Tag Archives: Africa

Choked by Hyacinths: Lake Victoria

Hyacinth-choked lakeshore at Ndere Island, Lake Victoria, Kenya. Image from wikpeida

The report, Freshwater biodiversity in the Lake Victoria Basin (2018), assesses the global extinction risk of 651 freshwater species, including fishes, molluscs, dragonflies, crabs, shrimps and aquatic plants native to East Africa’s Lake Victoria Basin, finding that 20% of these are threatened with extinction. Of the freshwater species assessed, 204 are endemic to the Lake Victoria Basin and three-quarters (76%) of these endemics are at risk of extinction.

The African Lungfish (Protopterus aethiopicus), for example, is declining in the Lake Victoria Basin largely due to overfishing, poor fishing practices and environmental degradation as wetlands are converted to agricultural land. The lungfish is considered a delicacy for some local communities and is an important local medicinal product, used to boost the immune system and treat alcoholism. The lungfish is also traded at market, making it important to the local economy.

Lake Victoria is the world’s second largest freshwater lake by surface area. Its catchment area includes parts of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda. Also referred to as ‘Darwin’s Dreampond’, Lake Victoria is known for its high levels of unique biodiversity. The Lake Victoria Basin harbours immense natural resources including fisheries, forests, wetlands and rangelands….

Pollution from industrial and agricultural sources, over-harvesting of resources and land clearance are among the primary threats to biodiversity in this region. Invasive species also present an important threat to native biodiversity in the basin, affecting 31% of all species and 73% of threatened species. The purple flowered Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) was accidentally introduced to Lake Victoria from South America in the 1980s, and at its peak covered close to 10% of the lake surface in dense floating mats. These mats reduce the oxygen and nutrient availability in the water column, which negatively affects native biodiversity. Opportunities for harvesting and exploiting the Water Hyacinth, for example by using the species as fuel in bio-digesters for energy production, are under investigation.

Excerpts from Livelihoods at risk as freshwater species in Africa’s largest lake face extinction – IUCN Report, IUCN Report, Apr. 30, 2018

Lernaean Hydra-cultivating the many Gaddafis

When Doundou Chefou first took up arms as a youth a decade ago, it was for the same reason as other ethnic Fulani herders along the Niger-Mali border: to protect his livestock.  He had nothing against the Republic of Niger, let alone the United States of America. His quarrel was with rival Tuareg cattle raiders.

Yet in October 2017 he led dozens of militants allied to Islamic State in a deadly assault against allied US-Niger forces, killing four soldiers from each nation and demonstrating how dangerous the West’s mission in the Sahel has become.

The transition of Chefou and men like him from vigilantes protecting their cows to jihadists capable of carrying out complex attacks is a story Western powers would do well to heed, as the pursuit of violent extremism in West Africa becomes ever more enmeshed in long-standing ethnic and clan conflicts.

For centuries Tuareg and Fulani lived as nomads herding animals and trading – Tuareg mostly across the dunes and oases of the Sahara and Fulani mostly in the Sahel, a vast band of semi-arid scrubland that stretches from Senegal to Sudan….Though they largely lived peacefully side-by-side, arguments occasionally flared, usually over scarce watering points. A steady increase in the availability of automatic weapons made the rivalry more deadly.

A turning point was the Western-backed ousting of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. With his demise, many Tuareg who fought as mercenaries for Gaddafi returned home, bringing with them the contents of Libya’s looted armouries.  Some returnees launched a rebellion in Mali to create a breakaway Tuareg state in the desert north, a movement hijacked by al Qaeda-linked jihadists who had been operating in Mali for years. In 2012, they swept across northern Mali, seizing key towns and prompting a French intervention that pushed them back in 2013.

Amid the violence and chaos, some Tuareg turned their guns on rivals from other ethnic groups like the Fulani, who then went to the Islamists for arms and training.

“The Tuareg were armed and were pillaging the Fulani’s cattle,” Niger Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum told Reuters. “The Fulani felt obliged to arm themselves.”..

Tuareg in Mali and Niger dreamed of and sometimes fought for an independent state, Fulani generally been more pre-occupied by concerns over the security of their community and the herds they depend on. “For the Fulani, it was a sense of injustice, of exclusion, of discrimination and a need for self-defence,”  A militant who proved particularly good at tapping into this dissatisfaction was Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, an Arabic-speaking north African, several law enforcement sources said.  Al-Sahrawi recruited dozens of Fulani into the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), loosely allied to al Qaeda in the region and controlled Gao and the area to the Niger border in 2012.

