August 18, 2007
New Power in Africa
Entrepreneurs From China Flourish in Africa
By HOWARD W. FRENCH and LYDIA POLGREEN
LILONGWE, Malawi — When Yang Jie left home at 18, he was doing what people from China’s hardscrabble Fujian Province have done for generations: emigrating in search of a better living overseas.
What set him apart was his destination. Instead of the traditional adopted homelands like the United States and Europe, where Fujian people have settled by the hundreds of thousands, he chose this small, landlocked country in southern Africa.
“Before I left China,” said Mr. Yang, now 25, “I thought Africa was all one big desert.” So he figured that ice cream would be in high demand, and with money pooled from relatives and friends, he created his own factory at the edge of Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital. The climate is in fact subtropical, but that has not stopped his ice cream company from becoming the country’s biggest.
Stories like this have become legion across Africa in the past five years or so, as hundreds of thousands of Chinese have discovered the continent, setting off to do business in a part of the world that had been terra incognita. The Xinhua News Agency recently estimated that at least 750,000 Chinese were working or living for extended periods on the continent, a reflection of deepening economic ties between China and Africa that reached $55 billion in trade in 2006, compared with less than $10 million a generation earlier.
Even when Mr. Yang arrived here in 2001, he said, he could go weeks without encountering another traveler from his homeland. But as surely as his investments in the country have prospered, he said, an increasingly large community of Chinese migrants has taken root, and now runs everything from small factories to health care clinics and trading companies.
During the previous wave of Chinese interest in Africa in the 1960s and ’70s, an era of radical socialism and proclaimed third-world solidarity, European and American companies held sway over economies in most of the continent. Here and there, though, the Chinese made their presence felt, often in drably dressed, state-run work brigades that built stadiums, railroads and highways, crushing rocks and doing other labor by hand.
Today, in many of the countries where the new Chinese emigrants have settled, like Chad, Chinese-owned pharmacies, massage parlors and restaurants serving a variety of regional Chinese cuisines can be found; the Western presence, once dominant, has steadily dwindled, and essentially consists nowadays of relief experts working international agencies or oil workers, living behind high walls in heavily guarded enclaves.
At first, this new Chinese exodus was driven largely by word of mouth, as pioneers like Mr. Yang relayed news back home of abundant opportunities in a part of the world where many economies lie undeveloped or in ruins, and where even in the richer countries many things taken for granted in the developed world await builders and investors.
Conditions like these often deter Western investors, but for many budding Chinese entrepreneurs, Africa’s emerging economies are inviting precisely because they seem small and accessible. Competition is often weak or nonexistent, and for African customers, the low price of many Chinese goods and services make them more affordable than their Western counterparts.
You Xianwen sold his pipe-laying business in Chengdu, in southwest China, this year to move to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, to join a startup company with a Chinese partner he had met only online. “Back where I come from we are pretty independent people,” Mr. You, 55, said. “My brothers and sisters all supported my decision to come here. In fact, they say that if things really work out for me, they would like to move to Africa, too.”
Mr. You said he had considered other African countries before settling on Ethiopia, including Zambia. “Luckily I didn’t decide to go there,” he said, explaining that he had been frightened by the recent anti-Chinese protests in that country.
His new business, ABC Bioenergy, builds devices that generate combustible gas from ordinary refuse, providing what Mr. You said would be an affordable alternative source of energy in a country where electricity supplies are erratic and prices high.
Mr. You’s partner here, Mei Haijun, first came to Ethiopia a decade ago to work at a Chinese-built textile factory and has since married an Ethiopian woman, with whom he has a child. “When I first came here you could go two months without seeing another Chinese person,” he said. “But it is a different era now. There’s a flight to China every day.”
The pickup in air traffic between China and countries like Ethiopia now has Chinese companies scrambling to add new routes, as the Chinese government and big Chinese companies increase their stake in Africa.
Much of that activity reflects an intense appetite for African oil and mineral resources needed to fuel China’s manufacturing sector, but big Chinese companies have quickly become formidable competitors in other sectors as well, particularly for big-ticket public works contracts. China is building major new railroad lines in Nigeria and Angola, large dams in Sudan, airports in several countries and new roads, it seems, almost everywhere.
One of the largest road builders, China Road and Bridge Construction, has picked up where the solidarity brigades of an earlier generation left off. The company, which is owned by the Chinese government, has 29 projects in Africa, many financed by the World Bank or other lenders, and it maintains offices in 22 African countries.
On a recent Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa to Beijing brimming with Chinese contractors, workers from Road and Bridge and other companies swapped notes on the grab bag of countries they work in, and debated about the difficulties of learning Portuguese and French in places like Mozambique and Ivory Coast.
Africans view the influx of Chinese with a mix of anticipation and dread. Business leaders in Chad, a central African nation with deepening oil ties to China, are bracing for what they suspect will be an army of Chinese workers and investors.
“We expect a large influx of at least 40,000 Chinese in the coming years,” said Renaud Dinguemnaial, director of Chad’s Chamber of Commerce. “This massive arrival could be a plus for the economy, but we are also worried. When they arrive, will they bring their own workers, stay in their own houses, send all their money home?”
In Zambia, where anti-Chinese sentiment has been building for several years, merchants at the central market in Lusaka, the capital, said that if Chinese people wanted to come to Africa, they should come as investors, building factories, not as petty traders who compete for already scarce customers for bottom-dollar items like flip-flops and T-shirts.
“The Chinese claim to come here as investors, but they are trading just like us,” said Dorothy Mainga, who sells knockoff Puma sneakers and Harley Davidson T-shirts in the Kamwala Market in Lusaka. “They are selling the same things we are selling at cheap prices. We pay duty and tax, but they use their connections to avoid paying tax.”
Although Chinese oil workers have been kidnapped in Nigeria and in Ethiopia, where nine were killed by an armed separatist movement in May, the growing Chinese presence around the continent has produced few serious incidents.
Misunderstandings are common, however, and resentments inevitably arise. Africans in many countries complain that Chinese workers occupy jobs that locals are either qualified for or could be easily trained to do. “We are happy to have the Chinese here,” said Dennis Phiri, 21, a Malawian university student who is studying to become an engineer. “The problem with the Chinese companies is that they reserve all the good jobs for their own people. Africans are only hired in menial roles.”
Another frequent criticism is that the Chinese are clannish, sticking among themselves day and night.
In Addis Ababa, in what is a typical arrangement for most large companies, the 200 Chinese workers for the Road and Bridge Corporation live in a communal compound, eating food prepared by cooks brought from China and receiving basic health care from a Chinese doctor.
“After a day off you wonder what you’re doing here, so we like to keep working,” said Cheng Qian, the country manager for the road-building company in Ethiopia. He added that his family had never visited him during several years of work here.
Sometimes, the Chinese approach has created serious frictions with African workers. At a leading hotel here in Lilongwe, breakfast guests stared as an agitated Chinese traveling salesman, sweating profusely, screamed at his staff minutes before his pitch on nutritional supplements was set to begin.
“You say it is not your fault, but the way you are doing things is just stupid, stupid,” the man sputtered before a clutch of African assistants, who looked humiliated. “You people are unbelievable.”
When the salesman finally left the room, members of the restaurant staff gathered near the door and vented their disgust. “We don’t need people like that to come here and colonize us again,” one said.
After nearly seven years in Malawi, Yang Jie, the ice cream maker, seems to have learned better. Greeting his workers at the ice cream factory, he begins the day by asking, “How did you sleep last night?”
One quickly replied, “Very well,” sounding a bit formal.
“Don’t tell me a lie,” Mr. Yang answered with a sly, friendly smile. “It’s O.K. to tell me your worries.”
Howard W. French reported from Lilongwe and from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Lydia Polgreen from Lusaka, Zambia, and Dakar, Senegal.
Leaders decide gradual pace
SUKHDEV CHHATBAR in ARUSHA
Daily News; Tuesday,August 21, 2007 @00:03
EAST African Community (EAC) summit resolved here yesterday that the East African Federation (EAF) should be established gradually and step-by-step.
The decision was made by the sixth extra-ordinary summit, which was attended by Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (Chairman of EAC), Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and host President Jakaya Kikwete. Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza was represented by his second deputy Vice-President Gabriel Ntisezerana.
President Amani Karume attended the meeting as an observer.
The EAC Secretary General, Ambassador Juma Mwapachu, told a press briefing at the end of the summit that the leaders' aim was "to build a strong and a vibrant EAF".
He said that the leaders called for additional sensitization of the people on the community, including its benefits. But the summit encouraged the secretariat to further deepen regional integration.
The idea of fast-tracking EAF was mooted at a summit of regional presidents in 2004 and a commission under Kenya's Attorney General Amos Wako was assigned to prepare a strategic plan. The Commission had set 2013 as the year for EAF.
Mid-last year national committees were formed in partner states to collect public views on fast tracking the EAF. According to Ambassador Mwapachu, Uganda and Kenya agreed to fast tracking idea, but Tanzania overwhelmingly rejected the idea. Tanzanians opted for a gradual formation of EAF that would be led by a single president.
Ambassador Mwapachu said the leaders considered a report on the EAC position on negotiations of an EAC economic-partnership agreement with the European Union. "The summit has directed regional trade ministers and EAC ministers to meet and explore ways of negotiating as a bloc."
This, he said, was a follow up to an earlier directive issued in June, this year in Kampala.
An EAC source said that there was a broad consensus that EAC being a customs union, should negotiate as one Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with EU, rather than having EAC member states negotiating under different regional organizations.
According to the source, by last Sunday Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda were ready for EAC-EPA negotiations. Kenya, which is the current chair of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern African (COMESA), was yet to reconsider its stand.
The summit also amended treaty clauses to allow participation of Burundi and Rwanda as full members of the regional organization. Rwanda and Burundi formally joined the community in June.
With the amendments, Rwanda and Burundi each can appoint nine legislators to the EA Legislative Assembly. Each can also appoint two judges each to EA Court of Justice.
The two countries will also be represented in other organs of the Secretariat and will have to appoint deputy secretaries general.
The old EAC collapsed in 1977 because of divergent political and economic perceptions of the partner states. The new EAC was revived in 1999 and is popularised as 'people-centred'.
August 21, 2007
New Power in Africa
China’s Trade in Africa Carries a Price Tag
By LYDIA POLGREEN and HOWARD W. FRENCH
KABWE, Zambia — The courtyard in front of the Zambia China Mulungushi Textiles factory is so quiet, even at midday, that the fluttering of the ragged Chinese and Zambian flags is the only sound hanging in the air.
The factory used to roar. From the day it opened more than 20 years ago, the vast compound had shuddered to the whir of rollers and the clatter of mechanical weaving machines spooling out millions of yards of brightly colored African cloth.
Today, only the cotton gin still runs, with the company’s Chinese managers buying raw cotton for export to China’s humming textile industry. Nobody can say when or even if the factory here will reopen.
“We are back where we started,” said Wilfred Collins Wonani, who leads the Chamber of Commerce here, sighing at the loss of one of the city’s biggest employers. “Sending raw materials out, bringing cheap manufactured goods in. This isn’t progress. It is colonialism.”
Chinese officials and their African allies like to call their growing relationship a win-win proposition, a rising tide that lifts all boats in China’s ever-widening sea of influence.
This year, China pledged $20 billion to finance trade and infrastructure across the continent over the next three years. In Zambia alone, China plans to invest $800 million in the next few years.
From South Africa’s manganese mines to Niger’s uranium pits, from Sudan’s oil fields to Congo’s cobalt mines, China’s hunger for resources has been a shot in the arm, increasing revenues and helping push some of the world’s poorest countries further up the ladder of development.
But China is also exporting huge volumes of finished, manufactured goods — T-shirts, flashlights, radios and socks, just to name a few — to those same countries, hampering Africa’s ability to make its own products and develop healthy, diverse economies.
“Most of our countries have been independent for 35 to 50 years,” said Moeletsi Mbeki, a South African entrepreneur and a political analyst. “Yet they have failed to develop manufacturing for a variety of reasons, and for the Chinese that’s a huge opportunity. We are a very important market for China.”
On the one hand, Chinese imports give Africans access to goods and amenities that developed countries take for granted but that most people here could not have dreamed of affording just a few years ago — cellular telephones, televisions, washing machines, refrigerators, computers. And cheaper prices on more basic items, like clothing, light bulbs and shoes, mean people have more money in their pockets.
“There is no doubt China has been good for Zambia,” said Felix Mutati, Zambia’s minister of finance. “Why should we have a bad attitude toward the Chinese when they are doing all the right things? They are bringing investment, world-class technology, jobs, value addition. What more can you ask for?”
But across Africa, and especially in the relatively robust economies of southern Africa, there are clear winners and losers. Textile mills and other factories here in Zambia have suffered and even closed as cheap Chinese goods flood the world market, eliminating jobs in a country that sorely needs them.
The Chinese investment in copper mining here has left a trail of heartbreak and recrimination after one of the worst industrial accidents in Zambian history, a blast at a Chinese-owned explosives factory in Chambishi in 2005 that killed 46 people, most of them in their 20s.
“Who is winning? The Chinese are, for sure,” said Michael Sata, a Zambian opposition politician who campaigned in last year’s presidential election on an anti-China platform. He lost, but with a surprisingly strong showing, and his party, the Patriotic Front, won many seats in local and parliamentary elections in Lusaka, the capital, and the Zambian industrial heartland, where China has made its biggest investments.
“Their interest is exploiting us, just like everyone who came before,” he said. “They have simply come to take the place of the West as the new colonizers of Africa.”
Officials at the Chinese Embassy in Lusaka did not respond to repeated requests to discuss the country’s role in Zambia. But Chinese diplomats across Africa and top officials in Beijing have emphasized the money and opportunity they bring to Africa. In Zambia, for example, government officials say that the Chinese are sending dozens of workers for training in China and that their investments will create thousands of high-wage jobs.
Measured in some ways, Zambia’s economy is booming. Copper prices have soared from 75 cents a pound in January 2003 to more than $3 a pound this year, driven in large part by Chinese demand. That demand has pushed Zambia’s long-dormant copper mines into record production.
China’s Nonferrous Metals Corporation, a state-owned company, purchased rights to develop a mine in Chambishi, in the heart of the copper belt, in 1998, and it plans to build factories in an export processing zone that will bring as many as 60,000 jobs, according to government officials.
But China’s growing presence in global trade is wiping out thousands of jobs in countries with fledgling manufacturing sectors like Zambia and South Africa.
Despite relatively low wages in many countries, African manufacturers find it very hard to compete, arguing that China’s currency policies undervalue the yuan and give Chinese exporters a huge advantage.
Many industries in China also benefited at various points from subsidies and free or low-cost government financing, making their costs lower. Beyond that, there are major infrastructure problems in Africa, where industry struggles with inadequate roads and railways, and unreliable electricity and water supplies.
“So who do you blame?” said Martyn J. Davies, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. “You can’t blame China for being too competitive. China is doing what every other emerging market is doing.”
The textile and clothing industry, one of the engines China used to fuel its own economic expansion in the 1980s, has been particularly hard hit in Africa. For decades, African countries exported large quantities of clothes and textiles to developed countries under a trade agreement intended to protect European and American markets from competition from China and others, while encouraging exports from the world’s poorest nations. But the trade provision, the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing, expired in January 2005, putting these countries in direct export competition with China.
Africa found itself once again on the losing end of globalization. If copper is Zambia’s bread and butter, manufacturing should have been its main meal — just as many economies across the globe have progressed from producers of raw materials to low-tech manufacturing and beyond, a well-trod path to development.
Ms. Zimba, 40, a quality-control worker at the plant here who asked to be identified only by her common last name because she feared losing her termination benefits, first got a job at the factory in 1989, after moving to Kabwe from the depressed eastern region of the country with her brother.
She earned a little less than $100 a month, as well as free health care and a pension, and a little three-room house in the workers’ compound. But since she lost her job, her family’s standard of living has plummeted. The water was turned off, and Ms. Zimba does not know where she will come up with next semester’s tuition for her 20-year-old daughter’s trade school.
“We will see what God brings me,” Ms. Zimba said.
For Ms. Zimba, the transition from salaried work to selling goods for pocket change in the market is a devastating setback to a grim fate she thought she had escaped — her mother was widowed when Ms. Zimba was 15 and reduced to selling in the market as well.
“I am right back where I started,” Ms. Zimba said.
As for the Chinese, she bitterly refers to them as “briefcase investors.”
“They just fill their briefcases with our wealth and leave,” she said.
Such anti-Chinese sentiment has been brewing here for several years. When China’s president, Hu Jintao, visited Zambia earlier this year he received the usual red carpet treatment from his Zambian host, President Levy Mwanawasa , but the reception from many ordinary Zambians was nasty. A trip to the site of China’s big new investment, Chambishi, had to be scuttled entirely because of fears of unrest, and the circumstances of the industrial disaster there are still not entirely understood.
The mine at Chambishi had for decades been run by the government, and had limped along while copper prices slumped in the 1980s. When the Non-ferrous Metal Mining Group bought the rights to develop the mine in 1998, local residents cheered, hoping for new jobs.
In 2003, Keegan Chibuye got one as a mechanic at the mine, a job he was grateful to have in a country where even skilled men like himself struggled to find work. Mr. Chibuye’s sister, Vennie, 27, also found work for the Chinese, as a computer specialist at an explosives factory on the mine’s grounds. Ms. Chibuye was the eldest of seven, and her parents had sent her to Britain at great expense, to a technical college in Derbyshire, where she earned a diploma in information technology. A brother, Mwape, got a job as a casual worker in the explosives factory, for a little more than a dollar a day, to save money for college.
Keegan Chibuye said he had concerns about the way the Chinese managers were running the mine almost from the beginning. “They were careless,” he said. “Safety was not their priority. Everything was about productivity no matter what.”
On April 20, 2005, Keegan Chibuye heard an ear-splitting boom that would shatter his world — a huge blast at the explosives factory.
There was almost nothing left of Vennie and Mwape left to bury. Virtually all the bodies had been incinerated. Only fragments were buried just off the main road at the graveyard built by the Chinese owners — a finger, an ear, a bit of scalp. As the 46 headstones testify, most of the workers were young, born after 1980.
Officials of the company that runs the mine did not respond to repeated telephone requests for an interview to talk about working conditions and safety at the mine. But at the Chinese workers’ compound in Chambishi, Han Yaping, who identified himself as the company’s human resources manager, said that the company hoped to help Zambia develop.
“China works here in cooperation with Zambia,” Mr. Han said in English. “It is friendship.”
Asked why the wages at the mine were lower than those paid by other companies, Mr. Han said that Zambian workers had limited skills and no experience with technology. By way of example, he said, a Chinese worker trying to remove a screw would use a screwdriver.
“But a Zambian worker,” he continued with a chuckle, “he use his finger.”
A look around the compound for Chinese workers illustrates why China is able to do business so profitably in Africa. While Western companies must provide relatively plush and private accommodations to attract expatriate workers, the Chinese employees at Chambishi live in barracks-like conditions, several to a room. A table for table tennis and a dusty soccer field are the only recreational facilities.
“We like simple,” Mr. Han explained.
