’s contract had high-speed Internet service. All 300 were supposed to have been connected by 2006.
Over all, less than 1 percent of the population is connected to the Internet. Rwandan officials say the company seems more interested in tapping the more lucrative cellphone market than in being an Internet service provider. (In November, Mr. Wyler stepped down as chief executive of Terracom, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family; he still serves on the board.)
In a telephone interview from his home in Boston, Mr. Wyler said he would not address the government’s criticism, saying he did not want to be quoted as saying anything negative. But he said there were some things he had not anticipated, particularly the technical challenges of linking Rwanda’s Internet network to the rest of the world. The only way to do it is to buy bandwidth capacity on satellites, but there are not enough satellites to meet demand.
Mr. Wyler also says he believes that Terracom suffers from unrealistic expectations. “Terracom has done everything it can, “ he said. “Because of the technical challenges, the Internet service is as good as it’s going to get. But given what we started from, I still think we have accomplished a lot. In the beginning there were a few people with Internet service; now there are thousands.”
The Rwandan government had hoped that the number of Web surfers would be much higher by now. Rwanda, which is about the size of Maryland, has little industry, and its infrastructure is still being rebuilt after being left in shambles by a 1994 genocide in which 800,000 to a million people were killed.
“We have almost no natural resources and no seaports in Rwanda, which leaves us only with trying to become a knowledge-based society,” said Romain Murenzi, the minister of science, technology and scientific research.
Officials saw Terracom’s investment as crucial to its transformation. Unlike many African governments, Rwanda’s was eager to privatize the national telecommunications company, which had outdated equipment, high prices and few subscribers.
But from the start, government officials say, there were problems with Terracom. Mr. Butare, the telecommunications minister, said the government had trouble getting basic information from the company.
Complicating the situation, Mr. Butare said, was that Mr. Wyler tried to run Terracom from the United States, visiting Rwanda just a few weeks at a time. He left day-to-day management to a poorly trained staff, Mr. Butare said.
“There were spots where they did some things here and there,” Mr. Butare said. “But over all they have failed to do what they promised.”
Internet rates have been lowered, from about $1,000 a month when Terracom arrived in 2003, but most people still can’t afford it. The average Rwandan makes about $220 a year, and a fixed-line Internet hookup costs about $90 a month. Basic wireless Internet is about $63 a month. Those rich enough to pay the fees complain about poor service.
Government officials say the company has spent more time marketing and signing up cellphone customers than on expanding Internet service. According to government figures, Terracom has 30,000 to 40,000 mobile phone subscribers and about 20,000 Internet customers.
The situation came to a head late last year, when government officials contended that Terracom secretly tried to trade its shares in the Rwandan telecom to GV Telecom, a regional African telecommunications company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. Rwandan officials were furious, saying this was a violation of the contract signed by the two parties.
The plan was scrapped and Mr. Wyler was widely criticized. In June, the government fined Terracom nearly $400,000 for failing to comply with its licensing obligations, failing to provide information about its operations and failing to pay several fees.
“We decided to penalize Terracom after they failed to fulfill their obligations for a long time,” said Beatha Mukangabo, legal officer for the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency. Terracom said it has paid the fines and is working with the government to meet all of its obligations.
Mr. Wyler said he has not been involved in Terracom for nearly 10 months and could not comment on its current operations.
Christopher Lundh, Terracom’s new chief executive and a former executive of Gateway Communications in London, has worked in several African countries. He now lives and works full time in Rwanda, and many government officials say Terracom’s performance has improved under his leadership.
Mr. Lundh acknowledged that there were problems with the company’s operations in the past. “The former management did make some promises that they were not able to keep,” he said. “That’s why I was brought in to professionalize things.” He also said that the company could have better handled the matter with GV Telecom but that he thinks the government overreacted.
He said the Rwandan government is to blame for some of the delays. “We would get to schools that don’t even have electricity or computers,” he said. “That is not our fault.” In addition, he said that many of the complaints about the company concerned things beyond its ability to control. Getting adequate bandwidth remains a constant challenge.
Like most telecommunications companies in eastern Africa, Terracom depends on satellites for Internet service. Satellite service is much slower than cable because of delays in the signals. Satellites also provide less bandwidth than cable.
Adding to the problem is that most of the satellites serving Africa were launched nearly 20 years ago and are aging or going out of commission. A satellite set to go into service last year blew up on the launching pad. Power is also an issue, as intermittent power failures in Rwanda hamper efforts to provide a steady electricity source.
DESPITE these limitations and earlier setbacks, Mr. Lundh says Terracom is moving ahead with plans to give Rwanda the most advanced Internet infrastructure in Africa. A nationwide wireless connection should begin operating near year-end, he said, about the time a nonprofit group, One Laptop Per Child, based in Boston, is to introduce a $100 laptop in the country.
And Terracom is continuing to lay fiber optic cables to connect Rwanda to several other African countries, eliminating a need for phone calls and Internet traffic to be routed via European or American networks.
The government, meanwhile, is moving forward with its own plans to build a fiber optic network. It also has granted Internet service licenses to South African companies and plans to issue several more. “We think we are going to have a healthier market pretty soon,” said Nkubito Bakuramutsa, director general of the Rwanda Information Technology Authority. “We have learned from past experience.”
Mr. Bakuramutsa said he hopes to bring the price of Internet service down to about $10 a month.
Mr. Lundh said his company welcomes the competition. But, he added, getting necessary bandwidth remains an issue and no matter what company supplies Internet service, speed will be a problem. “Eventually you reach a point of diminishing returns,” he said. “Unless there is a new undersea fiber optic cable built or a new satellite launched, it’s going to be difficult.”
Magnus K. Mazimpaka contributed reporting from Rwanda.
July 25, 2007
Africans Are Wary but Hopeful, Poll Shows
By LYDIA POLGREEN and MARJORIE CONNELLY
DAKAR, Senegal, July 24 — Despite a thicket of troubles, from deadly illnesses like AIDS and malaria to corrupt politicians and deep-seated poverty, a plurality of Africans say they are better off today than they were five years ago and are optimistic about their future and that of the next generation, according to a poll conducted in 10 sub-Saharan countries by The New York Times and the Pew Global Attitudes Project.
The results offer an unusual and complex portrait of a continent in flux — a snapshot of 10 modern African states as they struggle to build accountable governments, manage violent conflict and turn their natural resources into wealth for the population.
It found that in the main, Africans are satisfied with their national governments, and a majority of respondents in 7 of the 10 countries said their economic situation was at least somewhat good. But many said they faced a wide array of difficult and sometimes life-threatening problems, from illegal drug trafficking to political corruption, from the lack of clean water to inadequate schools for their children, from ethnic and political violence to deadly disease.
Face-to-face interviews were conducted in April and May with 8,471 adults in Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. The survey sampled nationwide adult populations, except in South Africa, where the sample was completely urban, and Ivory Coast, where it was disproportionately urban and tended to be in areas sympathetic to the government. The margins of sampling error were plus or minus either three or four percentage points.
The results showed that the struggle for democracy and good governing in Africa is more like a patchwork of gains and setbacks than a steady tide of progress across a continent that has suffered some of the worst instances of misrule. While all of the countries polled are nominally democracies, half of them have suffered serious rollbacks of multiparty representational government in recent years. A majority in each country said corrupt political leaders were a big problem.
The most recent elections in Ethiopia and Uganda were marred by violence and the exclusion of major candidates, and failed to meet international standards of fairness; they were considerable setbacks for two countries that a decade ago were seen as rising examples of Africa’s democratic future.
Electoral trouble has even tinged Senegal, often seen as a beacon in the volatile West African region because it has never had a coup and has a long tradition of democracy. This year, opposition parties boycotted legislative elections there over accusations of election fraud.
In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and top oil producer, the poll results reflect frustration with the way elections are carried out — 67 percent of Nigerians said that their presidential election was not conducted fairly. Presidential and local elections in April were so badly marred by fraud and violence that the European Union called them not credible. Asked if they were generally satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things were going in their country, 87 percent of those interviewed for the survey said they were dissatisfied. Yet Nigerians were the most optimistic of all the nations surveyed — 69 percent said they expected that children growing up in Nigeria would be better off than people today.
“It expresses a huge challenge for democracy in Africa,” said Peter M. Lewis, director of African Studies at Johns Hopkins University and an author of the Afrobarometer, a public opinion survey of African attitudes. “We have seen significant strides for democratic liberty and practices in the last 10 or 15 years. It is also a fact that in most of their countries, average citizens have not seen a significant improvement in their material circumstances and their living condition.”
The economic data in the poll give a mixed picture. A plurality of respondents said that their financial situation had improved in the last five years, with the exception of Ivory Coast, Tanzania and Uganda. Many African economies are growing rapidly as prices for oil, iron ore, copper and timber have risen in recent years — overall gross domestic product growth in Africa last year was 5.7 percent and some countries, like Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, have seen much higher growth.
