Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Apologies For the Lack of Posting

Apologies to readers for the lack of postings for almost one month now. When I started Kwa Sababu I thought I would have the time and scope to run two blogs, at least for a while. But it is too much work and I will probably let this one lapse. I will continue to concentrate my attention on my main blog, called HIV in Kenya. It's about the circumstances in which people live that contribute to whether they will become infected with HIV, remain uninfected or experience some of the many effects of HIV infection in those around them. So it's not that different from Kwa Sababu and it's not just about Kenya either! Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

According to the Figures, Kenya Should be Heaven

A Catholic priest in Malindi, who must have been taking lessons on how to win friends and influence people, has blamed women for the recent marriage between two Kenyan men in London. He says that it is the fault of women that men are now resorting to same sex relationships because women have failed to provide what they should in marriage.

If it was the priest's intention to alienate at least half, though probably a lot more, of his church attendees, it sounds like he succeeded. Women in the church replied vocally, something I have never come across in a Catholic church. Catholic services usually consist of a priest expressing his opinions and his interpretations and an audience expressing nothing other than a few set responses that have been composed by priests and other church dignitaries.

Apparently, women have failed to provide the joy that marriage should bring; the gay people who result from this failure of women go against God's intentions of procreation. I wonder if priests' vow of chastity also goes against God's intentions, but I'm sure their are plenty of arguments as to why priests should be chaste. The Catholic church has always had quite a penchant for preaching about things that they know little about.

In a separate article, African bishops have called for more 'saints' in public life, condemning some Catholic leaders for their corruption and their betrayal of their own people. Oddly enough, they didn't condemn some of the Catholic leaders around the world who have been very closely connected with the Vatican, or various Christian leaders who have, through the course of history, been some of the most destructive people imaginable.

Most meetings I have attended here in Kenya either start or finish with a prayer. Most meals start or finish with a prayer. Most people introduce themselves by saying what tribe they come from and what their religion is. Many claim to be preachers or to be 'saved' (born again; I realise these are not all Catholics but the principles at stake are the same, also, many people have more than one religion) and make numerous references to their religious aspirations. Does this mean that Kenya is one of the most law abiding nations on earth? I don't think so.

The priest in Malindi calls for more prayer but I would call for some thought to be put into the intended connection between prayer and how people lead their lives and the putative connections between religious beliefs and day to day actions. This priest also talks about the vice and evil that children are exposed to. What about the behaviour of political, business and church leaders? Children are surrounded by people who advocate one type of behaviour and exhibit a quite different kind.

Are children here more influenced by two gay men who got married than they are by the politically instigated violence of two years ago or the constant pilfering by politicians and other leaders or the daily scenes of police and other officials collecting bribes or any other sorts of behaviour that occur all the time?

The Catholic church is not a democracy and doesn't appear to have a good grasp of the principles of democracy. The church does not appear to have experience or knowledge of marriage or sexuality. Most priests and church leaders (and political and business leaders) are men and they seem to understand little about the lives of half the population of the world. Yet these are the things that priests and other church leaders seem to feel the need to lecture people about.

In fact, priests and other church leaders don't lead the lives of ordinary people. They don't have to struggle the way most of their followers do. So it is quite unclear what relevance their pronouncements have to their followers, or if they have any relevance at all.

If the numbers of people attending churches was anything to go by, Kenya should be a very law abiding country with little gap between rich and poor. But the contrary is true. I'm not saying that widespread religious fervour causes corruption, poverty, violence or exploitation but I would like to know what the result of so much ostensible religious adherence is supposed to be. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Small Scale Food Production is Basic, Large Scale Production is Not

For months, politicians, journalists and other pundits have been saying that the El Nino rains are coming, it's just a matter of time and then everyone will be able to plant crops. Some areas have been waiting for years for good growing conditions and have been depending on food aid and other handouts to get by.

Well, in some areas, parts of the Rift Valley for example, the rains have started. It would seem to be a good time to start planting, except for one slight problem: there is a national shortage of seeds, especially maize seed, the country's staple food.

Some say the shortage of seeds is due to their being bought up by the government for cheap or free distribution, which hasn't yet happened. Whether that's true or not is unclear, but it's a bad time for uncertainty as the rains may not be adequate and may not last long.

Another article points out that food security is at its worst since 1989. The article, entitled 'Let's go back to the basics', advocates promotion of smallholder production units, arguing that peasant farmers, who are in the majority, need support. This article mentions approvingly the provision of free seeds and fertilizers, along with reduced dependence on rain fed agriculture and greater crop diversity.

However, the article goes on to advocate the encouragement of private sector led agricultural development projects by giving government support to them, too. The naive reader may think that 'private sector led' means that the private sector provides some of the capital needed, rather than expecting the government to foot the bill. However, it doesn't mean this. Rather, the government is always keen to use public money to fund 'private' ventures, which often belong to the government or members of the government anyway.

Then the article does a complete about face and states that 'the only way out is to abandon food production at smallholder level for subsistence to commercial profitable businesses', with the country committing itself to a technology-led agriculture. This is the opposite to going 'back to basics'.

People need food. If the majority of farmers are smallholders then they need to grow the food, for themselves and for others. Food produced by large scale operators will not be affordable to smallholders or to others who get by on some form of subsistence. Putting public money into the private sector will only enrich those who least need it at the expense of those who are now suffering. Going back to basics means supporting people who support themselves and others, that means small farmers, the ones who feed most of the country. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, October 19, 2009

Reducing Fossil Fuel Dependence Is A Must, Not An Alternative

Untold millions of dollars have been spent in recent years prospecting for oil in Kenya. Nothing commercially viable has been found yet, but this hasn't prevented the search from continuing. In the next few weeks the search will intensify in Isiolo in Kenya's Eastern Province.

It's disappointing that leaders in Kenya don't seem to be aware of the pitfalls of depending on fossil fuel energy, considering they are experiencing some of those pitfalls right now. Emergency energy generation to make up for the shortfall from hydroelectric power is very expensive. The ongoing, widespread drought in Kenya means that the country is resorting to emergency energy more and more.

But it has long been recognised that developing countries will feel the effects of climate change the most. As use of fossil fuels contributes to climate change, are the Kenyan politicians and business people with their snouts in the oil trough not able to see the connection between this and greater use of oil?

If even a fraction of the tens of millions of dollars spent on fossil fuel prospecting could be spent on renewable, sustainable and clean energy sources, Kenya could be able to supply all its own energy needs by now. But, egged on by foreign interests, they are frittering away this timely opportunity.

The country has, like many African countries, abundant solar energy potential. They also have vast, mostly untapped geothermal potential. Some areas get enough wind at certain times of the year to produce huge amounts of electricity. And there are, doubtless, many other alternatives to depending on high carbon emission fossil fuels.

Leaving aside the environmental issues, energy minister Kiraitu Murungi has said that oil exploration has been associated with "dictatorship, imperialism, exploitation, neglect of agriculture, marginalisation and civil strife on the [African] continent". But Murungi needn't worry so much about these issues. Kenyans have experienced them all at some time and are experiencing many of them right now.