Why pastoralists in Mali and Niger turned to jihad, Reuters, Nov. 13,  2017

Let them Bleed: How to Pretend to Care about Religious Wars in Africa

alarm

World alarm grew over the Central African Republic (CAR) on November 21, 2013, with France joining a chorus warning of possible genocide in the mineral-rich but poor country torn by strife since a March 2013 coup.  France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned that the CAR was “on the verge of genocide”, while the United Nations has mooted sending thousands of peacekeepers to the landlocked nation, where unprecedented sectarian bloodshed has erupted.

In parts of the CAR, fighting has broken out between mainly Muslim former rebels who seized power in March and militia groups set up to protect Christian communities, which make up about 80 percent of the population. Both churches and mosques have been razed to the ground.“It’s total disorder,” Fabius told France 2 television, adding that the UN was considering authorising African and French troops to intervene. A regional peacekeeping force known as MISMA is currently deployed, but consists of only 2,500 men hampered by a lack of funds, arms and training.

In the latest of a long line of rebellions and coups, the Seleka rebel coalition ousted president Francois Bozize in March and put the CAR’s first Muslim leader, President Michel Djotodia, in power.Djotodia, who has officially disbanded the Seleka coalition and incorporated some of its forces into the army, announced “exceptional measures” to quell conflict, but a statement issued by his office gave no details…[The government] formed in the capital Bangui has little control of the rest of the nation, where armed groups – the remnants of successive rebellions, mutinies and insurgencies – hold sway over a people facing atrocities, food shortages and the collapse of health care.”You have seven surgeons for a population of five million, an infant mortality rate of 25 percent in some areas and 1.5 million people who have nothing, not even food, and armed gangs, bandits, etc,” Fabius said of France’s former colony in equatorial Africa.

The UN Security Council plans to vote in early December on a resolution that would allow CAR’s neighbours, the African Union and France to intervene in the sprawling nation….Plans are afoot to place MISMA under the aegis of the African Union and bring it up to 3,600 men, but diplomats and military experts warn that this number will be nowhere near enough. The bulk of MISMA is provided by Chad, with troops from Gabon, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.

By Nicholas Barret, France joins global warnings of ‘genocide’ in C. Africa,  Agence France Presse, Nov. 22, 2013

A Continent for Sale through Queensway

According to The Economist,

Angola…is a partner in a syndicate founded by well-connected Cantonese entrepreneurs who, with their African partners, have taken control of one of China’s most important trade channels. Operating out of offices in Hong Kong’s Queensway, the syndicate calls itself China International Fund or China Sonangol. Over the past seven years it has signed contracts worth billions of dollars for oil, minerals and diamonds from Africa.

These deals are shrouded in secrecy. However, they appear to grant the Queensway syndicate remarkably profitable terms. If that is right, then they would be depriving some of the world’s poorest people of desperately needed wealth. Because the syndicate has done deals with the regimes in strife-torn places, such as Zimbabwe and Guinea, it may also have indirectly helped sustain violent conflicts…

The syndicate is built on links forged during the cold war. It is largely the creation of a man known as Sam Pa. Though he uses several names, he was born Xu Jinghua. After attending a Soviet academy in Baku four decades ago, say people who have looked into his career, he traded with Angola during its civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 2002 and over the years was a proxy battleground for several outside powers, including China, America, Cuba, the Soviet Union and South Africa. Mr Pa is a private and rarely photographed person. His name appears in few syndicate documents. He is believed to exert control through Veronica Fung, who may be a member of his family. She controls 70% of a core company, Newbright International. The two frequently travel in Africa, using the syndicate’s fleet of Airbus jets. They are said sometimes to bypass customs.

Mr Pa has several Chinese partners, according to a 2009 American congressional report. The daughter of a Chinese general, Lo Fong Hung, married to Wang Xiangfei, a well-connected banker, controls 30% of Newbright. Mrs Lo is the public face of China International Fund and China Sonangol. She is listed as a director of dozens of interconnected companies. The business’s operations were initially entrusted to the head of a privatised engineering firm from the mainland, Wu Yang. Later, African partners took over.