But more resource wealth has not necessarily led to broad prosperity. Of the respondents in Nigeria, 82 percent said average people were not benefiting from the country’s oil wealth.
Salimata Mbengue, a 21-year-old shopkeeper in Ngor, a village at the edge of Dakar, said that she had high hopes for the future of her business but was very worried about the current economic situation of her family.
“I have five brothers, and only two are employed,” she said, sitting outside the small convenience store where she sells sodas, candy, biscuits and cartons of milk. “Our parents are retired, and we have to support them. I am hopeful, but it is very hard to get ahead here.”
The spread of infectious diseases like AIDS is seen as a very big problem by a large majority of the respondents in every country polled. More than half of the 40 million people infected with H.I.V. live in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the United Nations, and Africa accounted for 65 percent of new infections in 2006.
Yet few respondents in all the countries polled said they had been tested for H.I.V., ranging from 4 percent in Ghana to 27 percent in Kenya and Ethiopia. Still, a considerable majority of respondents in each country were either willing to be tested, or already had been.
Other health concerns weighed heavily on most respondents. Getting access to clean drinking water was seen as a big problem for a majority in all 10 countries, ranging from 86 percent in Ethiopia to 58 percent in urban South Africa. About half or more in eight countries said that they had been unable to pay for medical care.
But hunger seemed less of a problem — a majority of respondents in all but Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania said that they had enough money to buy food their family needed.
Large majorities said poor-quality schools were a major problem, and many respondents said it was harder to provide an education for their children than to get food for them.
The poll also measured African attitudes to the United States and found that on the whole, 8 of the 10 countries surveyed said they viewed it as a dependable ally. They showed little of the anti-American sentiment that has dominated polls of public opinion in recent years, but some countries had negative views of American culture — 82 percent of Tanzanians, two-thirds of Senegalese and about half of the Ghanaians, Malians and Kenyans surveyed.
Oumar Diallo, a 27-year-old unemployed plumber in Dakar, said that his Muslim faith made him uneasy with some aspects of American culture. “For us Muslims, we have certain values and ways of conducting ourselves that is different than America,” he said. “America is hard towards Muslims.”
Lydia Polgreen reported from Dakar, and Marjorie Connelly from New York.
July 29, 2007
Toiling in the Dark: Africa's Power Crisis
By MICHAEL WINES
LUSAKA, Zambia — It is not that Jacob Mwale minds irrigating the 11 acres of land he farms just east of Lusaka, Zambia's capital. It is irrigating his 11 acres in the dead of night that angers him.
Two or three times a week, the Mwale farm abruptly loses power, like the homes and businesses of some of Zambia's 300,000 other electricity users. When the power returns, sometimes late in the evening, Mr. Mwale's farmhands work overtime, watering the fields by moonlight.
"If they shut down the whole day, I have to work nights, and pay extra," Mr. Mwale, 39, grumbled. "It's killing us."
Power blackouts — "load shedding," in utility jargon — are hardly novel in sub-Saharan Africa, where many electricity grids remain chewing-gum-and-baling-wire affairs. Even so, this year is different. Perhaps 25 of the 44 sub-Saharan nations face crippling electricity shortages, a power crisis that some experts call unprecedented.
The causes are manifold: strong economic growth in some places, economic collapse in others, war, poor planning, population booms, high oil prices and drought have combined to leave both industry and residents short of power when many need it most.
"We've had no significant capital injection into generation and transmission, from either the private or public sectors, for 15, maybe 20 years," said Lawrence Musaba, the manager of the Southern African Power Pool, a 12-nation consortium of electricity utilities at the continent's tip.
The implications go beyond candlelight suppers and extra blankets on beds. The lack of reliable power has already begun to hamper the region's development, clipping more than 2 percent off the annual growth rates of the worst-hit African economies, according to the World Bank. Some nations, like Ghana, have tried to deal with their power crises by leasing huge teams of gas generators, producing emergency power at exorbitant rates until power plants can be built.
In Nigeria, Angola and some other nations, virtually all businesses and many residents run private generators to supplement faltering public service, saddling economies with added costs and worsening pollution.
"I've been on the 20th floor of an apartment building in Luanda, and there would be generators on all the verandas, with the racket, the fumes," said Anton Eberhard, a former electricity regulator and an expert on power at the University of Cape Town. "And the lift isn't working, because the main power supply is off."
In normal times, South Africa 's muscular chain of power plants fills the gaps of its neighbors. But South Africa now could experience up to seven years of its own electricity shortages. Rolling blackouts blanketed parts of the country in January, and sporadic power failures have persisted since.
The gravity of this year's shortage is all the more apparent considering how little electricity sub-Saharan Africa has to begin with. Excluding South Africa, whose economy and power consumption dwarf other nations', the region's remaining 700 million citizens have access to roughly as much electricity as do the 38 million citizens of Poland.
Much goes to industry: a single aluminum smelter near Mozambique's capital, Maputo, gobbles four times as much power as the entire rest of Mozambique. On average, the World Bank says, fewer than one in four sub-Saharan Africans are hooked to national electricity grids.
Moreover, some grids are so poorly maintained that electricity suppliers get paid for as little as 60 percent of the power they generate. The rest is either stolen or lost in ill-maintained networks.
For decades, the region had enough generating capacity — and few enough customers — to tolerate such waste. No more: sub-Saharan nations are adding about a thousand megawatts of generating capacity each year, World Bank experts say, but need up to twice that to keep pace with demand.
Some governments privatized chunks of their power industry in the early 1990s when free-market solutions to public-sector problems were in vogue, leaving it unclear who is ultimately responsible for providing power.
Other governments, as in South Africa, failed to build power plants that experts warned were needed. The government monopoly Eskom, the world's fourth-largest power utility, was advised in a 1998 report that it would run short of power in 2007, but planning and financing problems — not all within the utility's control — stalled upgrades. The forecast was actually optimistic: Eskom began running short in 2006.
Yet South Africa's woes pale beside those of Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation. Only 19 of 79 power plants work, the government said in April. Daily electricity output has plunged 60 percent from its peak, and blackouts cost the economy $1 billion a year, the Council for Renewable Energy in Nigeria says.
Poor management is but one problem. War has devastated the power grid in Congo, in Africa's heart, and stalled plans to develop its vast hydroelectric potential. In Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and parts of West Africa, drought has shrunk rivers and slashed the generating capacity of hydroelectric dams. Drought in Ghana, for example, has crippled gold and aluminum production and set off blackouts in Togo and Benin, which buy power from Ghana.
Once a major power exporter, Uganda now blacks out parts of its capital, Kampala, for as much as a day at a time and has leased two 50-megawatt generators, burning diesel at a time of record oil prices. The demand for hydropower in Uganda and its neighbors, with drought, is blamed by some for a steady reduction in the water level of Lake Victoria, Africa's largest.
Uganda's gas stations are now short of diesel for vehicles — in part, paradoxically, because power shortages are shutting down a pipeline from Kenya. News reports say the nation has spent enough on diesel-fueled power generation to build two hydroelectric dams.
Zambia, where power to customers like Mr. Mwale is rationed almost every day, is a template for such problems. Barely 20 percent of households are wired for power — only 3 percent in rural areas — but the Zambia Electricity Supply Company, known as Zesco, is signing up 10,000 new customers a year, said Christopher Nthala, the utility's transmission director.
Now Zambia is getting a push: a global commodities boom has jolted its moribund metals industry to life. Investors are building two smelters, and doubling the capacity of another, to handle the boom in copper, nickel and other metals, taxing the nation's power supply.
"We've never seen this kind of growth before," Mr. Nthala said.
Once the utility could make up shortfalls by buying power from other utilities in the Southern Africa Power Pool. But today, Mr. Nthala said, neighbors have little surplus to hand out. "Sometimes we get it," he said. "Sometimes we don't."
None of that mollifies customers, who say blackouts are so common that service in much of Lusaka has become totally unreliable.
Many power failures seem to hit Matero, a poor township that is home to maybe a million of Lusaka's estimated three million residents. "Every day — it's either in the morning, when people are going to work or preparing to cook, or in the evening, the prime time when I'm tired and I need to go home and listen to the news and cook my supper," said Bishop Peter Ndhlovu, who leads the 250,000-member Bible Gospel Church, an evangelical movement.
Nighttime prayer meetings in his corrugated-roof chapel have been canceled. Bishop Ndhlovu and others say they lave lost refrigerators, televisions and DVD players to the utility's blackouts and surges.
Most of the township's residents have adapted by turning away from their stoves and instead cooking outdoors, village-style, with homemade charcoal. "Charcoal is going very fast, because they've found out that Zesco is cutting power unpredictably," the bishop said.