As for the possibility that discovering oil in Isiolo or anywhere else in Kenya will relieve poverty, I don't see anyone being fooled into believing this. But now is a good time to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, not increase usage. Now is also a good time to explore the alternatives. Perhaps now is the only time. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Thirsty? Hungry? Sick? Try an E-book.

If you go to schools in Kenya or Tanzania, most schools, anyhow, you will see very sparsely furnished classrooms. Simple desks, often no electricity and nothing that requires electricity, some textbooks and copy books, not too many, children, of course, and sometimes even some teachers. So, if you were to write home about the experience, you may express surprise at the lack of teachers and books.

But if you're the prime minister of Tanzania, Mizengo Pinda, you may report that what the children really need is e-books. He advocates the use of e-books, not because children presently lack books, but to cut down on the use of paper and save the environment. In a country where many people lack safe water supplies, electricity and adequate food and nutrition, the leader of the government recommends e-books. And this perceptive man wants work on this to start immediately.

Schools urgently need teachers and teaching materials. Children need to be enabled to go to school as many can't, for various reasons. In Kenya, where there is 'free' primary education, so many things have to be paid for, meetings, desks, uniforms, exams, books; primary schooling is anything but free. Children and their families do, indeed, need electricity and access to technology, but without more basic things, like food and water, they will never be able to do anything with the technology.

And if Pinda is concerned about the destruction of the environment, he could also revoke logging licenses and control the huge mining operations that contaminate vast tracts of land. He could stop the foreign 'investors' from buying up most of the country's arable land to grow crops for biofuels and for food that's destined for foreign countries, while Tanzanians starve.

Of course, there are lots of people trying to persuade developing countries to buy into Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), it's in their interest to sell overpriced goods to people, regardless of whether they need them or not. But Pinda needs to address more urgent issues, such as water and food security, before investing in high(ly inappropriate) technology. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kenyans Need to Stand Up to the Bullies on the Road

Despite all the talk about greater policing of the roads, there is little evidence of it when travelling around Kenya at the moment. There are police every few kilometres but that doesn't stop drivers and touts from taking on too many passengers, driving like maniacs and driving vehicles that are clearly not fit to be used on the road. Many public service vehicles are only fit to be dumped. It would probably be a risk even to reuse the parts.

Several times last month, all public transport in the centre of Nakuru was held there for 'inspections'. Matatus are regularly stopped and police sometimes tick off passengers for not wearing seat belts, etc. Often they can't wear seat belts because the vehicle has been overfilled. But when a matatu licensed to carry 14 has up to 20 or more passengers, the police are likely to wave them on. There are vehicles that have only some lights, or no lights, there are some with bent axles and many other serious problems that could, and often do, result in accidents, injuries and deaths. has a story about the two major road traffic accidents last weekend, which killed 'at least' 20 people. Both accidents are said to have been caused by defects, specifically, defective brakes. If all the many traffic police are just going to wave on obviously defective vehicles and do little but bully the odd passenger who looks like an easy target, this is not what I would call a 'crackdown' on the roads.

And people here would need to play a part in changing the way road users treat pedestrians and public transport users. People wait at the side of the road for cars to pass even where they have the right to cross, they stop every time a car blows the horn as if they have no rights. They allow road users to treat them as second class citizens. And they allow public transport drivers and staff to treat them as if they were receiving some kind of generous favour.

I have rarely heard passengers complaining when drivers and touts overfill matatus and get people to double up on seats. Yet, the passengers' lives are being put in danger. As long as people behave as if they are indebted to matatu providers they will continue to be treated this way. They need to protest, at least a little. Matatu owners are desperate for the business, they need to remember who the customer is and who has the upper hand. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Problem Masquerading as a Solution

Defenders of genetically modified organisms (GMO) never tire of trying to find new ways to trick people into buying their destructive products. If it's not famine, it's drought resistance, increased yield, higher nutritional value and who knows what else. But these defenders don't bother to mention the downsides of all these 'advantages'. Why should we believe that some of the wealthiest, greediest multinationals in the world would want to benefit the poorest and most vulnerable?

For instance, in the article linked to above, we are told that cassava can be modified to resist a serious virus that destroys crops on a huge scale. What is not mentioned is that most of these viruses only affect crops grown on a very large scale. And GMO versions of crops are only feasible when grown on a large scale.

What these idiot defenders fail to get into their thick skulls is that most farmers in developing countries are small scale. They farm a few acres at the most. GMOs have not been shown to be scalable. On the contrary, the 'results' achieved have mostly been in carefully controlled conditions and the techniques are for large scale, industrial production. Small farmers cannot afford to buy overpriced seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. And when their land has been contaminated and rendered completely unproductive, they cannot afford to buy new land. These are just a few 'improvements' that GMOs don't include.

GM companies may, like drug pushers, get farmers hooked on their products with 'free' seeds and other materials. But this will be in expectation of huge returns and farmers will have no way of getting out of the vicious circle they will end up in. Just think of those nice people at Nestle, whose endeavours to get mothers using baby milk formula result in countless deaths every year. Once normal crops have been replaced by genetically modified monocultures, the land will be contaminated for an indefinite period. Levels of biodiversity will be reduced irreversibly.

It's nauseating to hear these claims about how good GMOs are for people in developing countries. They are the people likely to suffer most. GM companies certainly seem to believe in poisoning the earth from the grassroots up. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, September 28, 2009

Westerners Turn to Cannibalism to Solve Fuel Shortages

Here's the deal. Millions of people in Tanzania and other African countries are starving and millions more are threatened with starvation. Many areas are receiving food aid, some almost permanently. Because of prolonged drought, millions of people are not able to grow enough food, resulting in illness and death from both food shortages and water shortages.

Along come the British, the Americans, the Dutch, the Germans, the Malaysians and the Indonesians, and what do they do? Bring food aid? No, they are in Tanzania to 'buy' land on the cheap so they can grow biofuel crops. These countries are worried that their overfed populations may not have enough petrol to drive their lardy arses to the supermarket and buy cheap food which has been grown using cheap labour in developing countries.

These biofuel companies are targeting the most productive land in areas that also have the best water supply. Water supplies are even diverted to serve the purposes of the biofuel crop growers. Small farmers in their thousands are being duped into signing over their land to be used for up to three decades. They are being duped into growing non-food crops for biofuel companies. They are being duped into giving up food production and to using their scarce water supplies to power cars in rich countries.

The Tanzanian and other governments are obligingly allowing these biofuel companies to grow jatropha, sugar cane and palm oil where people could be growing food. These governments are even subsidizing the growing of biofuel crops by foreigners at the expense of the farmers they are dispossessing and starving. What kind of perverse relationship is this?

The last thing countries like Tanzania need now is to give over its most productive land to monocultures, especially non-food monocultures. Such misuse of land is one of the reasons why the country is facing droughts at the moment. And giving small amounts of 'food aid' to countries at the same time as you are also defrauding them out of the means to produce enough food is just despicable.

How many times do Westerners need to be told that the world does not have the capacity to allow them to keep on using resources at the rate they are using them now? They need to reduce their use of resources, not steal more resources from the countries that they have been exploiting for centuries. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Gold Discovered in Kenya: British Firm Now Very Rich have an article about a British company that has just discovered gold in the South West of Kenya. Sadly, the article makes it sound as if discovering gold is good news. It is good news for the companies involved and the article tries to make it sound as if it will also be good news for people living in the area and people already involved in artisanal mining.