Although the Queensway syndicate has sometimes been suspected of being an arm of the Chinese government, there is little evidence of that. Indeed, it has often been the butt of criticism from Chinese officials. More likely it was set up to take advantage of a new strategy by the Chinese government, known as the “going out” policy. In 2002, after decades of commercial isolation, China started encouraging entrepreneurs to venture abroad. Short of contacts, Mr Pa teamed up with Hélder Bataglia, a Portuguese trader who had grown up in Angola and had links to Latin America. Together in 2004 they visited Néstor Kirchner, the president of Argentina, and Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela. Mr Chávez welcomed them on his weekly television show “Aló Presidente”, where Mr Pa grandiloquently declared: “This is an historic day because we are taking part in your programme.”…..

In late 2004 Mr Pa travelled to Angola. He knew President José Eduardo dos Santos, having first met him as a student in Baku and later traded with his guerrilla army. Mr Pa’s new partner, Mr Bataglia, also knew the guerrillas from having supplied them with food during the civil war. They were joined by a third trader, Pierre Falcone, a French Algerian who has long enjoyed close links with the Angolan elite and particularly the president.

Together the men persuaded the Angolan elite to channel their fast-expanding oil exports to China through a new joint venture, called China Sonangol. Mr Vicente, boss of Angola’s Sonangol, became its chairman. Contracts, signed in 2005, gave the company the right to export Angolan oil and act as middleman between Sonangol and Sinopec, one of China’s oil majors.

China Sonangol threw itself into the business, according to Angolan oil ministry records and applications for bank loans backed by oil shipments. The official statistics are incomplete, but good sources have concluded that almost all of China’s imports of oil from Angola—worth more than $20 billion last year—come from China Sonangol. By contrast, China’s state-owned oil companies have no direct interest in Angolan oilfields, one of their two biggest sources of crude. Their names do not show up on the map of concessions.

By 2009 the syndicate was trading a lot of Angolan oil and decided to expand to other African countries. Mr Vicente, both head of the Angolan state oil company and of China Sonangol, flew to Guinea in 2009 to arrange a deal for the syndicate. One of the people he met was Mahmoud Thiam, Guinea’s minister of mines, whose government had come to power the same year in a coup. Mr Thiam is an American citizen who studied at Cornell University and had previously worked as a Wall Street banker at Merrill Lynch and UBS.

With Mr Thiam’s support, the syndicate won the chance to become a partner in a new national mining company. This would control the state’s share of existing projects and, much more important, gain control of future projects in what is a relatively undeveloped mineral territory. Guinea contains the world’s largest reserves of bauxite and its largest untapped reserves of high-grade iron ore. Under a contract signed by Mr Vicente, the syndicate got an 85% share in a venture called the African Development Corporation. The government received the other 15%. The venture won exclusive rights to new mineral concessions in Guinea, including the right to negotiate oil-production contracts in the Gulf of Guinea. In return, the syndicate promised to invest “up to $7 billion” in housing, transport and public utilities, according to the government of Guinea (GDP $4.5 billion).

Ultimately this deal foundered on a Guinean election, but at the time the Queensway syndicate was so pleased that it reportedly gave Guinea’s military ruler a helicopter as a present. Mr Thiam began to travel with representatives for the syndicate—though in a response to our questions (and as the only person to reply to us) he says he was representing the Guinean government’s shareholding in the joint venture and he denies ever having become one of its employees. Mr Thiam went to Madagascar for the negotiation of a deal modelled on the one he made on Guinea’s behalf. Simultaneously, he carried on as mines minister for another year.

Around the same time, Zimbabwe also caught the syndicate’s eye. Mr Pa met Happyton Bonyongwe, the head of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), the country’s notorious secret police, which helps to keep Robert Mugabe in power. Mr Pa’s plane frequently showed up at the Harare airport and he bought properties in the capital, including the 20-storey Livingstone House. His two original partners, Mrs Fong and Mrs Lo, became directors in a new company, called Sino-Zimbabwe Development Limited, which received rights to extract oil and gas, and to mine gold, platinum and chromium. In return, the company publicly promised to build railways, airports and public housing. These pledges were valued at $8 billion by Mr Mugabe’s government.

By 2009 the Queensway syndicate spanned the globe from Tanzania and Côte d’Ivoire to Russia and North Korea and on to Indonesia, Malaysia and America. It had bought the JPMorgan Chase building at 23 Wall Street in New York.

Nobody should begrudge an entrepreneur commercial success. And China needs the raw materials that the Queensway syndicate can supply. However, there are three worries about the syndicate’s conduct.  The first is personal gain. The terms under which China Sonangol buys oil from Angola have never been made public. However, several informed observers say that the syndicate gets the oil from the Angolan state at a low price that was fixed in 2005 and sells it on to China at today’s market prices. The price at which the contract was fixed is confidential, but Brent crude stood at just under $55 a barrel in 2005; today it is trading above $100.

