Another reason why Africans should own their own resources

man-40134_640Last week a well written article appeared on Al Jazeera arguing against the false and somewhat misleading picture of Corruption that is often put out by the western media. In it, it was suggested that over $900 billion a year is lost from developing to developed nations through tax evasion and illicit financial outflows. While this is a major problem for Africa, as was pointed out several years ago by Kofi Annan here, another reason which results in these outflows is that very few major industry (million dollar revenue generating) in Africa is in fact owned by Africans.

The combination of imperialist colonial legacies, poverty, a lack of capital, insufficient education, corruption, plain hypocrisy and other factors has resulted in a state of affairs whereby even capable Africans find it hard to buy into and run their continent’s biggest industries. While there are many Africans doing well in business throughout Africa, they are by far in the minority, and comparatively too few of them on the ground, than say the number of Canadians who own and control multi-million pound ventures within Canada, or say the number of Portuguese who own and control multi-million dollar companies in Portugal.

Thus, this picture inevitably creates an opportunity or gap for foreign corporations and investors to come in, and sweep away ownership of the whole lot – armed with huge amounts of capital. No surprise the profits end up everywhere else but in Africa…

In my view, far from the land grabs of Robert Mugabe (which others have tried to justify – see here and here), another reason in support of more Africans owning their continent’s industry is that doing so could mean that large amounts of money remain on the continent, to be used for education, health  -building hospitals and providing good wages for doctors, eliminating poverty, fighting corruption, policing and security, building infrustracture, improving the plight of women, investment in the youth, creating jobs, etc. It means essential capital is not being wired out to already rich countries. This in my view is a better strategy against poverty, than aid and handouts, whose monies are comparatively miniscule to the monies being siphoned from Africa.

According to the website of Britannia Mining Inc (a US company with operations in Canada and Malawi) here, the Nthale Iron Ore surface deposits which they found before 2009 are estimated from their geological survey to be at least 4.6 million tonnes in quantity. As often happens with these things, especially if we focus on the word ‘Surface’,in practice the deposits can be far larger than the estimate.

Last Friday, on the 7th of February 2014, before close of trading the price of Iron Ore on the international market was hovering around $125 per ton (see latest figures here). Whichever way this price goes (whether up or down) the next few years, 4.6 million tonnes at $125 per ton is still worth at least $575 million, a hefty sum by any measure. Even if we go with the 68% iron ore component indicated on their website, that’s still worth $391 million

Suppose Britannia Mining invested $100 million into Malawi, to cover processing the Ore, overheads including construction, logistics, wages, corporate governance activities, etc, (and it was proved that they had indeed invested such sums because sometimes businessmen overestimate the level of investment when the truth is much lower) I’d think the benefit to the Britannia would be significantly higher and disproportionately in their favour than in the favour of Malawians. Looking at previous examples of resource conflicts involving corporations in Africa, I seriously doubt that first they would invest such sums. Further, I doubt that Malawians or the Malawian government would benefit equally or at least proportionally from the resource. Which begs the question, who actually owns the resource?

As many others have opined elsewhere (see this for example), the unrestrained greed and unguarded capitalism of western businesses in Africa is causing a lot of damage and harm to Africa, and Africans. And that’s even before we get to what China is doing…

Even if the market price of Iron Ore dropped to say below $100, (say it dropped to $65, which is highly unlikely – the last time it hit $100/ ton was back in Aug 2012, and that was only for a very brief period of time), there would still be at least $300 million worth of deposits to be mined.

Don’t you think if the company that was exploiting the deposit was owned or part-owned (say 50%) by the Malawian government, or a group of Malawians, that the majority of the benefit of the resource would remain in the country, as opposed to being wired out of Malawi?

Post Paladin, and the tax outrage they caused when it was revealed that the Malawian tax authorities were missing out on tax revenues worth $200 million, how much tax have Britannia paid to the Malawian government so far, and how much have they made out of Nthale? The reason that question is crucial is because no level-headed Malawian is keen to see Malawi descend into a chaotic easy target where rich corporations (which are already wealthy and well resourced) come into the country and make billions, while the local population remains poor.

And if governments across the world do not speak against unrestrained greed, who will, seeing most governments in Africa are headed by people who have neither the will nor inclination to do so…?

Kenyatta + Branson
image from https://www.facebook.com/myuhurukenyatta

In my view, Africa needs trade partners who will help rebuild the continent, and not those looking for a quick buck, irrespective of the ethics of the means of acquiring that buck.

If you are looking to make money quick, stay away from Malawi. We don’t want get rich quick capitalists or investors. What Malawi needs are Responsible Capitalists, as opposed to a Liberal and unguarded Capitalists – a badge which brings to mind Halliburton’s Iraq heist (or even ILLOVO’s tax avoidance fiasco –  ILLOVO [which is British owned via Associated Foods Limited] is  company that last year posted a 43% rise in profits per share), an incident which it is fair to say has probably been responsible for not only much suffering, but also global unrest.