Does anyone seriously believe that any African country is better off for discovering gold? I don't think the artisanal miners will be jumping for joy either, despite the gold firm's claims to have forged 'excellent relationships' with local people. There's always a lot of similar bullshit when foreign companies know they are on to a good thing here.

Kenya should take a look at the experience of Tanzania. In fact, this mining area is probably contiguous with some of Tanzania's mines, given the suspiciously straight South border between the two countries. Tanzanians receive little or nothing from their substantial gold reserves. Most of the profits go to foreigners, especially Canadian ones. The Tanzanian government seems to be very favourable when it comes to foreign mining operations, giving them tax breaks and leaving employment laws lax enough to give the gold firms carte blanch to treat people like slaves.

Kenya could ask the artisanal miners there if they have 'excellent relationships' with gold firms, that's if they can still find artisanal miners in the gold industry. Or they could read an article called "Golden Opportunity: Justice and Respect in Mining". Before Kenyans allow themselves to be walked over and taken advantage of yet again, allow even more of their environment to be destroyed, allow more of their people to be exploited in a savage and corrupt industry, allow themselves to be duped out of even more revenue, allow a handful of people to become extremely rich at the expense of the majority, they really should read the article. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Slum Clearance: Kibera to Go?

According to the BBC, a slum clearance initiative has started that aims to move all Kibera residents to permanent housing. The BBC has a photo of shacks being demolished and new flats, so it will be interesting to see if the clearance really happens. The initiative is expected to take up to five years.

Such 'clearances' have been started before and have not always been successful. The alternative accommodation provided can be too expensive or in some way unfeasible. It seems odd that the government is so keen to clear Kibera now and in such an apparently humane fashion.

But there are those who claim the land is theirs and are disputing the government decision to demolish shacks. I find it hard to sympathise with the wealthy landowners who have been charging rent for shacks in slums for several decades, but I would feel more comfortable if I heard what the government intends doing with the repossessed lands.

Well, it remains to be seen whether residents of Kibera are being offered something that is truly better. And it remains to be seen whether other slums, ones that are not so big or so well known, are also cleared and the residents provided with decent accommodation. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, September 11, 2009

Let's Go and Watch People Die in Slow Motion

Taking photographs in East Africa is not a straightforward matter. It's advisable to ask permission before taking a photograph and the answer is often something like 'we are ashamed of how we live, we don't want people to photograph it'. Sometimes it's a more brash 'give me one dollar' or something similar. One has to be careful taking photographs, it can be intrusive. Perhaps it always is.

I was quite taken aback when I met volunteers in Kenya who told me that a 'professional' photographer who had visited their area explicitly demanded that sick and dying people pose so as to show off their emaciation and their suffering. These volunteers, Kenyan and European, felt humiliated. But not as humiliated as the people being asked to show their protruding ribs and collar bones.

So I was speechless when I heard that for 2500 Kenyan shillings (about £20), you can go on an organised tour of Kibera, 'the friendliest slum in the world'. Some Dutch and Kenyan (apparently) people have set up Kibera Tours and they arrange for guides, security, 'dedicated photography points', etc. They even give advice on what to wear and carry and what to do and what not to do while on the tour.

Is human deprivation now a spectator event? Who will be next to try to make money out of water shortages, food shortages, inadequate housing, non-existent schooling and health services, disease and corruption?

I don't think this is the way to advocate for social change. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, September 10, 2009

How Many Fat Priests Can Dance on the Heads of the Starving?

There's an article on about the Kenyan census, which finished a couple of weeks ago, that starts off reasonably enough. The question about ethnicity may embarrass some groups whose numbers have been exaggerated in the past. Or the question may backfire if enough people refuse to answer it.

Then the article makes the point that it doesn't matter whether there are 40 million Kenyans or some other figure if most live in terrible conditions. True enough. But then the author seems to go off the rails and mentions the pope's call for a 'new economic order that will redistribute the planet's wealth'.

In addition to contraception or any matter relating to health, I would not seek advice from the pope on redistribution of wealth. Vatican City is one of the wealthiest states on earth. When its wealth is redistributed, then I may listen to the man. And corruption is not the preserve of the economic and political class. The churches, the Catholic church as much as any other, is part of the economic and political class.

Here in Kenya and other poor countries, churches are vying with each other to extract what they can from the very poorest, the people who can least afford to pay. And many priests live in comfort that most people wouldn't even dream of, because they wouldn't know it is possible.

The author goes on to point out that if we all lived the 'American dream' we would need five more planets the size of earth to support us. So, if we were all to live like the Catholic hierarchy, how many planets would we need?

I'd like the census to tell us how much poor Kenyans pour into the many churches that you see everywhere, what percentage of people's income is being extracted so priests can fatten their arses while all around them starve. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Kenyan Obsession with Maize

Photo: Girls taking maize off the cobb for drying and storage.

The Kenyan obsession with maize could be its undoing. People don't feel they have eaten until they have had some maize, either ugali, a bit like tasteless polenta, or mahindi, a bit like tasteless sweetcorn. True, ugali and mahindi can be filling. They give you a blast of starch and they go nicely with other foods. But they have little nutritional value, apart from the starch.

I feel a bit guilty for criticizing people for being so attached to their staple food. After all, maize yield can be very high per hectare, it's easy to plant and reap and you can get two crops a year in many areas. But there are other foods that are also easy to grow and have similar advantages. And a mixture of foods is better, especially if some of the foods commonly eaten contain some protein and some vitamins. I know staples are expensive, but there are foods that have higher nutritional value than maize. You can just buy buy less of them.

People have been raised on maize, fair enough. But they don't have to raise their children purely on maize. The very fact that maize prices are high at the moment means that it is cost effective to buy some other foodstuffs. So it's a good time to change, just slowly and just a little bit.

As for diversity, the dependence of Kenyans on a small number of crops means that they are particularly susceptible to reduced diversity. Aiming for better yields means that traditional varieties are being dispensed with in favour of seeds from multinational food corporations. They are often sold these seeds on the grounds that they will be drought resistant, high yielding, more nutritious, etc. But this process means that countries like Kenya become less self-reliant and more dependent as they lose diversity. This means that, in the long run, they will suffer more from the effects of drought, climate change, pests, diseases and many other problems. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, September 7, 2009

Misspent Aid Money

Photo: A lot of money is spent on this sort of material, which is all very well. But much of the HIV prevention, treatment and care work is done by volunteers.

Since HIV/Aids has been identified, tens, perhaps hundreds of millions, have been spent on advertising, marketing and publicity. Great, the more people know, the better. However, people who are 'experts' in advertising, marketing and publicity do not seem to know much about public health, nor do they seem to care. So campaigns have received a lot of attention for a short time.

Well, that's what advertising, marketing and publicity are all about. But it's not what public health is all about. People have human rights that relate to health, as well as other basic benefits. Human rights are not a matter of a quick (and extremely expensive) campaign. People need to be aware of their rights and those who are in a position to do so, should object when people are denied their rights.