Many African scholars and political leaders say Africa has no need for the colonial baggage and paternalism of the West, and they welcome the Chinese approach of cowboy capitalism. “Let the Chinese come,” said Mahamat Hassan Abakar, a lawyer in Chad, a former French colony in central Africa with deepening ties to China. “What Africa needs is investment. It needs partners. All of these years we have been tied to France. Look what it has brought us.”
In South Africa, dozens of clothing and textile companies closed, according to trade organizations representing manufacturers. Tens of thousands of jobs were lost because of Chinese imports, and in response the government negotiated temporary voluntary restraints on some items.
But Iqbal Meer-Sharma, deputy director of South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry, said that the clothing industry was ultimately less valuable to South Africa than the other benefits of its growing relationship with China.
“We’ve always known we have a dysfunctional relationship with the West,” Mr. Sharma said. “Now with China we have a relationship as equals. They don’t look down on us. They are not condescending.”
In an era of ruthless global competition, Mr. Sharma said, Africa should stop trying to compete with China at what it does best — producing cheap goods for export — and find other ways to compete instead.
In the meantime, many Africans are caught in limbo.
Clarissa Fabrik, 19, lives at the edge of Atlantis, a depressed industrial town in South Africa’s Western Cape. She had hoped to earn an engineering degree, courtesy of the scholarship fund from her mother’s clothing workers’ union benefit package. But her mother’s factory closed, and now she is trying to teach herself basics from a textbook on industrial electronics when she is not at her retail job.
“I don’t know what the future will bring,” she said.
Lydia Polgreen reported from Kabwe, and Howard W. French from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Does Uganda deserve an investor like The Aga Khan?
Friday, 24th August, 2007
His Highness the Aga Khan
SHILLINGS AND CENTS
By Paul Busharizi
This week, President Yoweri Museveni and his Highness the Aga Khan, laid the foundation stone for the $800m Bujagali dam.
The dam will be the single largest power investment ever undertaken by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – the private sector lending arm of the World Bank. It is also the largest single infrastructure development of The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) Network worldwide.
The next day, the Aga Khan laid another foundation stone in Munyonyo for a $50m Academy of Excellence that will "nurture the spirit of anticipation and agility, adaptability and adventure."
Sub-Saharan Africa needs more investors like the Aga Khan.
Investors, whose profit motive is tempered by a sense of social responsibility, which probably comes with his responsibility as the head of the Ismaili sect.
Sub-Saharan Africa needs investors who have a long- term view and are willing to put their money in parts of the world that are not attractive investment destinations because of their corrupt governments, lack of physical and social infrastructure.
Uganda is not the most God-forsaken place the Aga Khan has invested in. A multi-million rehabilitation of the war-damaged Kabul Serena Hotel is probably the best example.
Sub-Saharan Africa needs investors like the Aga Khan who have got a more bankable international profile than the countries they invest in.
By leveraging such reputations, sub-Saharan Africa can attract the kind of investment that will make a long-lasting impression.
In the Bujagali project, AKFED partner sponsor is the Sithe Group, an affiliate of the private equity firm the Blackstone Group, who as of end of June controlled assets of $18b.
In July, the Blackstone Group put down $26b for leading global hospitality company the Hilton Hotels Corporation, which has 2,800 hotels worldwide.
No one can understate the benefit of the 250 mega watts Bujagali project to Uganda but co-opting the Blackstone Group into the project may have long-term investor benefits for Uganda.
But the Aga Khan also stands out as an example of how resources, pooled and invested wisely over time, can create meaningful change for communities.
Funds or donations from his minority Ismaili community are channelled into his development vehicles, which invest in schools, hospitals, hotels and in any number of industries through the entrepreneurial Ismaili community.
As a country grappling with the issues of poverty and development, partnering the Aga Khan presents opportunity and useful lessons.
Whereas the Aga Khan has a philanthropic agency, his most telling interventions have come not by throwing money at poverty (which never works anyway) but through investments in infrastructure both social – hospitals, schools, media, hotels and physical – power generation, manufacturing, property and telecommunications.
The Aga Khan's "aid" model best mirrors the saying, "Give a man a fish and he will keep coming back for more, but teach him to fish and he will feed himself."
The fact that the Aga Khan chooses to invest in Uganda is credit enough. But Uganda should go beyond attracting his kind of investor, investors whose profit motive is coloured by a sentimental attachment to this country.
Investors like the Aga Khan are in short supply and unlike him, most of them do not feel obligated to have a presence in Uganda.
Uganda needs to make itself attractive to other hardnosed businessmen who unfortunately, or fortunately, control the bulk of the world's capital flows.
Let us not delude ourselves that investors are falling over themselves to be here – high returns on investment not withstanding.
Top of the list of things to do in this direction is the removal of corruption, strengthening of the Government institutions and improvement of road, rail and power infrastructure.
A study in the 1990s showed that businessmen spend as much greasing the machinery of government with bribes as they do in paying taxes.
In business, money follows good management. Capital is a coward, it seeks stability and predictability. Investment rule number one is do not lose money. Investment rule number two is don't forget rule number one.
So even if Uganda has very enviable returns on investment, the risks that accompany it are just not worth it. The investor will take a lesser return in South Africa or South East Asia or Europe than risk burning his fingers here.
Josh Ruxin is a Columbia University expert on public health who has spent the last couple of years living in Rwanda. He’s an unusual mix of academic expert and mud-between-the-toes aid worker.
With the world’s eyes finally shifting toward Darfur, and the most optimistic thinking about post-genocide life there, it is time to look closely at Darfur’s southern neighbor, Rwanda, for hope and instruction.
In many respects, Rwanda was abandoned after its 1994 genocide. Outside observers assumed that it would soon plunge back into chaos. For the last two years, I have been living there, though I’ve been engaged in development projects there since 2000. Rwanda is a crucible of sorts: having resurrected itself after the genocide, it has steadily demonstrated that a sub-Saharan country that falls down can rise again. In spite of the extraordinary challenges the country faces – it is, after all, desperately poor and land-locked — it may well grow to be a great success story that points the way for other countries to follow.
The Mayange Health Center(photo)
What has been most striking about working in Rwanda is the relative lack of corruption and the speed with which donor funds can be converted to meaningful results. In April 2006, two of my initiatives — the Access Project and the Millennium Villages Project Rwanda – began working to improve the management and delivery of services in Mayange Health Center. Mayange is situated in Bugesera district — the virtual epicenter of the 1994 genocide where 60 percent of the population was wiped out and crushing poverty dominates the landscape — and is fast transforming itself into a model of success. The Rwandan government chose this site to address what have been seen as unsolvable development issues in the region. The land is utterly eroded and where elephants roamed just three decades ago, there is little but hardened parched earth. Mayange, Rwanda, up until about a year ago, was a dusty hopeless sector with 25,000 abjectly poor people.
The first day my team arrived at the health center, we literally could not find a nurse or a patient. While the sign to the center proudly acknowledged that it had been built by the U.N. Refugee Agency in 1999, there was no sign that health services had been offered since. Fluorescent lights in every room testified to the center’s aspirations, but the lack of a connection to the power grid meant that they were mere accessories. When we finally tracked down the nurses, we learned that they saw roughly 5 patients per day, had no drug stock, no running water, no management or coordination. Working with local government and the Ministry of Health, our team quickly turned around the situation: today there are on average 150 consultations per day, with another 200 or so people who come for ancillary care (well-baby programs, emergency feeding.)
JacquelineJacqueline — a proud community leader whose weather-worn face makes her 40 years appear like 60 — has been at the front lines of the change in Mayange. She recently told me that the success in agriculture and health now allowed her more time for farming. She used to be in charge of funeral arrangements for the children and mothers who died on a weekly basis just last year, but there has not been a death in the past nine months.
This small success is being replicated elsewhere in Rwanda, and must be replicated on a larger scale. In the weeks to come, I look forward to sharing with you how this was accomplished. I also want to share the stories of the Rwandans I know and how they are rising to the challenge.
Hany Besada and Ariane Goetz
For The Calgary Herald
Friday, August 31, 2007
Last week, Uganda's Security Minister, Amama Mbabazi, threatened to re-enter neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), following two cross-border incursions by Congolese gunmen, who were thought to have been linked to the army.
Kinshasa stands accused of killing a British worker from the oil-exploring Heritage Corp after a 15-minute exchange of fire with the Uganda People's Defence Force and private guards. The oil company is believed to have carried out illegal prospecting in DRC's half of Lake Albert, which the company shares with Uganda.
During the skirmishes, four Ugandan soldiers were captured by Congolese government soldiers while patrolling the lake. This came days after some armed persons had crossed over from the DRC and killed three civilians in Butogota's Kanungu District in southwestern Uganda. The raid escalated tensions, with both armies reinforcing their presence on the border.
Many people in the region are worried that if cross-border incursions continue and diplomatic consultation to resolve the latest crisis fails, the Congo could see itself entangled in yet another conflict with its neighbours -- one that could potentially spill well beyond their shared borders.
All does not bode well for a country that is slowly emerging from the brink of total state collapse and regional conflict, which was regarded as the deadliest since the end of the Second World War, and in which an estimated 3.8 million people died, mostly from starvation and disease, while millions of others were displaced between 1998 and 2003.
To add to the misery of the Congo's belligerent population living in the turbulent eastern provinces, Yakin Erturk, special representative of the UN Human Rights Council, recently gave a haunting summary of the extreme human rights violations that seemingly had become characteristic in many parts of the country.
Erturk warned that, as a result of five years of civil war and the power struggle between internal and external actors, violence and sexual abuse as a means of ethnic or political strife had become a way of life for many people in the region.
Her latest report found that extreme sexual violence against women was pervasive to a point where local authorities have stopped prosecuting perpetrators. On her visit to the region, she met with rape victims whose gruesome accounts told of how they had been forced to eat excrement off the flesh of their murdered relatives, or how they had been raped while their male relatives had often been held at gunpoint by gangs and rebels roaming the forests, as well as by government soldiers sent to keep the peace in the volatile region.
Despite an improvement in the overall security situation in the country, following the pull-out of Ugandan-Rwandese troops after the signing of peace accords between the DRC and its two neighbours in the east, despite the formation of a transitional government from the main warring factions in 2003, which had been supported by both the Rwandan and Ugandan governments during the previous conflict, and despite last year's first multi-party elections since independence in 1960, peace and stability remain elusive for many people outside Kinshasa and its surrounding areas.
More than one million people remain internally displaced in the east of the country. Relief agencies warned that if the situation did not improve, this might result in the country experiencing a severe humanitarian crisis, caused by malnutrition, disease and the consequences of violence and abuse. Operations by the reunified Congolese Armed Forces against militias, and human rights violations committed by both the Congolese Army and militias, still cause people to flee their villages.
Often, alongside ethnic constellations, confrontations represent a struggle for political influence and control over the country's natural and human resources, such as the ample rainfall, fertile soil and the second largest rain forest in the world, as well as a variety of mineral resources.
Historically, the mining of diamonds, copper, cobalt, zinc and other base metals, as well as petroleum extraction, accounted for approximately 75 per cent of total export revenue.
However, to the government's detriment, conflict is often incited by former local leaders who fear losing their sphere of influence in the region, due to the disarmament program aimed at their combatants.
Thus far, most government reforms directed at security and at regaining control over the country's land mass of forests, have been less than successful, which is partially due to a lack of political will.
More particularly, the central feature of the security reform and state-building measures, i.e., the reintegration of combatants from different factions of the war into the reunified Congolese Armed Forced, has turned foul. Low salaries, poor living conditions, the absence of a legal structure, and the lack of training and monitoring of military personnel has resulted in the reunified forces becoming a major source of human rights violations, and a threat to the volatile peace in the country's hinterland, while neighbouring states, and Uganda in particular, reflect the current heightened tensions between Kampala and Kinshasa.
As both countries scramble to avoid another all-out war, pressure is mounting on the Congolese authorities to rein in their ill-disciplined forces in the east, who have become a liability rather than an asset to the state's security dilemma.
Given the government's lack of capacity to control the national territory, fully integrate former militias into unified armed forces and retrain army personnel, renewed instability, in more parts of the country is an ever-present reality.
In recent months, the Congolese government has come to learn an all-important lesson: in order to augment its authority across the country, it must not only strengthen the rule of law in the east, but also raise the revenue necessary to distribute peace dividends among all sectors of society, particularly among disgruntled former militias and army personnel.
Hany Besada is the senior researcher working on fragile states at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont., and Ariane Goetz, from the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, is an intern at CIGI.
Swaziland's king ponders 14th wife at annual dance
Herald News Services
Monday, September 03, 2007
Tens of thousands of chanting, bare-breasted maidens paraded before King Mswati III of Swaziland Sunday, many of them hoping to catch his eye and be picked out to become his 14th wife.
The annual Umhlanga, or reed dance, which finishes Monday at the royal residence in Ludzidzini, is a display of national tradition and pride in one of Africa's smallest countries.
As part of the ceremonies, Mswati III, Africa's last absolute monarch, is entitled to choose a new bride from among the maidens to add to his current 13 wives. It is an honour that cannot be refused.
"He is a great king to us," said Nothando Nhlengethwa, 21, leader of the maidens.
But despite her words, not all Swazis feel the same way. Around 70 per cent of the population live on less than 50 cents a day, in stark contrast to the wealth of the royal family.
"We don't want a benevolent dictator," said Mario Masuku, president of the banned People's United Democratic Movement, adding that the king had sought $45 million to buy a private jet when hundreds of thousands of people needed food aid. "That's his weakness, he likes women and he likes money, irrespective of the . . . economic conditions."
There is an interesting video about the issue linked at:
September 3, 2007
Chaos in Darfur on Rise as Arabs Fight With Arabs
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
NYALA, Sudan, Aug. 28 — Some of the same Arab tribes accused of massacring civilians in the Darfur region of Sudan are now unleashing their considerable firepower against one another in a battle over the spoils of war that is killing hundreds of people and displacing tens of thousands.
In the past several months, the Terjem and the Mahria, heavily armed Arab tribes that United Nations officials said raped and pillaged together as part of the region's notorious janjaweed militias, have squared off in South Darfur, fighting from pickup trucks and the backs of camels. They are raiding each other's villages, according to aid workers and the fighters themselves, and scattering Arab tribesmen into the same kinds of displacement camps that still house some of their earlier victims.
United Nations officials said that thousands of gunmen from each side, including some from hundreds of miles away, were pouring into a strategic river valley called Bulbul, while clashes between two other Arab tribes, the Habanniya and the Salamat, were intensifying farther south.
Darfur's violence has often been characterized as government-backed Arab tribes slaughtering non-Arab tribes, but this new Arab-versus-Arab dimension seems to be a sign of the evolving complexity of the crisis. What started out four years ago in western Sudan as a rebellion and brutal counterinsurgency has cracked wide open into a fluid, chaotic, confusing free-for-all with dozens of armed groups, a spike in banditry and chronic attacks on aid workers.
United Nations officials said tribal and factional fighting was killing more people than the battles between government and rebel forces, which, except in a few areas, have declined considerably.
Though the recent round of clashes between the splintering groups has not come close to taking as many lives as the thousands who were dying each month during the height of the conflict in 2003 and 2004, many aid officials say they fear that the situation is getting out of control.
"The fragmentation of armed groups is among our major concerns," said Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for Sudan. "This is making the situation even more complex, and more difficult for civilians as well as for humanitarians trying to help them."
The rising insecurity is spelled out in two color-coded maps taped to Mr. Giuliano's wall in Khartoum, the capital. One is from May 2006 and has only a few pockets of orange and yellow danger zones. But on the map from this June, the danger zones are everywhere.
United Nations officials say the militias may be jockeying for power and trying to seize turf before the long-awaited hybrid force of United Nations and African Union peacekeepers begins to arrive, perhaps later this year. Today's battlefields are superimposed on yesterday's, with the Arab militias killing one another over the same burned villages and stingy riverbeds where so much blood has already been spilled.
Though many Western diplomats and a seemingly endless supply of advocates have blamed the Sudanese government for arming Arab militias in the first place, an accusation the government denies, several independent observers in Sudan said the government was not driving this phase of the conflict.
"The government is no longer arming the janjaweed," said Col. James Oladipo, the African Union commander in Nyala, in South Darfur. The problem now, he said, is "bandits and factions."
Some aid workers say Darfur is beginning to resemble Somalia, the world's longest-running showcase for AK-47-fed chaos. Highwaymen in green camouflage — rebel fighters? local militia? janjaweed? — routinely flag down trucks and drag out passengers, robbing the men and sexually assaulting the women. Newly empowered warlords are exacting taxes. The galaxy of rebel armies — the Greater Sudan Liberation Movement, the Popular Forces Troops, the Sudan Democratic Group, to name a few new arrivals — keeps expanding, and ideology seems to fade away. Despite peace talks among them in early August, the rebels, mostly non-Arabs, are now also battling themselves.
Among Arabs, one of the most egregious examples of the recent infighting happened on the morning of July 31 near Sania Daleibah, in southern Darfur. Terjem leaders said hundreds of Terjem had gathered to bury an important sheik. Then they were suddenly surrounded. It was Mahria tribesmen, and according to United Nations reports and witness accounts, the Mahria opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades and belt-fed machine guns and mowed down more than 60 Terjem.
"It was a massacre," said Mohammed Yacob Ibrahim Abdelrahman, the top Terjem leader. "By our brothers."
The Arab-Arab violence is impeding the slow recovery process that had begun in some parts of Darfur. Around 2.2 million people are stuck in displaced persons camps, though some had been taking the first steps to leave, like villagers from Jimaiza, north of Nyala, who left their camp in July to go back to plant their peanut fields. They were not worried about Arab militias raiding their village, they said. Those days seemed over. But then the Terjem-Mahria feud erupted.
"It was strange," said Abakar Ahmed Abdul Rahman, a leader of the Fur tribe, which is non-Arab and the biggest in Darfur. "A few days after the fighting, a Mahria elder came up to me and said: 'Tell your people not to go back to the camp. They're safe in the village. We don't have a problem with you.' "
But Mr. Abakar shook his head and laughed.
"I know these people," he said. "They killed my wife and burned my hut. I'll never trust them."
Not all Arab tribes joined the bloodletting when Darfur exploded in 2003. But according to United Nations documents, the Mahria and the Terjem did.
The Mahria are nomadic camel herders from northern Darfur, rugged people of the desert whose militias have helped the Sudanese government patrol the long, sandy border with Chad. The Terjem are farmers and cattle herders who lived closely with the Fur. The Mahria knew how to fight. The Terjem knew where the Fur lived.
Together, the two tribes massacred many Fur villagers, according to United Nations officials and Fur survivors. Then they divvied up Fur land. But the partnership broke down late last year, when, Terjem leaders say, the Mahria kidnapped a 14-year-old Terjem boy. For their part, Mahria leaders say the Terjem started it by stealing Mahria animals, an act that had to be answered.
Juma Dagalow, a Mahria sheik, said that after one ambush in which Terjem gunmen killed many Mahria, he called other sheiks by satellite phone and rallied the troops.
"We went to that funeral to attack them, to finish the account," the sheik explained, adding that his people were "a little aggressive."
It was then that the wali stepped in. The wali, or governor, of South Darfur called a peace conference and urged neutral tribes to mediate a cease-fire.
The wali, Ali Mahamoud Mohammed, said in an interview that such clashes were "just a natural part of the life of the tribes" and something he had witnessed growing up in Darfur in the 1970s.