In return for Angolan oil, the syndicate promised to build infrastructure, including low-cost housing, public water-mains, hydroelectric plants, cross-country roads and railways, according to the government. The country desperately needs such things, to be sure. But their value is unlikely to exceed several billion dollars. That looks like a poor deal for the Angolan people.

In Angola accusations of personal enrichment percolate up towards the top of the state structure. In 2006 the head of the external intelligence service, General Fernando Miala, alleged that $2 billion of Chinese money intended for infrastructure projects had disappeared. He claimed that the funds had been transferred to private accounts in Hong Kong by senior officials, though without naming people mentioned in this article. The general was swiftly sacked, tried and imprisoned (he may, however, now be about to make a comeback to government).

Parts of the Angola-China oil trade appear to be contaminated by conflicts of interest. The Angolan president’s son is said to be a director of China Sonangol, the main trading partner of the state oil company. The Economist’s requests for comment to the companies went unanswered. As well as running both the state oil company and its main customer, Mr Vicente is a director of private shell companies linked to the syndicate. Although these may exist for tax purposes, a report on foreign corruption, prepared last year by the American Senate, reveals that Sonangol was deemed so corrupt in 2003 that Citibank closed all its accounts. The report also says that Mr Vicente personally owns 5% of Sonangol’s house bank which has assets worth $8.2 billion. According to the IMF and the World Bank, billions of dollars have disappeared from Sonangol’s accounts. At one point, Sonangol awarded Mr Vicente a 1% ownership stake in the company he chairs. He was forced to give it back after a public outcry in Angola.

In Guinea criticism is focused on the former mines minister. An unpublished 2009 WikiLeaks cable quotes an American mining executive, whose company stood to lose business in Guinea because of the syndicate, complaining that Mr Thiam has “personally benefited from promoting [the] China International Fund”. Mr Thiam denies this. As a former Wall Street banker, he already had money before he returned to the country of his birth.

The second complaint about the Queensway syndicate is that in Africa it has failed to meet many of the obligations it took on to win mining licences. Zimbabwe is still awaiting even a fraction of its promised infrastructure. Guinea never received the 100 public buses that were meant to arrive within 45 days of the 2009 deal.

The situation in Angola is more complicated, though also disappointing. Chinese contractors have built some housing and railway lines and the projects were at first financed by the syndicate. Signs saying “China International Fund” appeared on construction sites. But in recent years they have been replaced by those of other Chinese companies. According to Western diplomats and Chinese businessmen, the syndicate stopped paying bills for more than eight months in 2007. All work stopped, 2,000 Angolan day labourers were fired on the Benguela railway project and only a Chinese cook remained on duty. Western diplomats suspected the syndicate was banking on being bailed out by the Angolan government, which had staked its legitimacy on infrastructure development. Soon enough, the government issued treasury bonds worth $3.5 billion to finance the projects. Subcontractors are now paid directly by the Angolan state.   Six years after the syndicate arrived more than 90% of the residents of the capital, Luanda, remain without running water. Meanwhile, the syndicate has continued to prosper.

The third complaint against the Queensway syndicate is that its cash props up certain political leaders and thereby fuels violent conflicts. For instance, in Guinea the syndicate came to the rescue of the junta. In September 2009 government men went on the rampage, raping women by the score and massacring more than 150 protesters in a sports stadium, which triggered EU and African Union sanctions. A month later, the syndicate signed its minerals deal, transferring $100m to the cash-strapped junta. Bashir Bah, a member of the opposition, condemned the deal. “First of all it is immoral, and second of all it is illegal,” he said.

The deal caused outrage even inside the government. The prime minister, Kabine Komara, a relatively powerless figure, protested about ministers’ conduct to other officials. A memo from the prime minister’s office, dated November 26th and leaked to Global Witness, declared: “The council of ministers did not discuss or bring up the question of creating a national mining company. What’s more it is not acceptable that a foreign company could become a shareholder in such a company, as it would grant the company, ipso facto, the ownership of all the current and future wealth of the country.” Mr Thiam denies any knowledge of Mr Komara’s complaint.