There are many examples of the excesses of advertising, marketing and publicity campaigns but one featured on the BBC website yesterday certainly takes the biscuit. An Adolf Hitler lookalike is shown having sex and represents HIV, so to speak. For any viewer, Adolf Hitler could just as easily represent a HIV positive person. If the viewer is HIV positive they will experience the sort of stigmatizing attitude that they and other campaigners have spent years fighting against.

So well done to the advertising, marketing and publicity industries. They always know how to make a bad situation worse. Let's hope that their lack of success at achieving anything permanent results in this campaign having as short term an effect as all their other travesties. The worrying thing is, who insists on continuing to give millions of dollars of aid money to these idiots? Sphere: Related Content

Friday, September 4, 2009

Patent Medicines, Branded Goods and Quackery

Photo: Cough medicine that is more likely to do harm than good.

Most people in developing countries, especially the poorest, have to spend a lot of money on self medication. Insurance is far too expensive, as are hospital and clinic visits. So private pharmacies, shops and supermarkets supply a range of things that you will see people buying and using regularly.

However, I can't help thinking that people are being fleeced because many of these products seem to have ingredients that would be of little benefit to sick people. The main ingredient of the cough medicine above is creosote (which has known negative effects on health). The smell of the stuff is enough to make you gag and my friend using it certainly gagged every time she had to take some.

People are also being fleeced because they are being sold branded versions of things like paracetamol and aspirin, which are very expensive compared to the generic versions. The cost of some of these branded medicines and the patent medicines, such as Panadol, Gripe Water and various syrups and tonics are often the equivalent of a good meal or two, something that might be of far greater help to the symptoms.

I guess developing countries are an easy target for this kind of exploitation, given low levels of health care, little or no access to health education and constant bombardment with advertisements, advertorials and sneaky appearances of various products in soaps and dramas.

Photo: This van certainly says a lot! Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

fifa, adidas, cokacola and other money grabbing bastards

Photo: Some of the wealthiest corporations and multinationals in the world are also the greediest and extort huge profits from the poorest and most vulnerable people they can find.

I always thought fifa had something to do with football but according to an article on the (excellent) blog afro-ip, they seem to be concentrating much of their attention bullying small businesses that are 'threatening' their intellectual property. If you visit the fifa site, you will see that they are in bed with adidas, cokacola and other assorted vicious thugs. Nice to know that sport is still all about the taking part and not the winning. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, August 28, 2009

No Rain, but Plenty of Sun and Wind

Photo: Even Nairobi gets enough sun to generate at least some of its electricity.

The Kenyan government expresses concern at the amount of money that is being spent on emergency power and at the amount of money that is being lost by power outages. Expressing concern is all very well but there are plenty of alternatives to the tired old sources of electricity from hydro and fossil fuels. There is no single source that is best: try them all.

For a start, many parts of Kenya get huge amounts of sun; others get lots of strong wind; and there is an abundance of geothermal potential in parts of Kenya. Fossil fuel shortage is not a recent thing. There were shortages in supply in the 70s and 80s. Throughout the 90s, it was clear that fossil fuels prices would fluctuate and rise, there has been plenty of time to make changes.

Kenya is lucky to have such potential sources of energy. The thing now is to try to build their own generation units, instead of importing expensive technology. Investment in renewable energy will also help keep carbon emissions low and thus reduce the pressure on climate change.

The problems are even more acute in Tanzania, where an estimated 90% of people don't have access to electricity. They also have access to similar potential sources of energy. Yet, I recently saw an article about extremely expensive wind turbines being imported from the UK. If they want cheap energy in Tanzania, they need to produce the products themselves.

The problem is, someone is making a lot of money out of emergency power generation and supplying overpriced technologies, such as wind turbines and hydroelectric plants. But countries like Kenya and Tanzania can take advantage of the low prices of solar panels, which are currently dropping for several reasons.

It's not all bad news. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Beware of Vegetarian Trojan Horses

Photo: Sugar, one of Kenya's monocultures.

Apparently Kenyan farmers are going to grow new wheat varieties that are said to grow in poor conditions, heat, cold, floods, droughts, etc. The problem is, the article in question doesn't say if these are genetically modified (GM) wheat varieties or if they are produced using more traditional crop breeding techniques.

This is an important question because most of the claims about what GM can do are not supported by evidence (though they are supported by lavish and expensive publicity). Some GM organisms do relatively well in ideal conditions but fail field tests. And there is nothing that GM organisms can do that can't already be done using more traditional agricultural techniques, enhanced with recent innovations that don't involve GM.

When there is so much hype about something, there has got to be money behind it. If there is money behind it then there are people hoping to make a quick buck. Recently, an organisation was started with Gates funding called the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGORA). Extraordinarily, it is chaired by Kofi Annan. What bundle of lies possessed him to take this position we'll probably never know. This organisation believes that Africa will be a lot better off if they have a Green Revolution of the sort that was experienced in India and other countries following the second world war.

Except that this time, the revolution will be 'assisted' by these expensive and unproven technologies. Of course, AGORA dither over the question of whether GM is or isn't part of their 'final solution' but you can be sure there will be plenty of parties looking for their big pay off.

But the biggest question over the pronouncements of the dubious 'visionaries' of AGORA is why they think the original Green Revolution was such a success. India may have enjoyed a few decades of high food production but they are now paying for it. Most Indian farmers are finding it impossible to keep up with the costs involved in producing food. In fact, most Indians are still poor and some farmers are so caught up in debt hundreds of them are committing suicide every year.

In addition, much of India's agricultural land is contaminated by pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, that played a big part in the original Green Revolution.

The last things Kenyan farmers need is more debt, contaminated land and further monocultures. They need greater diversity and self reliance. GM, or any costly technology, will only reduce diversity and self reliance. The champions of GM will tell us otherwise, just like the champions of fossil fuels told us that there was no such thing as climate change.

It would be far more informative if articles talking up some new scheme would make it clear what kind of scheme we are dealing with. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Photo: IYAP have a VCT clinic in the centre of Isiolo town but they also provide mobile services on the streets and in villages and outlying areas.

My friends at IYAP (Isiolo Youth Against Aids and Poverty), who recently launched a blog, have now launched a website. IYAP provides voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) services for people in and around Isiolo and they are involved in many other community level initiatives. IYAP members are to be congratulated for achieving so much over the past years and I look forward to hearing about their future progress. Please do pay a visit to their website and blog! Sphere: Related Content

Monday, August 24, 2009

World Reserves of Phosphorus and other Vital Resources

Photo: Sun setting over Lake Tanganyika behind a field of maize.

We hear a lot and read a lot about 'peak oil' and some other resource shortages facing the world over the next few decades. But The Broker Online has a fascinating article called 'Peak Phosphorus'. It describes how intimately modern agriculture is connected with phosphorus supplies, one of the main constituents of fertilizers. Along with several other minerals, rising prices will seriously affect the price of food.

Indeed, the prices were most recently influenced by the oil price hike, which resulted in a lot of crops being planted for biofuels. In addition to depriving people of food, land and livelihoods, destroying large tracts of land and using up and polluting enormous quantities of water, the crazy plan to increase production of biofuels will also speed up the time that phosphorus reserves will become exhausted.