Mr. Ali said the fighting began in December, when the Mahria headed south on a seasonal migration with their camels and trampled through Terjem territory near the Bulbul River. The fighting predictably resumed in July, he said, when the Mahria trampled back.
The governor said he sent troops to Bulbul to quell the fighting. But the Arab-Arab bloodshed, fueled by an overflow of guns in Darfur and a breakdown in the traditional order, seems to be spreading faster than anyone can control. Several tribes have recently fought over land, livestock and the right to extort money along certain trade routes. Among those fighting: Hotiya versus Rizeigat (the Rizeigat are a huge tribe that includes the Mahria); Rizeigat versus Habanniya; Habanniya versus Salamat.
Tribal feuds that used to be reconciled by sheiks before the body count reached into the hundreds are now turning into tribal wars.
And there may be a connection to the rampant banditry, which seems to spare no one — not aid workers, villagers or even Sudanese government officials.
"As these groups split," said Colonel Oladipo of the African Union, "banditry becomes the source for weapons, money and food in order to sustain their factions."
The 50 miles of asphalt running between Nyala and the neighboring town of Kas, which cuts straight through a Terjem stronghold, have become bandit boulevard. On a single day in late August, there were six attacks. Traveling by road has become so dangerous in Darfur that the United Nations now uses helicopters to fly even 12 miles.
"There's absolutely no law and order in this place," said Annette Rehrl, a spokeswoman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The insecurity has driven away some aid workers, United Nations officials said, with 12,300 working in Darfur, 16 percent less than last year.
It has also cemented tens of thousands of Terjem, who traditionally roam with their animals for part of the year, in internally displaced persons camps where they are not free to move. Out here, newly widowed women lie in plastic huts, flies exploring the corners of their eyes. Once proud sheiks have been reduced to carrying sacks of sand on their backs for work. A Terjem baby with a three-inch, bubbly scar at the base of her spine — a recent gunshot wound — howled her head off.
"We just sit here, hating ourselves," said Mariam Mohammed, a wisp-thin Terjem woman who said her husband had been shot dead in front of her. "Just look at me. I'm half of what I used to be."
September 20, 2007
Voices Rise in Egypt to Shield Girls From an Old Tradition
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN
KAFR AL MANSHI ABOU HAMAR, Egypt — The men in this poor farming community were seething. A 13-year-old girl was brought to a doctor’s office to have her clitoris removed, a surgery considered necessary here to preserve chastity and honor.
The girl died, but that was not the source of the outrage. After her death, the government shut down the clinic, and that got everyone stirred up.
“They will not stop us,” shouted Saad Yehia, a tea shop owner along the main street. “We support circumcision!” he shouted over and over.
“Even if the state doesn’t like it, we will circumcise the girls,” shouted Fahmy Ezzeddin Shaweesh, an elder in the village.
Circumcision, as supporters call it, or female genital mutilation, as opponents refer to it, was suddenly a ferocious focus of debate in Egypt this summer. A nationwide campaign to stop the practice has become one of the most powerful social movements in Egypt in decades, uniting an unlikely alliance of government forces, official religious leaders and street-level activists.
Though Egypt’s Health Ministry ordered an end to the practice in 1996, it allowed exceptions in cases of emergency, a loophole critics describe as so wide that it effectively rendered the ban meaningless. But now the government is trying to force a comprehensive ban.
Not only was it unusual for the government to shut down the clinic, but the health minister has also issued a decree banning health care workers— or anyone — from conducting the procedure for any reason. Beyond that, the Ministry of Religious Affairs also issued a booklet explaining why the practice was not called for in Islam; Egypt’s grand mufti, Ali Gomaa, declared it haram, or prohibited by Islam; Egypt’s highest religious official, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, called it harmful; television advertisements have been shown on state channels to discourage it; and a national hot line was set up to answer the public’s questions about genital cutting.
But as the men in this village demonstrated, widespread social change in Egypt comes slowly, very slowly. This country is conservative, religious and, for many, guided largely by traditions, even when those traditions do not adhere to the tenets of their faith, be it Christianity or Islam.
For centuries Egyptian girls, usually between the ages of 7 and 13, have been taken to have the procedure done, sometimes by a doctor, sometimes by a barber or whoever else in the village would do it. As recently as 2005, a government health survey showed that 96 percent of the thousands of married, divorced or widowed women interviewed said they had undergone the procedure — a figure that astounds even many Egyptians. In the language of the survey, “The practice of female circumcision is virtually universal among women of reproductive age in Egypt.”
Though the practice is common and increasingly contentious throughout sub-Saharan Africa, among Arab states the only other place where this practice is customary is in southern Yemen, experts here said. In Saudi Arabia, where women cannot drive, cannot vote, cannot hold most jobs, the practice is viewed as abhorrent, a reflection of pre-Islamic traditions.
But now, quite suddenly, forces opposing genital cutting in Egypt are pressing back as never before. More than a century after the first efforts to curb this custom, the movement has broken through one of the main barriers to change: It is no longer considered taboo to discuss it in public. That shift seems to have coincided with a small but growing acceptance of talking about human sexuality on television and radio.
For the first time, opponents said, television news shows and newspapers have aggressively reported details of botched operations. This summer two young girls died, and it was front-page news in Al Masry al Yom, an independent and popular daily. Activists highlighted the deaths with public demonstrations, which generated even more coverage.
The force behind this unlikely collaboration between government, nongovernment organizations, religious leaders and the news media is a no-nonsense 84-year-old anthropologist named Marie Assaad, who has been fighting against genital cutting since the 1950s.
“I never thought I would live to see this day,” she said, reading about the subject in a widely circulated daily newspaper.
Dr. Nasr el-Sayyid, assistant to the minister of health, said there had already been a drop in urban areas, along with an aggressive effort in more than 100 villages, mostly in the south, to curb the practice. “Our plan and program over the next two years is aiming to take it down 20 percent nationwide,” he said.
The challenge, however, rests in persuading people that their grandparents, parents and they themselves have harmed their daughters. Moreover, advocates must convince a skeptical public that men will marry a woman who has not undergone the procedure and that circumcision is not necessary to preserve family honor. It is a challenge to get men to give up some of their control over women.
And it will be a challenge to convince influential people like Osama Mohamed el-Moaseri, imam of a mosque in Basyoun, the city near where the 13-year-old girl lived, and died. “This practice has been passed down generation after generation, so it is natural that every person circumcises his daughter,” he said. “When Ali Gomaa says it is haram, he is criticizing the practice of our fathers and forefathers.”
But the movement against genital cutting has matured and is increasingly prepared for these arguments. At first, Ms. Assaad and a group of intellectuals who together created a task force simply lectured their neighbors, essentially calling the practice barbaric.
“At the beginning we preached and said this is wrong,” she recalled. “It didn’t work. They said, ‘It was done to our mothers and grandmothers, and they are fine.’ ”
She and her colleagues sounded like out-of-touch urban intellectuals, she said. But over time, they enlisted the aid of Islamic scholars and health care workers, hoping to disperse misconceptions — like the idea that cutting off the clitoris prevents homosexuality — and relate to people’s lives.
“Circumcision is a very old custom and has absolutely no benefits,” Vivian Fouad, who helps staff the national hot line, said to a caller wondering what to do with her own daughter. She continued: “If you want to protect your daughter, then you have to raise her well. How you raise your child is the main factor in everything, not mutilating your daughter.”
Egypt is a patriarchal society, but women can be a powerful force. So Ms. Assaad helped persuade two important women, elite and privileged, who like herself could not believe the practice was as widespread as it was, to join her battle.
The first was Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of President Hosni Mubarak and a political force in her own right. The second was an ally of Mrs. Mubarak, Mosheira Khattab, head of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, a government agency that helps set national health and social policies.
Mrs. Khattab has become a force in pressing the agenda. Her council now has a full-time staff working on the issue and runs the hot line. She toured the Nile Delta region, three cities in one day, promoting the message, blunt and outraged that genital cutting had not stopped.
“The Koran is a newcomer to tradition in this manner,” she said. “As a male society, the men took parts of religion that satisfied men and inflated it. The parts of the Koran that helped women, they ignored.”
It is an unusual swipe at the Islamists who have promoted the practice as in keeping with religion, especially since the government generally tries to avoid taking on conservative religious leaders. It tries to position itself as the guardian of Islamic values, aiming to enhance its own wilted legitimacy and undercut support for the Muslim Brotherhood, the banned but popular opposition movement.
But the religious discourse concerning genital cutting has changed, and that is credited to Ms. Assaad’s strategy of reaching up to people like Mrs. Mubarak and out to young women like Fatma Ibrahim, 24. When Ms. Ibrahim was 11 years old, she said, her parents told her she was going for a blood test. The doctor, a relative, put her to sleep and when she woke, she said she could not walk.
The memory haunts her now, and though she says that her parents “will kill” her if they find out, she has become a volunteer in the movement against genital cutting, hoping to spare other women what she endured.
“I am looking to talk to the young, the ones who will be parents in 10 years,” she said. “This is my target group. I talk to the young. When I get married, inshallah, I will never, ever circumcise my daughter.”
Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting from Cairo.
Correction: September 21, 2007
Two picture captions yesterday with the continuation of a front-page article about the tradition of female genital cutting in Egypt were reversed. The top photograph showed health care workers and nursing students attending a symposium on genital cutting; the picture below it showed men defending the tradition at a tea shop across the street from a clinic where a 13-year-old girl died during an operation to remove her clitoris.
September 27, 2007
Somalia Tallies the Plagues, Fearing What's Next
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
JOWHAR, Somalia, Sept. 26 — The instant the sack of grain fell off the truck and thumped down on the ground, it was enveloped in a whirl of dust, fists and knees.
The crowd of hungry people, who had been baking for hours in the brutal heat at an emergency distribution center on Wednesday, were in no mood to negotiate. One man whipped out a footlong machete, another a dagger, a third a handgun, which he waved menacingly in the air.
"My food, my food, my food!" they all yelled, tussling over the sack.
It has been nine months since this country went through its biggest political change in 16 years, but surprisingly little has changed.
Hundreds of thousands of people are still on the verge of starvation, pirates still roam the seas, teenage gunmen still roam the streets, and the promise of a functioning government remains a vapor.
The Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, a United Nations creation that was always considered a shaky, short-term compromise, was finally installed in Mogadishu, the capital, in December, but it, like many Somalis, is now teetering on the edge of survival. A raging insurgency has confined the government to a handful of heavily fortified buildings in Mogadishu, while the rest of the country suffers.
Jowhar, a town of donkey carts and dust storms about 50 miles north of Mogadishu, has been recently hit by a devastating mix of drought and floods, and a huge influx of needy people. The intensifying street fighting in Mogadishu has driven thousands from their homes and many showed up here, just when the local crops failed.
"There is nothing to eat," said Binti Olo Ahmad, 40, who trudged out of the capital two weeks ago with eight children and now lives in a tent made from twigs and garbage bags. She laughed a short, throaty laugh when asked if the anarchy of the 1990s, when warring clans tore Somalia apart after the central government collapsed, were any worse.
"No way," she said. "I've never seen war like this."
United Nations officials are increasingly concerned. All the signs of a famine are on the horizon: food prices have nearly doubled in some areas, the cereal harvest was the worst in 13 years, malnutrition rates are sharply rising and the long-term forecast indicates that the rains this fall will be disappointing.
"Thousands of people are marching right up to the edge of a crisis," said Peter Goossens, the director of the World Food Program in Somalia. "Any additional little thing, any little flood or drought, will push them over."
The World Food Program is feeding 1.2 million people in Somalia, more than 15 percent of the population. Already, some people have starved.
"This poor country keeps taking one blow after another," Mr. Goossens said. "Ultimately, it will break."
Many Somalis feel that has already happened. A multimillion-dollar clan-reconciliation conference ended last month, and some elders later traveled to Saudi Arabia to sign a ceremonial agreement. But the myriad clans are still not at peace, and even the transitional government is showing worrying cracks.
This week, Ali Mohamed Gedi, the prime minister, and Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the president, got into a standoff over whether some of Mr. Gedi's allies should face corruption charges. The two leaders are from rival clans, and some Somalis fear that unless the dispute is quickly resolved it could spell an end to the thin veneer of cooperation between the men and possibly turn into a clan war.
Government officials in Jowhar admit there are serious challenges. Ministries are not functioning, the transitional government is running out of money and all the recent turmoil has created overwhelming needs, said Hussein Hassan Mahamoud, the deputy governor in Jowhar.
"But we are trying," he said. "We just need time."
The question is, How much time is there before the insurgency causes such serious divisions in the government that it falls apart? On Sunday, more than a dozen government soldiers were killed in a single raid. Hit-and-run attacks like this one started when Ethiopian troops invaded in December to oust an Islamist movement that had briefly ruled much of the country and to shore up the transitional government, which has never enjoyed a lot of support. Now the Islamists have regrouped in the thickly forested areas of southern Somalia, where they operate with virtual impunity. Mogadishu, meanwhile, has become a Baghdad-like mess of suicide bombs, roadside bombs and assassinations.
This month the insurgents, a mix of clan and Islamist militias, held their own reconciliation conference in Asmara, Eritrea. They formed the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia, a movement openly dedicated to overthrowing the transitional government.
Not all the country is up in flames, though. Jowhar is relatively stable. Girls flock to school in bright yellow veils. Battered old taxis glide down the streets. Tensions like the ruckus over the sack of grain that fell off the food aid truck are usually solved the Somali way.
As soon as the man yanked out his pistol, three heavily armed militiamen in wraparound sunglasses surrounded him. Facing superior firepower, the pistol-wielder smiled, shook his head and tucked his gun back into his waistband.
The sack of grain was then tossed back on the truck, which sputtered on, like most of this country.
September 28, 2007, 12:37 pm
The Word Is Getting Out
By Josh Ruxin
Josh Ruxin is a Columbia University expert on public health who has spent the last couple of years living in Rwanda. He’s an unusual mix of academic expert and mud-between-the-toes aid worker.
It was much to the dismay of family and friends that my wife and I moved to Rwanda. Having seen little more than “Hotel Rwanda” to educate them about the country, they believed it to be a hostile and unstable place. We had a different take: it’s safe, clean, friendly and relatively uncorrupted. Our perception is clearly shared by others and, now, the country’s resurgence is being recognized.
Tuesday, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation released the results of its “Ibrahim Index” — a holistic ranking of how African countries are doing across the dimension of governance. Ibrahim, one of Africa’s most successful and philanthropic entrepreneurs, set up the index to inform the Mo Ibrahim Prize — an annual award of $5 million for a former head of state who has demonstrated excellence in leadership. The surprise to all but Rwandan insiders was that Rwanda made the greatest progress of any country during the course of the last five years.
As the always insightful Steve Radelet pointed out in an earlier post, governance and democracy in Africa mean everything. Having worked in nearly a dozen countries in Africa, I decided to place my bets on Rwanda because it was the first place I’d never been asked to pay a bribe. I’m not alone: donors are lining up to invest in Rwanda, reassured that the money will reach the people who need it most.
None of this is to say that Rwanda is utopia: major challenges remain for improvements in the press and in democracy. Nevertheless, at a time when many nations are spiraling downward, it’s heartening to see little Rwanda making progress against all odds.
September 29, 2007, 10:20 am
A Few Days in the South of Ethiopia…
By Joseph Stiglitz
Joseph Stiglitz is a Nobel-winning economist who is also the author of several books on international economic issues. He was chief economist at the World Bank and chairman of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, and has contributed to many diverse areas of economics. Lately, he has also written incisively about the costs of our involvement in Iraq.
After joining the celebrations for the new millennium in Addis Abbaba, we headed south to the Rift valley and ended up spending a few days around
Jinka and Arabaminch, enjoying the spectacular views and visiting some of the tribal villages and markets. We had met few foreigners or people from
the north of the country who had been to the area and, once we arrived, it was easy to see why.
Not only does Ethiopian Airlines cancel most of the flights (we were told that at one point there was no air service for two months) but the roads were as bad as any I have seen in Africa. We saw numerous bridges that had been washed away, we had to ford a number of swollen rivers, we passed trucks that had overturned in the treacherous mud and lines of trucks waiting on the river banks until the water had receded so they could cross. When we did arrive somewhere, people would ask us for information about the state of the roads we had driven through. All of this gave an air of excitement to the venture — but does not make for easy tourism or business.
After having two weeks in Ethiopia, and seen half of the domestic flights we had planned to take be canceled, I think it’s time for the government to seriously consider privatizing at least the domestic part of Ethiopian Airlines.
One of the arguments against privatization is the fear that the new profit-seeking owner will cut services to markets that aren’t
money-making. Many countries are caught in a Catch-22: producers don’t produce perishables, like flowers, because there is no ready access to
markets; but private carriers won’t provide routes, unless there is already sufficient demand to make it worthwhile. In the past couple of years,
Ethiopia’s rose industry has been blossoming; without ready air transport, this would never have happened.
Government-run airlines are more willing to create and maintain such routes, even if initially they are forced to run at a loss. They recognize that more than short run profits are at stake. So, the argument goes, one needs government-run airlines that will fly initially unprofitable routes, or to remote areas no one else will go to.
In the case of utilities, there is a similar argument: a publicly listed company won’t serve poor customers who can not pay their bills; the companies’ first and last concern is to make money to recoup their investments and to provide as strong a return to their shareholders as possible. A well-done documentary on this subject is “Power Cuts” which is about the privatization of electricity in the country of Georgia. I also recommend William Finnegan’s piece in The New Yorker about the attempt to privatize water in Cochibamba, Bolivia.
Typically what happens is a poor government with many urgent priorities cannot invest in infrastructure (whether it be roads or new
pipes that prevent the loss of the city’s water.) Worse still, they are told not to borrow to make these investments — even if there is a high
return on them. The deficits, it is claimed, are bad in themselves, regardless of how the money is spent. (Evidently, the argument is that
Wall Street, for all its sophistication, only knows how to look at the liability side of a balance sheet, not the asset side!) They are told by
lending institutions such as the IMF or World Bank to find outside investors and they often wind up with privatized companies that don’t do a
good, or fair, job of delivering services. It’s a well known fact that privatizations are extremely difficult to do well and many end up failing.
Having said that, there may be a strong case for the privatization of at least the domestic portion of Ethiopian Airlines — unless it can make a quick turnaround on the quality and reliability of its services. For starters, it is clear that they are not serving well many of the less-visited cities. When we were in Harar, for example, the flights to and from Addis were canceled for three days running. From my admittedly
small sample (with, however, a remarkable consistency) it’s difficult to believe that a new owner could do much worse than the existing one.
Reliable transport is, however, essential for the country’s growth — including attracting foreign investment — and certainly for the development of tourism, which could bring in badly-needed foreign exchange. One of the sign of India’s tremendous growth – and a big contributor to that growth — is the proliferation of reliable new airlines (Jet Airlines being just one example) that have eclipsed Indian Airlines in the domestic market.
For us, the flight cancellations were a good thing as it meant we had to drive everywhere and we saw more of the country than we otherwise would
have. The south was far poorer than anywhere else we had seen in the country. Many of the children had swollen bellies, typically a sign of serious malnutrition. Even in the larger villages, the children lacked shoes. There were far fewer schools and clinics than we had seen up north and we did not see any of the community self[-]help projects likr the one we saw up in Tigray aimed at fighting land erosion, raising the water table and promoting fruit orchards.