On Lusaka's eastern outskirts, Mr. Mwale, the farmer, also has laid in a stock of charcoal — not to cook, but to warm his stock of newborn chicks, which must be kept at a constant 90 degrees for the three weeks after hatching.
He said he worried about the environment. Charcoal production is a major contributor to deforestation in Zambia and nearby nations. But the alternative is to take a loss on his poultry business.
"When they make a loss, they just raise their tariff," he said of Zesco. "When I make a loss, I have to make it up myself. Is that fair?"
Zambia's plan, like the plans of dozens of other nations, is to build its way out of the power crunch. Zesco plans $1.2 billion in generating upgrades and new capacity, financed mostly by China and India. South Africa plans more than $20 billion in upgrades; Congo is contemplating a hydroelectric station that by itself would increase capacity outside South Africa by 50 to 75 percent.
The World Bank says its financing of power projects in sub-Saharan Africa is ballooning, from $250 million five years ago to $660 million last year to $1 billion in 2007.
But many plans remain just that. Issues like creditworthiness, lax regulation, domestic politics and the sheer difficulty of sending power over rundown grids to the customer make outside investments in power stations tougher than they appear, said Tore Horvei, the chief operating officer of CIC Energy Corporation, which is based in South Africa.
The best answer, most experts consulted agree, would be for nations to cooperate on regional power solutions. One or two large regional plants, they say, could supply power more cheaply and efficiently than dozens of smaller ones.
But while that may be logical, Mr. Horvei said, "it's very challenging in practice to do so."
"National pride and everything else comes in," he added.
There is an alternative: saving energy. Namibia plans a wind farm on its southern coast, while in South Africa, Eskom has handed out five million fluorescent bulbs and 140,000 insulating blankets for water heaters, and has paid industrial customers to switch off equipment during periods of high demand.
July 31, 2007
Why Africa Fears Western Medicine
By HARRIET A. WASHINGTON
TO Westerners, the repatriation of five nurses and a doctor to Bulgaria last week after more than eight years' imprisonment meant the end of an unsettling ordeal. The medical workers, who in May 2004 were sentenced to death on charges of intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with H.I.V., have been freed, and another international incident is averted.
But to many Africans, the accusations, which have been validated by a guilty verdict and a promise to reimburse the families of the infected children with a $426 million payout, seem perfectly plausible. The medical workers' release appears to be the latest episode in a health care nightmare in which white and Western-trained doctors and nurses have harmed Africans — and have gone unpunished.
The evidence against the Bulgarian medical team, like H.I.V.-contaminated vials discovered in their apartments, has seemed to Westerners preposterous. But to dismiss the Libyan accusations of medical malfeasance out of hand means losing an opportunity to understand why a dangerous suspicion of medicine is so widespread in Africa.
Africa has harbored a number of high-profile Western medical miscreants who have intentionally administered deadly agents under the guise of providing health care or conducting research. In March 2000, Werner Bezwoda, a cancer researcher at South Africa's Witwatersrand University, was fired after conducting medical experiments involving very high doses of chemotherapy on black breast-cancer patients, possibly without their knowledge or consent. In Zimbabwe, in 1995, Richard McGown, a Scottish anesthesiologist, was accused of five murders and convicted in the deaths of two infant patients whom he injected with lethal doses of morphine. And Dr. Michael Swango, ultimately convicted of murder after pleading guilty to killing three American patients with lethal injections of potassium, is suspected of causing the deaths of 60 other people, many of them in Zimbabwe and Zambia during the 1980s and '90s. (Dr. Swango was never tried on the African charges.)
These medical killers are well known throughout Africa, but the most notorious is Wouter Basson, a former head of Project Coast, South Africa's chemical and biological weapons unit under apartheid. Dr. Basson was charged with killing hundreds of blacks in South Africa and Namibia, from 1979 to 1987, many via injected poisons. He was never convicted in South African courts, even though his lieutenants testified in detail and with consistency about the medical crimes they conducted against blacks.
Such well-publicized events have spread a fear of medicine throughout Africa, even in countries where Western doctors have not practiced in significant numbers. It is a fear the continent can ill afford when medical care is already hard to come by. Only 1.3 percent of the world's health workers practice in sub-Saharan Africa, although the region harbors fully 25 percent of the world's disease. A minimum of 2.5 health workers is needed for every 1,000 people, according to standards set by the United Nations, but only six African countries have this many.
The distrust of Western medical workers has had direct consequences. Since 2003, for example, polio has been on the rise in Nigeria, Chad and Burkina Faso because many people avoid vaccinations, believing that the vaccines are contaminated with H.I.V. or are actually sterilization agents in disguise. This would sound incredible were it not that scientists working for Dr. Basson's Project Coast reported that one of their chief goals was to find ways to selectively and secretly sterilize Africans.
Such tragedies highlight the challenges facing even the most idealistic medical workers, who can find themselves working under unhygienic conditions that threaten patients' welfare. Well-meaning Western caregivers must sometimes use incompletely cleaned or unsterilized needles, simply because nothing else is available. These needles can and do spread infectious agents like H.I.V. — proving that Western medical practices need not be intentional to be deadly.
Although the World Health Organization maintains that the reuse of syringes without sterilization accounts for only 2.5 percent of new H.I.V. infections in Africa, a 2003 study in The International Journal of S.T.D. and AIDS found that as many as 40 percent of H.I.V. infections in Africa are caused by contaminated needles during medical treatment. Even the conservative W.H.O. estimate translates to tens of thousands of cases.
Several esteemed science journals, including Nature, have suggested that the Libyan children were infected in just this manner, through the re-use of incompletely cleaned medical instruments, long before the Bulgarian nurses arrived in Libya. If this is the case, then the Libyan accusations of iatrogenic, or healer-transmitted, infection are true. The acts may not have been intentional, but given the history of Western medicine in Africa, accusations that they were done consciously are far from paranoid.
Certainly, the vast majority of beneficent Western medical workers in Africa are to be thanked, not censured. But the canon of "silence equals death" applies here: We are ignoring a responsibility to defend the mass of innocent Western doctors against the belief that they are not treating disease, but intentionally spreading it. We should approach Africans' suspicions with respect, realizing that they are born of the acts of a few monsters and of the deadly constraints on medical care in difficult conditions. By continuing to dismiss their reasonable fears, we raise the risk of even more needless illness and death.
Harriet A. Washington is the author of "Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present."
CREDIT: Chip East, Reuters
Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown, left, arrives for a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York on Tuesday.
After months of wrangling, the United Nations agreed Tuesday to send 19,000 peacekeepers to Darfur to join an African Union force that has been unable to quell the violence.
The move came after an impassioned speech by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown about western-led efforts to bring peace to the region -- and his idea for a new global commitment to end world poverty.
He announced 11 other world leaders had signed up to his Commitment to Act -- including Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
By joining the group, Harper commits Canada to push for a UN summit next year to review the limited progress the world has made in meeting development goals set at the 2000 UN Millennium Summit.
That conference may in turn lead to new global pressure on Canada and other rich countries to dramatically increase overseas aid so that Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are achieved by the 2015 target date.
"The message for Darfur is that it is time for change," Brown told a UN audience during his first visit to the world body since he succeeded Tony Blair as Prime Minister last month. "And I am here to say that it's also time for change so that we can meet the world's Millennium Development Goals."
On Darfur, the 15 members of the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution that will create the UN's biggest peacekeeping operation -- as long as Sudan honours a pledge to admit the soldiers.
The breakthrough came after Sudan and its veto-wielding Security Council ally China -- which has extensive oil interests in the African country -- agreed to wording that limits the amount of force the peacekeepers can use.
On his anti-poverty initiative, Brown said the MDGs were a "million miles" from being met. "I believe the scale of the challenge is such that we cannot now leave it to some other time and some other people, but must act now, working together," he said.
The Commitment to Act contains no specifics on what new funds may be needed, but the UN has long pushed for the "O.7 solution" -- rich countries giving 0.7 per cent of their national incomes in aid.
Canada currently gives around 0.34 per cent -- meaning overseas aid would have to more than double to meet the UN standard. This is despite a finding by Hudson Institute, a Washington-based think tank, that Canada gives around one per cent of its national income in foreign aid when charitable donations are included.
The Darfur force, to be called the UN African Union Mission in Darfur (Unamid), is expected to cost up to $2 billion US a year. UN assessments will charge Canada almost three per cent of that amount. Canada may also add to its current separate commitment to help the AU force with troop transports. Eleven Canadian forces members are involved in that operation, and 103 armoured vehicles are on loan to African units.
"We must now move forward in all haste (to) put in place the complex and vital peacekeeping operation. . . ." UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said following the vote. "Member states must provide every support -- especially troop and police contributing countries."
The deal on Darfur follows a ceasefire last year that Canada helped broker, but which collapsed in part because some rebel groups had not signed on
The United Nations Security Council has at last taken a meaningful step toward stopping the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region, authorizing a joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force to begin operations this fall. With 26,000 soldiers and police officers, it will be the world’s largest peacekeeping effort.
