Monthly Archives: April 2017

Coke as a Scapegoat

Thamirabarani river, India. Image from wikipedia

A potent blend of pride, economic nationalism and mounting concern over water security have the world’s two biggest cola brands in a bind in southern India.  Shopkeepers in drought-hit Kerala state decided on March 15, 2017 to promote local brands over Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. beverages after counterparts in neighboring Tamil Nadu boycotted the multinational drinks. While retail groups claim the companies are siphoning off groundwater and selling products tainted with pesticides, academics and analysts say the soda giants have become scapegoats for a water crisis that’s become mired in politics and patriotism.

India is one of the most water-challenged nations, and fights over water have erupted between users periodically for decades. Failed monsoon rains over as many as the past three years in some states have parched rivers and dams, forcing farmers, manufacturers and municipal water suppliers to rely more on wells to meet their needs. Problem is, those too are drying up, and that’s hurting farmers, India’s economic mainstay.

“The root cause for the boycott isn’t the multinational companies, but the enduring fight between industrial users and farmers, especially in several drought-hit states,” said P.L. Beena, an associate professor with the Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.
On top of that, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to companies to “make in India” has given rise to a pro-India push — and, in some cases, an anti-foreigner backlash — that’s supporting local brands….

The latest action means drinks from Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, which together have a 96 percent hold on India’s $4.9 billion soda market, will be kept off the shelves of more than 1 million shops.  Vendors would rather lose business than sell the products, said A. M. Vikrama Raja, president of a retailers’ association in Tamil Nadu with about 1.5 million members. The boycott started March 1, 2017 a day before the Madras High Court dismissed a petition seeking a ban on the American soda-makers drawing water from the local Thamirabarani river.

“Instead of foreign sodas, we will promote local beverages,” said T. Naseeruddin, president of a retailers’ group that says it has more than 700,000 retailers in Kerala, which is facing its worst drought in 115 years.

The group stopped short of joining the boycott in Tamil Nadu after a meeting Wednesday with Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, a spokesman said. Instead, retailers will pursue “sensitization against multinational products” via a state-level conference, and seek a policy response from the state government.  India has at least 50 local drink brands, which are typically 20 percent cheaper than the global cola brands, brokerage Kotak Securities Ltd. said in a Feb. 23 report.  Manpasand Beverages Ltd., based in Vadodara, Gujarat state’s cultural capital, is “aggressively expanding its reach in Tamil Nadu to take advantage of the ongoing cola ban,”….

Excerpts from PepsiCo, Coca-Cola Fight Patriotism in Parched Indian State, Bloomberg Business Week, Mar. 15, 2017

How to Defeat Black Ants-if you can

image from wikipedia

The Kamwina Nsapu rebellion is an ongoing rebellion instigated by the Kamwina Nsapu militia against state security forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  The  militia are named after Kamwina Nsapu [translating black ant], the tribal chief in the region.  The rebellion takes place in the provinces of Kasaï-Central, Kasaï, Kasai-Oriental and Lomami.   This region supported the opposition in the last presidential election against the current President Joseph Kabila who refused to step down at the end of his final term in office in December 2016,  Tensions flared when the government appointed those close to them rather than tribal chiefs into powerful positions in the local government. In June 2016, Kamwina Nsapu contested the central government’s power and began calling for an insurrection and attacked local police. On 12 August 2016, he was killed alongside eight other militiamen and 11 policemen in Tshimbulu. Upon his death, the Congolese Observatory for Human Rights condemned his killing and suggested he should have been arrested instead. There is an ethnic nature to the conflict with the militia mostly made up of Luba people and they have selectively killed non-Luba people.

On 9 February 2017, fighting erupted in Tshimbulu between 300 militiamen and the armed forces in a reprisal attack by the militia…On 14 February, the United Nations human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell announced that at least 101 people had been killed by government forces between 9 and 13 February, with 39 women confirmed to be among them.  A few days later, a video showing members of the Congolese military killing civilians in the village of Mwanza Lomba was leaked.’
Investigators working for the United Nations have discovered 17 mass graves in the Central Democratic Republic of Congo, adding to the 23 graves that were recently discovered in the area.

