Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Ayo Johnson -Weekly look at development in the African continent on United Nations Radio

Monday, 7 December 2009

Guinea – A nation in distress

It is time that elections scheduled for January 2010 go ahead with out fail.
The shooting of Captain Moussa "Dadis" Camara only seems to confirm the lengths that Guinean soldiers will go to; in masking their acts of violence against civilians, solidifying their hold on power and plans to ignore the ballot box all together.

It was exactly a year ago that the death of ruthless dictator Lansana Conte sparked an opportunistic coupe by a relatively unknown captain. Moussa declared himself leader of Guinea despite repeated calls from for International Community for him to stand down.

(ECOWAS) Economy of West African States with support from forma colonial masters France imposed smart sanctions; curtailing the regimes ability to travel. But this coup was with a difference; crystallized by jubilant cheering crowds as Moussa declared himself king.

A United Nations panels visit to Guinea in November to investigate the killing of scores of civilians by Moussa’s troops; was the final straw on the camels back for this rag tag army.

Moussa’s insistence that he should be included in next year’s elections; spelt the end of this so called revolution. Moussa’s credibility was compromised as he refused to take responsibility for his army. Deciding instead to blame Abubakar "Toumba" Diakite's an Officer in charge of the operation during the massacre. It is not surprising that a fire fight ensued leaving Moussa with a bullet wound to the head.

Split elements within the army are now protecting Diakite's who is now in hiding. A second coup is very likely as Moussa seeks medical attention in Morocco for his injuries. When ever Moussa recovers from his injuries he may find it difficult coming back into his country. What is clear is that an internal struggle is imminent as the military fights an internal war with various top dogs trying to take control of this West African country.

The stakes are high as foreign companies, especially as China have only recently signed a 4.4 Billion Dollar mining deal. ECOWAS will have to take a far tougher line against the military regime and ask for the regime to leave office immediately. The future and stability of fragile neighbouring countries can be easily undermined if Guinea were to become unstable.

Gen. Sekouba Konate, the vice president of the military is now in charge of the country. Diakites is now on the run and he was sighted heading for the Sierra Leone border area, covenanting in a heightened state of alert from the Sierra Leonean border agency.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Aids -- 40 years on …Is Africa coping ?

In the 1970’s the world perception of the virus was that it was common among Gay men and drug users. Through out the 1980’s and the 1990’s it became a disease typical among sex workers in the third world. In the year 2000 dawn of the new millennium, it became evident that infection rates were high among people living in Sub- Saharan Africa especially women.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) estimate that there are currently 33 million people in the world living with HIV, there is an estimated 24 million people living with the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa, 61% of those infected are women. In South Africa and Zimbabwe 75% of young people infected are girls between the ages 15-24.

Factors that have contributed to HIV increase are cultural taboos and unequal power of relationship; it is difficult for women to choose their sexual partners and how often they have to be intimate. Women are unable to make decision in the use of condoms, which are instead made by men.

Women are more vulnerable than men due to gender inequality, lack of legal rights, education and understanding of the issues, coupled with the dilemma of under age sex, early marriage, polygamous relationship and female circumcisions. Women are at risk to the infection through lack of knowledge about the contamination process, further alienating them from actively taking part in farming activities and eventually leading to a devastating effect on their children.

UNAIDS urges governments to get the right laws and policies in place ensuring that women are educated and empowered through economic power by keeping the land, homes and assets when their husband dies. In South Africa violence against women especially rape and drug dependency makes women liable to sexual exploitation and vulnerable to infection.

The issue of Debt payment is a major problem in the fight against the disease, according to Aid Charities and NGO’s there are one million people living with HIV in Zambia, the government currently spend 2 US Dollars a day per person on health care compared to 24 US Dollars on servicing external dept payments.

In Sierra Leone it is common practice for Sugar Daddies to offer school girls material goods and cash in return for sexual favours often exposing them to the disease, usually with the consent of older family members who are powerless to act due to poverty and ignorance.

WHO policy statement states that screening options should focus; firstly on people who are showing symptom of the disease e.g. tuberculoses patients. Secondly, antenatal screening focuses on the impact of women’s decision to be tested during pregnancy. Thirdly, compulsory screening is mandatory for providing safe blood. Fourthly, voluntary screening, involves a rapid test facilities and timely result confirmation coupled with wide spread assurances of counselling support and protection from discrimination for those found to be positive.