Nor were there many tourists. We met staffers from USAID and the Germans government’s GTZ as well some NGO activists who were helping a member of the traditionally nomadic Mursi tribe make a documentary about their reaction to the controversial new road — it will cut through the land where they live — and a new national park, which will intrude on their traditional grazing grounds. When it is finally finished, the road (which may go as far as the Kenyan border) will bring many more tourists into contact with tribes like the Mursi, Turmi and Hamar.
For many, this is worrying, as so far the tourism being done is quite destructive to the tribal peoples. It mostly consists of short visits to villages where the locals swarm their visitors asking to have their photos taken (adults get 2 birr per photo and the children get 1 birr) and try to sell a few, paltry souvenirs. The foreign tourist learns nothing of the local culture or customs — or the struggles through which they are going — and the tribal people don’t make as much money as they could if they were better organized. In one case, we proposed making a large donation to the village as a whole but were told they wanted individual payments. I have no idea if it’s true, but we were told by two people that much of the money is then used to buy the local beer.
Another village, run by another tribal group, the Dorze, nearer Arabaminch, seemed to be more organized. There we were taken to visit a family which was well set up for tourism. The 16-year-old son spoke excellent English and showed us all around his family compound. He told us about the architecture of the houses (how the roofs are very tall and then shrink down as the termites chew on them from the bottom) and we saw a demonstration of how they use the false banana to make different foods, how it’s prepared, fermented, wrapped, stored and finally eaten.
After that we saw a main square of the village where they have a crafts shop and guest rooms for travelers. They said they perform traditional dances every night for tourists. The whole thing (we were told) is organized by a village cooperative that has existed for 100 years, and much of the money is used to buy cattle and goats that are killed and eaten by the whole village at their ceremonies held twice a year.
If this is all true, then it’s clearly a much better way of doing things than we saw at the Mursi village. We didn’t get to visit inside the village (just the first compound and public area) but we got a sense of what the village looks like and some of the customs. When the road is done, it will be interesting to see what happens to the people near the Rift valley: how, and how well, they adjust as globalization truly reaches their villages.
The intrusion of the road — with its costs and benefits — is only one of the changes facing those in what had once been a relatively remote part of Ethiopia. As we have seen in Mongolia (among other places), there is always tension between government that wants to preserve nature and expand national parks and settle nomads and educate their children, and traditional peoples who want to continue their old forms of life. Even if incomes are increased or risk reduced, many resist being resettled.
Africa’s population explosion has made land increasingly scarce. America’s West was marked by a conflict between cattle raisers and homesteaders — and no one pad any attention to conservation. These kinds of disagreements are now taking place in the Omo valley. Perhaps through better land management and improvements in pastoral practices, we can find a compromise that can preserve the environment and lead to sustainable increases in living standards.
Back in Addis, I met with representatives of some of the groups protesting human rights violations and the trade blockades in the Ogaden desert in the east of the country. (For more information see The New York Times and Human Rights Watch reports from July 2007). I also met with Western government officials who say Somalia and the Ogaden have become a magnet for extremists from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, and so defend Ethiopia’s hard-line policies there. I spoke with donors who are upset about the 2005 elections and the government’s attitude to human rights and say they are withholding foreign aid because of these concerns. Other donors seem more focused on economics (including a few who are still pushing the old neo-liberal lines that have failed so often elsewhere.) I heard from donors who want the government to privatize more businesses and reform the financial sector and improve the way it collects data on poverty. I also talked to British and Japanese donors who are pleased with how the government is handling the aid it receives and the tremendous efforts it has made to help the vast majority of the population that lives in the countryside.
A recent World Bank study suggests poverty is declining in the rural areas. Some singled out Prime Minister Meles for his reasonable views on many topics, his remarkable achievement in managing the conflicting pressures, his efforts to promote decentralization — some 40 percent of the budget is being turned over to local and regional authorities. In short, Ethiopia is a country that people are passionate about and that provokes strong opinions. The foreign donors are not shy about expressing their opinion about virtually every aspect of how Ethiopia conducts itself. (I wonder how the United States would take it if the foreign ambassadors in Washington got together and issued demands about how the government should conduct itself — whether in Iraq, in Guatanamo, or in the provision of health care to the indigent! I suspect that we would be somewhat less tolerant than the Ethiopians have been.)
I would not claim to be an expert on Ethiopia but it’s obvious to me that in the area of economics and development, what is happening is impressive. The 10 percent growth for each of the past four years puts Ethiopia towards the top of the growth league tables. It is transforming large parts of the country. Now the challenge is to make sure that it is sustained. In terms of politics, Ethiopia has come a long way since the Derg was overthrown in 1991, but it still has a way to go. As so often happens, the opposition sometimes believes that it can strengthen its own hand but weakening the government’s — even if it works to the disadvantage of the country as a whole. It will evidently take some time to develop a culture combining cooperation in efforts to develop the country and competition for the best ideas. Also, being in a tough neighborhood, we have to hope that the War on Terror will not become an excuse for the infringement of civil liberties and human rights abuses by the military as we have seen in other parts of Africa as well the United States, the United Kingdom and so many other countries.
Somehow I was given the wrong number for Ethiopia’s flower exports. They were $60 million last year, not $160 million as I stated in my last posting. $160 million represents projected sales for the coming year.
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October 7, 2007
Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
BUKAVU, Congo — Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, cannot bear to listen to the stories his patients tell him anymore.
Every day, 10 new women and girls who have been raped show up at his hospital. Many have been so sadistically attacked from the inside out, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair.
“We don’t know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear,” said Dr. Mukwege, who works in South Kivu Province, the epicenter of Congo’s rape epidemic. “They are done to destroy women.”
Eastern Congo is going through another one of its convulsions of violence, and this time it seems that women are being systematically attacked on a scale never before seen here. According to the United Nations, 27,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2006 in South Kivu Province alone, and that may be just a fraction of the total number across the country.
“The sexual violence in Congo is the worst in the world,” said John Holmes, the United Nations under secretary general for humanitarian affairs. “The sheer numbers, the wholesale brutality, the culture of impunity — it’s appalling.”
The days of chaos in Congo were supposed to be over. Last year, this country of 66 million people held a historic election that cost $500 million and was intended to end Congo’s various wars and rebellions and its tradition of epically bad government.
But the elections have not unified the country or significantly strengthened the Congolese government’s hand to deal with renegade forces, many of them from outside the country. The justice system and the military still barely function, and United Nations officials say Congolese government troops are among the worst offenders when it comes to rape. Large swaths of the country, especially in the east, remain authority-free zones where civilians are at the mercy of heavily armed groups who have made warfare a livelihood and survive by raiding villages and abducting women for ransom.
According to victims, one of the newest groups to emerge is called the Rastas, a mysterious gang of dreadlocked fugitives who live deep in the forest, wear shiny tracksuits and Los Angeles Lakers jerseys and are notorious for burning babies, kidnapping women and literally chopping up anybody who gets in their way.
United Nations officials said the so-called Rastas were once part of the Hutu militias who fled Rwanda after committing genocide there in 1994, but now it seems they have split off on their own and specialize in freelance cruelty.
Honorata Barinjibanwa, an 18-year-old woman with high cheekbones and downcast eyes, said she was kidnapped from a village that the Rastas raided in April and kept as a sex slave until August. Most of that time she was tied to a tree, and she still has rope marks ringing her delicate neck. The men would untie her for a few hours each day to gang-rape her, she said.
“I’m weak, I’m angry, and I don’t know how to restart my life,” she said from Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, where she was taken after her captors freed her.
She is also pregnant.
While rape has always been a weapon of war, researchers say they fear that Congo’s problem has metastasized into a wider social phenomenon.
“It’s gone beyond the conflict,” said Alexandra Bilak, who has studied various armed groups around Bukavu, on the shores of Lake Kivu. She said that the number of women abused and even killed by their husbands seemed to be going up and that brutality toward women had become “almost normal.”
Malteser International, a European aid organization that runs health clinics in eastern Congo, estimates that it will treat 8,000 sexual violence cases this year, compared with 6,338 last year. The organization said that in one town, Shabunda, 70 percent of the women reported being sexually brutalized.
At Panzi Hospital, where Dr. Mukwege performs as many as six rape-related surgeries a day, bed after bed is filled with women lying on their backs, staring at the ceiling, with colostomy bags hanging next to them because of all the internal damage.
“I still have pain and feel chills,” said Kasindi Wabulasa, a patient who was raped in February by five men. The men held an AK-47 rifle to her husband’s chest and made him watch, telling him that if he closed his eyes, they would shoot him. When they were finished, Ms. Wabulasa said, they shot him anyway.
In almost all the reported cases, the culprits are described as young men with guns, and in the deceptively beautiful hills here, there is no shortage of them: poorly paid and often mutinous government soldiers; homegrown militias called the Mai-Mai who slick themselves with oil before marching into battle; members of paramilitary groups originally from Uganda and Rwanda who have destabilized this area over the past 10 years in a quest for gold and all the other riches that can be extracted from Congo’s exploited soil.
The attacks go on despite the presence of the largest United Nations peacekeeping force in the world, with more than 17,000 troops.
Few seem to be spared. Dr. Mukwege said his oldest patient was 75, his youngest 3.
“Some of these girls whose insides have been destroyed are so young that they don’t understand what happened to them,” Dr. Mukwege said. “They ask me if they will ever be able to have children, and it’s hard to look into their eyes.”
No one — doctors, aid workers, Congolese and Western researchers — can explain exactly why this is happening.
“That is the question,” said André Bourque, a Canadian consultant who works with aid groups in eastern Congo. “Sexual violence in Congo reaches a level never reached anywhere else. It is even worse than in Rwanda during the genocide.”
Impunity may be a contributing factor, Mr. Bourque added, saying that very few of the culprits are punished.
Many Congolese aid workers denied that the problem was cultural and insisted that the widespread rapes were not the product of something ingrained in the way men treated women in Congolese society. “If that were the case, this would have showed up long ago,” said Wilhelmine Ntakebuka, who coordinates a sexual violence program in Bukavu.
Instead, she said, the epidemic of rapes seems to have started in the mid-1990s. That coincides with the waves of Hutu militiamen who escaped into Congo’s forests after exterminating 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus during Rwanda’s genocide 13 years ago.
Mr. Holmes said that while government troops might have raped thousands of women, the most vicious attacks had been carried out by Hutu militias.
“These are people who were involved with the genocide and have been psychologically destroyed by it,” he said.
Mr. Bourque called this phenomenon “reversed values” and said it could develop in heavily traumatized areas that had been steeped in conflict for many years, like eastern Congo.
This place, one of the greenest, hilliest and most scenic slices of central Africa, continues to reverberate from the aftershocks of the genocide next door. Take the recent fighting near Bukavu between the Congolese Army and Laurent Nkunda, a dissident general who commands a formidable rebel force. Mr. Nkunda is a Congolese Tutsi who has accused the Congolese Army of supporting Hutu militias, which the army denies. Mr. Nkunda says his rebel force is simply protecting Tutsi civilians from being victimized again.
But his men may be no better.
Willermine Mulihano said she was raped twice — first by Hutu militiamen two years ago and then by Nkunda soldiers in July. Two soldiers held her legs apart, while three others took turns violating her.
“When I think about what happened,” she said, “I feel anxious and brokenhearted.”
She is also lonely. Her husband divorced her after the first rape, saying she was diseased.
In some cases, the attacks are on civilians already caught in the cross-fire between warring groups. In one village near Bukavu where 27 women were raped and 18 civilians killed in May, the attackers left behind a note in broken Swahili telling the villagers that the violence would go on as long as government troops were in the area.
The United Nations peacekeepers here seem to be stepping up efforts to protect women.
Recently, they initiated what they call “night flashes,” in which three truckloads of peacekeepers drive into the bush and keep their headlights on all night as a signal to both civilians and armed groups that the peacekeepers are there. Sometimes, when morning comes, 3,000 villagers are curled up on the ground around them.
But the problem seems bigger than the resources currently devoted to it.
Panzi Hospital has 350 beds, and though a new ward is being built specifically for rape victims, the hospital sends women back to their villages before they have fully recovered because it needs space for the never-ending stream of new arrivals.
Dr. Mukwege, 52, said he remembered the days when Bukavu was known for its stunning lake views and nearby national parks, like Kahuzi-Biega.
“There used to be a lot of gorillas in there,” he said. “But now they’ve been replaced by much more savage beasts.”
Egypt's plan to green Sahara a growing controversy
Desert country seeks more room for population
Monday, October 08, 2007
CREDIT: Tara Todras-Whitehill, Reuters
Workers till a field at the Desert Development Center in the Nile Delta. The lush fields growing among a vast stretch of sand north of Cairo's pyramids points to Egypt's determination to make deserts habitable.
It looks like a mirage but the lush fields of cauliflower, apricot trees and melon growing among a vast stretch of sand north of Cairo's pyramids is all too real -- proof of Egypt's determination to turn its deserts green.
While climate change and land over-use help many deserts across the world advance, Egypt is slowly greening the sand that covers almost all of its territory as it seeks to create more space for its growing population.
Tarek el-Kowmey, 45, points proudly to the banana trees he grows on what was once Sahara sands near the Desert Development Centre, north of Cairo, where scientists experiment with high-tech techniques to make Egypt's desert bloom.
"All of this used to be just sand," he said. "Now we can grow anything."
With only five per cent of the country habitable, almost all of Egypt's 74 million people live along the Nile River and the Mediterranean Sea. Already crowded living conditions -- Cairo is one of the most densely populated cities on earth -- will likely get worse as Egypt's population is expected to double by 2050.
So the government is keen to encourage people to move to the desert by pressing ahead with an estimated $70 billion plan to reclaim 1.36 million hectares of desert over the next 10 years. Among the incentives are cheap desert land to college graduates.
But to make these areas habitable and capable of cultivation, the government will need to tap into scarce water resources of the Nile River as rainfall is almost non-existent in Egypt.
The plan has raised controversy among some conservationists who say turning the desert green is neither practical nor sustainable and might ultimately backfire.
Anders Jagerskog, director of the Stockholm International Water Institute in Sweden, questions the wisdom of using precious water resources to grow in desert areas unsuited to cultivation and where water will evaporate quickly under the scorching sun.
"A desert is not the best place to grow food," he said. "From a political perspective, it makes sense in terms of giving more people jobs even though it is not very rational from a water perspective," he added.
The scope of the reclamations could also add to regional tension over Nile water sharing arrangements as in order to green its desert Egypt might need to take more than its share of Nile water determined by international treaties.
Egypt's project to reclaim deserts in the south, called "Toshka," would expand Egypt's farmland by about 40 per cent by 2017, using about five billion cubic metres of water a year.
That worries neighbours to the south who are already unhappy about Nile water sharing arrangements.
October 10, 2007
In Africa, Prosperity From Seeds Falls Short
By CELIA W. DUGGER
HERMAKONO, Guinea — The seeds are a marvel, producing bountiful, aromatic rice crops resistant to drought, pests and disease. But a decade after their introduction, they have spread to only a tiny fraction of the land here in West Africa where they could help millions of farming families escape poverty.
At a time when philanthropists like Bill Gates have become entranced by the possibility of a Green Revolution for Africa, the New Rices for Africa, as scientists call the wonder seeds, offer a clear warning. Even the most promising new crop varieties will not by themselves bring the plentiful harvests that can end poverty. New ways to get seeds into the hands of farmers are needed, as well as broader investment in the basic ingredients of a farm economy: roads, credit and farmer education, among others.
Developed with financing from wealthy countries and private foundations, the New Rices for Africa, or Nericas, are unpatented and may be grown by anyone. Yet there is a severe shortage of them in a region where both the private and the agricultural sectors are woefully undeveloped.
"This is a story repeated thousands of times all over Africa," said Joseph Devries, who is the head of seed development for a joint effort by the Rockefeller and Bill and Melinda Gates foundations to jump-start farm productivity in Africa.
"You have farmers who are very willing adopters of new technologies and want to raise yields," he added, "but are not getting access to seed, fertilizer and small-scale irrigation." Finding a sustainable way to supply them with seed, he said, "is emerging as the holy grail for agricultural development."
Here in West Africa, where rice is a staple crop, the African Development Bank is financing a $34 million program in seven countries to spur wider use of the new rice seeds. But the obstacles are daunting.
Farmers typically lack credit to buy seed and fertilizer. And the agricultural economy itself suffers from a lack of investment. Foreign aid for agriculture has plunged over the past two decades. And African governments — some, like Guinea, endowed with natural resources and cursed with corruption — have too often spent less of that wealth than they might have on rural development.
Decent roads to move crops to market are scarce. So are storage facilities to preserve harvests and crop insurance to protect farmers from drought, flood or bumper yields that perversely cause prices to collapse. All can wipe out the income farmers need to provide reliable demand to seed companies, making sale and distribution of the improved seeds a high-risk venture.
Across the region, a handful of private companies in Nigeria and Benin have begun to multiply and market the new rice varieties. Here in Guinea, where there is not a single seed company, the government is now working with farmers to expand the supply of Nericas seed.
Villagers here in Hermakono first enviously spotted the new rices growing in a neighboring community's field. In 2006, after writing to the Agriculture Ministry, they got their first small store of the seeds.
So precious were they that as the first crop grew heavy with grain, the villagers took turns standing watch in the fields. "We divided into small groups to guard it so nobody would steal even one stalk," said Goulou Camara, a farmer.
Early one morning last year, a dozen farmers threshed their first harvest. They swirled in a circle, kicking golden sheaves of rice into the air with their bare feet, then beating them with sticks to shake loose the grains. They were determined not to eat any of it, but to save it to plant as seed.
Only about 200,000 African farmers are sowing the new rices on just 5 percent of the land where they could thrive, according to the Africa Rice Center, an international research institution based in Benin that developed the new rices in the mid-1990s.
In contrast to Africa, India had a stronger foundation when new wheat varieties set off a Green Revolution there in the 1960s and 1970s, allowing the nation to feed hundreds of millions of people. India had a public seed company to take the marketing risks, far more irrigated farmland and a better road system.
"If we don't develop the infrastructure, there's no way we'll attain the Green Revolution," said Monty Jones, the plant breeder whose groundbreaking research led to creation of the new rices. "How do you bring the Nericas to farmers? How do you get farmers to know the seeds exist?"
Mr. Jones now leads the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, based in Ghana. He also serves on the board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, a nonprofit group financed with an initial $150 million from the Gates and Rockefeller foundations.
The alliance intends to invest $23 million to promote the distribution of promising seeds.
Mr. Jones, 55, who was born into the Creole elite of Sierra Leone, said he decided to go into the agricultural sciences when as a teenager he heard of rioting over rice shortages in West Africa.
At age 39, he was put in charge of a team breeding upland rain-fed rice varieties at the West Africa Rice Development Agency, now the Africa Rice Center.
For more than a generation, scientists had unsuccessfully sought to combine the hardy African rice species with high-yield Asian species.
With great ingenuity, his team overcame the obstacles and produced the first new rices more than a decade ago.
The new seeds increased yields even without fertilizer and more than doubled them with it. From planting to harvest, they also took three months rather than the five or six required by traditional varieties, putting rice on the family table during the hungry season.