Phosphorus supply is even behind Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara and the US's tacit support for that occupation, because Western Sahara the largest source of phosphorus after China and the US. The US have already peaked but they have a useful little bilateral agreement with Morocco, so they're in no hurry for that particular repressive regime to end.

Other resources that are in short supply or will be in short supply in the next few decades include sulphuric acid. There was a time when it was said to be possible to judge a country's industrial output by its consumption of sulphuric acid because it has such widespread use in industry.

The simple fact is that developed countries need to find ways to reduce their use of resources. There are only so many tricks in the box to substitute for resources that are running low when we are just exhausting the natural resources that will allow humanity to survive. The big users, the rich, developed countries, need to change their lifestyle. Otherwise they will be wiped out too, eventually.

And big subsidizers, such as the EU and the US, need to practice what the preach and stop encouraging overconsumption. It's time to recover as many wasted products as possible and consider the long term future of all people, not just the comfortably off ones.

It's worth advocating for change because the most vulnerable people will probably suffer the worst and most immediate consequences of our behaviour, the people who least deserve to pay for society's stupidity. Sphere: Related Content

National Census Day

Photo: One of Nairobi's many slums. Will the census count or just estimate?

Kenya's National Census starts today. The country's population is expected to have risen to around 40 million, perhaps even higher. It will be interesting to see which areas have grown, which have shrunk, how quickly people are moving to cities, exactly how many children and adults there really are in the country and many other things.

However, the census is not expected to be completely straightforward. I have heard that in some areas, the census staff were have not been paid and say they will not work until they get paid. In other areas, people are refusing to be counted as a protest about various conditions. Some pastoralists refuse to count women and children because there is a taboo against doing so.

In the last census, there were various problems, especially in the more remote parts of the country, where there was already very little population data available. By now, estimates must be mere stabs in the dark.

But I suspect there are many figures the government don't really want to know. How many people live in slums, especially in cities like Nairobi and Mombasa? The government doesn't even want to admit that so many people live in such terrible habitations and they say they are illegal anyway. How many are still in camps for internally displaced people? The press has had little to say about the real numbers of people who are still living in tents, after the post election violence more than one and a half years ago.

Many will be looking forward to seeing the figures, despite the difficulties that may arise in collecting them. So it is to be hoped that the results will be made available as soon as possible and made accessible to all the people and institutions that need them. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Mother of All Traffic Jams

Photo: A subliminal message from the Kenyan government?

So the Kenyan government is carrying on with it's attempts to reduce traffic congestion in the central business district. They are doing this by preventing public transport, matatus and buses, from entering the city, not by encouraging private vehicles, mostly carrying one occupant, to park outside the city and take public transport.

Tomorrow morning, there will be a lot of bosses in offices wondering where their employees are. In the evening, census enumerators will be tramping from house to house, only to find that the occupants haven't returned home yet. People will be doing a lot of walking around, trying to find where their bus or matatu leaves from or where it arrives.

The problem is, the Kenyan government seems to have no idea how people are supposed to get from one out of town stage, say South of Nairobi, to another, say North of Nairobi. They can walk and...well, that's it. If they can afford a taxi they are probably driving a car already.

The Kenyan government have forgotten something: reducing congestion is supposed to be of benefit to people; it is not supposed to make things more difficult for them. Single occupancy cars and taxis should be penalised, not public transport vehicles.

Photo: Street in Issli/Eastleigh, Nairobi. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Can Kenyans Eat Public Relations?

Photo: Election graffiti in Kibera, Nairobi.

The Kenyan Government is to spend $1.7 million on an American public relations firm to improve its image in the US. That's a very expensive way of kissing ass. Kibaki and Odinga, who are going around the country to attend photo opportunities right now, are claiming to address the problems of food insecurity. That sort of money could be better spent reducing dependence on food aid.

Instead of paying money to extremely rich PR companies in Washington, they could clean up their act here in Kenya and try to gain the trust of Kenyans. What do PR people know or care about struggling people? If Kenyan politicians were trusted by their own citizens they may look a lot better in the US. Ending up with a 'power-sharing' government because politicians couldn't even run an election properly doesn't look good, no matter how much PR money you throw at it. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kenya is Not Helpless in the Fight Against Climate Change

Photo: Much of Kenya's Eastern and North Eastern Provinces are arid. This shot was taken near Isiolo.

The rains in Kenya have failed for four years in a row. As well as resulting in a shortage of water, there have also been crop failures, domestic animals dying in huge numbers and a shortage of electricity, much of which is generated by water.

Despite all this, some Kenyan politicians think it is a good idea to give subsidies to foreign multinationals which grow biofuels for people in developing countries to burn in their cars. They also lease hundreds of thousands of hectares to foreign governments so they can grow food for their populations while Kenyans are dispossessed of their land and left to starve.

Similar remarks apply to the large amounts of cut flowers, fruit, vegetables and various monoculture goods that are produced for the benefit of wealthy countries. The owners of these operations pay as little as possible, both to the Kenyan government and to the governments of their own countries. They have disgraceful records when it comes to corporate social responsibility, environmental management and labour relations.

The continuing hoohah over the Mau Forest is also relevant here. Land there was grabbed in large quantities by rich people, many of whom were senior politicians. They misappropriated the land, stripped it of its forest and did pretty much what they liked with it, regardless of the consequences for ordinary Kenyans. And now they have been challenged, rather than rectify the problems they have caused through pure greed, they will probably do little more than evict the poorest people in the forest, who ended up there out of desperation.

Large tracts of land in other areas relevant to the country's water security, such as Mount Kenya and the Aberdares, are owned by rich landowners, often absentee landowners. Water shortages cannot be blamed entirely on climate change. Sphere: Related Content

Reduce Congestion by Reducing Single Occupant Car Use

Photo: One of Kenya's characteristically colourful matatus, the mini buses that most people use for public transport.

Traffic problems on the roads in and around Nairobi continue to make life there difficult for many. Traffic jams develop for all sorts of reasons; there are a lot of accidents; parts of the roads are being repaired, very slowly; and there are just too many vehicles.

But someone has come up with the rather stupid conclusion that congestion in the central business district can be reduced by keeping matatus and buses out. That's fine, they do add to congestion, but there is now confusion about how close to the city they can go. Several time I have been on vehicles that were stopped some distance from town and diverted through waste land and back alleys. It was quicker to get out and walk the rest of the way, though we were still some way from the central business district. The majority of people in Nairobi depend on buses and matatus and they already had to put up with frequent delays on the roads before this idiocy began.

Perhaps, given the serious fuel shortages the country is experiencing, the police could stop private vehicles from clogging up the city and even some of the suburbs. There are many cars on the road with one occupant and they seem to receive the privilege of being able to drive where they want, to the inconvenience of the majority.

I suppose the people who came up with the present, highly confused solution, drive cars. That's usually the way.

Photo: A very congested Mombasa Road, Nairobi. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Great Tanzanian Gold Robbery

Finding gold or any other natural resource must be a mixed blessing. But when an American company finds 'vast' deposits of gold in Tanzania, the blessing should be completely unmixed. The American company will take as much as it can and pay as little in royalties, taxes, wages and any other costs.