According to international institutions, the military leaders, who backed Mr Thiam, needed the syndicate’s money if they were to hold on to power. A World Bank official told Western diplomats the junta would “sell the country short on mining revenues and tell the international donors to get lost”. The junta eventually fell and, following elections last year, the minerals deal is now in limbo.

In Zimbabwe the situation is even more egregious. The finance minister, an opposition member of the governing coalition, has blocked extra funding for the CIO, presumably because it backs Mr Mugabe. And yet, it is suddenly flush with cash. In recent months it has reportedly doubled the salaries of agents, acquired hundreds of new off-road vehicles and trained thousands of militiamen who are now in a position to intimidate voters during next year’s elections. Several sources who have looked at the deal concluded that the money came from Mr Pa. They say he struck a side deal with the CIO that gives him access to Zimbabwe’s vast diamond wealth—controlled in part by the CIO. The diamonds were for some years banned from reaching international markets because of global industry prohibitions over violence routinely inflicted on Zimbabwean miners. Yet, Mr Pa is said to buy them and apparently makes payments directly to the CIO, bypassing government coffers.

Little is certain about China Sonangol and China International Fund. Our repeated questions to the companies and their representatives went unanswered. The documents and witnesses we tracked down around the world paint an incomplete picture. But they raise questions of immense public interest.

Oversight of the Queensway syndicate’s businesses is almost non-existent. A decade ago Mr Vicente forbade foreign oil companies in Angola to publish even routine data, on threat of ejection. Since then Sonangol has published some information on its operations. But oil contracts are treated as state secrets. Revenues from deals with the syndicate go to an opaque agency controlled by the president whose accounts are off-limits even to government ministers. Although Sonangol scores reasonably for some criteria, such as revenue, in rankings by Transparency International and Revenue Watch, two lobbies for corporate openness, it still receives bottom rankings for safeguards against corruption.

The syndicate itself is even more opaque. Who ultimately benefits by how much from the lucrative deals is not clear from public records. The syndicate’s corporate structure is fiendishly complex. Individual companies are not vertically integrated—it is not a group in the usual sense. There is no holding company, though the same people keep cropping up as directors in the records of affiliated companies, which are often owned by shell companies registered in lightly regulated tax shelters. Final beneficial ownership is impossible for an outsider to establish.

All this means that the syndicate taints China’s “going out” policy, a cornerstone of the country’s rise in recent years. When the policy works, African resources are swapped for aid, commercial financing and payments in kind such as public infrastructure. But with the syndicate, billions of dollars meant for schools, roads and hospitals have apparently ended up in private accounts. Rather than fixing Africa’s lack of infrastructure, Chinese entrepreneurs and Africa’s governing elites look as if they are conspiring to use the development model as a pretext for plunder.

Excerpts, China International Fund: The Queensway syndicate and the Africa trade, Economist,Aug. 13, 2011, at 21.

 

Who Gives a Damn? Hunger in Africa

Severe drought, crop failure, livestock deaths, soaring food prices and armed conflict are forcing millions of people in the Horn of Africa to flee their homes, creating what U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development officials Tuesday described as “staggering hunger,” with more than 11 million people now in need of emergency assistance.  The drought, officials say, is the most severe in 60 years and is expected to get worse, pushing many more families into desperate searches for food and protection.

In a briefing at the State Department, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, U.S. assistant secretary for African affairs, said the drought has generated “extraordinary flows of refugees across thousands of miles of East Africa.” Carson said in Kenya an estimated 3.6 million people have been affected. Millions more are suffering in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia.  Hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees already are in Kenya and Ethiopia and “new arrivals are coming in staggering daily rates,” Carson said. Many of them are suffering from life-threatening malnutrition, he said, and there are many more in need in Eritrea, where a repressive regime is refusing to provide data on the humanitarian needs of its people.

Jill Dougherty, U.S. musters response to ‘staggering hunger’ in Horn of AfricaBy ,CNN, July 19, 2011

International Criminal Court Track Record: targeting Africa’s Dictatators

The International Criminal Court in The Hague is about to open a formal investigation into post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire at the request of the country’s new president, Alassane Ouattara… In Libya Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, Africa’s longest-serving leader, is wondering whether he may face the same fate, after the ICC’s chief prosecutor announced that he was seeking three arrest warrants (with names so far undisclosed) for those deemed most responsible for the killing of hundreds of unarmed people since pro-democracy protests began in February….  In The Hague a verdict is expected within months at the trial of Charles Taylor, Liberia’s former president, before a special court dealing with Sierra Leone. In Sudan President Omar al-Bashir is still wary of falling into the ICC’s net, three years after being charged with genocide in his country’s western province of Darfur.