“The discovery of yet more mass graves and the reports of continued violations and abuses highlight the horror that has been unfolding in the Kasais over the last nine months,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said.  The discovery of the graves warrants an investigation by an international body, such as the International Criminal court (ICC).  It has also been reported that at least two women and three girls were raped by government soldiers during the operation.

The Kamuina Nsapu militia group has also been accused of carrying out a series of criminal activities against locals in Central DRC, including killings, abductions, and the recruitment of child soldiers.

Excerpts from Wikipedia and UN Discovers 17 Mass Graves in Central Congo, FacetoFace Africa, Apr. 20, 2017 https://face2faceafrica.com/article/mass-grave-d.

 

Living by Stealing-the Sea Robbers

illegal refinery Nigeria. image from Reuters

Nigeria’s military said on April 13, 2017 that it had destroyed 13 illegal refineries in the restive Niger Delta oil hub, in an operation in which two soldiers died in clashes with “sea robbers”.  Military authorities say there are hundreds of illegal refineries in the region, which process stolen crude from oil company pipelines.  The Nigerian government said last week that it plans to legalise illicit refineries as part of an attempt to bring peace to the production heartland of crude oil, but it is unclear when it will put the plan into action.  Major Abubakar Abdullahi, a military spokesman, said troops “discovered and destroyed 13 illegal refineries” on April 12, 2017 while on patrol in the Iyalama Adama axis of Rivers state. The two soldiers were killed in the Ijawkiri general area, in Rivers state, he said.Makeshift refineries, usually hidden in oil-soaked clearings, support tens of thousands of people locally.

Nigeria’s navy chief has said that 181 illegal refineries were destroyed in 2016, 748 suspects were arrested, and crude oil and diesel worth 420 billion naira ($1.3 billion) was confiscated. The military shut down around 50 bush refineries in the first few weeks of 2017.

Nigeria’s military destroys 13 illegal oil refineries, Reuters, Apr. 13, 2017

The Mass Graves in the Desert

Growing numbers of African migrants passing through Libya are traded in what they call slave markets before being held for ransom, forced labour or sexual exploitation, according to the UN migration agency.

West African migrants interviewed by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) recounted being bought and sold in garages and car parks in the southern city of Sabha, one of Libya’s main migrant smuggling hubs. Migrants are traded for between $200 and $500 and are held on average for two or three months, Othman Belbeisi, head of the IOM Libya mission, told journalists in Geneva.

The IOM said it spoke to a Senegalese migrant who was held in a Libyan’s private house in Sabha with about 100 others. They were beaten as they called their families to ask for money for their captors. He was then bought by another Libyan, who set a new price for his release. Some migrants who cannot pay their captors are reportedly killed or left to starve to death and when migrants die or are released, others are purchased to replace them, the IOM said. Migrants are buried without identification, with families back home uncertain of their fate.

“What we know is migrants who fall into the hands of smugglers face systematic malnutrition, sexual abuse and even murder,” Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s Director of Operations and Emergencies, said in a statement. “We are hearing about mass graves in the desert.”  Libya is the main gateway for migrants attempting to reach Europe by sea, with more than 150,000 people making the crossing in each of the past three years.

So far this year an estimated 26,886 migrants have crossed to Italy, over 7,000 more than during the same period in 2016. More than 600 are known to have died at sea, while an unknown number perish during their journey north through the desert.

Excerpts from: Migrants traded in Libyan “slave markets” – claimReuters, Wednesday, Apr. 12, 2016

Buying Silence and Selling Weapons: Yemen

Saudi-led air strike on Sana'a, 12 June 2015

As Yemen’s formal economy collapses, a war economy has taken its place. For a fee, any truck can pass checkpoints without inspection, no matter what it carries. Weapons-smuggling is rife; particularly, says a diplomat, of Saudi-supplied arms. So cheap and plentiful are hand-grenades that Yemenis throw them to celebrate weddings. Sheikhs offer their tribesmen as fighters for neighbouring countries willing to pay for regional influence….