Screening is very important as it will allow governments to support agencies by planning effectively and apportion budget to the appropriate sector of need e.g. Health Care. By screening for HIV, governments will be able to address the cumulative impact of the disease by providing care facilities for orphans; governments can keep people with the disease productive members of the community by providing free antiretroviral treatment and nutritional food. Governments can reduce the annual toll of new infection by enabling people in their communities to protect themselves, through the use of condoms and bring health care support directly to patients. With screening governments will be able to seek synergy and build on economies of scale through early screening. Screening is vital to HIV positive women, who can protect their babies from the disease by offering formula milk; the impact of this is financially and requires constant supply of clean water and fire wood to ensure sterile feeding.

The downside to screening is that it can lead to political instability, brain drain, low saving rate and an increase in social support caused by vast numbers of people unable to work due to ill health. Governments may be unable to collect taxes from these groups of the population leading to social disintegration, poverty, starvation and famine. The resulting effect is a reduction in population size, breakdown in family composition, decline in life expectancy and an increase in child and infant mortality. Finally there could be an increase in the cost per head per man hour due to a reduction in man power.

Providing screening and cheap ant viral treatment will not address the current spread, but rather, governments will have to reverse policies on gender inequality, forge closer relationship with NGO’s and private entities, encourage community based support groups, eliminate poverty by provide good education, clean drinking water and good nutritional food. Failure to provide these basic human requirement risk women becoming an endangered species and the fate of human race will remain uncertain.

Monday, 16 November 2009

The final frontier

You may be forgiven if
“the final frontier”
was to mirror the title of a Hollywood blockbuster or you could also be mistaken; that “the final frontier” could not be reflective of a continent; usually dubbed the darkest place on earth.

The truth is that Africa is the next New frontier of mineral exploration. With major stakeholders battling, wilding and conniving their charm against a complex network of shady deals to outwit the cool, smart and calculative moves of the Chinese.

Africa strategic importance can not be underplayed nor it value cheapened. It’s geographical positioning and untapped mineral wealth makes it a unique selling proposition to any investor. The trading ability of any multinational company is dependant on contracts signed and memorandum of understandings reached between hosts and investing governments.
African countries dissatisfied by the unequal trading relationship with the rest of the world,
have hardened their political stance. China’s current interest in Africa is only a convenient opportunity for African governments to support another wood-by investor.

China’s interest and relationship building with Africa over the past 10 years has left the continent in a relatively descent shape. African governments have realised that they need Trade far more than AID. They need fair term without carrot and stick approach linked to investment. African’s clearly understand that they can choose between China from the East versus the rest of the world.

China has stolen the lead in Africa with over 60 Billion Dollars worth of investment and untold influence.
Virtually in slow motion, over night
the Chinese had taken a grip of mineral extraction with Europe and the USA a distance fourth. Behind Russia and Brazil, both major players in their own right.

Industrialised nations appetite for oil goes unabated despite calls from pressure groups. Governments need to diversify into large scale production of new greener cleaner technologies of wind, solar and hydro. Wars in the Middle East combined with strained relationship with most Eastern oil producing countries; have forced the West to look for new suppliers of oil.

China is also desperate, its fast growth pace, technological advancement have increased it’s appetite for energy to fuel its enormous economy. This is the central driving force that justifies it presence in Africa. China’s dominance across the continent has come at a price. The Chinese have built bridges, road and general infrastructure all for free. In a bid to guarantee access to Africa’s precious minerals. China have also provided soft loans to African governments namely Angola, Sudan, Zambia, Congo and Rwanda; as a means of raising much needed private capital outside of the frame work of the (IMF) International Monetary Fund and the (WB)World Bank.

The Chinese have not imposed conditionality packages as part of their loan agreements; unlike the stringent and detrimental conditionality packages imposed by IMF, WB and Industrialised nations. Instead China has requested that African government in receipt of Chinese money do business with Chinese companies and buy goods from Chinese firms. Guaranteeing that the circulation of money is kept strictly with the China / Africa Trade Zone. Squeezing Western products and firms out of the picture. There are now little China Town enclave popping up all over Africa with cheep Chinese goods replacing Western brand names.