The court’s statutes let it prosecute people for suspected genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in any member state when that state is “unwilling or unable” to do so…[1]This has usually been done at the request of the state itself, as in Uganda, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Congo. [2]But it can also investigate atrocities in non-member states at the request of the UN Security Council, if deemed to threaten regional or international peace and security. This is what happened with Darfur, where the Security Council first drew the court’s attention to the atrocities. Now the council has also referred Libya to the court.

This has been a tricky route. Three of the Security Council’s five permanent members—America, Russia and China—did not sign up to the ICC. A threatened veto by just one of them is enough to block a mooted referral. But with Darfur, international alarm over the spreading rape and bloodshed persuaded America and China to abstain rather than oppose Sudan’s referral in 2005. Since then the UN Security Council has sent only one other such case to the court. But the court’s boosters have taken heart from the unanimous vote against Libya in February, arguing that it may mark a milestone in the nine-year-old outfit’s struggle for worldwide acceptance.  Most of the Arab world refuses to accept a court that much of the poor world still sees as a Western-dominated tribunal, intent on holding the have-nots to account while giving impunity to the rich and powerful. Jordan is the ICC’s only Arab member.

These days the ICC’s biggest opponents are in Africa, which provides the court with its biggest group of members (31 out of 114) and is the scene of all the cases currently being investigated or prosecuted: in the CAR, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Libya, Sudan and Uganda. Accusing the court of unfairly targeting African countries, the 53-member African Union (AU) is again calling for “African solutions to African problems”. It particularly dislikes the court’s increasing willingness to go after sitting presidents. At its summit next month it plans to extend the authority of its African Court of Justice and Human Rights to cover criminal as well as civil cases. …It may not work. The reason so many African cases are before the court is not because of bias; all the ICC’s cases have been referred to it either by the UN Security Council or by the countries themselves. It is because the standards of justice in Africa are often poor… The ICC was set up as a court of last resort. It may not take on cases if the country concerned has a competent, independent justice system ready to prosecute alleged perpetrators and give them a fair trial. Its statutes say nothing about having to defer to regional courts. Many autocratic African leaders appear ready to protect their erring colleagues from the law in case they may one day need the favour returned…

The ICC’s big weakness, apart from its astronomical cost and drawn-out procedures, is its dependence on others to help arrest suspects. But even this may be changing. South Africa and Botswana have said Mr Bashir is not welcome. Congo has handed over three of its suspects to the court and France a fourth, while Belgium has handed over Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former Congolese vice-president, for alleged atrocities in the CAR. America is actively supporting the hunt for four rebel leaders of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, which continues to wreak havoc in the region. Some suspects, including three Darfuri rebel leaders and six Kenyans, have appeared voluntarily before the court. Five others are in custody, including four on trial. So the court, though still widely regarded in Africa with suspicion and sometimes even derision, may yet prove to have teeth.

Excerpts, International justice in Africa: The International Criminal Court bares its teeth, Economist, May 14, 2011, at 57

Illegal Wildlife Trade: how China can stop the poaching of elephants

The ivory may have been among the large shipment just uncovered at the main airport of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. The tusks of 58 elephants, worth $1.3m, were in metal boxes. The shipment was bound for Nigeria, purportedly from two embassies in Nairobi that do not exist. At the same time, in Vietnam, authorities found $600,000 of tusks hidden in a cargo of rubber from Tanzania. Thai customs last month spotted $3.3m-worth of tusks under a pile of frozen fish.

The quest for ivory charms in China and Vietnam makes elephant poaching lucrative in eastern and central Africa. Ivory fetches up to $1,200 a kilo in Asia, says the WWF, a wildlife lobby. That encourages middlemen. Many Chinese citizens in several African airports have been arrested this year for smuggling ivory. Detectives suspect many more get through with a few kilos and a bribe. Tree cover, armed groups, and open borders make elephants as vulnerable as ever. The herds of central Africa are being particularly hard hit. In Chad alone, at least 30 elephants are known to have been poached last month. Some conservationists think there is no future for a truly wild and unprotected elephant.