The Security Council should have acted a long time ago. The cost of four years of temporizing is at least 200,000 people dead, 2.5 million driven from their homes and a crisis that has spilled over the borders into Chad and the Central African Republic.
Sudan’s government must now follow through on its promises to support rather than obstruct the effort: providing the landing strips, flight clearances and on-the-ground cooperation the international force will need.
The core of the mission is protecting the endangered civilians of Darfur, enforcing peace agreements negotiated between armed rebel groups and the Sudanese government, suppressing attacks by any side and curbing illegal arms shipments. While this sort of peacekeeping is urgently needed, Darfur needs a lot more help if the killing is to finally end.
Fundamentally, the fight in Darfur — some 600 miles west of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum — is over scarce resources and the Sudanese government’s deadly discrimination against the region. While newly tapped oil wealth is flowing into Sudan, almost all of it is going to the capital’s elite and next to none to Darfur. When people there rose in revolt, Khartoum launched a genocidal repression carried out by army-backed militias known as the janjaweed. Darfur is also internally divided between nomads and farmers forced to compete for dwindling water supplies.
Stopping the slaughter would require not only disarming the janjaweed, but bringing all of Darfur’s rebel groups into the still partial peace agreement. An effort to do that begins today in Tanzania.
Reaching a comprehensive political settlement will require a change in mentality, starting with the discriminatory mentality of Khartoum. And to keep a new internal war from erupting again over resources, there will also have to be a new framework for the region’s development.
World pressure, begun by grass-roots campaigners, but joined early on by President Bush and more recently by China and the Arab League, is finally being felt in Khartoum. That pressure will have to continue so that Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, finally understands that he will not be allowed to turn Khartoum into a bubble of oil-fed prosperity while Darfur’s people are murdered and raped and the survivors left to die of hunger, thirst and disease. And that pressure will have to continue in the crucial months ahead if the new peacekeeping force is to succeed.
Stopping the slaughter must come first. But the challenge of saving Darfur does not end there.
Frustrated by the genocide he is tolerating in Darfur, President Bush has suggested to aides on occasion that maybe the U.S. should just send troops there.
He alluded to that when he told a woman in Tennessee who asked him about Darfur: “The threshold question was: If there is a problem, why don’t you just go take care of it?” Mr. Bush was talked out of the idea by Condi Rice, who told him that the U.S. just couldn’t start another war in a Muslim country. So, as Mr. Bush told the questioner: “I made the decision not to send U.S. troops unilaterally into Darfur.”
That was the right decision. The Sudanese regime would use our invasion as a rallying cry against infidels and make the crisis harder to resolve.
But the upshot was that Mr. Bush, lacking a military option, hasn’t taken up other options. He seems genuinely appalled by the horrors of Darfur — he raises them regularly with foreign leaders, even when aides haven’t put them on his talking points — yet he has done little, apparently because he doesn’t know quite what to do. So here are some practical suggestions.
First, the administration should invest far more energy toward seeking a negotiated peace between rebels and government — the only long-term solution to the slaughter. Instead, the diplomatic focus has been on U.N. peacekeepers, and they are a terrific addition but not a solution in themselves.
The preliminary step is for the rebels to form a united negotiating front, and they are now meeting in Tanzania to do so. The U.S. desperately needs to assist that process to the hilt.
Second, we should back an international appeal for Sudan to release Suleiman Jamous, an elder who is one of the best hopes for uniting the rebel factions and leading them to peace.
Third, we need to work with other countries to insist that Sudan stop importing tens of thousands of Arabs from neighboring countries to repopulate those areas where it has slaughtered the local population. These new settlements seal the demographic consequences of genocide, outrage the survivors and make peace harder to achieve.
Fourth, we need to increase intelligence coverage over the area, and release occasional satellite photos so that Sudan knows it is being watched. Releasing a photo of the beleaguered Gereida camp, for example, would reduce the chance that Sudan will slaughter its 130,000 occupants.
Fifth, Mr. Bush can join Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown in the trip they have discussed to Chad. They should also publicly invite the leaders of China and Egypt, two countries that are critical to pressuring Sudan, to join them.
Sixth, the U.S. can quietly encourage Muslim leaders to push for peace. Malaysia’s prime minister, who is also the head of a group of Islamic countries, has prepared a peace proposal, and Saudi Arabia is interested in helping.
Seventh, Mr. Bush can use the bully pulpit. He can give a prime-time speech or bring Darfuri refugees to the White House for a photo-op.
Eighth, the U.S. should begin contingency planning in case Sudan starts mass slaughters of people in camps, or in case Sudan resumes its war against its south. If the former, we could secure camps and create a corridor to bring survivors to Chad; if the latter, we should arm South Sudan and perhaps blockade Port Sudan.
Ninth, we need to work much more with China, which has the most leverage over Sudan. The goal should be to get China to suspend arms transfers to Sudan until Khartoum makes a serious effort at peace.
Tenth, we can work with France to stabilize Chad and Central African Republic. President Sarkozy is pushing for European peacekeepers to rescue both countries after Sudanese-sponsored proxy invasions, and he deserves strong support.
Finally, we should work with Britain and France to enforce the U.N.’s ban on offensive military flights in Darfur. At a minimum, we should seek U.N. sanctions for Sudan’s violations. In addition, when Sudan bombs a village, we can afterward destroy one of its Chinese-made A-5 Fantan fighter bombers that it keeps in Darfur.
Many aid workers disagree with this suggestion, for fear that Sudan will retaliate by cutting off humanitarian access. But after four years, I think we need to show President Omar Hassan al-Bashir that he will pay a price for genocide. And he values his gunships and fighter bombers in a way he has never valued his people.
August 7, 2007
Timbuktu Hopes Ancient Texts Spark a Revival
By LYDIA POLGREEN
TIMBUKTU, Mali — Ismaël Diadié Haïdara held a treasure in his slender fingers that has somehow endured through 11 generations — a square of battered leather enclosing a history of the two branches of his family, one side reaching back to the Visigoths in Spain and the other to the ancient origins of the Songhai emperors who ruled this city at its zenith.
"This is our family's story," he said, carefully leafing through the unbound pages. "It was written in 1519."
The musty collection of fragile, crumbling pages, written in the florid Arabic script of the sixteenth century, is also this once forgotten outpost's future.
A surge of interest in ancient books, hidden for centuries in houses along Timbuktu's dusty streets and in leather trunks in nomad camps, is raising hopes that Timbuktu — a city whose name has become a staccato synonym for nowhere — may once again claim a place at the intellectual heart of Africa.
"I am a historian," Mr. Haïdara said. "I know from my research that great cities seldom get a second chance. Yet here we have a second chance because we held on to our past."
This ancient city, a prisoner of the relentless sands of the Sahara and a changing world that prized access to the sea over the grooves worn by camel hooves across the dunes, is on the verge of a renaissance.
"We want to build an Alexandria for black Africa," said Mohamed Dicko, director of the Ahmed Baba Institute, a government-run library in Timbuktu. "This is our chance to regain our place in history."
The South African government is building a new library for the institute, a state-of-the-art facility that will house, catalog and digitize tens of thousands of books and make their contents available, many for the first time, to researchers. Charities and governments from Europe, the United States and the Middle East have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the city's musty family libraries, which are being expanded and transformed into research institutions, drawing scholars from around the world eager to translate and interpret the long forgotten manuscripts.
The Libyan government is planning to transform a dingy 40-room hotel into a luxurious 100-room resort, complete with Timbuktu's only swimming pool and space to hold academic and religious conferences. Libya is also digging a new canal that will bring the Niger River to the edge of Timbuktu.
Timbuktu's new seekers have a variety of motives. South Africa and Libya are vying for influence on the African stage, each promoting its vision of a resurgent Africa. Spain has direct links to some of the history stored here, while American charities began giving money after Henry Louis Gates Jr. , the Harvard professor of African studies, featured the manuscripts in a television documentary series in the late 1990s.
This new chapter in the story of Timbuktu, whose fortunes fell in the twilight of the Middle Ages, is almost as extraordinary as those that preceded it.
The geography that has doomed Timbuktu to obscurity in the popular imagination for half a millennium was once the reason for its greatness. It was founded as a trading post by nomads in the 11th century and later became part of the vast Mali Empire, then ultimately came under the control of the Songhai Empire.
For centuries it flourished because it sat between the great superhighways of the era — the Sahara, with its caravan routes carrying salt, cloth, spices and other riches from the north, and the Niger River, which carried gold and slaves from the rest of West Africa.
Traders brought books and manuscripts from across the Mediterranean and Middle East, and books were bought and sold in Timbuktu — in Arabic and local languages like Songhai and Tamashek, the language of the Tuareg people.
