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