It is therefore not surprising that President Obama visited Africa, flagged by an extended trip to various mineral hot spots by Foreign Secretary Hillary Clinton. The USA is eager to show support to Africa and to rekindle influence in a bid to up root and dislodge the Chinese iron grip on the continent.
African leaders and their advisers have finally awakened,
realising what the new type of globalise politics is all about. Who are the new major players and what choices have to be made? Africa finds it’s self in a very unique position to be able to choose among multiple investors all bidding for the same job. This increases the value of Africa’s currency ensuring that the best deals are signed. Africa’s choice will be at the expense of western governments and their respective multinational companies. A liberalised continent is voting with its feet and changing suppliers, manufacturers and investors all at the same time. This is ground breaking and truly unprecedented.

He who pays the piper will always call the tune. Who ever controls Africa’s minerals resources, builds infrastructure, provide cheap products for African markets and loans to support government initiatives, will always have an influence over Africa’s affairs.

Most developed nations are not sure how to respond to Africa. Europeans who taken a hard line on the African countries, risk having their contracts cancelled and deals renegotiated. This has resulted in a significant shift in mindset. The USA and Europe have changed long term hardened position against the Sudan and Lybia in exchange for mineral contracts. The French softer line with Guinea’s military junta and desperate efforts by Nicholas Sakosi to mending the rift with the Angolan’s, after a billion dollar military deal that went sour. It’s all change in the name of and fear of loosing Billion Dollar contracts. Especially as the Chinese are always lurking in the shadows; to snap up contracts that are being renegotiated. African governments are using this unique opportunity to negotiate hard with Europe and the USA for rates and terms that benefit their communities.

China's influence in Africa is steadily growing. China will soon have to gently start to coax African governments to adopt more proactive and economic fiscal processes. China will have to ensure that leaders whom it have signed mineral agreements with stay in power. Maintaining China’s dominant position and over all control; whilst freezing the West governments out of Africa.

China sees its current business relationship with Africa as strictly an exchange of ideas and expertise in structural development as a pretext to access and to precious minerals. China has to realise that most countries in Africa are fragile states by definition and the condition that lead to their fragility are still apparent. Poverty inequality and lack of good governance are the solitary reason for conflict and instability. China’s current formula of quiet diplomacy and neutral position on most sensitive matter relating to the African continent can only be acceptable in the short term. This strategy will become problematic in the medium to long term. When African government change and new leaders adopt a negative stance to what had previously been approved.
China’s legacy in Africa may be kinder in its favour.
Less so for other industrialised nations; whose influences have not always been in Africa’s best interest. Western Aid models have increased government dependency levels to exceed 70 % of national budgets. Where as poverty levels of 80% are far higher than it was 50 years ago.

China must be mindful that with great power comes great responsibility. China’s human rights record has always been open to question. It remains to be seen how if at all it can shrug off its appalling record and start to use it’s influence and question African governments that fall short of international acceptable standards. Chinese companies operating on the African continent have got to ensure that they adhere to local and international working standards. There has been unrest in both Ethiopia and Sudan where workers have demonstrated seeking better standard of pay, personal conditions and above all safety levels of working.

Sierra Leone, Ghana and Uganda are a growing list of countries that have now joined the exclusive club of nations striking it rich with off shore oil. Quantities found exceeding what Gadafi Libya currently has in reserve. Provided these countries are managed properly, with a constant supply of cash injection worth Billions. They do have the potential to develop, evolve and transform beyond all recognition.

Civil Society responsibility is now paramount in calling for better transparency. They must question the terms of China’s contractual arrangements with respective governments. Whilst seeking better terms for workers and greater accountability of government ministries.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Zuma – South Africa’s president

There was no surprise for what proved to be a resounding victory for Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma and the African National Congress (ANC). Zuma is the come back kid of all time; the man who against all odds came back from political abyss. In 2005 he was sacked as deputy leader of the ANC by then South African president Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki..

Zuma never forgot that sacking, aggrieved and fuming he publicly waged a bitter feud; fighting tooth and nail against his nemesis Mbeki. It was true to Zuma’s character and his Zulu fighting instincts, which resulted in Mbeki resignation following a loss in vote of no-confidence within the ANC party.