Timbuktu was home to the University of Sankore, which at its height had 25,000 scholars. An army of scribes, gifted in calligraphy, earned their living copying the manuscripts brought by travelers. Prominent families added those copies to their own libraries. As a result, Timbuktu became a repository of an extensive and eclectic collection of manuscripts.
"Astronomy, botany, pharmacology, geometry, geography, chemistry, biology," said Ali Imam Ben Essayouti, the descendant of a family of imams that keeps a vast library in one of the city's mosques. "There is Islamic law, family law, women's rights, human rights, laws regarding livestock, children's rights. All subjects under the sun, they are represented here."
One 19th-century book on Islamic practices gives advice on menstruation. A medical text suggests using toad meat to treat snake bites, and droppings from panthers mixed with butter to soothe boils. There are thousands of Korans and books on Islamic law, as well as decorated biographies of the Prophet Muhammad, some dating back a millennium, complete with diagrams of his shoes.
Mr. Haïdara is a descendant of the Kati family, a prominent Muslim family in Toledo, Spain. One of his ancestors fled religious persecution in the 15th century and settled in what is now Mali, bringing his formidable library with him. The Kati family intermarried into the Songhai imperial family, and the habit Mr. Haïdara's ancestors had of doodling notes in the margins of their manuscripts has left an abundance of historical information: births and deaths in the imperial family, the weather, drafts of imperial letters, herbal cures, records of slaves, and salt and gold traded.
Moroccan invaders deposed the Songhai empire in 1591, and the new rulers were hostile to the community of scholars, who were seen as malcontents. Facing persecution, many fled, taking many books with them.
West African sea routes overtook the importance of the old inland desert and river trade, and the city began its long decline. When the first European explorers stumbled across the once fabled city, they were stunned at its decrepitude. René Caillié, a French explorer who arrived here in 1828, said it was "a mass of ill-looking houses built of earth."
Mr. Caillié's description remains accurate today. For all its vaunted legend, Timbuktu remains a collection of low mud houses along narrow, trash-choked streets backed by sand dunes, difficult to reach and unimpressive on first sight. In 1990, Unesco designated it an endangered site because sand dunes threatened to swallow it.
Many tourists who come here stay for just a day, long enough to buy a T-shirt and get their passports stamped at the local tourism office as proof they have been to the end of the earth. In a recent Internet campaign to choose the new seven wonders of the world, Timbuktu failed to make the cut, much to the chagrin of the city's tour guides and boosters.
Yet the city has been making a slow comeback for years. Its manuscripts, long hidden, began to emerge in the mid-20th century, as Mali won its independence from France and the city was declared a Unesco world heritage site.
The government created an institute named after Ahmed Baba, Timbuktu's greatest scholar, to collect, preserve and interpret the manuscripts. Abdel Kader Haïdara, no relation of Ismaël Diadié Haïdara, an Islamic scholar whose family owned an extensive collection of manuscripts, started an organization called Savama-DCI dedicated to preserving the manuscripts. After a visit from Mr. Gates in 1997, he was able to get help from American charities to support private family libraries. With the support of the Ford and Mellon foundations, families began to catalog and preserve their collections.
But time, scorching desert heat, termites and sandstorms have taken a toll on the manuscripts. Most were locked in trunks or kept on dusty shelves for centuries, and their pages are brittle and crumbling, waterlogged and termite-eaten. In the village of Ber, two hours of dusty track east of Timbuktu, Fida Ag Mohammed tends to several trunks of manuscripts that have been in his family, a line of Tuareg imams, for centuries.
"This is a biography of the Prophet Muhammad," he said, gingerly lifting one manuscript bound in crumbling leather. "It is from the 13th century."
The neat lines of Arabic script were clearly legible, but the edges of many pages had crumbled away, the words trailing off into nothingness.
Savama is in the process of building a new mud-brick library for Mr. Mohammed's books, but until it is ready he has no means to preserve his manuscripts. To rescue their contents, if not their physical substance, he was copying the most fragile texts by hand, using an ink he makes himself out of gum.
Now, when the scorching heat of the day eases, a favored sunset activity in Timbuktu is watching the Libyan earthmovers dig the new canal. Like tiny toy trucks in a giant sandbox, they push mountains of sand to coax the Niger to flow here, bringing more water and new life to the dune-surrounded city.
"To see this machine makes me more happy because it means things are changing in Timbuktu," said Sidi Muhammad, a 40-year-old Koranic scholar, splayed on a dune with a group of friends, gossiping and fingering their prayer beads.
The Malian government has encouraged Islamic learning to flourish here once again, and there are dozens of Koranic schools where children and adults learn to read and recite the Koran. Training programs are teaching men and women how to classify, interpret and translate the documents, as well as preserve them for future study.
Abdel Kader Haïdara, who in many ways started the renaissance by wandering the desert in search of manuscripts, persuading families to allow their treasures to see the light of day, said Timbuktu's best days lie ahead of it.
"Timbuktu is coming back," he said. "It will rise again."
Aga Khan's Service to Humanity Has Few Equals in the World
The Nation (Nairobi)
10 August 2007
Posted to the web 9 August 2007
By Salim Lone
AS MUSLIM TEENAGERS growing up in Nairobi in the 1950s, the thing that interested us most about the Ismaili community was that some of its girls were available for discreet dates. Our girls were forbidden to do so.
There were other differences. Their girls wore skirts and blouses rather than the "modest" Muslim clothing. Their weekly service in the "jamat khana" took place on Friday evening, while our prayers in the mosque were at noon. Ismailis also seemed rather clannish, so in all, we didn't believe them to be real Muslims.
We were, of course, completely wrong. Basheer Mauladad, a leading Kenyan Muslim who as a young man in 1955 met the-then Aga Khan, Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah, at his London Jubilee Ball in July 1955, remembers being moved by his love for Islam - and for Africa. He still has his autographed inscription from that day: "Don't ever forget the progress of African Muslims."
As for Ismaili girls, it is not surprising that they were so progressive so early. Sir Sultan was so committed to educating them that he told parents that their education took precedence over their sons', since educated mothers were more beneficial to their families.
WHEN IN 1945 HE MET THE 15-year-old Malek, wife subsequently of Kurban Bhaloo, the community's leader in the 1980s and 1990s, Sir Sultan asked his secretary to ensure she would be able to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.
So the seeds of dynamism that mark the Ismaili community's contemporary work were laid a long time ago. But it is the extraordinary leadership of Sir Sultan's grandson, Karim, who inherited the mantle 50 years ago at the age of only 20, which is responsible for the community's nationalistic commitment, and the modernisation and professionalism of its orientation and institutions.
The result has been the community's stunning success in economic and social achievements in Kenya, while at the same time providing a secure safety net for vulnerable Ismailis against poverty and social exclusion.
The key to this success has of course been the visionary leadership of the Aga Khan, accompanied by his ability to master the workings of the array of institutional operations.
Mr Mauladad, who developed a close relationship with the Aga Khan when serving him on boards and as chairman of committees between 1967 and 1994, recalls how at a board meeting, His Highness examined a major document produced by an eminent Ismaili.
"He picked up weaknesses and contradictions in the proposal that had eluded others," recounted Mr Mauladad. "The mortified author immediately said it would be redone. Such candidness made all his officials know that they always had to give of their best."
Leaders, of course, achieve only what their followers deliver. And the Ismaili community in Kenya has certainly delivered through successfully implementing programmes for improving living conditions and opportunities in key areas of national economic, social and cultural life, through institutions overseen at country level by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).
A big chunk of our current national leadership has benefited from Aga Khan schools, hospitals and other training institutions, and virtually all the beneficiaries of capacity- building efforts funded by the Aga Khan Foundation in education, health, rural development and civil society organisations, are all non-Ismaili.
And there are also the economic enterprises that the community launched - the Nation and Serena groups, Jubilee Insurance and Diamond Trust financial institutions - that are major players in key sectors of the economy.
"He has instilled in us the spirit of voluntary giving, which is a resonant tradition in Islamic teaching," says Yusuf Keshavjee, who headed the Aga Khan Foundation during most of the last decade and is the first trustee from Africa on the international board of the Aga Khan University. "Its so encouraging seeing that even our youngsters who have trained and are settled abroad return to contribute to the nations in which they grew up."
One of those who has just returned from abroad to give back to the country - without a salary - is Aziz Bhaloo, the new AKDN head. Mr Bhaloo is working day and night co-ordinating the frenetic preparations by 400 primarily young Ismaili volunteers to ensure every aspect of the Aga Khan's four-day visit from Sunday proceeds without a hitch.
MR BHALOO'S IMMEDIATE predecessor, Anil Ishani, who ran AKDN for nine years, said that the commitment to be loyal to the nation in which one lives is a core precept of Islam and is one of the Aga Khan's primary teachings.