Outsiders have added greatly to the fragmentation of Yemen. Iran has long backed the Houthis with weapons, but ideas are just as lethal an export…Saudi Arabia countered by exporting its own Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. Radical preachers, such as Muqbil al-Waddai, opened retreats in the desert, where at prayer-time trainees bowed down to Kalashnikovs laid in front of them. With Sunnis concentrated on the coast and in the east, and Shias predominating in the highlands of the north-west, their rival creeds prised the country apart.

Such are the animosities that Yemen, stitched together in 1990, is now disintegrating. The south seethes at the northern bullies who bombarded their roads and sniped at their citizens when they briefly conquered Aden in the early months of the war. The north decries the southern traitors who invited Saudi and Emirati forces to drop bombs on them and isolate them by land, air and sea after the outsiders joined the war in March 2015…

Reluctant to take risks, Saudi pilots fly high, out of range of anti-aircraft fire. That spares Saudi lives, but imprecise bombing increases Yemeni civilian casualties. The UN says over 7,000 Yemenis have been killed in the two years of war. Hospitals were attacked 18 times in 2016.

Hunger is also taking a toll. Yemen imports 90% of its food, so the warring parties control its supply as yet another weapon. Without electricity to keep it cool, much of what gets through perishes. Of some 27m Yemenis, 7m are going hungry, says the UN, almost double the figure in January. Some 3m people have fled their homes, but of Yemen’s neighbours, only Djibouti accepts refugees. Yemen, says the UN, is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

Saudi Arabia insists all this is a price worth paying for reinstating the president the Houthis chased out of the capital in 2015…Vowing to push Iran back, the new Saudi king’s impulsive son and defence minister, Muhammad bin Salman, saw a chance to prove his mettle.

But even if the diagnosis was accurate, the prince’s response has been fatally flawed. War has only exacerbated the manageable threat that Saudi Arabia faced at the start. No matter how often its loyal press report victorious advances, the front lines have in fact changed very little. But Saudi Arabia now looks more vulnerable and Iran looms larger than ever. The Houthis mount regular raids dozens of kilometres into Saudi Arabia, often unopposed. Missiles land as far north as Riyadh, most recently striking an airbase there on March 18th, and disable coalition naval vessels in the Red Sea. Scores of Saudi and UAE tanks have been struck. As always, al-Qaeda and Islamic State fill the copious ungoverned spaces, perhaps offering a refuge for fighters fleeing Iraq and Syria. As a war it predicted would quickly end enters its third year, Saudi Arabia seems without an exit strategy. “Yemen [is] in danger of fracturing beyond the point of no return,” said a recent UN report.

All permanent members of the UN Security Council are against the war, but they are all ready to sell Yemen for arms,” says an ex-UN official who worked on Yemen. By night Saudi Arabia launches American-made Reaper combat drones from an American base in Djibouti. In order to buy silence, King Salman promised China $65bn of investment on a visit this month….

Beggar thy neighbourYemen’s war enters its third bloody year, Economist, Mar. 25, 2017

Ecological Hooliganism: smashing the coral triangle

Giant clams are one of Buddhism’s “seven treasures”, along with gold and lapis lazuli. China’s new rich prize their shells as showy ornaments. Each can fetch as much as $3,000, so each haul was worth a fortune to the fishermen of Tanmen, a little fishing port on the island province of Hainan in Southern China.  But Chinese government banned the clam fishing…
The ban is surely welcome. [S]ome of the most biodiverse coral reefs on Earth have been destroyed in the South China Sea thanks to giant-clam poachers. In the shallow waters of the reefs, crews use the propellers of small boats launched from each mother-ship to smash the surrounding coral and thus free the clams anchored fast to the reef. Though the practice has received little attention, it is ecological hooliganism, and most of it has been perpetrated by boats from Tanmen.