But to sustain increased yields, farmers need a reliable source of fresh seed. Productivity declines when the new seeds become degraded after mixing with local varieties in storage sheds and fields and on the floors of the farmers' huts.
Odia Camara, a 30-year-old farmer and mother of five, remembers glimpsing the new rices growing in a government-sponsored test field near her village, also named Camara, in 1998.
"The stalks were big and very bushy, carrying a lot of rice, and swayed when the wind blew," recalled Ms. Camara, who is not related to Goulou Camara of Hermakono.
Four years later, Ms. Camara's group of about 50 farmers, all women, initially organized to grow vegetables, was one of two groups in the village that got their chance. The government provided each of them with a scant 55 pounds of seed, as well as subsidized fertilizer — enough for a small plot.
The groups also got basic machines to thresh, husk and parboil the rice from Sasakawa-Global 2000, a nonprofit partnership organized by Jimmy Carter and Norman Borlaug, the scientist who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to the original Asian Green Revolution.
The first two years, the new rices yielded the village's richest rice harvests ever — triple the usual amount. There was plenty of the aromatic rice to feed the families and cash left over to pay children's school fees. Even cranky marriages mellowed.
"When we are hungry, we don't even look at each other," Ms. Camara said of her husband. "When the rice comes, we are very happy together."
But 2004 brought signs of trouble. The groups had a decent harvest, but the acreage planted was greater and the yields lower because the new seed was not as pure.
In 2005, international donors did not give Guinea fertilizer, and the government provided none to the farmers in the area, nor did private traders bring any to local markets, according to government officials.
At harvest time, yields plummeted. Hunger stole back. Ms. Camara's group grew so discouraged, she said, that it wanted to give up on the new rices.
But government workers visited their village last year and persuaded them to try again. The government provided the village of 2,500 people with 150 pounds of scarce subsidized seeds. The two women's groups split it.
Despite the challenges, the new rices spread farther in Guinea than in any other country, covering 16 percent of the area under rice production — progress credited to the commitment of civil servants and the enthusiasm of the political elite.
But the rice seeds could have reached many more farmers if they knew about them and were able to buy them, researchers say.
Guinean officials complained that rich countries had not invested enough in agriculture. But Tareke Berhe, an agronomist who represented Sasakawa-Global 2000 in Guinea from 1996 to 2004, said the government should have spent more on agricultural fundamentals.
Guinea is rich in resources but has been plagued by corruption and ruled for more than two decades by the autocratic leader Lansana Conté.
"Guinea doesn't have to depend on anybody," Mr. Berhe said. "It's a rich country in every way. It has diamonds, gold, bauxite. It has forestry products, lumber. It has a long coastline with fisheries."
Meanwhile, the people make do.
After a grueling afternoon threshing rice last year, Ms. Camara sat in front of her mud hut with her baby boy on her lap. She had earlier spoken lyrically about farming when surrounded by women, but grew silent in the presence of her elder brother-in-law, Aboubacar Oularé, 40, a community health worker.
In measured tones, Mr. Oularé explained that the new rices made up only a small portion of what the villagers cultivated. Still, he credited the harvests with relieving the suffering of his illiterate sister-in-law and her family. And if the seeds spread, they could improve more lives.
"They have brought change — not a lot, but some," he said. "It is not now as it was before."
October 14, 2007
As Angola Rebuilds, Most Find Their Poverty Persists
By SHARON LaFRANIERE
LUANDA, Angola — Two years ago, only the brave or desperate would attempt the 186-mile drive from this garbage-strewn capital to the northern provincial capital, Uige. It was a 12-hour, teeth-clenching, hair-raising ordeal of dodging tire-blowing potholes and edges of roadway that crumbled into precipices.
Now, thanks to Angola's surging oil production, the journey takes half the time. And that is not all that is being transformed: All over Angola, hundreds of workers are rebuilding roads, airports, bridges and railways that were shattered during nearly three decades of civil war.
For most Angolans, the drone of road graders and steam shovels is the first tangible evidence of a dividend from their country's oil and diamond wealth, mined in earnest now after five years of peace. Many call it long past due.
Angola is gushing oil, pumping about 2 million barrels a day, more than any other African country except Nigeria. The International Monetary Fund projects a 24 percent economic growth this year — one of the fastest rates in the world. The government is taking in two and a half times as much money as it did three years ago.
But Angolans, by many indications, remain as poor as ever. The poverty rate is a matter of debate: the government claims a 12 percent drop in the past five years; analysts for the Catholic University of Angola's research center say two in three Angolans still live on $2 or less a day, the same percentage as in 2002. Still, no one disputes that most Angolans face appalling living conditions, sky-high infant mortality rates, dirty water, illiteracy and a host of other ills.
The United Nations ranked Angola last year as the world's 17th least developed country. In a December poll by a pro-democracy group and the United States Agency for International Development, 6 in 10 Angolans said their economic situation was no better now than five years ago.
With elections approaching, the government's huge effort to rebuild the county's infrastructure is intended to help change that. Aguinaldo Jaime, the nation's deputy prime minister, said Angola had taken out between $8 billion and $9 billion in loans from China since 2004, exchanging guarantees of oil supply for reconstruction work. Others, like the World Bank, estimate the Chinese loans at $12 billion.
Reconnecting roads and railways, Mr. Jaime said, will help jump-start agriculture and commercial sectors and spread the wealth beyond a small elite.
"The question many people have is that if the economy is growing so fast, when will the population start feeling the benefits?" he said at a recent lecture here. He answered his own question: "I have to say it takes time."
The government's critics argue that progress would be quicker if public officials were not so busy enriching themselves. In 2003, the weekly newspaper Angolese Samanario published a list of the wealthiest people in Angola. Twelve of the top 20 were government officials; five were former government officials.
Since then, the government has opened some of its financial records. Mr. Jaime said in an interview that some officials had prospered not by stealing public funds, but by exploiting business prospects and Angola's antiquated conflict of interest law.
Still, Transparency International, the anticorruption organization, continues to rank Angola as the world's 10th most corrupt nation. Many Angolans take it as a given that those who shop at Luanda's new upscale mall or tool about in Land Cruisers are state officials or their friends. One car dealership manager, who caters to government officials, said he ordered only the costliest luxury cars. "They want to be first with the latest model," he said, speaking anonymously so as not to lose customers.
"Everyone around the president has big business here and abroad," said Landu Kama, coordinator of the Coalition for Reconciliation, Transparency and Citizenship, a pro-democracy group. "These are special Angolans. The rest of Angolans are just part of the landscape."
But even critics like Mr. Kama acknowledge that the scenery is changing. Since 2002, the government says, it has rebuilt 2,400 miles of crumbled roads — more than half of the nation's system — and renovated airports in Luanda and three other cities. More than 430 miles of new rail track have been laid, officials said.
Even once forgotten provincial capitals like Uige are bustling with work crews in royal blue work outfits. One Chinese engineer who identified himself as Tom said his Beijing-based company had sent 100 workers to live in a compound surrounded by half-ruined buildings pockmarked with bullet holes.
"These roads here are terrible, very bad," he said as he supervised the widening of a red-dirt road. He said his crew worked 15 hours a day, seven days a week, with only five days off a year. "There is no rest," he said.
The pace of the work has picked up as elections have drawn nearer. Angola last held multiparty elections in 1992, after nearly two decades of civil war that followed independence from Portugal. The rebel Union for the Total Independence of Angola accused the governing Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, of rigging the vote, and war broke out again in 1998 and lasted six more years. Since then, the MPLA-led government has repeatedly promised and put off a new election.
Angolans patiently tolerate the delays, analysts say, because their memories of bloodshed are fresh. "People fear we will have another fight, so we have to keep all these things in low tension," said Manuel Alves da Rocha, academic director of Catholic University's research center here.
Increasingly, parliamentary elections look likely, with presidential elections tentatively scheduled for 2008. About 7.5 million voters have been registered in the past year, of a total population of 16 million. President José Eduardo dos Santos, who has been in power for 28 years, is expected to run, even though he said in 2001 that he would not.
That his party would win seems a given. The opposition is weak and co-opted. Nine in 10 Angolans polled in the December survey said the government was doing a good job. But after decades of conflict, self-censorship is a rule of thumb, and true gauges of public sentiment are rare. Analysts predict Angolans who do not like the governing party will stay home rather than vote.
Even executives of American oil companies here keep far out of the public eye, saying they do not want to risk offending the government by commenting to the news media.
Western diplomats and representatives of financial institutions like the World Bank try to keep up the pressure for elections and good governance measures. But as oil revenues have ballooned, their influence has diminished. This year, Angola joined the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, but limited its cooperation with the International Monetary Fund.
Todd Moss, the American deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said, "Angola has traditionally been very, very closed" and "has not made as much progress as we would like." Still, he said, "We don't want to back them into a corner where they think their only option is to withdraw further."
Some Western diplomats say the West missed a major chance to help shape Angola when the United States and other nations turned down the government's request in 2002 to hold a donor conference. Mr. Jaime said that rejection was a major reason that Angola turned to China to finance its reconstruction.
"We are following our own model," Mr. Jaime said. "It is probably not orthodox. But when you have all the basic infrastructure destroyed, there is no other way."
Joaquim Chissano, a former president of Mozambique, was awarded a multi-million-dollar prize Monday for achievement in African leadership.
At a ceremony in London, a panel headed by Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, announced Chissano as the first winner of the Mo Ibrahim Prize, funded by Mohammed Ibrahim, a Sudanese telecommunications billionaire, to promote good governance in Africa.
The former guerrilla, who fought the colonial Portuguese regime in Mozambique before becoming president in 1986, will receive annual instalments totalling $5 million over 10 years and then $200,000 per year for life.
While Chissano's record in government was praised, Annan made clear that the choice was just as much about the way he left office.
After four years of genocidal massacres that have killed more than 200,000 people, the Darfur region of Sudan desperately needs a peace agreement and a robust multinational force to carry it out. Regrettably, this week’s internationally sponsored peace conference in Libya is doing little to meet those urgent needs.
The problem is not just Sudan’s continuing duplicity — it announced a cease-fire and then promptly violated it. Sudan does not really want a peace agreement. It merely wants more time to let the janjaweed militias it backs in Darfur finish killing or drive off what remains of the region’s non-Arab population.
Many of the rebel groups that claim to be Darfur’s defenders also bear serious responsibility. Some of the best-known rebel leaders failed to show up. And so, the killing is likely to proceed, with Sudan taking maximum advantage of the rebel’s fecklessness, the diplomatic timidity of those closest to it and the failure of an Iraq-distracted Bush administration to pay consistent, high-level attention to the Darfur issue.
The Arab League, to which Sudan belongs, and China, a major customer for Sudan’s oil, have at least started talking about Darfur. But they have yet to apply real pressure on Khartoum.
The Arab League is reportedly readying proposals for Darfur’s future economic development that all but overlook the far more pressing problem of creating the peace that is essential for development. China’s tepid complaints seem aimed more at fending off Darfur-related protests at next year’s Beijing Olympics than stopping the slaughter. President Bush’s words on Darfur have been admirably strong, but he has not followed up with the high-level diplomacy and focus needed to rally effective international pressure on Sudan.
These failures, large and small, go a long way toward explaining why the killing continues monthly despite worldwide protests, White House speeches, American sanctions, African peacekeepers and Security Council resolutions. They make it easier for Sudan to take credit for announcing cease-fires that it has no intention of honoring, agreeing to peacekeepers that it has no intention of cooperating with and attending peace conferences that have no realistic possibility of bringing peace.
Amid an AIDS epidemic, against the drumbeat of regional conflicts, overshadowed by the most abject poverty, it is easy to miss the glimmer of hope in sub-Saharan Africa. Rising prices of raw materials are helping the region achieve its best economic performance since independence.
This vitality has fragile foundations. Africa’s past commodity booms turned to busts, which means Africans must carefully manage their resources. The United States and others must not use the good news as an excuse to shirk their commitments to the region.
In 2005, the Group of 8 leading industrialized nations pledged to increase aid to Africa by at least $25 billion by 2010. Since then, according to the International Monetary Fund, official grants to sub-Saharan Africa have actually declined as a share of its economy. That is shameful.
If Africa’s growth is to be self-sustaining, the wealthy countries must also end their most harmful subsidies on products like cotton and sugar, and aggressively expand market access for the products that African countries can export competitively, like textiles and shoes. Not only do the offers on the table in global trade negotiations fall short of what is needed, the talks seem at risk of collapsing over disagreements between rich nations and the bigger developing countries.
Growth in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to exceed five percent this year, which would be its fifth year in a row of doing so. That’s because of the surging price of oil — a boon for Nigeria and Angola — and rising demand for metals like copper and aluminum that benefit nonoil exporters. Africa has gained substantially from debt reduction. That has freed resources for public investment and underpinned a surge of private foreign investment.
Resource-hungry China has quickly become the region’s second-largest trading partner after the United States — and an important investor. There is a dark side to China’s role — providing financing and political support to despots like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe or Sudan’s Omar Hassan al-Bashir — but it is becoming an important engine for the region’s economy.
Africa is still dirt poor — with an average annual income per capita of merely $600 and 300 million people living in poverty. Every year, nearly a million children die of malaria and more than two million die before they are a month old.
The region is also still locked in the vulnerable role as a supplier of basic commodities. That means its growth will falter if, say, China’s economy cools and its demand for raw materials wanes. Over the long term, Africa must move its way up the chain of commodity exports and into the worldwide networks of manufacturing that account for a growing share of global trade.
The immediate challenge requires investment to deal with historic bottlenecks: dismal health, poor education and derelict infrastructure, notably in transportation and power generation. And it must invest in bringing new technology to agriculture, an essential step to combat entrenched poverty in rural areas. Western aid will be crucial for making progress in all these areas.
Nobody can know for certain whether Africa south of the Sahara might be on the cusp of shaking its endemic destitution and starting up the ladder of development. But it has its best chance in decades, and it would be a crime not to try to grasp this opportunity.
November 9, 2007
Gangs Terrorize Nigeria’s Vital Oil Region
By LYDIA POLGREEN
PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria — Rosemary Douglas has no connection to the oil business that pumps more than two million barrels of crude a day from beneath the swampy Niger Delta. But the violence surrounding it pierced her home in September anyway, when a bullet shattered her upper left arm as she napped with her 2-year-old daughter.
“I don’t know why this happened to me,” she said, grimacing in pain as she gave a bewildered account of the gunplay that has engulfed her neighborhood and much of this oil-drenched city. “I mind my own business.”
The violence that has rocked the Niger Delta in recent years has been aimed largely at foreign oil companies, their expatriate workers and the police officers and soldiers whose job it is to protect them. Hundreds of kidnappings, pipeline bombings and attacks on flow stations and army barracks have occurred in the past two years alone.
But these days the guns have turned inward, and open battles have erupted with terrifying frequency on the pothole-riddled streets of this ramshackle city. The origins of the violence are as murky and convoluted as the mangrove swamps that snake across the delta, one of the poorest places on earth. But they lie principally in the rivalry among gangs, known locally as cults, that have ties to political leaders who used them as private militias during state and federal elections in April, according to human rights advocates, former gang members and aid workers in the region.
“What is happening now cannot be separated from politics,” said Anyakwee Nsirimovu of the Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Port Harcourt. “The cults are part and parcel of our politics. They have become part of the system, and we are paying in blood for it.”
The cults go by names that veer from the chilling to the improbable — like the Black Axe, the Klansmen, the Icelanders, the Outlaws and the Niger Delta Vigilante. Separate but not entirely distinct from the militant groups that have attacked the oil industry in the past, they represent a new, worrisome phase in a region that has been convulsed by conflict since oil was discovered here in 1956.
Since democracy returned to Nigeria in 1999, politicians across the country have used cults to intimidate opponents and rig votes. A Human Rights Watch report published in October concluded that the political system was so corroded by corruption and violence that, in some places, it resembled more a criminal enterprise than a system of government. The April elections were so brazenly rigged in some areas and so badly marred by violence that international observers said the results were not credible.
Nowhere is political violence more severe than here in the Niger Delta, where control over state government means access to billions of dollars in oil revenues and control of enough patronage for an army.
According to former gang members and human rights workers, the governing People’s Democratic Party and some opposition parties employed cult members in the delta during the election, as they had in the two previous ones, which led to landslide victories for the governing party.
One powerful gang leader, Soboma George, was given the lion’s share of patronage, they contend. Mr. George displayed his prowess in the months before the election by having his foot soldiers break him out of a city jail in a brazen assault. He then demonstrated his impunity by driving through the streets of Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, in flashy cars, seemingly fearless of arrest.
The other gangs resented Mr. George’s growing influence and control over lucrative security contracts, and a war between them has turned increasingly bloody. Caught in the middle have been all kinds of civilians; no one is off limits to the violence.
The elderly mother of the newly elected state governor was kidnapped and held for ransom in the spring. Toddlers related to senior government officials and business leaders have been seized to extract ransom payments or settle political disputes.
The violence reached such a pitch that at Teme Hospital here, surgeons from the aid group Doctors Without Borders struggled to keep up with a flood of 71 gunshot victims in just two weeks in August, and more than a month later they were still treating many people recovering from shattered bones and flesh wounds from the fighting.
Ibinabo Bob-Manuel, a 25-year-old college student, said she was at home with her aunt and 6-year-old sister, Lolo, on Aug. 16 when shooting broke out between soldiers and a gang that had occupied the area.
Four bullets pierced the fleshy part of her thigh, and one remained lodged inside. She lost so much blood that she passed out. The top half of a toe was blown off. Her sister was shot through her hands as she pressed her palms in prayer in the hail of bullets, Ms. Bob-Manuel said.
“We were bleeding and crying,” she said. “My auntie shouted, ‘You killed my family!’ I thought I would die.”
The government says it is cracking down on gangs, and it has sent an elite army unit into Port Harcourt and the surrounding areas to impose law and halt the violence. The gunplay in the city streets has since died down, but it is a tense, uneasy calm.
Many residents worry that rivalries may soon heat up again. On Oct. 25 a judicial panel removed the new governor of Rivers State, Celestine Omehia, ruling that he had not been an eligible candidate because he did not win his party’s primary. The winner of the primary, Rotimi Amaechi, was sworn in as governor, and many worry that violent clashes will ensue between their supporters.
The bloodshed has reached beyond the cities, deep into the creekside communities of the delta. In Ogbogoro the fights between rival gangs were so intense in August that the council of traditional rulers felt compelled to act. Two cults, the Debam and the Dewell, were fighting over political turf, oil and contracts for security work with oil services companies, according to local officials.
“No one could sleep in the town,” said Chief Clement Chuku, one of the traditional rulers of Ogbogoro. “Bullets were flying all night.”
The chiefs met to announce an ultimatum: all cult members had to leave or risk being arrested by vigilante youths from the community. The vigilantes rounded up a few members as examples, Mr. Chuku said, and were planning to turn them over to the military.
But just as a community meeting got under way in the town hall in early September, dozens of young men on motorbikes, carrying machine guns and grenade launchers, overran the meeting. Two traditional rulers were shot dead and their bodies were dumped on a weedy riverbank.
George Ogan, a retired doctor and church leader who has been trying to stem gang violence farther down the delta in his hometown, Okrika, where some of the most fearsome cults are based, said that such violence was completely bound up with politics.