The place of Islam in global life has been a central preoccupation of the Aga Khan. He is one of the world's best-known champions of Islam's core beliefs of peace, compassion and tolerance, as well as of its ecumenical orientation, all of which he sees captured in Islamic architecture, one of his great passions. His other great love is education, and he will announce new programmes next week.
There are, of course, the inevitable bad eggs in the community, and a few of the educational and hospital services, including nursing, are creaking a bit now. But I was impressed to find that everyone I talked to was aware of the weaknesses and working to address them.
August 11, 2007
To Curb Illegal Migration, Spain Offers a Legal Route
By VICTORIA BURNETT
TORRIJOS, Spain, Aug. 7 — Fatou Faye was not the first person to head for Spain from her run-down corner of Dakar, the Senegalese capital. Half a dozen friends and relatives left before her, squeezing into wooden fishing boats and wagering their lives on the high seas for the chance of a future in Europe.
"Some succeeded," Ms. Faye said flatly. "Some were sent back. Some drowned."
But there was no dangerous sea voyage for Ms. Faye, a 32-year-old mother of two who came to Spain under circumstances that thousands of her compatriots can only dream of: on a plane, with a visa and a job that pays five times what she earned back home.
Ms. Faye is one of the first Senegalese workers to be hired under a Spanish labor plan that offers legal passage and a one-year work permit to some with the idea that by raising the possibility of reaching Spain legally, young Africans will be dissuaded from throwing themselves on the mercy of the Atlantic.
The program, promoted by the Spanish and Senegalese governments, aims to bring hundreds of workers to Spain this year with renewable one-year visas and jobs. Workers on one-year permits may have their contracts extended, at which point they have the right to bring over their immediate family. Ultimately, officials here say, the plan is to bring in thousands of immigrants through the program.
"I thought, 'Thank God. I will be able to help my father and mother, my brothers and sisters,' " Ms. Faye said of the moment when she heard she had a job waiting for her at Acciona, a major Spanish building and cleaning company.
In January, she flew with 72 others to Spain, where Acciona helped her find the three-bedroom house she shares with four other Senegalese on the edge of this small industrial town. She now earns $960 a month after taxes, as part of a cleaning team at a ham processing factory.
As Europe struggles to cope with an unstinting flow of desperate migrants to its southern shores, Spain's African initiative, a blend of carrots and sticks, has won praise for the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
Several companies are in the process of hiring people in Dakar to come to work in Spain for a year, potentially more. Those companies include McDonald's; Carrefour, a French retailer; and Vips, a Spanish convenience store chain.
"It's advanced thinking in terms of migration policy," Peter Sutherland, the United Nations special representative for migration, said in a telephone interview. "It's trailblazing."
Supporters of the program say they are under no illusion that it will fix Europe's migration problem.
"When you measure the volume of people we can hire against the needs of their countries, it's a drop in the ocean," said Miguel Ángel García, head of human resources for Vips, which has hired 25 people from Senegal and is in the process of hiring 40 more. "But we just have to keep working, drop by drop."
A surge in sub-Saharan migration last year to the Canary Islands, a Spanish possession that many Africans try to use as a gateway to Europe, prompted Spain to toughen its stance on immigration and, along with the rest of Europe, extend the cordon around its shores with international patrols.
This year, the number of arrivals has fallen steeply: about 6,000 migrants landed in the Canaries in the first seven months, compared to 13,000 in the same period of 2006. Spanish officials and emergency workers based in the Canaries attributed the decline to better maritime surveillance and cooperation from countries like Senegal, as well as rougher seas.
Mr. Zapatero's immigration policy has not always drawn applause. Spain's decision to legalize 600,000 immigrants in 2005 infuriated some European partners, who believe it encouraged a flood of migrants.
But as Europe closes its door to illegal immigrants, Spain is opening a small window of possibility. Labor Minister Jesús Caldera signed an agreement with Gambia on Wednesday to invest $1.3 million to train Gambians who could be recruited to work in Spain. In July, Spain signed similar agreements with Mali and Mauritania.
It is not just for humanitarian reasons that Spain is reaching out to African migrants. Rapid economic growth has forced companies to look abroad to cover a dearth of local labor. Thousands of migrants are hired from Eastern Europe, Morocco and Latin America each year to pick strawberries, wait tables and work in the country's booming construction sector.
"There are parts of Spain where it's impossible to find qualified workers," said Juan Manuel Cruz, head of labor relations for Acciona. He said the group of Senegalese workers was "very well trained, with strong language skills" and had "a huge will to work."
For Ms. Faye, the message behind the new Spanish labor program was clear. Senegal announced the plan after it agreed to take back hundreds of illegal Senegalese migrants from Spain in September.
When Ms. Faye boarded a Spanish government plane bound for Madrid in January, it had just returned a group of illegal Senegalese immigrants to Dakar. No migrant in Spain illegally in the past two years was considered for a job with Acciona.
"There need to be more contracts like this, more possibilities for young people to come here," said Issa Faye, 30, no relation to Fatou. He was earning $130 a month driving a taxi in Dakar when he was recruited by Acciona to work in Torrijos, about 1,800 miles from his home.
Mr. Faye said that getting to Europe was a local obsession. He had made three unsuccessful attempts, once losing about $1,600 to an immigration agent.
"If a person has no alternative, he will board a fishing boat," he said.
Spanish officials say the government approach to African migration squares with existing efforts to raise Spain's profile in the region under a three-year Africa Plan unveiled in 2006. Spain has opened new embassies in Cape Verde, Mali, Niger, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, and has installed full-time diplomatic representatives in Liberia, Gambia and Sierra Leone.
"We want to completely change the parameters of Spain's relationship with Africa," Bernardino León Gross, secretary of state for foreign affairs, said in an interview.
Even though migration has risen to the top of the agenda, Mr. León said, Spain is trying to maintain a long view and deal with the factors that prompt migrants to leave home in the first place.
Mr. Sutherland of the United Nations said that Spain's approach could serve as an example for Europe. "Immigration involves foreign affairs, health, economics, border affairs, all of those things," he said. Immigration is "clearly a European problem, so the Spanish efforts have to be married into a European policy," he said. "Europe doesn't stop at the Pyrenees."
A man of brief acquaintance and considerable intelligence recently told me -- only half jokingly -- that he thought the solution to Africa's problems was to "re-colonize." It was not the first time I'd heard the notion.
Such talk is nothing short of heresy to most Africans and non-Africans alike. In truth, neither colonial dominance nor deliverance promised by Western aid has proven effective in addressing the seemingly insurmountable problems of the sub-Sahara.
Modern Africa demands modern solutions -- African initiative meets selective and authentic international partnership.
I met Mwangi Hai and Matolo Nyami at a gas station on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. Three hours drive northeast we arrived at Masinga Dam, a poor but beautiful part of Kenya. As board members of Ndama Development Ltd., Mwangi and Matolo unfolded their vision; a five-star golf course and eco-resort targeted toward the Asian market -- an alternative to the safaris that make up the bulk of Kenya's tourism.
But it's bigger than that. The business plan includes social responsibility. Forty acres of the 200-acre resort site will be dedicated to crop cultivation. With readily accessible irrigation water, there's potential for growing a vast array of produce. From the profits of their enterprise, the company aims to directly assist at least 50 area families with food, clothing, shelter and schooling.
Mwangi's rationale for this benevolence is simple.
"Helping other people is part of our identity as a Christian company. If we do not impact anyone else, God does not fulfill our existence," he says.
As an agricultural engineer, Mwangi has helped farmers with water harvesting in semi-arid areas during his 24-year career with Kenya's Ministry of Agriculture. The Masinga Dam project aligns with what he's learned.
"The policies in the last five years are showing a sharp need for our own Kenyan investment in arid areas, rather than relief," Mwangi says.
"If you give me food today, tomorrow and the next day, I don't become independent." Ndama is not opposed to limited foreign aid input; both Canada's Hope For the Nations and U.S.-based Love Mercy are considering management of a 20-acre portion of land specifically dedicated for benevolent purposes.
Ryan Schumacher, an organic agricultural specialist with Love Mercy, says it's the kind of aid Africa needs.
"We need to honour them. With a little bit of help, they can do so well. We don't need to commercialize them or turn them into the west." Matolo is convinced the Masinga Dam project has the right elements of African business, appropriate foreign aid and homegrown charity to succeed.
"If our business does not affect the nation, perhaps we need to rethink what we are doing here." David Githugu was educated as a lawyer. Today, he's a pastor with Covenant Church, an outgrowth of the thriving Nairobi Chapel. When the church expanded their work to a Nairobi slum, their assigned pastor immediately saw a need to care for HIV/AIDS orphans, children who Githugu says were, "not infected themselves, but were not cared for by anyone." He finds a "growing sense of awakening" among Africans regarding compassion toward their fellow Kenyans.