For Tanzanians, on the other hand, it will be an unmixed curse. Another invasive multinational destroying the environment, creating a few badly paid and insecure jobs and putting enormous numbers of artisinal miners out of a job. They have seen it all before and will probably see it frequently until foreigners have stripped African countries of everything they can possibly use and destroyed even the things they can't use.

People who imagine that developed countries 'give' large amounts of aid money to developing countries should be aware that even larger amounts of wealth are extracted by multinationals that don't pay much in the country they do the extracting nor in the country where they are based.

It seems extraordinary that in a country of around forty million people, around half live below the poverty line, unable to get enough food or clean water to ensure their health and the health of their families. They need the most basic things for their very survival.

At the same time, rich, foreign 'investors' take virtually all the wealth Tanzania has in order to fulfil their need for gold, uranium, precious stones and things that are not in any sense important for survival. They will use much of the country's water and contaminate the water table and the surrounding lands.

I met an Australian who worked in the mineral exploitation industry in Tanzania and he denied that people were exploited or badly paid. However, he also claimed that most highly skilled workers in the industry were not Tanzanian because, according to him, there were not enough trained people in the country. Yet, he didn't seem to see the connection between extracting most of the country's wealth and that country being unable to pay for adequate education for its citizens.

Apparently, the Tanzanian government is putting together a bill so that the state has a 10-15% stake in future mining operations. It's about time, but why don't they enable Tanzanians to do the mining? At present, there are all sorts of incentives for foreigners to come into the country and take what they can get but indigenous mining operations in Tanzania do not receive the same incentives.

Tanzania's minister for Energy and Minerals boasts about the climate for investors in Tanzania. How about the climate for Tanzanians? Most of them are still poor and many are worse off as a result of the mining operations that have been taking place in the country. The amount of money being spent on education, health, infrastructure and other basic needs is a pittance compared to the wealth leaving the country and going into the pockets of very rich people.

Tanzanians are being robbed, with the connivance of Tanzanian politicians. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Congratulations to the Clinton Foundation

The Clinton Foundation has negotiated a significant reduction in the cost of several second line antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. Out of the 3 million or so people who are presently on first line drugs, many have developed resistance and need second line drugs, but these are far too expensive for most people. This is great news because over the course of treatment, many people will develop resistance. So the availability of cheaper drugs will save a lot of lives.

May the Clinton Foundation go on to negotiate more such deals. While they are at it, they could advocate for more widespread production and use of generic versions of ARVs. Developing countries should be able to produce these themselves and thus increase their self reliance and the overall sustainability of treatment programmes. Also, perhaps they could advocate for more money to be spent on preventing HIV transmission so all these billions of dollars of aid money don't need to go straight into the pockets of rich and greedy pharmaceutical companies. But this is a very good start, so congratulations to the Foundation. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Feathering Nests and Breaking Promises

Photo: World Aids Week, 2008 in Shibale, Western Kenya. Because of the artificially high prices or antiretroviral drugs, the promise will not be kept for most people.

The Information Clearing House has a good article about pharmaceutical companies and how they maximise their profits at the expense of tax payers and the poor and sick. These companies are fond of pointing out that they need to charge lots of money so they can keep on researching and producing more drugs. The fact is that most of the research is done in publicly funded institutions and the pharmaceutical companies only put 14% of their ill gotten gains into research. They put far more into lobbying, marketing and various other legal but dirty tricks.

It is possible for developing countries to get a licence to produce patented drugs but they are being encouraged not to do so because this would be inconvenient for the drug companies. They could even produce the drugs or import drugs produced, while ignoring the patent, because it is in the interest of human rights. But again, they are encouraged not to do so and there are some cosy agreements in some countries not to do anything that would threaten Big Pharma's profits.

Much of the money spent on drugs in developing countries comes from aid money so developing country governments don't really care whether the money is being spent on small amounts of patented drugs or large amounts of generic drugs. It's a terrible waste of money and many people are denied treatment that should be perfectly affordable, but there are too many vested interests involved for the system to change much. What is required is for developing countries to stand up to Big Pharma and to produce or import generic versions of the drugs they need. Brazil is one of the few countries that has been in a position to do this.

Unfortunately, the drug industry is wealthy enough to ensure that most countries don't follow Brazil's example. Some countries, such as Kenya, have even passed ambiguous legislation that doesn't distinguish between generics and fakes, so that the production or importation of generics is unlikely to be possible there. It is feared that other countries will follow their example. This is very convenient for the drug companies. I wonder what prompted Kenya to do something that seems to be so much against their interest? Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Uranium for the Rich, Contaminated Land for the Poor

Photo: Sun setting over Lake Tanganyika, Kigoma, Western Tanzania

The announcement that Tanzania has substantial deposits of uranium may or may not be good news. The country already exports a lot of gold but receives little benefit from this. There are so many subsidies and benefits for foreign miners operating there and so little capacity for enforcing proper overview of what is being extracted and exported that the only people who benefit are the big mining operators themselves. Employment in mining has dropped to a fraction of previous levels, so the industry probably represents a net loss to the country.

Why should uranium mining be any different? Large scale mining will employ very few people, will be capital intensive, will cause a lot of environmental damage, the usual story. There is a lot of talk about new laws but it is more likely that the mining operators will be allowed to come in, take what they want, do as much damage as the always do and leave the mess for Tanzanians to clean up or put up with. All the good resolutions being made now about proper regulation mean nothing when countries like Tanzania have virtually no regulatory power because of ubiquitous excuses such as the need for 'deregulation' and 'free markets'.

Countries like Tanzania need regulation and they need to be able to enforce regulation to protect people from the sort of exploitation that they have suffered since the beginning of Western invasions of the African continent. If the market is to be free, Tanzanian mining operators, ones owned by Tanzanians, not just with a few Tanzanian board members, need to be able to avail of the benefits that foreign miners receive. And the country needs to be able to audit operations to the extent that they get their fair share of royalties and other levies. So far, large scale extractive industries have only benefitted rich people and big companies while the majority of poor people lose out and end up worse off than they were previously. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Let’s Kick them while they’re Down

Photo: Small scale, low tech farming in Central Tanzania

In addition to buying up huge tracts of land in developing countries to produce biofuels for Western car drivers, there is also substantial investment and speculation in buying land to produce food for over consuming Westerners.

Countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, which are currently having trouble growing enough food for their citizens, are easy targets. People are desperate and land is cheap. Governments of developing countries (rather unnecessarily) entice foreign investors with tax breaks and other incentives. Countries currently at war are easier targets and the land is even cheaper. Ethiopia is welcoming investors right now, as is Sudan.

Of course, to offer incentives to their own farmers in order to improve food security would be a threat to a ‘free-market’, they can only give these incentives to foreigners. Go figure; or ask someone at the World Bank or International Monetary Fund (IMF). These countries used to assist their food producers but ‘structural adjustment policies’ and other loan conditions have ensured that they don’t do this any more. Hence the current food shortages.

These investors will be able to bring in heavy machinery and developing country governments will help them get rid of the majority of people who presently farm the land. A handful of people may be employed, perhaps only for a short time. This sort of investment requires minimal labour costs.

For Western investors, it’s a matter of finding very good returns. They emphasize the need to feed people but they are not talking about feeding people who are currently short of food. They will be exporting their produce to the West. Some of it may even return in the form of ‘food aid’, who knows?