“Our politicians cannot stand on their own, so they find those who will stand with guns for them,” Dr. Ogan said.
South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been entrusted with finding a solution to Zimbabwe's political crisis, sees Robert Mugabe as his father figure, according to a new biography.
As one of the last independence leaders still running his country, the Zimbabwean leader enjoys elder statesman status among many Africans.
But according to Mark Gevisser, author of Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred, Mugabe's relationship with the South African president is personal, and it is affecting the talks Mbeki is chairing between Mugabe's government and the opposition.
The negotiations are aimed at reaching agreement on holding free presidential and parliamentary elections next year. But every deadline for agreement has passed without a deal, and the opposition has made concessions in parliament without receiving anything in return. Mbeki "has proven he is not the right person to facilitate Mugabe's departure," said Gevisser, "because of the history of their relationship."
Investors give green light to $650m undersea cable
By: Christy van der Merwe
Published: 13 Nov 07 - 17:35
Production of the high-tech cable and undersea repeaters for the submarine fibre optic cable, set to link Southern and East Africa with India and Europe, would start next week bandwidth service provider Seacom said on Tuesday, when it announced that the project had reached financial closure.
The company said that investors had committed financing for the project, and that construction of the components for the cable would now start.
The $650-million cable covers more than 15 000 km and would pass from Mtunzini, in South Africa, along the East Coast of Africa, linking Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania, and Kenya, before landing in Mumbai in India and Marseille in France.
Seacom said that African investors owned more than three quarters of its shares and that areements with service providers are already in place, or being finalised in most countries.
The investors in Seacom are Industrial Promotion Services (IPS) - an arm of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (25%), Venfin (25%), Herakles Telecom (25%), Convergence Partners (12,5%), and Nedbank capital was appointed mandated lead arranger for all the debt funding requirements of the project, with funding to be provided by Nedbank Capital and Investec bank.
"Seacom has already invested more than $10-million in the marine survey and engineering of the cable. This advance work has allowed Seacom to maintain its ready-for-service date of June 2009," the company added.
Seacom will have a design capacity of 1,28 terrabytes a second, in order to support the expected exponential increase in demand in 2010 and beyond. It aims to bring down prices of broadband connectivity for businesses, institutions, communities and individuals in Africa.
"The agreements signed today make the Seacom broadband cable a reality for Africa," said IPS CEO Lutaf Kassam.
South African converged communications network provider Neotel, would invest R20-million in the South African segment of the Seacom cable, which would go towards the cable landing station and all facilities within the South African territory, it said on Tuesday.
"Neotel will operate the facilities on an open access basis thus stimulating the country's international bandwidth market," the company stated.
Engineering News previously reported that South Africa's Department of Communications had objected to a "foreign owned" cable landing in South Africa and suggested that landing rights should only be extended to schemes where the shareholding was overwhelmingly local.
The Department of Communications indicated that it was in discussions with Neotel and other potential investors on the modalities, and how they could participate in the proposed fibre-optics network for the continent.
UIGE, Angola — Domingos Pedro was only 12 years old when his father died. The passing was sudden; the cause was a mystery to doctors. But not to Domingos’s relatives.
They gathered that afternoon in Domingos’s mud-clay house, he said, seized him and bound his legs with rope. They tossed the rope over the house’s rafters and hoisted him up until he was suspended headfirst over the hard dirt floor. Then they told him they would cut the rope if he did not confess to murdering his father.
“They were yelling, ‘Witch! Witch!’” Domingos recalled, tears rolling down his face. “There were so many people all shouting at me at the same time.”
Terrified, Domingos told them what they wanted to hear, but his relatives were not appeased. Ferraz Bulio, the neighborhood’s traditional leader, said seven or eight captors were dragging Domingos down a dirt path to the river, apparently to drown him, when he intervened.
“They were slapping him and punching him,” he said. “This is the way people react toward someone accused of witchcraft. There are lots of such cases.”
Mr. Bulio is right. In parts of Angola, Congo and the Congo Republic, a surprising number of children are accused of being witches, and then are beaten, abused or abandoned. Child advocates estimate that thousands of children living in the streets of Kinshasa, Congo’s capital, have been accused of witchcraft and cast out by their families, often as a rationale for not having to feed or care for them.
The officials in one northern Angolan town identified 432 street children who had been abandoned or abused after being called witches. A report last year by the government’s National Institute for the Child and the United Nations Children’s Fund described the number of children said to be witches as “massive.”
The notion of child witches is not new here. It is a common belief in Angola’s dominant Bantu culture that witches can communicate with the world of the dead and usurp or “eat” the life force of others, bringing their victims misfortune, illness and death. Adult witches are said to bewitch children by giving them food, then forcing them to reciprocate by sacrificing a family member.
But officials attribute the surge in persecutions of children to war — 27 years in Angola, ending in 2002, and near constant strife in Congo. The conflicts orphaned many children, while leaving other families intact but too destitute to feed themselves.
“The witches situation started when fathers became unable to care for the children,” said Ana Silva, who is in charge of child protection for the children’s institute. “So they started seeking any justification to expel them from the family.”
Since then, she said, the phenomenon has followed poor migrants from the northern Angolan provinces of Uige and Zaire to the slums of the capital, Luanda.
Two recent cases horrified officials there. In June, Ms. Silva said, a Luanda mother blinded her 14-year-old daughter with bleach to try to rid her of evil visions. In August, a father injected battery acid into his 12-year-old son’s stomach because he feared the boy was a witch, she said.
Angola’s government has campaigned since 2000 to dispel notions about child witches, Ms. Silva said, but progress comes slowly. “We cannot change the belief that witches exist,” she said. “Even the professional workers believe that witches exist.”
Instead, her institute is trying to teach authority figures — police officers, teachers, religious leaders — that violence against children is never justified.
The Angolan city of Mbanza Congo, just 50 miles from the border with Congo, has blazed a trail. After a child accused of witchcraft was stabbed to death in 2000, provincial officials and Save the Children, the global charitable organization, rounded up 432 street children and reunited 380 of them with relatives, the witchcraft report stated.
Eleven fundamentalist churches were shut down because of reports of child exploitation and abuse. Eight Congolese pastors were deported. Villages formed committees to monitor children’s rights. The authorities say the number of children who are abused or living on the streets dropped drastically.
Uige, about 100 miles to the south of Mbanza Congo, is another story. Surrounded by lush green hills, it is a cluster of mud-clay settlements around crumbling shops pockmarked by bullet holes. In this region, said Bishop Emilio Sumbelelo of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, persecution of children is rising.
“It is very, very, very common in the villages,” he said. “We know that some children have been killed.”
His church runs the town’s only sanctuary for children victimized as witches, a shelter barely bigger than a three-car garage. Thirty-two boys, including Domingos, occupy bunk beds stacked a foot apart, their few clothes stashed in boxes underneath. No shelter exists for girls.
Since July, all newcomers have been turned away. “Children come here to ask for protection, but we have no space,” the bishop said. “To date, we have not found any special way to fight against this phenomenon.”
Many boys describe pasts of abuse, rejection and fear. Saldanha David Gomes, 18, who lived with his aunt until he was 12, said she turned on him after her 3-year-old daughter fell ill and died.
After, he said, his aunt refused to feed him and bound his hands and feet each night, fearing that he would take another victim.
A neighbor finally warned him to flee. “I am not a witch, and I was not a witch,” Saldanha said. “But I had to run away because they were threatening to kill me.”
Afonso García, 6, took the shelter’s last empty cot in July. “I came here on my own because my father doesn’t like me and I was not eating every day,” he said matter-of-factly.
After Afonso’s mother died three years ago, he moved in with his father. His stepmother, Antoinette Eduardo, said she began to suspect that he was a witch after neighborhood children reported that he had eaten a razor. Besides that, she said, “he was getting thinner and thinner, even though he was eating well.”
Under questioning, she said, Afonso admitted that a male relative had visited him in his dreams, demanding that he kill a family member. Afonso denies ever confessing to witchcraft.
What unfolded next is typical of many cases here. Afonso’s relatives turned to a traditional healer for a cure.
The healer, João Ginga, 30, wears a fur-collared leather jacket and works out of what he calls a hospital — a cramped mud-walled room. “If someone has a bad spirit, I can tell,” he said one recent morning as clients waited on a bench. “We treat more than a thousand cases a year.”
With such a busy trade, Mr. Ginga said, he could not remember Afonso’s case. Afonso’s aunt, Isabella Armando, said her family gave Mr. Ginga $270 in cash, candles, perfume and baby powder to treat Alfonso.
Mr. Ginga performed some rituals, put a substance in Afonso’s eyes that made him sob in pain and pronounced him cured, she said. But Afonso’s father and stepmother, the only relatives who could afford to care for him, did not agree, and expelled him from their household.
“I pitied him, and I still pity him because he was living in the streets,” the stepmother explained. “But we were afraid.”
Mr. Ginga is hardly the only healer here who claims to cure child witches. Sivi Munzemba said she exorcised possessed children by inserting a poultice of plants into their anuses, shaving their heads and sequestering them for two weeks in her house.
Moises Samuel, director of the provincial office of the children’s institute, said he was concerned not only about traditional healers but also about a bevy of churches with soothsayers who claimed to exorcise evil spirits and drew crowds even on weekdays.
Once a soothsayer or healer brands a child a witch, child welfare specialists say, even the police often back away.
Officers kept Domingos, the boy who was suspended from a rafter, for one night at the station house, then sent him home, said Mr. Bulio, the settlement’s traditional leader. They never investigated Domingos’s uncle, who Mr. Bulio said led the attack.
“Of course it was a crime,” Mr. Bulio said. “But because it is witchcraft, the police do not take any responsibility.”
Domingos, now 15, insisted that he said he was a witch only to save his life. But even his 32-year-old mother, Maria Pedro, disbelieves him.
Ms. Pedro is obviously fond of Domingos, her oldest child. She beams over his academic progress and worries about further attacks by his relatives, should he leave the shelter.
Still, she said, she suspects that he was bewitched into murder. “It must be true because he himself confessed,” she said, eyeing Domingos carefully across a table in her two-bedroom house.
At that, Domingos stood up and walked swiftly from the house. Ten minutes later, he reappeared in the doorway, his face red and splotchy. “Mother, from this day on, I am no longer your son,” he declared fiercely.
Ms. Pedro wordlessly watched him go. “I just don’t know why Domingos got so angry,” she said later.
November 20, 2007
As Somali Crisis Swells, Experts See a Void in Aid
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
AFGOOYE, Somalia, Nov. 19 — The worst humanitarian crisis in Africa may not be unfolding in Darfur, but here, along a 20-mile strip of busted-up asphalt, several top United Nations officials said.
A year ago, the road between the market town of Afgooye and the capital of Mogadishu was just another typical Somali byway, lined with overgrown cactuses and the occasional bullet-riddled building. Now it is a corridor teeming with misery, with 200,000 recently displaced people crammed into swelling camps that are rapidly running out of food.
Natheefa Ali, who trudged up this road a week ago to escape the bloodbath that Mogadishu has turned into, said Monday that her 10-month-old baby was so malnourished she could not swallow.
“Look,” Ms. Natheefa said, pointing to her daughter’s splotchy legs, “her skin is falling off, too.”
Top United Nations officials who specialize in Somalia said the country had higher malnutrition rates, more current bloodshed and fewer aid workers than Darfur, which is often publicized as the world’s most pressing humanitarian crisis and has taken clear priority in terms of getting peacekeepers and aid money.
The relentless urban combat in Mogadishu, between an unpopular transitional government — installed partially with American help — and a determined Islamist insurgency, has driven waves of desperate people up the Afgooye road, where more than 70 camps of twigs and plastic have popped up seemingly overnight.
The people here are hungry, exposed, sick and dying. And the few aid organizations willing to brave a lawless, notoriously dangerous environment cannot keep up with their needs, like providing milk to the thousands of babies with fading heartbeats and bulging eyes. “Many of these kids are going to die,” said Eric Laroche, the head of United Nations humanitarian operations in Somalia. “We don’t have the capacity to reach them.”
He added: “If this were happening in Darfur, there would be a big fuss. But Somalia has been a forgotten emergency for years.”
The officials working on Somalia are trying to draw more attention to the country’s plight, which they feel has fallen into Darfur’s shadow. They have recently organized several trips, including one on Monday, for journalists to see for themselves.
“The situation in Somalia is the worst on the continent,” said Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the top United Nations official for Somalia.
That situation has included floods, droughts, locusts, suicide bombers, roadside bombs and near-daily assassinations.
United Nations officials said the recent round of plagues, natural and man-made, coupled with the residual chaos that has consumed Somalia for more than a decade, have put the country on the brink of famine. In the worst-hit areas, like Afgooye, recent surveys indicate the malnutrition rate is 19 percent, compared with about 13 percent in Darfur; 15 percent is considered the emergency threshold.
The officials, in making the comparison, were not trying to diminish the problems in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have died from violence and disease since 2003. But they said they were concerned that the crisis here was increasingly urgent.
Unlike Darfur, where the suffering is being eased by a billion-dollar aid operation and more than 10,000 aid workers, Somalia is still considered mostly a no-go zone. Just last week, a Somali aid worker and a guard were shot to death at an aid distribution center in Afgooye. United Nations officials estimate that total emergency aid is under $200 million, partly because it is so difficult just getting food into the country.
Pirates lurking off the coast of Somalia have attacked more than 20 ships this year, including two carrying United Nations food. The militias that rule the streets — typically teenage gunmen in wraparound sunglasses and flip-flops — have jacked up roadblock taxes to $400 per truck. The transitional government last month jailed a senior official of the United Nations food program in Somalia, accusing him of helping terrorists, though he was eventually released.
United Nations officials now concede that the country was in better shape during the brief reign of Somalia’s Islamist movement last year. “It was more peaceful, and much easier for us to work,” Mr. Laroche said. “The Islamists didn’t cause us any problems.”
Mr. Ould-Abdallah called those six months, which were essentially the only epoch of peace most Somalis have tasted for years, Somalia’s “golden era.”
Somalia’s ills have always come in waves, starting in 1991 when clan-based militias overthrew the central government and the country plunged into anarchy. That fighting, like the fighting today, disrupted markets, kept out aid shipments and led to rapid inflation of food prices. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people starved.
The United States tried to come to the rescue in 1992, sending thousands of soldiers to Somalia to assist with humanitarian operations.
But American troops abruptly pulled out after Somali militiamen shot down two Black Hawk helicopters in Mogadishu in October 1993.
After that, the United States — and much of the rest of the world — basically turned its back on Somalia. But in the summer of 2006, the world started paying attention again after a grass-roots Islamist movement emerged from the clan chaos and seized control of much of the country.
The United States and Ethiopia, Somalia’s neighbor and rival, quickly labeled the Islamists a threat and accused them of harboring terrorists from Al Qaeda.
Inside Somalia, the Islamists were very popular, at least initially. But then they overplayed their hand and declared a holy war against Ethiopia in December 2006, which provoked a crushing Ethiopian response. American military commanders funneled key satellite imagery to Ethiopian troops as they rolled across the Somali border; American planes bombed fleeing Islamists. One American official said the operation was considered an antiterrorism success.
The transitional government arrived in Mogadishu at the end of December. It has struggled ever since against an insurgency that is a mix of Islamist fighters, rival clans and profiteers who have made a fortune as a result of the anarchy, whether by importing expired baby formula or renting out former government land.
“Those criminals are our biggest problem,” said Abdi Awaleh Jama, an ambassador at large for the transitional government.
The African Union promised to send 8,000 peacekeepers to help. But because of the focus on building a 26,000-strong force for Darfur, only 1,600 Ugandans have arrived. Clearly, some of Somalia’s problems are not the government’s fault. Neither is the drought-flood-drought cycle that has left an impenetrable crust of rock-hard silt over Somalia’s fields, causing the worst cereal harvest in 13 years.
But most Western diplomats agree that unless the transitional government reaches out to Islamist elements and becomes more inclusive, it will fail — like the 13 transitional governments that came before it.
“This government doesn’t control one inch of territory from the Kenyan border up to Mogadishu,” said a Western diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing diplomatic protocol.
Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the warlord turned transitional president, recently forced out the prime minister and is looking to replace him with a leader who can bridge clan divides.
“This is basically the last chance,” the Western diplomat said.
But the people in Afgooye’s squatter camps do not have a lot of faith. “We want the Islamists back,” said Mohammed Ahmed, a shriveled 80-year-old retired taxi driver.
Mr. Mohammed said he was not especially religious. “But,” he said, “at least we had food.”
Seldom has East Africa seen such turmoil. Eastern Congo faces a humanitarian disaster, the killing in Sudan's Darfur region goes on; war rages between Islamist militias and Ethiopian troops in Somalia; and rebels threaten the government in Chad.
On top of that, war may resume between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and between Sudan's government and former rebels in the autonomous south.
As a result, the United Nations is sending unprecedented numbers of troops to the region It already has 17,000 in Congo and 20,000 more are due to join an existing 6,ooo-strong African Union (AU) force in Darfur.
These are the largest UN forces in the world. Another 2,ooo-odd are sandwiched between the Eritreans and the Ethiopians, plus 10,000 in south Sudan. The AU also has some 1,600 Ugandan troops under its command in Somalia's blighted capital, Mogadishu.
The numbers alone look impressive, as befits the world's much-vaunted determination to help end Africa's bloodiest conflicts.
Tn Congo, the UN is doing its best to hold the ring between several rival ragtag armies.
In Darfur the UN is due to start deploying its forces in a few weeks. The speed with which several African governments have offered troops has been a welcome surprise.
In a region as big as France with no proper roads, the static AU force has been easy prey for rebels and government proxies alike. That makes it imperative for the UN to provide both transport and attack helicopters for its expanded force.
The government in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, may balk at the prospect of West Europeans or Americans providing or flying aircraft over Darfur, so it would be good if Russia or India were to help out. In Somalia, it is the African countries that have failed to deliver. In February, the AU promised a force of 8,000 to keep the peace in Mogadishu. So far only the Ugandans, too few to do the job, have turned up. So the Islamists have regrouped and war threatens to engulf the city again.
Africa and the West, not to mention the UN, seem to have lost hope and interest. African governments, whose forces in Darfur are being paid for by the West should pay some of their own way in Somalia, albeit with more help from the rich world.
But the main foreign governments involved in the painful task of negotiation—Britain, Italy, Norway and America— must not give up.
December 1, 2007
Nigeria Turns From Harsher Side of Islamic Law
By LYDIA POLGREEN
KANO, Nigeria — Just last year, the morality police roamed these streets in dusky blue uniforms and black berets, brandishing cudgels at prayer shirkers and dragging fornicators into Islamic courts to face sentences like death by public stoning.
But these days, the fearsome police officers, known as the Hisbah, are little more than glorified crossing guards. They have largely been confined to their barracks and assigned anodyne tasks like directing traffic and helping fans to their seats at soccer games.
The Islamic revolution that seemed so destined to transform northern Nigeria in recent years appears to have come and gone — or at least gone in a direction few here would have expected.
When Muslim-dominated states like Kano adopted Islamic law after the fall of military rule in 1999, radical clerics from the Arabian peninsula arrived in droves to preach a draconian brand of fundamentalism, and newly empowered religious judges handed down tough punishments like amputation for theft. Kano became a center of anti-American sentiment in one of the most reliably pro-American countries in Africa.