Yet, taken as a whole, African elephants have increased from a low of 500,000 in the 1980s to more than 600,000 today. The Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature, an environmental lobby, which publishes a “red list” of the world’s most endangered species, says elephants in southern Africa are increasing by 4% a year. Their fecundity is offsetting losses in central and west Africa. Indeed, the main threat in Botswana, southern Mozambique, parts of South Africa and Zimbabwe is arguably not poaching but overpopulation. Boffins are pondering birth control for elephants, including even vasectomies. There are calls for culling or allowing trophy hunting under rigorous controls. Southern African countries are keen to see the lifting of the worldwide ban on the ivory trade.

But east and central African countries and well-financed animal-rights groups fiercely oppose this. They say an earlier decision to let southern African countries sell some of their ivory stockpile caused poaching to soar elsewhere: those handling the ivory often provide false labels of origin. In the end, as the Chinese get richer, it is probably only China itself that can determine the fate of Africa’s elephants. Earlier this month, two Chinese engineers were arrested in N’Djamena, Chad’s capital, with eight pairs of tusks. After producing diplomatic passports, they were freed. The fate of the tusks is unknown. That of the elephants isn’t.

Excerpt, Africa’s elephants: To cosset or to cull?, Economist, May 21, at 56

Neocolonialism: the under-your-nose land grabs in the developing world

The farmers of Makeni, in central Sierra Leone, signed the contract with their thumbs. In exchange for promises of 2,000 jobs, and reassurances that the bolis (swamps where rice is grown) would not be drained, they approved a deal granting a Swiss company a 50-year lease on 40,000 hectares of land to grow biofuels for Europe. Three years later 50 new jobs exist, irrigation has damaged the bolis and such development as there has been has come “at the social, environmental and economic expense of local communities”, says Elisa Da Vià of Cornell University.

When deals like this first came to international attention in 2009, it was unclear whether they were “land grabs or development opportunities”, to quote a study published that year. Supporters claimed they would bring seeds, technology and capital to some of the world’s poorest lands. Critics, such as the director of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, dubbed them “neo-colonialist”. But no one had hard evidence to back up their claims. Now they do. Two years on, a conference at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) of the University of Sussex, the biggest of its kind so far, examined over 100 land deals. Most judgments are damning.*

Land grabs have been strikingly popular. Preliminary research by the International Land Coalition, a non-governmental organisation, reckons almost 80m hectares have been subject to some sort of negotiation with a foreign investor, more than half in Africa. This estimate is far higher than a previous one, by the World Bank, which last year said that foreign investors had expressed interest in 57m hectares…80m hectares is more than the area of farmland of Britain, France, Germany and Italy combined. And land deals are continuing, possibly even speeding up. Over a tenth of the farmland of South Sudan has been leased this year—even before the country has formally got its independence. GRAIN, an advocacy group, says it has seen proposals that would allow Saudi business groups to take control of 70% of the rice-growing area of Senegal.

It is not just the size of land deals that remains uncertain. Their contractual basis often is, too. Few contracts have been made public, so details are sketchy. But an investigation of 12 that have been, by Lorenzo Cotula of the International Institute for Environment and Development, declares many “not to be fit for purpose”. The rights and obligations of each side, Mr Cotula says, are usually extremely vague, while traditional land-use rights are frequently ignored. As one farmer asked when a British company acquired forestry rights in Tanzania: “How come others are selling our land?”

Even after the contract is signed, there is no guarantee a land deal will go ahead in accordance with it. A survey by the World Bank† showed that in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, only 16 of 46 projects were working as intended (the rest lay fallow or had been rented back to smallholders). In Mozambique only half the projects were working as planned.

Still, some conclusions seem warranted. When land deals were first proposed, they were said to offer the host countries four main benefits: more jobs, new technology, better infrastructure and extra tax revenues. None of these promises has been fulfilled.

Locals usually regard jobs as the most important of these. But so far they have been scarce, and only partly because many projects are not yet up and running. In Mozambique, the World Bank found, one project had promised 2,650 jobs and created a mere 35-40 full-time positions. A survey by Thea Hilhorst of 99 smaller projects in Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger reported “hardly any” rural job creation. Only one of the publicly available contracts studied by Mr Cotula even specifies a number of new jobs to be created. And when there are jobs, foreign investors often bring in outsiders to staff them, leading to “conflict or accusations of cheating”, according to the World Bank. The manager of one project was killed during an argument about jobs.