The fishermen have not been the reefs’ only adversaries. China’s huge and (to its neighbours) controversial programme since late 2013 of building artificial islands around disputed rocks and reefs in the South China Sea has paved over another 22 square miles of coral. When the two activities are taken together, Mr McManus says, about 10% of the reefs in the vast Spratly archipelago to the south of Hainan, and 8% of those in the Paracel islands, between Hainan and Vietnam, have been destroyed. Given that Asia’s Coral Triangle, of which the South China Sea forms the apex, is a single, interconnected ecosystem, the repercussions of these activities, environmentalists say, will be huge…

But still..A few streets back from the waterfront in Tanmen, elegant boutiques sell jewellery and curios fashioned from the giant clams—and clam shells are still stacked outside. And the provincial money that is so clearly being lavished on Tanmen sits oddly with the illegality of its townsfolk’s way of life. .. [I] n 2013 President Xi Jinping himself showed up in Tanmen. Boarding one of the trawlers he declared to the crew, according to state media, “You guys do a great job!” The media did not report that a year earlier the trawler in question had been caught in the territorial waters of Palau, and in the confrontation with local police that followed one of the crew members had been shot dead. In Chinese propaganda, Tanmen’s fishermen are patriots and model workers.

Over the years Tanmen’s fishermen have become part of China’s power projection in the South China Sea, an unofficial but vital adjunct to the Chinese navy and coastguard. The biggest trawlers are organised into a maritime militia ready to fight a “people’s war” at sea. Though generally unarmed, they undergo training and take orders from the navy.

They are facts on the water, and have been involved in China’s growing aggression in the South China Sea. In 2012 boats from Tanmen were part of a navy-led operation to wrest control of Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines, chasing Philippine fishing vessels away. In 2014 they escorted a Chinese oil rig that was being towed provocatively into Vietnamese waters. On land, Vietnamese expressed their rage by ransacking factories they thought were Chinese-owned. At sea, boats from Tanmen rammed and sank one of the rickety Vietnamese vessels coming out to protest.

Mysteriously, though, the giant trawlers of the Tanmen militia are now rafted up, their crews sent home. Perhaps China is keen to lower tensions in the region….A policy introduced in January aims to cut the catch from China’s fishing fleet, the world’s largest, by a sixth, in the name of sustainability. That will hit Tanmen’s fishermen hard, making them less willing to defend China’s claims. Francis Drake would have understood: pirates are patriotic, but usually only when it pays.

Excerpts from Clamshell Phoneys, Economist, Mar. 25, 2017

Loving the Plastic Bag

Since their invention in the 1960s, disposable plastic bags have made lives easier for lazy shoppers the world over. But once used, they become a blight. This is particularly true in poor countries without good systems for disposing of them. They are not only unsightly. Filled with rainwater, they are a boon for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Dumped in the ocean, they kill fish. They may take hundreds of years to degrade. On March 15th Kenya announced that it will become the second country in Africa to ban them. It follows Rwanda, a country with a dictatorial obsession with cleanliness, which outlawed them in 2008…

As Kenyans get richer and move to cities, the amount of plastic they use is growing. By one estimate, Kenya gets through 24m bags a month, or two per person. (Americans, by comparison, use roughly three per person.) Between 2010 and 2014 annual plastic production in Kenya expanded by a third, to 400,000 tonnes. Bags made up a large part of the growth.

Kenya has tried to ban polythene bags twice before, in 2007 and 2011, without much success. This latest measure is broader, but few are ready for it. The Kenyan Association of Manufacturers says it will cost thousands of jobs. Some worry that supermarkets will simply switch to paper bags, which could add to deforestation. And then there is the question of whether Kenyan consumers will accept it. In Rwanda, since its ban was imposed, a thriving underground industry has emerged smuggling the bags from neighbouring Congo.

Excerpts African Rubbish: Plastic Bantastic, Economist, Mar. 25, 2016