But since then, much of the furor has died down, and the practice of Islamic law, or Shariah, which had gone on for centuries in the private sphere before becoming enshrined in public law, has settled into a distinctively Nigerian compromise between the dictates of faith and the chaotic realities of modern life in an impoverished, developing nation.
“Shariah needs to be practical,” said Bala Abdullahi, a civil servant here. “We are a developing country, so there is a kind of moderation between the ideas of the West and traditional Islamic values. We try to weigh it so there is no contradiction.”
The federal government cracked down on the Hisbah last year, enforcing a national ban on religious and ethnic militias, and the secular, federally controlled police force has little interest in enforcing the harshest strictures of Shariah. Violence between Muslims and Christians has also begun to subside in the north.
But even before then, the feared mutilations and death sentences almost never materialized. Public floggings are quite common, and in Zamfara, the first state to adopt Shariah as the basis of its criminal code, at least one man had his hand amputated in 2000 for stealing a cow, but other sentences of mutilation have rarely been carried out.
And despite several internationally known adultery sentences of death by stoning in a public square — including that of Amina Lawal, a woman from Katsina State who gave birth to a child out of wedlock that a Shariah court in 2002 took as evidence of the crime — not one stoning sentence has been carried out. Ms. Lawal’s conviction was overturned the following year, and she is now active in local politics, living freely with her daughter Wasila in her hometown.
The change has little to do with religious attitudes — northern Nigeria remains one of the most pious Muslim regions in Africa, as it has been since the camel caravans across the Sahara first brought Islam here centuries ago. In Kano, the main city of Kano State, thousands of men spill out in neat rows onto the city’s main boulevards on Friday afternoon, an overflow of devotion for the week’s most important prayer, and virtually all Muslim women are veiled.
The shift reflects the fact that religious law did not transform society. Indeed, some of the most ardent Shariah-promoting politicians now find themselves under investigation for embezzling millions of dollars. Many early proponents of Shariah feel duped by politicians who rode its popular wave but failed to live by its tenets, enriching themselves and neglecting to improve the lives of ordinary people.
“Politicians started seeing Shariah as a gateway to political power,” said Abba Adam Koki, a conservative cleric here who has criticized the local government’s application of Shariah. “But they were insincere. We have been disappointed and never got what we had hoped.”
Facing backlash from citizens and criticism from human rights groups at home and abroad, state governments that had swiftly enacted Shariah and embraced its harshest tenets are now shifting the emphasis from the punishments and prohibitions to a softer approach that emphasizes other tenets of Muslim law, like charity, women’s rights and the duty of Muslims to keep their environment clean.
“Shariah is not only about the cutting off of wrists,” said Muzammil Sani Hanga, a member of Kano State’s Shariah Commission and a legal expert who helped draft the state’s Islamic code. “It is a complete way of life.”
New programs have sprung up to encourage parents to send their daughters to hybrid public elementary schools that offer traditional Islamic education along with math and reading, in keeping with Islamic principles that call for the education of girls. In many of these classrooms, girls outnumber boys, and the United States Agency for International Development is so impressed with the potential of these programs that one third of the schools it supports across Nigeria are integrated Islamic and secular, according to officials at the agency.
State officials are using Islamic exhortations on cleanliness to encourage recycling of the plastic bags that choke landfills and gutters. One governor, citing the Islamic duty to care for the indigent, recently instituted a monthly stipend for disabled beggars.
“Our approach is a humane Shariah, not a punitive Shariah,” said Bala A. Muhammad, director of a state program in Kano called A Daidaita Sahu. The name, a Hausa commandment, means “straighten your rows,” a reference to the razor-sharp lines formed by Muslims as they line up to pray and a metaphor for the orderliness required in everyday life by the Koran.
Hundreds of yellow motorized rickshaws purchased by the state government make it easier for women, who had been barred from taking motorcycle taxis, to get around.
“As a Muslim woman I want to be modest,” said one commuter, Amina Abubakar, as she stepped daintily into the back seat of a rickshaw and pulled its privacy curtain closed. “This is more comfortable, and the safety is better.”
To be sure, conservative elements hold sway in some areas. In October, a Shariah court in Kaduna upheld the ban of a satirical play by the human rights activist Shehu Sani about a corrupt politician who uses Shariah to manipulate his constituents.
But the shift may also be helping to ease tensions between Muslims and Christians in a country where sectarian conflicts, often stoked by politicians to stir up support, have killed thousands over the past decade.
“The thing has caused a lot of harm,” said the Rev. Foster O. Ekeleme, a Methodist bishop in Kano who leads a flock of mostly Ibo tribespeople from southeastern Nigeria. “There was burning of Christian churches. Christians were killed. So many people were displaced. But now, the tempo is cooling down.”
Mr. Ekeleme had just been visited by a senior adviser of the Kano State governor, an Ibo Catholic, Chris Azuka, who was appointed to try to improve interfaith relations in the state.
“The idea of Shariah is to promote social justice, not create religious conflict,” Mr. Azuka said. “Shariah is not about violence.”
Northern Muslims and southern Christians have long coexisted uneasily across what is now modern Nigeria. Two centuries ago, the Hausa rulers of the north waged a jihad to convert southerners to Islam, and while they only reached the middle of the country, the aftershocks of the period can be felt to this day.
More recently, the Hausa elite have dominated the military, while southern Christians, like the Yoruba and the Ibo, have dominated commercial and intellectual life. According to international human rights organizations, 11,000 to 15,000 people have been killed in sectarian and ethnic conflicts in Nigeria since the return of democracy in 1999.
In Jigawa State, religious violence exploded in September 2006, amid political tensions before elections in 2007. A Muslim woman claimed that a Christian one had insulted the Prophet Muhammad, and mobs of Muslim youths descended on Christian churches in the state capital, Dutse, burning several to the ground.
The mob arrived at the Assemblies of God church, where the pastor’s wife, Nadi Dangana, said she barely escaped over the wall before the youths broke down the gate.
“We escaped with our lives, but all our property is gone,” she said.
The church was left in ashes, its altar and crosses charred stumps. A makeshift sanctuary without walls stands in its place. Blackened bits of salvaged corrugated roofing keep out the rain.
But these days tensions have cooled, said Garba Shehu, a former Muslim from Dutse who converted to evangelical Christianity. When the governor signed the law creating a stipend for beggars, he invited three Christian clergy members to pray alongside three Muslim clerics.
“We thank God we don’t see the same tensions as before,” Mr. Shehu said. “We are free to practice our faith without fear.”
December 2, 2007
Ending Famine, Simply by Ignoring the Experts
By CELIA W. DUGGER
LILONGWE, Malawi — Malawi hovered for years at the brink of famine. After a disastrous corn harvest in 2005, almost five million of its 13 million people needed emergency food aid.
But this year, a nation that has perennially extended a begging bowl to the world is instead feeding its hungry neighbors. It is selling more corn to the World Food Program of the United Nations than any other country in southern Africa and is exporting hundreds of thousands of tons of corn to Zimbabwe.
In Malawi itself, the prevalence of acute child hunger has fallen sharply. In October, the United Nations Children’s Fund sent three tons of powdered milk, stockpiled here to treat severely malnourished children, to Uganda instead. “We will not be able to use it!” Juan Ortiz-Iruri, Unicef’s deputy representative in Malawi, said jubilantly.
Farmers explain Malawi’s extraordinary turnaround — one with broad implications for hunger-fighting methods across Africa — with one word: fertilizer.
Over the past 20 years, the World Bank and some rich nations Malawi depends on for aid have periodically pressed this small, landlocked country to adhere to free market policies and cut back or eliminate fertilizer subsidies, even as the United States and Europe extensively subsidized their own farmers. But after the 2005 harvest, the worst in a decade, Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi’s newly elected president, decided to follow what the West practiced, not what it preached.
Stung by the humiliation of pleading for charity, he led the way to reinstating and deepening fertilizer subsidies despite a skeptical reception from the United States and Britain. Malawi’s soil, like that across sub-Saharan Africa, is gravely depleted, and many, if not most, of its farmers are too poor to afford fertilizer at market prices.
“As long as I’m president, I don’t want to be going to other capitals begging for food,” Mr. Mutharika declared. Patrick Kabambe, the senior civil servant in the Agriculture Ministry, said the president told his advisers, “Our people are poor because they lack the resources to use the soil and the water we have.”
The country’s successful use of subsidies is contributing to a broader reappraisal of the crucial role of agriculture in alleviating poverty in Africa and the pivotal importance of public investments in the basics of a farm economy: fertilizer, improved seed, farmer education, credit and agricultural research.
Malawi, an overwhelmingly rural nation about the size of Pennsylvania, is an extreme example of what happens when those things are missing. As its population has grown and inherited landholdings have shrunk, impoverished farmers have planted every inch of ground. Desperate to feed their families, they could not afford to let their land lie fallow or to fertilize it. Over time, their depleted plots yielded less food and the farmers fell deeper into poverty.
Malawi’s leaders have long favored fertilizer subsidies, but they reluctantly acceded to donor prescriptions, often shaped by foreign-aid fashions in Washington, that featured a faith in private markets and an antipathy to government intervention.
In the 1980s and again in the 1990s, the World Bank pushed Malawi to eliminate fertilizer subsidies entirely. Its theory both times was that Malawi’s farmers should shift to growing cash crops for export and use the foreign exchange earnings to import food, according to Jane Harrigan, an economist at the University of London.
In a withering evaluation of the World Bank’s record on African agriculture, the bank’s own internal watchdog concluded in October not only that the removal of subsidies had led to exorbitant fertilizer prices in African countries, but that the bank itself had often failed to recognize that improving Africa’s declining soil quality was essential to lifting food production.
“The donors took away the role of the government and the disasters mounted,” said Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University economist who lobbied Britain and the World Bank on behalf of Malawi’s fertilizer program and who has championed the idea that wealthy countries should invest in fertilizer and seed for Africa’s farmers.
Here in Malawi, deep fertilizer subsidies and lesser ones for seed, abetted by good rains, helped farmers produce record-breaking corn harvests in 2006 and 2007, according to government crop estimates. Corn production leapt to 2.7 million metric tons in 2006 and 3.4 million in 2007 from 1.2 million in 2005, the government reported.
“The rest of the world is fed because of the use of good seed and inorganic fertilizer, full stop,” said Stephen Carr, who has lived in Malawi since 1989, when he retired as the World Bank’s principal agriculturalist in sub-Saharan Africa. “This technology has not been used in most of Africa. The only way you can help farmers gain access to it is to give it away free or subsidize it heavily.”
“The government has taken the bull by the horns and done what farmers wanted,” he said. Some economists have questioned whether Malawi’s 2007 bumper harvest should be credited to good rains or subsidies, but an independent evaluation, financed by the United States and Britain, found that the subsidy program accounted for a large share of this year’s increase in corn production.
The harvest also helped the poor by lowering food prices and increasing wages for farm workers. Researchers at Imperial College London and Michigan State University concluded in their preliminary report that a well-run subsidy program in a sensibly managed economy “has the potential to drive growth forward out of the poverty trap in which many Malawians and the Malawian economy are currently caught.”
Farmers interviewed recently in Malawi’s southern and central regions said fertilizer had greatly improved their ability to fill their bellies with nsima, the thick, cornmeal porridge that is Malawi’s staff of life.
In the hamlet of Mthungu, Enelesi Chakhaza, an elderly widow whose husband died of hunger five years ago, boasted that she got two ox-cart-loads of corn this year from her small plot instead of half a cart.
Last year, roughly half the country’s farming families received coupons that entitled them to buy two 110-pound bags of fertilizer, enough to nourish an acre of land, for around $15 — about a third the market price. The government also gave them coupons for enough seed to plant less than half an acre.
Malawians are still haunted by the hungry season of 2001-02. That season, an already shrunken program to give poor farmers enough fertilizer and seed to plant a meager quarter acre of land had been reduced again. Regional flooding further lowered the harvest. Corn prices surged. And under the government then in power, the country’s entire grain reserve was sold as a result of mismanagement and corruption.
Mrs. Chakhaza watched her husband starve to death that season. His strength ebbed away as they tried to subsist on pumpkin leaves. He was one of many who succumbed that year, said K. B. Kakunga, the local Agriculture Ministry official. He recalled mothers and children begging for food at his door.
“I had a little something, but I could not afford to help each and every one,” he said. “It was very pathetic, very pathetic indeed.”
But Mr. Kakunga brightened as he talked about the impact of the subsidies, which he said had more than doubled corn production in his jurisdiction since 2005.
“It’s quite marvelous!” he exclaimed.
Malawi’s determination to heavily subsidize fertilizer and the payoff in increased production are beginning to change the attitudes of donors, say economists who have studied Malawi’s experience.
The Department for International Development in Britain contributed $8 million to the subsidy program last year. Bernabé Sánchez, an economist with the agency in Malawi, estimated the extra corn produced because of the $74 million subsidy was worth $120 million to $140 million.
“It was really a good economic investment,” he said.
The United States, which has shipped $147 million worth of American food to Malawi as emergency relief since 2002, but only $53 million to help Malawi grow its own food, has not provided any financial support for the subsidy program, except for helping pay for the evaluation of it. Over the years, the United States Agency for International Development has focused on promoting the role of the private sector in delivering fertilizer and seed, and saw subsidies as undermining that effort.
But Alan Eastham, the American ambassador to Malawi, said in a recent interview that the subsidy program had worked “pretty well,” though it displaced some commercial fertilizer sales.
“The plain fact is that Malawi got lucky last year,” he said. “They got fertilizer out while it was needed. The lucky part was that they got the rains.”
And the World Bank now sometimes supports the temporary use of subsidies aimed at the poor and carried out in a way that fosters private markets.
Here in Malawi, bank officials say they generally support Malawi’s policy, though they criticize the government for not having a strategy to eventually end the subsidies, question whether its 2007 corn production estimates are inflated and say there is still a lot of room for improvement in how the subsidy is carried out.
“The issue is, let’s do a better job of it,” said David Rohrbach, a senior agricultural economist at the bank.
Though the donors are sometimes ambivalent, Malawi’s farmers have embraced the subsidies. And the government moved this year to give its people a more direct hand in their distribution.
Villagers in Chembe gathered one recent morning under the spreading arms of a kachere tree to decide who most needed fertilizer coupons as the planting season loomed. They had only enough for 19 of the village’s 53 families.
“Ladies and gentlemen, should we start with the elderly or the orphans?” asked Samuel Dama, a representative of the Chembe clan.
Men led the assembly, but women sitting on the ground at their feet called out almost all the names of the neediest, gesturing to families rearing children orphaned by AIDS or caring for toothless elders.
There were more poor families than there were coupons, so grumbling began among those who knew they would have to watch over the coming year as their neighbors’ fertilized corn fields turned deep green.
Sensing the rising resentment, the village chief, Zaudeni Mapila, rose. Barefoot and dressed in dusty jeans and a royal blue jacket, he acted out a silly pantomime of husbands stuffing their pants with corn to sell on the sly for money to get drunk at the beer hall. The women howled with laughter. The tension fled.
He closed with a reminder he hoped would dampen any jealousy.
“I don’t want anyone to complain,” he said. “It’s not me who chose. It’s you.”
The women sang back to him in a chorus of acknowledgment, then dispersed to their homes and fields.
The government representatives at the UN conference on climate change this week in Bali will hear from a legion of experts, but they will not hear the voice of one man who is on the front line in the fight against climate change: Ali Angoiba.
Angoiba's field in Africa is a long way from the conference site in Indonesia. Yet, he and others in the Sahel village of Petaka in eastern Mali are experts on the effects of climate change. Every year, Angoiba and his wife struggle to provide for their five sons, and to protect their family and village against the devastating impact of climate change.
Angoiba is not a scientist; he's a 41-year-old farmer and a village leader who studies the changes in the weather closely. He is very worried by what he sees.
The winds are getting stronger, warmer and drier. The land he cultivates -- inhospitable at the best of times -- is cracked, arid and increasingly infertile. Sometimes, Angoiba must plant seeds three times before harvesting a successful crop. The flowering patterns of local shrubs and trees have become unpredictable, another worrying sign. The Sahara Desert is creeping closer, threatening to claim his land for itself.
The rain, if it comes, falls in a torrent. Rather than nourishing the land and his crops, the floods can wash it away, leaving his family destitute. One day last year, the equivalent of a third of the seasonal rainfall drenched his village in an afternoon. Within four hours, 45 millimetres of rain fell.
I know Angoiba's future is in serious jeopardy. I live in Mali myself, and my work as an agricultural specialist tells me that climate change is seriously hurting agricultural production. The ability of Angoiba, his wife and fellow villagers to feed themselves is in jeopardy. For them, and millions of other small-scale farmers, the greatest fear from climate change is not related to the weather -- it's the fear that Petaka's people will not be able to feed themselves, or live off the land as they always have.
The threat of large-scale natural disasters looms over people clinging precariously to subsistence farming. Oxfam says that the number of annual natural disasters -- most of them floods, cyclones and storms -- has quadrupled in the last 20 years. The number of people affected each year has grown over that time from 145 million to 250 million.
Each shock, piled on one after the other, can be devastating for subsistence farming villages like Angoiba's home in Mali. That's why many farmers are not waiting for the delegates in Indonesia to take action. Instead, Angoiba and his community are taking action themselves to fight climate change.
Angoiba has started using soil conservation techniques, nitrogen-fixing plants and shrubs, and better pest-control techniques such as intercropping plants that pests don't like. Most importantly, Angoiba is saving seeds, knowledge and genetic resources, developed with support from organizations such as USC Canada, to ensure the biodiversity of his crops.
"Many of us in North America are not making the work of farmers like Ali any easier," said USC Canada's Susan Walsh. Hers and other Canadian organizations have written to Prime Minister Stephen Harper calling for leadership on climate change. In an open letter, they pointed out that increasingly, Canadian government aid resources are being diverted from development and poverty alleviation to respond to climate disasters.
Today, I will share Angoiba's story with MPs at the Commons foreign affairs committee. My message will be that in Bali, Canada must be part of a strong global response to climate change, and take measures that will support farmers such as Angoiba. That would be the right thing to do, given that his community is bearing a heavy burden for what Canadians have helped cause. And Canadians might even learn a thing or two from the people of Petaka about fighting back against climate change.
Mamby Fofana is a Malian agricultural specialist and an international board member of USC Canada, founded in 1945 as the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada.
December 9, 2007
Mugabe’s Presence Hijacks European-African Meeting
By STEPHEN CASTLE
LISBON, Dec. 8 — A summit meeting of leaders from Europe and Africa on Saturday was dominated by divisions between the two continents over trade and criticism from European leaders of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.
The first such European Union-African meeting in seven years began amid growing concern in Europe that its economic and political influence in Africa was being eclipsed by China’s growing economic influence there.
But the start of the two-day meeting was overshadowed by the presence of Robert G. Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s president, who remains a liberation hero in some African countries. His appearance, however, led Gordon Brown, Britain’s prime minister, to decline to attend.
In her speech, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, criticized Mr. Mugabe, who is accused of human rights abuses, vote rigging and substantially worsening the level of poverty in his country.
“The whole European Union has the same view of what is happening there,” Mrs. Merkel said, according to a copy of her speech distributed at the meeting. “Zimbabwe concerns all of us, in Europe and in Africa.”