"I don't need to do much convincing. The Lord is working in people's hearts, even in those who don't know Him. People are talking of investing in their own continent." Meanwhile, his wife Pauline, also a former lawyer now works for FAULU, a Kenyan Christian microfinance company. When a Maasai community southeast of Nairobi submitted a proposal to build a two classroom schoolhouse, FAULU answered the need for funds.
"The African context of growing together in communities finds resonance," Pauline asserts. "Doing something for your own strikes a chord in a lot of hearts." With construction of the school almost completed, village elder Josiah Ole Kirisuah is grateful.
"The Maasai are marginalized even as much as people in the slums," he says. "The nearest school is 10 kilometers away so there are times when the children can't go. There's always a desire to help the children." In 2001, Pastor Patrick Siabutu had a vision for helping street children in the western Kenyan city of Bungoma.
He completed a survey of the population in 2002 and hasn't looked back. With assistance from Hope For The Nations, Siabutu is overseeing construction of a Children's Home that will house 21.
In the meantime, he's giving young men like 18 year old Chrisandus Wafula a chance for a different life.
Wafula has been on the street since he was orphaned six years ago. He's learning carpentry; his dream is to someday build a wall unit. Today, he's fixed a stool.
"Life has changed," he tells me simply.
With patience and counselling, Siabutu sees street kids learning and growing.
"It's a process, not through forcing them." Siabutu didn't wait for foreign assistance to start his work among the street kids of Kitale. His views on foreign aid and local African initiative are as clear as his vision.
"Do I value you because you give money or because you give me an idea? And how do you value me? It's about relationship. If we're not careful, money can destroy relationships." "In these last days, God is joining people to do much together. We are able to learn from two experiences, African and North American. When we put these together, the results can be so good." Sheila Rowe is a calgary freelance writer.
CREDIT: Katrina Manson, Reuters
People queue in long lines to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections in western Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital, on Saturday. About 2.6 million people are registered to vote. (photo)
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone - From jungle clearings to city slums, Sierra Leoneans voted in huge numbers on Saturday in the first polls since UN peacekeepers left two years ago, hoping to speed their nation's recovery from a 1991-2002 civil war.
Many arrived before dawn and patiently queued for hours in the dilapidated capital Freetown to vote for a new president and 112 parliamentarians.
Some sheltered under umbrellas from the drizzle, while others clasped radios to their ears.
"Maybe now things are going to get better," Freetown resident Abubakar Kamara said before voting in the west of the city. "We must vote in peace and show the world that Sierra Leone is a peaceful country."
Five years after the end of the diamond-fuelled war, which killed 50,000 people, Sierra Leone remains the second least developed nation on earth.
Most people earn less than a dollar a day and lack basic amenities. Many are hungry for a change.
In the presidential race, Ernest Bai Koroma of the opposition All People's Congress is expected to mount a strong challenge to Vice-President Solomon Berewa, 69, candidate for the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party.
President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, re-elected on a wave of postwar euphoria in 2002, is stepping down as required by the constitution amid anger at corruption which many voters believe has drained away the country's substantial foreign aid.
"We have diamonds, gold and even oil. We should be one of the richest countries in Africa, but where does the money go?" said Abdul Bassie, a 24-year-old student, after voting in the second city of Bo.
Days of torrential downpours eased on Saturday, to the relief of officials who feared the rainy season could disrupt voting.
The head of the national electoral commission said only one of 6,176 polling stations had failed to open.
Ballots have been transported by trucks, canoes and porters to polling stations in savannah, jungles and mountains.
Some 2.6 million people are registered to vote -- roughly half the population -- and many arrived early to oversee the work of electoral staff amid concerns over fraud. Aside from a few scuffles, voting was generally peaceful.
Long lines snaked around voting booths in settlements of corrugated iron roofs set deep in the sprawling jungle, a Reuters correspondent travelling by helicopter said.
If no candidate wins more than 55 per cent, a run-off will be held, probably in early September. The election commission will announce results as they come in, but expects a meaningful trend to take several days to emerge.
KOUDJIWAI, Chad — The small plane flew in low over a scorched, peppercorn scrubland, following a broad, muddy river that was all elbows on its run to the southeast.
The first hint of humanity came with the appearance of an immense grid for seismic testing, laboriously traced through the brush. Finally, a lonely, hulking steel drilling platform popped into view.
Chad is as geographically isolated as places come in Africa. It is also among the continent’s poorest and least stable countries, the scene of recurrent civil wars and foreign invasions since it gained independence from France in 1960.
None of that has put off the Chinese, though. In January, they bought the rights to a vast exploration zone that surrounds this rural village, making the baked wilderness here, without roads, electricity or telephones, the latest frontier for their thirsty oil industry and increasingly global ambitions.
The same is happening in one African country after another. In large oil-exporting countries like Angola and Nigeria, China is building or fixing railroads, and landing giant exploration contracts in Congo and Guinea.
In mineral-rich countries that had been all but abandoned by foreign investors because of unrest and corruption, Chinese companies are reviving output of cobalt and bauxite. China has even become the new mover and shaker in agricultural countries like Ivory Coast, once the crown jewel in France’s postcolonial African empire, where Chinese companies are building a new capital, in Yamoussoukro, paid for by Chinese loans.
Surging Chinese interest in this continent has helped bring about what many Africans believe is the most important moment since the end of the cold war, when democracy was spreading in Africa and Western nations spoke of a “peace dividend” that might ease African poverty.
That blush of interest in Africa quickly faded, though, as did several of the new democracies, and Africans and Westerners have regarded each other warily ever since. Westerners complain about chronic corruption and ineffective government, while Africans lament broken promises on aid and a hostile international economic system.
The Chinese have stepped into this picture, coming to struggling countries like Chad with deep pockets, fewer demands on how African governments should behave and an avowed faith in everyone’s ability to prosper.
As Beijing’s ambassador to this country, Wang Yingwu, said at his residence in Ndjamena, Chad’s capital, where the electricity repeatedly failed, “We are exempting Chadian goods from import duties.” When the interviewer noted that Chad produced almost nothing besides oil, Mr. Wang was undaunted, saying, “If they don’t produce things today, they will tomorrow.”
To help make that happen, China plans to build the country’s first oil refinery, lay new roads, provide irrigation and erect a mobile telephone network, for starters.
With such intensive efforts across the continent, China’s trade with Africa topped $55 billion in 2006, up from less than $10 million in the 1980s. To achieve this growth, it has bypassed multinational institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and flouted many of their lending criteria, including minimum standards of transparency, open bidding for contracts, environmental impact studies and assessments of overall debt and fiscal policies.
In some ways, the new Chinese model of doing business in Africa is a throwback to an earlier era of Western involvement that is now widely seen as disastrous. In that era, borrowing countries typically had to work with companies from the lending nation, limiting competition and giving priority to business over development. Today, China takes things even further, signing long-term deals for rights to natural resources that allow countries otherwise unworthy of credit to repay their debt in oil or mineral output.
“In what manner has Africa progressed, in what sector?” said the Chadian president, Idriss Déby, referring to decades of close ties to the West. “Whatever the good will of Africa’s old friends and the old partners in its development, it has not progressed at all.”
Still, major doubts hang heavily in the air. Will China’s hunger for raw materials enable this continent to take off? Or will Beijing’s willingness to spend whatever it needs in Africa, without regard to fiscal prudence, democracy, honest business practices and human rights, produce a replay of booms past, enriching local elites but leaving the continent poorer, its environment despoiled and its natural resources depleted?
A Test Case for China
There are few better places than Chad to watch for signs of how China’s African gambit will pay off. Chad ranks just four places from the bottom on the United Nations scale of human development, yet it is emerging as a critical piece in China’s economic push in a broad swath of sub-Saharan Africa, beginning with Sudan and extending in virtually every direction.
Despite advanced prospecting by French and other Western firms dating back to the 1970s, Chad’s oil had never been tapped. The nation was simply too unstable and the price of oil too low to justify investing much here. The oil that had been found was of low quality, and there was no practical way to get it out.
That changed in 2000, when the World Bank agreed to help finance a $4.2 billion, 665-mile pipeline connecting Chad to Cameroon on the condition that oil revenues be used to fight poverty.
Chad’s revenues quickly outstripped expectations, but have not gone into quelling its immense poverty. Mismanagement and fraud have beset the World Bank plan from the start.
Beyond that, Chadian rebels with bases in Sudan have been trying to depose Mr. Déby, so he pressed the World Bank to relax its rules on how to spend the country’s oil money. A compromise was reached, and he went on a military spending spree, buying guns, aircraft and armored vehicles for his troops, along with a fleet of armored Humvees that stop traffic as they zoom about Ndjamena’s dusty, potholed streets.
Seeking an even freer hand with the country’s oil bonanza, Mr. Déby’s government also hinted that it could find other partners willing to invest in Chad, especially with the price of oil so high.