Mbeki resigned in shame after he was accused and publicly criticised by a South African judge for interfering in a court case against Zuma. Zuma at the time was being tried for corruption, the basis of a multimillion dollar arms deal that went sour.

Zuma has never shielded from controversy, fighting corruption charges for nearly 7 years and was recently found not guilty. Showing that he can be focused, determined with a mentality of a warrior.

Zuma’s judgement has to be questioned following his involvement in a rape trial with a lady who was known to have HIV. Zuma’s candid and somehow ill judged comments during the court case, stating that he had a shower so as to washing away any infection of the disease. Hence such comments only served to fuel concerns across the world that he may not be the best candidate to be in charge of South Africa.

Despite facing a recession, South Africa’s economic development has been sound and good with average growth of 5% a years. Recent inclusion in the G20 elite club of nations only confirm that South Africa is a supper power on the African continent. South Africa providing a magnet for refugees from Zimbabwe and Africans from across Africa in search of jobs and a better life.

It is a fact that life for most South African’s is a struggle and a constant strive for jobs. It is not surprising, as was witnessed last year how frustrated South African’s unleashed xenophobic violence against other Africans, who were competing for same jobs in their country.

Despite the ANC’s electoral victory, they failed to achieve the magic 2/3rd majority that would have allowed the Zuma’s government to change the constitution unimpeded; allowing sweeping reforms to be implemented.

New advances by opposition party (DA) Democratic Alliance and that of (COPE) Congress of the People; is a clear indication that ANC’s dominance on the political scene may be coming to an end.

Young South Africans who are the next generation are finding it increasingly difficult to support an ANC that is unable to address the issues of poverty. Zuma’s ANC is now desperate to keep their hardened supporters whom have been part of their transition from a liberation movement to that of a political party. Zuma and his ANC must be mindful that they have been ridding the wave of liberation for a while, despite 15 years of widening poverty gap, disease and lack of housing and jobs for large numbers of South Africans.

If Zuma is to survive and thrive as president of South Africa he must provide confidence to 3 million tax paying white South Africans who make a significant contribution to the economy, whom more than likely have dual passport holders, poised to leave and move elsewhere if Zuma does not deliver.

The Enigmatic Zuma is a proud Zulu who will have to endure challenges and issues from all sides providing confidence and resolving problems as he goes along. His survival is now dependant on his ability to negotiate with the unions, despite their strong influence in South African politics; constantly campaigning for better working conditions, equal pay and job creation for all South Africans.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Omar Al- Bashir Charged -- Who’s next?

The International criminal court (ICC) up until recently was labelled a white elephant costing millions of US Dollars annually and failing to yielding any tangible results.

The ICC gained respectability in 1999; when Slobodan Milosevic was indicted and convicting for atrocities against Serbian forces in Kosovo. In 2003 a vocal and boisterous court; in its ambitious move to date, captured Charles Taylor charging him with crimes against people of Sierra Leone. Taylor’s rebel group captured and drugged children; who in turn chopped of the arm and limbs of innocent citizens during a 10 year brutal war.

The ICC with momentum has gone one step further since its formation. The Charging of Omar Al- Bashir a sitting president of Sudan; with crimes against humanity and violation against the people of Darfur. Claims of ethnic cleansing and State sponsored militia, resulted in the death, rape and murder of thousands of people.

The Arab League and the African Union had earlier requested that Omar Al- Bashir arrest warrant be suspended. Both institutions were fearful of knee-jerk reactions and reprisals against Aid agencies and the people of Darfur.

Omar Al- Bashir will receive ample support from Russia and China on this issue. In a symbolic gesture they will try to table an amendment to the charges or a delay to the proceedings at the United Nations Security Council. Bashir is unlikely to attract similar sentiment from the Western Nations whom would more than likely veto any such proposals.

Sudan like the United States of America (USA) is not a member of the ICC. A defiant Bashir refuses to recognise the court, claims that the ICC is in beach of International Law and has no jurisdiction in Sudan. Bashir is convinced that the ICC charges are politically motivated. The Sudanese government sights variation in the application and interpretation of the ICC own laws, has swiftly cancelled visa and deported Aid agencies namely Oxfam in the United Kingdom, Care in the USA and Doctors without borders from Netherlands.