After criticism of Zimbabwe from other European leaders, African countries appeared to close ranks around Mr. Mugabe. Senegal’s president, Abdoulaye Wade, said that the comments about Mr. Mugabe were “not true,” and that Mrs. Merkel was misinformed.
“Zimbabwe is making progress toward democracy and should be helped, not sanctioned,” he said.
President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, also speaking about human rights, avoided criticizing Mr. Mugabe, according to Baroness Amos, a former deputy foreign minister representing Britain here in Mr. Brown’s place.
In a briefing with reporters, Lady Amos cited Mr. Mbeki’s role as a negotiator between Mr. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and the opposition as a legitimate explanation for his reluctance to confront his fellow leader.
Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, whose government is accused by many countries and aid groups of causing the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, was also at the meeting, as was Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Libya’s president. In all, 80 European and African governments were represented.
A meeting between Mr. Bashir and senior European officials yielded no breakthrough over plans to send non-African peacekeepers to Darfur.
Access to Mr. Mugabe was closely controlled. As he left his five-star hotel in Cascais, on the coast near Lisbon, on Saturday morning, he refused to answer questions from reporters as his security team jostled a camera crew from the BBC.
In order for Mr. Mugabe to attend the meeting, his Portuguese hosts had to waive a European Union visa ban that normally prevents him and 130 other Zimbabwean officials from traveling to Europe.
Mr. Mugabe was invited when southern African nations made it clear that they would not attend the meeting were he excluded.
In 2003, a similar standoff prevented a summit meeting from taking place, but such is the concern over China’s growing economic influence in Africa that all but a handful of European leaders agreed to override their objections and sit down with Zimbabwe’s president.
Ireland’s prime minister, Bertie Ahern, said that he would have preferred Mr. Mugabe had stayed away and said human rights needed to be addressed at the meeting. “Any country that halves the life expectancy of its population speaks for itself,” Mr. Ahern told reporters.
Though Europe remains Africa’s biggest trading partner, China’s investment ambitions were underlined recently when a Chinese bank bought 20 percent of Standard Bank, Africa’s largest lender, for $5.4 billion.
According to the European Commission, 800 Chinese companies have invested $1 billion in Africa through 2006, the latest year for which figures are available. The country imports 32 percent of its oil from Africa, and oil-related investment in recent years amounts to $16 billion, the commission said.
Despite their historical ties to Africa, Europeans have found it difficult to compete with China, which finances giant infrastructure projects and offers investment without conditions related to human rights or government transparency.
European leaders have called for a new partnership between the continents based on common interests, from trade to climate change, instead of the traditional relationship between donors and aid recipients.
But the legacy of Europe’s colonial past is a source of continuing controversy. “Africa doesn’t want charity or paternalism,” said Alpha Oumar Konaré, the chairman of the African Union, at the opening session on Saturday. “We don’t want anyone doing things for us. We want to play in the global economy but with new rules.”
Mr. Konaré also criticized the European Union’s strategy of pressing individual African regions and states to sign new trade deals, called economic partnership agreements. He said the practice was divisive and would hurt the continent’s industries and rural poor.
Mr. Wade, of Senegal, accused Europe of trying to impose on Africa a “straitjacket that does not work.”
December 10, 2007
Unlikely Ally Against Congo Republic Graft
By LYDIA POLGREEN
BRAZZAVILLE, the Congo Republic — The main teaching hospital here is in such disrepair that many patients have to pay freelance porters for piggyback rides up and down the stairs to get X-rays. It costs $2 a flight, each way.
But why is the hospital, like so much of the Congo Republic, so tattered when the country sells billions of dollars of oil each year?
The government says it is still recovering from a devastating war and faces a new problem: Western investors, sensing a chance to rake in millions, are suing to recover old debts that they bought for pennies on the dollar.
Such investors, running what critics derisively call vulture funds, have been widely denounced by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for forcing poor countries to fend off costly lawsuits rather than build classrooms and clinics.
But in the Congo Republic, where a deep-seated culture of graft has squandered so much of the nation’s wealth, those investors have become unexpected allies of anticorruption campaigners, who say such lawsuits may be the only way of holding the country accountable for how it spends its money.
“We ask ourselves, why is our country like this?” said Dr. Bebene Bondzouzi-Ndamba, a neurologist at the hospital. “Why are we so rich and yet so poor?”
Her questions have come into sharp relief in the fight between the Congo Republic and an affiliate of an American hedge fund, Elliott Associates. For an undisclosed price, the company bought about $31 million in debt that the country took on in the 1980s but later defaulted on. Now it is suing in American, European and Asian courts to collect the principal plus interest and penalties — more than $100 million in all. So far, it has collected $39 million.
Advocates of canceling third world debt recoil at such cases, with some calling for a code of conduct among lenders to prevent them from selling unpaid debts to investors.
“I deplore the activities of so-called vulture funds that seek to profit from the debts owed by the poorest countries,” Gordon Brown said in May, the month before he became prime minister of Britain. “I am determined to limit the damage done by such funds.”
But organizations that fight corruption argue that those investors are exposing in court the corrupt networks of government officials, providing a much-needed check on mineral-rich states. Beyond that, anticorruption campaigners, like the groups Global Witness and the Publish What You Pay Coalition, contend that when nations win debt relief without becoming more accountable, they will simply repeat old mistakes and end up deep in debt once again.
“If it were not for these vulture funds, we would not know any facts about the way our country’s wealth is being taken away,” said Brice Mackosso, a campaigner for greater transparency in the Congo Republic’s government. “We don’t agree with their ultimate aims, but they are the only ones capable of exposing the truth.”
Critics argue that virtually all countries use their debt relief savings to help the poor, and that so-called vulture funds achieve outsize returns from long-forgotten debts at the expense of the world’s poorest people.
Cutting Both Ways
While investor lawsuits may expose nefarious dealings, they may also make governments more secretive to avoid asset seizures. “It can cut both ways,” said Mark Thomas, a senior economist at the World Bank. “It can be a cause of revealing nontransparent practices, but it can also be a cause of those nontransparent practices in the first place.”
Debts are bought and sold all the time, and Western courts have awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in judgments to debt investors. Peru is the best-known example: In 2000, Elliott Associates, whose founder, Paul E. Singer, is a top Republican donor and a backer of Rudolph W. Giuliani’s presidential campaign, won a $58 million judgment on debt it had bought in 1996 for $20 million.
Now African countries are in the sights of debt investors. In 1979, Zambia borrowed $15 million from Romania to buy agricultural equipment. Twenty years later, the two governments agreed to settle the old debt for about $3 million. But a hedge fund, Donegal International, bought it first and sued for about $55 million. This year, a British court ruled that Zambia must pay Donegal $15 million.
The plight of Zambia, a poor country stricken by AIDS, raised awareness of so-called vulture investing in Africa, and debt relief campaigners, celebrities and some members of the Bush administration have taken up the issue.
Most creditors go along with debt reduction or write-off deals, and the Congo Republic has qualified under international programs for a reduction of much of the $8.5 million in debt it owed as of December 2004.
Government officials here point to a slew of new projects under construction, like a hydroelectric dam, hundreds of miles of new roads and an emergency power plant as evidence that they are rebuilding the country. A June report from the I.M.F. noted that at least some progress has been made to address “corruption and weak governance.”
Still, half the nation’s population lacks access to clean water, according to Unicef. The lifetime risk of dying in childbirth for women in the Congo Republic is 1 in 26, one of the world’s highest rates. Life expectancy is just 53 years, down from 55 in 1990.
That deprivation exists despite the significant amount of oil the country produces relative to its 3.8 million people — 250,000 barrels a day.
The litigation surrounding the country has unearthed a complex web of questionable practices that may have stripped untold millions of that oil money from the nation’s treasury since 1997.
Defense From Creditors
In interviews, officials here said the purpose of their complex transactions — which, according to court documents, included discounted prices for well-connected companies — was to avoid what it viewed as overzealous creditors.
“We are in a war, and we have to defend ourselves,” said Alain Akouala, the Congo Republic’s information minister.
But the group Global Witness has seized on court records to tease out these connections between government officials, private companies and a French bank that set up oil transactions.
The litigation has also exposed the free-spending habits of government officials. According to hotel bills, the country’s president, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, paid $8,500 a night for a triplex suite at the New York Palace Hotel during a visit to the United Nations in 2005. His hotel bills in the United States in 2005 and 2006 added up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Officials here said that Mr. Sassou-Nguesso was simply staying in the same type of hotels as other heads of state.
Another embarrassing find was the credit card bills of one of the president’s sons, Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso, who runs the marketing arm of the Congo Republic’s state oil business, Cotrade. They showed large purchases from shops like Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton and Gucci, and a paper trail suggesting that companies receiving state oil business had paid for the purchases, Global Witness said.
The world of luxury implied by those credit card bills is emblematic of the vast gap between the country’s elite and its impoverished masses.
The Congo Republic’s main teaching hospital may be in terrible shape, but its director, Ignace Ngakala, works in a plush office outfitted with a large, lacquered wood desk and a high-backed leather chair. His office, he said, was recently renovated along with the delivery room in the maternity ward and a meeting room for medical conferences, complete with a state-of-the-art sound system. In his parking space sat a late-model Volkswagen sport utility vehicle that sells for about $50,000 in the United States.
“We are coming from war,” he said, explaining why the elevator in one of the hospital buildings was not fixed. “We are in the middle of a progressive renovation.”
Mr. Sassou-Nguesso, the president, first ruled the country as a Marxist-Leninist dictator, from 1979 to 1992, then seized power again in 1997. A brutal civil war followed, devastating the country. He was elected president in 2002, but the vote was deeply flawed because his main rivals were excluded, international observers say.
Mr. Sassou-Nguesso’s government has jettisoned its Communist past in favor of petro-capitalism. But aides say that the image of a free-spending kleptocrat is false, noting that here in the capital the president stays in the same modest home he has lived in since he was an army lieutenant.
But in Pointe-Noire, the center of the Congo Republic’s booming oil industry, Mr. Sassou-Nguesso lives in a sprawling oceanfront mansion. At a reception there in October, government ministers drank single-malt Scotch by the swimming pool, while Mr. Sassou-Nguesso sipped Champagne from a cut-crystal glass.
In an interview, Mr. Sassou-Nguesso said his government was committed to transparency and posts oil revenues on a Web site. It also submits to independent audits, as requested by the International Monetary Fund.
Both Sides Point Fingers
He criticized as immoral the private creditors seeking to gain from the Congo Republic’s misery, and rejected the notion that debt investors could play a positive role in exposing corruption. “Vulture funds cannot give us lessons,” he said.
In a statement, Elliott Associates said it could not be blamed for the Congo Republic’s problems. “The poor in developing countries are poor because the political and economic systems in their countries have failed them,” the statement said.
According to Justice Department records, the Congo Republic’s government has spent $3.3 million this year and last to hire lobbyists and lawyers to press its cause in Congress and in the news media, including the firms of Washington heavyweights like Plato Cacheris and Bob Livingston.
Their efforts have borne some fruit in the form of Congressional hearings on the impact of debt investors, and news articles about Mr. Singer’s contributions to Mr. Giuliani’s presidential campaign.
Caught in the middle of this fight are schoolchildren, like 10-year-old Laurent Mbemba in Pointe-Noire. His school has 3,583 students. Its three latrines are broken. Many teachers have not been paid in years — they get by on donations from parents.
Rain pours in thundering sheets onto the tin roof, dribbling through rust holes onto the children beneath. The classrooms are so packed — as many as 200 a class — that many children sit on the cement floor, notebooks perched on their narrow thighs.
“There aren’t enough desks for everyone,” Laurent said.
The school’s principal, Martial Itsouhou, said the school received virtually no assistance from the government.
“Our country exports wood, but we have no desks,” Mr. Itsouhou said. “Our children are literally learning on their knees. We don’t know where the money goes. We just pray for help.”
December 13, 2007
After Clashes, Fear of War on Congo’s Edge
By LYDIA POLGREEN
SAKE, Congo — A major confrontation between the Congolese Army and a renegade general is plunging the country back toward war, threatening to undermine the fledgling democratic state and set off a new regional conflict on a scale not seen here in years.
The battle between government troops and the rebel general, Laurent Nkunda, turns on many of the same issues that caused Congo’s civil war, which supposedly ended in 2003. It was Africa’s deadliest modern war, fueled by the ethnic tensions between Hutus and Tutsis, which had led to the genocide in neighboring Rwanda.
Another factor was the quest to control Congo’s unusually rich endowment of minerals and farmland, especially here in North Kivu Province.
None of those underlying problems have been fully resolved, and the recent violence they have spurred has pushed 425,000 people from their homes in the past year alone, including the residents of this strategic provincial town. On Tuesday, they flooded out of town in a vast river of suffering, bedrolls and clothing bundles atop their heads, children toddling at their sides.
Many were running for the second time in two weeks, as General Nkunda’s forces routed army troops in towns they had taken just days before and threatened to take Sake as well. General Nkunda, a Tutsi, has vowed to protect Congolese Tutsis against Hutu militias from Rwanda. His advance here was just barely staved off by United Nations peacekeepers, who swept in late Tuesday to occupy the town as the Congolese Army fled.
The fight comes only a year after Western nations helped organize and pay for an election that produced Congo’s first democratically chosen government. The violence is also unfolding despite years of military and diplomatic intervention by the United Nations, the European Union and the United States to stem the tide of blood and create, for the first time since its independence, a stable and prosperous Congo.
“The fundamental issues that led to the Congo war have never really been dealt with,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch. “We are seeing the results of that now.”
After years of being overlooked in favor of crises in Darfur, Somalia and elsewhere, Congo has again sprung to the top of American and European agendas on Africa. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met last week with leaders of the region, with a considerable focus on Congo, and another high-level meeting of diplomats is set for this weekend.
The recent fighting has unleashed a catastrophe of a proportion that is outsize even for Congo, where some researchers say four million people have died, mainly of disease and hunger, since the civil war began in 1996.
“This situation now is the worst we have had” since 2003, said Patrick Lavand’homme, a senior United Nations emergency aid official in Goma, the regional capital. “And it is going to get much, much worse.”
The Congo civil war traces its roots directly to the Rwandan genocide. The perpetrators of the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus fled, along with more than a million Rwandan Hutu refugees, spilling across the border into Congo in 1994.
The Tutsi-led Rwandan government sponsored a rebel group to pursue them into Congo, then called Zaire, in 1996. Congo’s longtime ruler, Mobutu Sese Seko, presided over an increasingly unstable nation rotted through by his autocratic rule. Neighboring countries like Angola and Uganda, sensing a chance to cash in on Congo’s mineral riches, jumped into the fray.
In 1997 Mr. Mobutu was forced into exile, and the rebel leader Laurent D. Kabila became president. A year later, though, he split with his Rwandan backers, who then sponsored another rebellion, this time against Mr. Kabila. It would set off a second civil war, throwing the region into turmoil as neighboring countries backed different sides.
The current crisis again risks drawing in Congo’s neighbors, especially Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.
Today in Goma, clinics are packed with spindly children so malnourished they must be fed through a tube. Outside the city, ragtag camps have sprung up, and more than 800,000 people are now displaced in the region.
On the road between Sake and Goma, a panorama of misery unfolded mile after mile, as families trudged in search of sanctuary. Many slept in the open by the side of the road, shivering through a frigid night.
“Running, running, we are always running,” said Simwirayi Byenda, who left Sake with his two children on Tuesday. “It is always the civilians who suffer.”
Crowded camps struggled to absorb the newcomers —aid workers at one camp said that Monday would be the soonest new arrivals could get any food.
“Even then I do not think there is enough shelter materials and food and water,” said David Nthengwe, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency. “We will be needing more urgently to just cope with the current influx.”
The military setback to the government has been stunning. Just last Saturday, Col. Delphin K. Kahimbi, a deputy commander of the vast force trying to defeat General Nkunda, said many rebels had been killed and victory was at hand.
“We are progressing well, and our army is strong,” he said.
With the early success of the army offensive, aid workers and human rights officials initially worried that the Congolese Army would barrel through rebel towns filled with displaced Tutsi civilians, opening up the possibility of more violence against an ethnic group that had already suffered through a genocide.
But those worries have been overtaken by concerns that Congo’s Army will fail altogether. That could be particularly destabilizing because Joseph Kabila, who became Congo’s first democratically elected president last year, is already losing support over the unrest.
The Congolese Army has thrown its might into the fight with General Nkunda. About 20,000 troops have been deployed to the region, along with heavy artillery and a pair of attack helicopters. Still, the army, a mix of former militias that were integrated into the national force after the war, has struggled for even small victories.
Last week, it took three days of heavy bombardment for the government to win back Mushake, a crossroads town that had given General Nkunda’s forces control over the road to rich mining areas. The town’s recapture was hailed as a huge victory, but rebels won it back in just a few hours of fighting this week.
On Tuesday, Colonel Kahimbi acknowledged that his troops had suffered a serious setback, saying at the front line, “In war, you win some and you lose some, but we will win.”
Soldiers who just a week ago seemed disciplined and in high spirits quickly degenerated into drunken rabble as they bid a hasty retreat from the town of Kingi, following hundreds of families seeking sanctuary and preying upon them for food.
“I had nine goats when I left, now I have only one,” said Kimomote Ndezirizaza, who fled Kingi with his wife and nine children. “The soldiers harass us and steal our property. We only want a safe place to hide.”
With his army in retreat, Mr. Kabila is left with few options. Attempts at negotiating with General Nkunda over the past year, including an experiment at mixing his men into army brigades, collapsed in August, leading to a new round of fighting. After a cease-fire agreement collapsed in October, the Congolese government vowed to remove General Nkunda by force.
“Kinshasa is in a panic,” said one senior United Nations military official, referring to the nation’s capital. “They gambled everything on a military solution and were humiliated.”
But reopening negotiations with General Nkunda is also a dangerous proposition for Mr. Kabila. Other ethnic and regional militias willingly went through an integration process requiring them to be redeployed into regions where they had not fought, giving up control of lucrative mining areas. They would be angered by special treatment for General Nkunda’s force, which they see as another ethnic militia.
General Nkunda is demanding that his men be allowed to stay in North Kivu. He is also demanding the dismantling and deportation of the Rwandan Hutu militia led by some of the fighters responsible for the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Congo’s government put forth a plan to break up the militia beginning in March, but General Nkunda’s forces have insisted that the militia must be disarmed first.
General Nkunda’s critics, who seem to include the vast majority of the people of North Kivu, the Congolese government and the United Nations, argue that he is a warlord seeking to protect financial and political interests and is using ethnicity as a pretext.
The Congolese Army has relied on ethnic militias to help fight its enemies, and it has also cooperated with the Rwandan Hutu militia, now known as the F.D.L.R., to fight General Nkunda’s forces, according to former and current members of the militia and human rights workers.
The prospect of these Rwandan Hutu militiamen fighting Congolese Tutsis risks provoking Rwanda’s government, which has been pressing for the dismantling of the militias since 1994, to invade Congo, as it has several times in the past decade.
Senior Western diplomats and aid officials say Rwanda has so far pledged restraint. The United Nations Security Council will be voting this month on renewing the mandate of the peacekeeping force here, known as Monuc.
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