Evidence of the transfer of technology and skills is mixed. Ms Hilhorst found almost no impetus towards greater professionalism in farming, although she concedes that closer links with food processors and distributors might improve matters. The World Bank’s study argued that technological improvements in Ukraine and Mexico had helped reduce rural out-migration (though this was surprising: you might have expected new labour-saving technologies to encourage underemployed farmers to leave the land). Mr Cotula’s study of land-deal contracts found few examples in which the foreign investor was obliged to exchange materials or ideas with local farmers. At the moment, land-grabbing foreigners seem to be creating islands for themselves, cut off from the poverty-stricken countryside.

Some projects’ operators have done better in building new schools, clinics and other “social infrastructure”. Madagascar may be a surprising example as it witnessed what is perhaps the most notorious land grab of all: a South Korean company was offered half the country’s arable land—a proposal that fuelled protests which eventually toppled the government who approved the deal…Most land deals contribute little or nothing to the public purse. Because markets for land are so ill-developed in Africa and governments so weak, rents are piffling: $2 per hectare per year in Ethiopia; $5 in Liberia. Tax and rent holidays are common. Indeed, it is not unusual for foreign investors to pay less tax than local smallholders. And upfront compensation to local farmers for use of their land is derisory: often just a few months of income for agreeing to a 100-year lease.

“The risks associated with such investments are immense,” concludes the World Bank. “In many cases public institutions were unable to cope with the surge in demand…Land acquisitions often deprived local people, in particular the vulnerable, of their rights…Consultations, if conducted at all, were superficial…and environmental and social safeguards were widely neglected.”

So why are land deals popular? That is surprisingly easy to answer: strong demand and willing suppliers. The big investors tend to be capital-exporting countries with large worries about feeding their own people. Their confidence in world markets has been shaken by two food-price spikes in four years. So they have sought to guarantee food supplies by buying farmland abroad. China is by far the largest investor, buying or leasing twice as much as anyone else.

Local elites have also played a vital role in spreading land deals. In a Tanzanian project described by Martina Locher of the University of Zurich, “local people who refer to customary law have a very low level of knowledge [and cannot] defend their land rights.” In contrast, she writes, “state law is mainly represented by district officials, who…enjoy a high level of respect by local people.”  Then there is corruption. Many of the west African “land grabbers” described by Ms Hilhorst are local politicians, civil servants and other urban elites who bribe local chiefs with gifts of motorbikes. Madeleine Fairbairn of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, argues that in Mozambique, an informal division of the spoils has emerged. Local bigwigs use their influence to get “facilitation fees”, while national leaders manipulate the law and promote (or obstruct) projects to their own and their supporters’ advantage.  Many development projects work this way. What makes land grabs unusual is their combination of high levels of corruption with low levels of benefit.

Excerpts, The surge in land deals: When others are grabbing their land, Economist, May 7, 2011, at 65

The Continuing Elite Curse: Africa

Six of the ten fastest-growing countries in the world in 2000-10 were African; Angola grew faster than anywhere else on the planet…Sadly, many [African] countries are squandering their best chance in decades. Equatorial Guinea’s elite hoards a fortune in opaque accounts. Chad channels wealth to bent officials. In Sudan they inflate the cost of infrastructure projects and siphon off funds. And state firms in Nigeria are “privatised” by handing them over to crony managers.

The failure is about more than just predictable corruption. Africa suffers from the resource curse, which blights countries nature made rich. Corrupt states become more powerful because revenues from natural resources flow straight to them. Health and education suffer as poorly paid doctors and teachers take jobs in oil firms. Fighting over resource-rich areas like the Niger Delta frightens investors.

The effects of the resource curse are painfully clear in Africa. Insiders and profiteers are increasingly using oil revenues to take over service industries. They crowd out entrepreneurs and create their own monopolies. At first glance, countries like Angola look as if they have thriving private sectors, but those firms are really loose cartels run by the oil-rich elite. Some governments are also using resource cash to maintain control. Cronies buy independent media and foreign leaders hear that access to oil depends on turning a blind eye to the brutal silencing of domestic critics.

And even good intentions often fail the poor. Africans joke that the animal they see most often these days is the white elephant—high-profile investment projects that serve no purpose. Angola has built 24 new hospitals, but cannot staff them because, although it has 18m people, it has only 1,500 doctors. Although among Africa’s richest countries, it is the only one in the world with cases of urban polio. Elsewhere, Africa’s rulers have spent billions on their armies. Global defence spending has fallen by 35% since the end of the cold war: in sub-Saharan Africa it increased by almost a third.

Excerpt from: Africa’s natural resources: Spread the Wealth, Economist, Feb. 14, 2011