It’s hard to know where to start listing the disadvantages of this sort of land grabbing: people will be dispossessed of their land and livelihoods; they will be rendered unemployed and homeless and forced to move to overcrowded slums; land will, eventually, be destroyed by overuse of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides; the water supply will be reduced as crops are exported; remaining water will become contaminated; whole ecologies will be exterminated, irreversibly; the list goes on and on.

This ‘investment’ by the private sector is creating the development problems of the future. Development money is, effectively, subsidizing their activities. So those who object to aid money being poured into developing countries, and possibly misused, should take note of who is benefiting. If we really give a dam about food insecure peoples being able to feed themselves, we should be spending money on helping them to adopt sustainable agricultural practices that are appropriate for small scale farms, the sort of farms that the vast majority of people in developing countries currently operate.

Are we really going to live on food that is grown in countries where people are starving? Sphere: Related Content

Friday, July 31, 2009

GM Maize Puts Lives and Livelihoods in Danger

Photo: Small scale maize production in Western Tanzania.

Some South African farmers have found out what can happen when genetically modified organisms (GM) go wrong. 200,000 hectares of Monsanto's GM maize, an important staple crop in many African countries, failed to produce anything but stalks.

Monsanto have compensated the commercial farmers, who are not allowed to speak out about the affair. Some resource poor farmers were also provided with the disasterous seed but it is not clear if they have been compensated in any way.

The South African GM regulatory authority appears not to have taken any steps to challenge Monsanto about this incident and Monsanto has remained customarily secretive about it. Three separate varieties of their grain suffered from the same problem.

If you would like this incident to be investigated, would like companies like Monsanto to be obliged to explain what went wrong and to ensure that GM organisms are properly monitored in the future, you can sign a petition organised by the African Centre for Biosafety. Sphere: Related Content

Converting Food for Africans into Fuel for Westerners

Photo: Arusha Market (from IRIN)

The Tanzanian government has allocated TSH1 billion to an irrigation project in Singida to 'boost agriculture'. This would be very welcome if it really were intended to improve food security and avoid famine. But I can't help suspecting that biofuels production will be one of the main beneficiaries of these irrigation projects.

Of course Tanzania needs to be able to ensure that enough food is produced to feed people and to have a surplus for export. But the last thing the country needs now is to lock itself into deals where it is obliged to produce crops that will be converted into fuel for the greedy and wasteful minority world in the West.

There is also mention of the need to mechanise farming practices, which is all very well, but what will the millions of people engaged in subsistence farming do when the land is bound over to foreign operators? About 85% of Tanzanians depend on subsistence agriculture in some way. In what way will these irrigation projects benefit the majority?

There is a danger of such projects merely moving the drought problem around so that the little water available is wasted on running cars in foreign countries rather than in producing food for Tanzanians. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A $1.25 Million Facelift for the Kenyan Image

Photo: Homes in Molo, destroyed in post election violence in 2008 has an article on a US trade delegation, headed by Hilary Clinton, that is due to visit Kenya to help them clean up their image as an investment destination. I don't think the article intended any irony.

But the post election violence certainly didn't help the country's image. This crisis was followed by a fuel crisis, a food crisis, a global financial crisis and various other serious setbacks.

The delegation will attend the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum. Apparently it "offers a great opportunity for American importers and investors to see and assess first hand East Africa's needs and challenges". Still no hint of irony.

But the figures cited show that the US exports to Kenya are worth more than double the value of Kenya's exports to the US. And while goods the US exports to Kenya are high value products, such as "aircraft parts, machinery and electronic equipment [and] pharmaceuticals", Kenya's exports to the US are generally lower value products and raw materials, such as "tea, coffee, textile goods, processed nuts and pyrethrum".

A commentator said "the forum will review its impact and explore new ways of exploiting other opportunities created by the [AGORA] Act". Opportunities for whom? I just wish I could see the commentator's face. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Public-Privateer Partnerships

One often hears of Public Private Partnerships (PPP), as if the public sector and the private sector get together and do something that is of mutual benefit, but that's far from the truth. Any PPPs I've come across involve the public sector handing over large sums of money to private sector enterprises and getting nothing in return but demands for even larger sums of money. At the same time,the public sector still has to pump additional public money into the services that they were, ostensibly, paying the private sector to provide.

Well the World Bank has always been very keen on PPPs. They give loans to desperate governments with certain conditions attached and those conditions often include the privatization of things like public utilities, for example, water. This happened in Tanzania with a company called Biwater. They screwed up so badly in the UK that the World Bank felt they could make an even bigger mess in developing countries, which they obligingly did.

They and other wealthy operators continue to asset strip, steal, threaten, maim and kill in various ways in other countries. And with generous handouts from the World Bank in addition to what they can extort from the most impoverished people on earth, they will probably continue to do so for many years to come. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sweat Shops or 'Export Processing Zones'

Further to my previous posting, about the extractive industries and how the Tanzanian government does little to protect Tanzanian people from the excesses of this massively wealthy industry, here's some more mixed news.

Fourteen regions have been identified as suitable for Export Processing Zones (EPZ). EPZs are almost indistinguishable from sweat shops. Fair enough, the government needs to find some way to get more people into employment and to generate some revenue for the country. But EPZs have been operating for sevearl decades in several countries and they simply lead to exploitation.

In theory, they don't have to lead to exploitation. In theory, the government could use existing legislation and international agreements to protect their people against the overwork, underpay, sexual coercion and other forms of exploitation faced by employees in existing EPZ. And that may be what the Tanzanian government is intending.

But, looking at their record with regard to the gold mining industry, the fishing industry, tourism and other areas of commerce, it seems unlikely that anything will be done that might interfere with rich multinationals becoming richer, at all costs. Any threat of regulation or legislation could result in these vultures leaving the country and moving to somewhere regulation and legislation could always be waved in the interests of moneymaking. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Penetrative Theft

Photo: A view of Mwanza, North Western Tanzania.

Tanzania is the third largest producer of gold in Africa. Does this mean that the country receives lots of revenue from this massive industry and that hundreds of thousands of people are employed extracting gold? No, most people are poor and only a few thousand people are employed in the industry now.

In fact, the government gives so many tax breaks and other benefits to foreign miners that even politicians, who usually make lots of money even when their electorate remain poor, don't make that much from gold. Well, I'm sure they do ok, but for some strange reason, they seem happy to watch the country's gold being raided by these foreign operators.

In addition to demanding low royalties from foreign companies, the country is losing out because gold had traditionally been labour intensive. Now, with high technology extractive processes, employment is minimal, most of the big earners are not Tanzanian and the majority of workers are paid very low wages. Several hundred thousand former artisan miners are unemployed as a result of these foreign companies taking over.

Much of the Tanzanian government's thinking on the industry seems to have been shaped by the bizarre strictures of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, who insist on low taxes, low royalties, incentives for foreign 'investment' and various de facto subsidies that are not available to any Tanzanians who might otherwise be able to get into the industry. As a result, Tanzanians haven’t a hope of being to compete, competition only being a good thing when the odds are stacked against them, it seems.