Then, in 2006, Chad ended a relationship with Taiwan and recognized mainland China, and the floodgates opened. China bought the rights to several oil exploration zones in the country from a Canadian company and has gone from bit player to center stage in Chad’s affairs, confident that it can wring smart profits from the most inhospitable conditions.
“The Canadians and the Americans are only interested in really big finds,” said a veteran Western oil production engineer who works under contract here for the China National Petroleum Company, the C.N.P.C. “Anything else they think is not worth their time. The Chinese have a different approach. They are happy with the smaller finds, just lots of them. “They seem to have a different time frame, too,” the engineer added. “They plan to be here for a while.”
Indeed, the Chinese dream in this region consists of making finds here and there, using the World Bank financed pipeline to transport the oil and eventually building new pipelines to connect with a Chinese-built grid in Sudan.
This vision requires not only finding more oil, but establishing peace between Chad and Sudan. Darfur, the chaotic western Sudanese region where at least 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million been displaced in a government-backed counterinsurgency campaign, lies next to China’s exploration zones. Human rights groups maintain that Chinese weapons have played a major role in the carnage in Darfur.
Beijing’s recent diplomatic activity in the region may be explained by these Chinese oil interests as much as by American pressure on China to help stop the killing in Darfur.
“It used to be that when we had problems with our neighbor sending mercenaries to invade us that none of our complaints before the United Nations would pass, because China blocked them,” said President Déby. Since breaking relations with Taiwan and opening the door to Chinese investment, he added, “we have been able to raise our concerns without taboo.”
One topic that neither side was willing to say much about was the World Bank’s foundering efforts to ensure that petroleum revenues were well spent here. “I know the current pipeline is part of a project involving the World Bank and Esso,” said Dou Lirong, the general manager of C.N.P.C. International in Chad, calling the authority over revenues “a very complicated” matter. “I don’t know too much about it,” Mr. Dou continued, “but I’ve read a little bit on the Web.”
In fact, the very idea of the World Bank project is anathema to China’s deeply held noninterference policy, which has for decades governed China’s foreign policy and development. Underlying both is a kind of golden rule — China considers other countries meddling in its affairs unacceptable, and it assumes its friends feel the same way.
Cao Zhongming, deputy director of the Department of African Affairs, in the Chinese Foreign Ministry said: “China won’t interfere with Chad’s internal affairs. As a policy, that doesn’t change. If C.N.P.C., World Bank and Chad reach an agreement, it’s between them.” But, he added, if Chad does not accept the World Bank arrangement, “neither C.N.P.C. or the Chinese government would impose it.”
“The Chinese government,” he said, “won’t enforce something that Chad thinks interferes with their internal affairs.”
To China’s new African allies, this notion is a breath of fresh air. After years of hewing to the latest fads in international development doled out by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, Western donors and the United Nations, African governments have grown weary of the strings attached to foreign aid.
Thérèse Mekombe, vice chairwoman of the committee that monitors Chad’s oil money to make sure it is used properly, expressed surprise about the Chinese executive’s uncertainty about how oil revenues would be handled. Brandishing a copy of the law, she said all of the country’s oil earnings fell under the control of the World Bank arrangement. “The Chinese need to understand that they cannot arrive in a country and just impose their way of thinking,” Ms. Mekombe said.
A ‘Win-Win’ Business Plan
Chinese officials almost invariably describe their relationship with African countries as a win-win — based on mutual respect, aimed at joint prosperity and free of the overtones of exploitation and paternalism that critics worldwide say have governed much of the West’s postcolonial relationship with Africa.
China plans to build a petroleum refinery and a cement factory in Chad, both desperately needed in a landlocked country forced to import basic goods. Indeed, lowering gas and cement prices, which are among the highest in Africa, could do more to reduce poverty than the efforts of the World Bank and other donors combined, Mr. Dou suggested. “We can make a contribution to Chad,” he said.
Asked for an example of what win-win relationships look like, Mr. Dou offered what might seem an unlikely choice: Sudan. In its capital, Khartoum, he said, signs of China’s impact are everywhere.
“If you go to Sudan, you see paved roads,” he said. In the past, “the cars in Sudan had no turn signals, they point directions by hand. Now there are many good cars.”
Asked whether the oil money was really benefiting the Sudanese people, not just their rulers, Mr. Dou replied: “It is difficult for me to say. I am an engineer.”
To some critics, the answer is clear. “China’s no-strings-attached approach is problematic, particularly if its effect, if not its intent, is to undermine others’ efforts to change situations on the ground,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Often what is happening,” he added, “is underwriting of repression.”
Few Benefits for the People
Even with binding arrangements governing the use of oil revenues, Chad’s people have largely missed out.
In the Mayo-Kébbi region, where much of China’s feverish oil exploration is happening, the city of Bongor hardly looks like the capital of the booming oil region it is set to become. Along its tree-fringed main avenue, the briskest business is preparing the city’s signature dish — a chicken so scrawny it can be grilled whole in a few minutes.
At the lone hospital, a moldering colonial-era structure, a handful of workers tended to dozens of patients suffering from the classic ailments of poverty: hunger, diarrhea, malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS, pneumonia. Civil servants were on strike, seeking to force the government, which according to World Bank estimates will collect $1.2 billion in oil money this year, to increase their meager salaries.
Pauline Maratangou, a 53-year-old midwife, did show up to work, and it was a good thing. Half a dozen pregnant women with bellies fit to burst patiently awaited her services.
“Vas-y, vas-y, vas-y!” she cooed, urging an 18-year-old mother to push. The maternity ward had only a padded bench for deliveries and no stirrups. The floors and walls were caked with dirt — the orderlies were on strike. Ms. Maratangou worked with quick, efficient motions, pouring iodine over the crown of the baby’s head as it emerged, trying to keep mother and child free of infection.
At last a little boy popped out, his head slightly misshapen, like a peanut shell.
“Ah, he’s a handsome boy,” she said, holding him aloft, feet first, waiting for his first bellowing cries. There was only time to snip his umbilical cord, weigh him — five and a half pounds, not too bad for this part of the world — and swaddle him in rags before the next mother, also 18, was ready to hop on the table still slick with afterbirth slime.
The grim conditions help explain why Chad has among the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world. One of every five children will die before age 5.
“We hear that our country has oil, but we see no evidence of it here,” said Ms. Maratangou, the midwife.
Officials in Bongor say money from Chinese investments could fix schools and hospitals, or provide jobs and new roads. Under Chadian law, 5 percent of the oil revenue is supposed to go back to the community where the oil was drilled.
“We have very high hopes,” said Khalifa Malloum, the secretary general of Bongor’s regional government. “If the West does not want to invest in us, let the Chinese come. We welcome them. They don’t tell us what to do and they bring development. They are good partners.”
But Limassou Saleh, a community organizer in Bongor, said he was deeply skeptical. “Chad is maybe the most corrupt country in the world,” Mr. Saleh said. “We have a long history of human rights violations, of lack of transparency, of exploitation. China has a reputation for corruption. They are one of the worst human rights abusers. They have no record of transparency. What would we want with a country like that? Only to make our own problems worse.”
What is it about South Africa's devastating AIDS epidemic that President Thabo Mbeki just doesn't want to understand? Mr. Mbeki has catastrophically failed to face up to his country's greatest challenge.
For years, he associated himself with crackpot theories that disputed the demonstrable fact that AIDS was transmitted by a treatable virus. He also insisted that he knew nobody with AIDS, even though nearly 20 percent of South Africa's adult population are estimated to be living with H.I.V. And he suggested that antiretroviral drugs were toxic, and he encouraged useless herbal folk remedies instead. As a result, thousands of South Africans have needlessly sickened and died.
Now Mr. Mbeki has fired one of the few effective AIDS fighters in his administration, Deputy Health Minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge.
Ms. Madlala-Routledge provided a brief interlude of sanity and seriousness after the health minister — who recommended beetroot and garlic therapy — fell ill last fall. Over the next nine months, Ms. Madlala-Routledge promoted an ambitious but attainable goal of cutting the number of new H.I.V. infections in half and treating 80 percent of people in need by 2011.
But after her boss, the beetroot and garlic advocate, returned to work early this summer, that new seriousness was shoved aside. And, last week, so was the woman responsible for it.
The official explanation for Ms. Madlala-Routledge's firing was that she did not have official approval for a trip she made to Spain to attend an AIDS conference. The more likely reason was the visit she made to Frere Hospital in the Eastern Cape Province in July where, ever outspoken, she condemned the abominable conditions there as a national emergency.
Unlike other African countries, South Africa has the financial resources and the medical talent to successfully take on its H.I.V./AIDS epidemic. What it lacks is a president who cares enough about his people's suffering to provide serious leadership. Only two more years remain in Mr. Mbeki's presidential term. Unless he finally starts listening to sensible advice on AIDS, he will leave a tragic legacy of junk science and unnecessary death.
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