Omar Al- Bashir is now a wanted man and he will have difficulties travelling outside of the African continent. If and when he does, he is likely to be arrested and taken to the Hague for trial. Within the African continent African leaders will be reluctant to interfere with Omar Al- Bashir; fearful that some of them may be next in focus of the ICC.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Nigeria versus Pfizer

In 1996 an out break of measles, meningitis and cholera in Nigerian state of Kano; resulted in the deaths of 15,000 people. Pfizer an American company scrambled its International Team under the umbrella of global Assistance to help the Nigerian Health Service in treating and curbing the spread of the disease.

Nigerian Authorities claim that the Pfizer team without authorisation and consent from the (NAFDAC) National Agency For Drug Administration & (NMA) Nigerian Medical Authorities; tested a new a new drug Trovan; resulting in 200 children suffering blindness, deafness, cancer and death.

The State of Kano is currently seeking a colossal 7 Billion US Dollars from Pfizer for violating Nigerian law, unauthorised use of an untested drug, breach of (UN) United Nations Right of a Child and for flagrant disregard of medical ethics as stipulated by the (WHO) World Health Organisation.

The Nigerian government keen to set an example for the rest of Africa to follow have issued International Warrant for the arrest of Pfizer directors in the United States and further arrests warrants for the heads of partnering organisation in Nigeria. Despite differences in Legal systems and technicalities in Law between Nigeria and United States; that has resulted thus far in a long and protracted case through the courts.

Many countries in Africa have poor health facilities, weak structures and are desperate for assistance from international organisations that can support and assist in diagnoses and treatment of disease. Drug trials in Africa are common but supporting organisations are not justified in testing new drugs when there is an epidemic. The sole purpose should be about saving lives and not taking them. Trying to save cost and time during the development phase of a new drug is unacceptable.

Clearly regulations in Nigeria are weak and have no enforcement mechanism. There were no ethic review committees at the hospital where the drug Trovan was administered to children, despite the sole purpose of testing a new drug.

Dishonest and greedy Nigerians officials have to take some blame for this disaster. It is a fact that Nigerians collaborated and supported the trial; helping to facilitate the experiment on their own people. The Nigerian government has to bear some burden of responsibility for its negligent and easy Border and Immigration controls that allowed such research to be carried out.

This experimental Drug Trovan has since been licensed; but not for kids. Questions still remain as to why Pfizer had not used an alternative drug during the midst of this epidemic. Pfizer corporate social responsibility is questionable; especially as parents of the victims whom were mostly children, were never told that their kids were taking part in an experiment. There are unsubstantiated claims that Pfizer left Nigeria whilst the epidemic was still raging; negating their view that they were there to help the Nigerian People.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Ghana Elections

Ghana is the blue eye boy of the African continent. One of Africa’s brightest know democracies; from the famous Kwame Nkrumah for his revolutionary and progressive views and aspiration for a united Africa. To a chequered past was with that of infamous Jerry Rawlings – (NDC); who came to power repeatedly via the barrel of a gun. Rawlings finally adopted self-governing values with elections that eventually saw him crowned as president.

Election today in Ghana is a stark reminder of how far the nation have come since it’s independence 51 years ago. Ghana is a mature democracy having grown as a nation with decent economic growth forecasts that have cemented their position globally as a major producer of cocoa, gold and now new found wealth of high grade oil.

No wonder the John Atta-Mills of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and Nana Akufo-Addo of the ruling party New Patriotic Party (NPP) are prepared to fight tooth and nail to the bitter end; to get what must be a lucrative opportunity for high office in Ghana.

A win for John Atta-Mills of (NDC) will be dogged by counter claims and further appeals by (NPP) to the electoral commission of vote rigging and election irregularities. Both parties must use the judiciary in line with the constitution and take their grievance to the courts.

Both the (NDC) and (NPP) must respect the courts decision as final, failure to adhere could lead to increased tensions that could lead to chaos and anarchy.

The court and the electoral commission must follow International good practice as was shown in Sierra Leone elections of 2007 and release information in a timely fashion preventing and avoiding chaos of Kenya elections of 2008.

What is clear is that the 7th of January 2008 will see the end of President John Kufuor reign and see the crowning of a new president in Ghana.