The biggest operators in Tanzania, Canadian Barrick Gold and South African AngloGold Ashanti, appear to be making huge amounts of money by these various deceits. But those who can do anything about this don't seem interested in intervening. The above international financial institutions don’t actually see any problem in such iniquities. The Canadian and South African governments could intervene, though they may not see this as being in their interest. But I don't understand why the Tanzanian government has for so long failed to right this terrible injustice.

In addition to this assault on the Tanzanian economy and the welfare of Tanzanians, the international financial institutions, multinational extractive operators and others involved don't seem to have any respect for democracy or human rights. In the long term, extractive industries cause immense environmental damage, the consequences of which will be borne by Tanzanians.

National and international laws need to protect people and prevent multinationals from destroying whole communities and defrauding sovereign countries. They should also prevent irreversible destruction of environments, which will probably affect future generations more than present generations. Rich country governments who are profiting from these industries, along with the powerful but unelected and unaccountable members of international financial institutions, also have a duty to see that these laws are properly policed.

Sadly, Tanzania is not the only country in Africa where this sort of exploitation is taking place. In fact, most African countries with natural resources that are highly valued by the West are being similarly plundered: Ghana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, the list goes on. But Tanzania is one of the few where Western governments didn't have to oversee a war in order to take what they wanted. For some reason, the Tanzanian government is far more compliant that some other African administrations. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, July 24, 2009

Prevent One Disease or Prevent Many: Decisions, Decisions.

Photo: The famously smelly Nairobi River

Here are two choices: one, giving people access to clean water and sanitation in order to reduce the incidence of all water and sanitation related health problems, which are numerous; two, providing people with a low cost vaccine against one water and sanitation related disease, namely cholera.

Which one sounds preferable? After all, the first choice includes the second. Why just grant people the second when granting them the first makes the second superfluous?

Well, if you're the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, you may want to spend $60 million on such a cholera vaccine. I wonder if the vaccine will be a pill, a drink or an injection. At least if it's an injection the recipient can put off their next drink of water, which may make them sick.

Photo: Water Delivery in a relative well off Nairobi suburb (Fedha Estate). Sphere: Related Content

Super Fast E Everything for All

Photo: Nairobi slum, pre superfast internet connection days.

There may be food shortages, deadly epidemics, extreme poverty, inequality, abuse and various other problems in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Uganda, South Africa and Rwanda. But we can all sleep well knowing that there is now an undersea fibre optic cable connecting them all up.

The children in Nairobi who are not attending school, the HIV positive people in Uganda facing drug shortages, the many Tanzanians who have no electricity supply, the Mozambicans who are not served by any roads, the Rwandans who have no access to clean water and sanitation and the South Africans who suffer from extraordinarily high crime rates need worry no longer.

Being connected to the 'global information superhighway' means 'super-fast internet connections' and 'vastly expanded bandwidth capacity'. According to the president of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, 'e-government, e-commerce, e-medicine, e-anything is now very possible'.

Quite so. But you need politicians for government, people need money for commerce and for e-medicine, there needs to be trained health personnel at one end of the connection. Aside from that, I agree wholeheartedly. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, July 23, 2009

HIV Treatment Must Be Accompanied by HIV Prevention

In most high HIV prevalence African countries, rates are currently flatlining or changing very slowly. The rate of new infections is high, the death rate is high and about one third of those needing treatment are receiving antiretroviral drugs.

Ideally, HIV programming should aim to reduce the number of new infections while treating as many people as possible. Unfortunately, prevention programmes have not been too successful. Therefore, the number of people living with HIV continues to increase and is only held down by a high death rate.

Continuing to treat those receiving drugs right now is becoming a problem because of funding shortfalls, so it is unlikely that the number of new recipients of treatment is going to increase in the foreseeable future. If people needing drugs are unable to get them, even temporarily, death rates will rapidly increase.

Ironically, this could result in the death rate exceeding the rate of new infections and HIV prevalence would then decrease. This may make it appear as if we are winning the fight against HIV because the prevalence figure tends to be used as a measure of epidemic severity.

Funding for HIV programming needs to increase because, in addition to getting as many people on treatment as possible, the rate of new infections also needs to be reduced. Otherwise the epidemic will continue to grow and, if treatment programming is not presently unsustainable, it soon will be.

Judging the state of a HIV epidemic using prevalence figures is futile because prevalence goes down when death rates exceed new infections; and prevalence goes up when those needing treatment are receiving it because more HIV positive people are living longer.

Instead of being blasted with prevalence rates all the time, we need some indication of the rate of new infections (incidence), death rates, treatment rates and possibly some other figures. Otherwise we have no way of judging the status of an epidemic. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

De Facto Subsidies for Big Pharma

It sounds like this article, about a HIV prevention trial of gel and tablets, is actually about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

PrEP is the use of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to prevent HIV infection. At present, ARVs are used to treat people who are at an advanced stage of HIV. They are also used to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV.

One of the reasons that HIV programmes, especially treatment programmes, are so expensive is because the price of ARVs are kept artificially high by drug companies and this phenomenon is supported by donor funding, which is a de facto subsidy to the pharmaceutical industry.

If PrEP gets the go ahead, HIV prevention could also become dominated by capital intensive pharmaceutical technologies. There are an estimated 33 million people living with HIV at the moment. The number of people who could be targeted with PrEP would run in to the hundreds of millions.

It seems odd that the article never mentions PrEP but perhaps it's just an oversight. Sphere: Related Content

Hands off African Countries

Let's not fool ourselves, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is an American institution that aims to further the interests of America and, sometimes, its friends. This institution has been giving crap advice to developing countries, especially in Africa, for several decades. As a result, most of the countries now suffering food shortages and overall food insecurity are in dire straits because they followed IMF advice to dismantle the support mechanisms they once gave to their farmers and other food producers.

If free trade is such a good thing, why does the US and the EU subsidize their food producers to such an extent that developing countries cannot compete? Is it possible that these wealthy regions want developing countries to depend on them?

We in the West boast about how much money and aid we are 'giving' to developing countries but in reality, we take far more than we give. We buy raw materials as cheaply as possible and sell back finished products, often produced in developing countries by people who are paid slave wages, at grotesque prices.

Yes, corruption is a terrible thing and top politicians in developing countries shouldn't accept bribes. But Westerners are falling over themselves to bribe them, and that must stop too.

We have failed to help developing countries to develop, the only hope now is that we stop preventing them from developing.

The photograph is of a school in Isiolo built with donor funds. The school is far away from anyone and there are no surfaced roads. No one goes there. Sphere: Related Content

NASA and Benevolence

There's an article on IRIN entitled "The art of predicting Rift Valley Fever outbreaks". NASA is doing the predicting. Now why the hell would NASA be interested in doing that?

Granted, Rift Valley Fever is a big problem, but why should problems in the (East African) Rift Valley be of interest to NASA. NASA is interested in military matters and outer space and propaganda that are related to the US but diseases that affect animals and animal owners in East Africa?

The article doesn't answer these questions. It simply makes it clear that NASA is collecting detailed geographical information about East Africa (that also happens to relate to Rift Valley Fever).

In case you're worried, they are not just confining their data collection to East Africa, or to Rift Valley Fever. I hope that makes you feel better., Sphere: Related Content