Depending on who you ask, its undeniable that corporate wrongdoing is currently happening, and the continent of Africa is being systematically ripped off. Yet there has to come a time when the tide turns, and the wrongdoing is forced to stop (sadly it’s not going to stop voluntarily). In the words of the African Development Bank president Donald Kaberuka here:

“The reality is, Africa is being ripped off big time …Africa wants to grow itself out of poverty through trade and investment – part of doing so is to ensure there is transparency and sound governance in the natural resources sector”

In my view this means rectification, and possibly includes learning lessons from those whose policies do not exacerbate the already bad situation; lessons from the likes of Brazil instead of blindly accepting unfair and discriminatory terms from organisations such as the IMF – whose policies towards the poor countries couldn’t be said to be favourable for local ownership of industry.

Maybe Malawi’s mining sector has more to learn from the likes of Vale and Debswana. Debswana is 50% owned by the Botswana government and 50% owned by De Beers. Vale is the world’s biggest producer of Iron Ore, and their profits recently doubled (Interestingly, in the same article Vale says the price of Iron Ore would hit $130 per ton, which it did, confirming the plausibility of my above little theory). They’ve seen an increase in production, which last year hit 73.4 million tonnes of Iron Ore. They are also a major tax contributor to the Brazilian government, with recent tax payments of $9.6 billion, far greater than anything any corporation have had to pay to an African government.

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14 African Countries Forced by France to Pay Colonial Tax

Its anybody’s guess how true some of the allegations in the link below are, but probably not something to read on a Saturday morning 😐 .

What is clear is that Western Countries like France have had a huge and unfair economic advantage over non-western countries, and some of their policies (which are precisely the policies which gave them that unfair economic advantage) towards former colonies were clearly and undeniably oppressive.

The reason I don’t buy the BS which goes something like:”Stop moaning, others like South Korea have moved on from the colonial bashing….and are now prosperous” is that unlike any of the African countries, South Korea got a huge grant of at least $3 billion dollars (others researchers say it was tens of billions of dollars: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/1/1/3/6/7/p113675_index.html ) between 1965 -73 to build up its economy.

So South Korea was given huge amounts of money to build its economy. It didn’t just happen accidentally. It is an ignorant fallacy to claim that with the problems facing African countries can just be transformed using aid, diplomacy or education.

I think, considering that western politicians have failed miserably to use aid to solve Africa’s major problems the last 60 years (not that it was their call to do so – but their predecessors were part of the problem that created unquantifiable damage to Africa), in so far as sustainability is concerned, so as to remedy Africa’s problems, it is most probably time for educated African entrepreneurs (not Politicians) to be given ‘reparatory grants’ to rebuild their countries’ economies. Anything short of massive and reparatory investment into Africa is unlikely to create sustainable economies where the Africans themselves are in charge, and in control of their countries economies. After years of study, observation and obsessive inquiry, I’m convinced this (or a derivative form thereof) has to be part of the equation to rectifying the troubles in Africa.

14 African Countries Forced by France to Pay Colonial Tax via Systemic Capital.com

Flipping the Corruption Myth

Flipping the Corruption Myth by Dr Jason Hickel, a lecturer at the London School of Economics and an adviser to /The Rules
– Corruption is by far not the main factor behind persisting poverty in the Global South.  Original article via Al Jazeera here

* * * * * *  * * = * * * * * * * = * * * * * * *

Transparency International recently published their latest annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), laid out in an eye-catching map of the world with the least corrupt nations coded in happy yellow and the most corrupt nations smeared in stigmatising red. The CPI defines corruption as “the misuse of public power for private benefit”, and draws its data from 12 different institutions including the World Bank, Freedom House, and the World Economic Forum.

When I first saw this map I was struck by the fact that most of the yellow areas happen to be rich Western countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, whereas red covers almost the entirety of the global South, with countries like South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Somalia daubed especially dark.

This geographical division fits squarely with mainstream views, which see corruption as the scourge of the developing world (cue cliche images of dictators in Africa and bribery in India). But is this storyline accurate?

Many international development organisations hold that persistent poverty in the Global South is caused largely by corruption among local public officials. In 2003 these concerns led to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which asserts that, while corruption exists in all countries, this “evil phenomenon” is “most destructive” in the global South, where it is a “key element in economic underperformance and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development”.

There’s only one problem with this theory: It’s just not true.

Corruption, superpower style

According to the World Bank, corruption in the form of bribery and theft by government officials, the main target of the UN Convention, costs developing countries between $20bn and $40bn each year. That’s a lot of money. But it’s an extremely small proportion – only about 3 percent – of the total illicit flows that leak out of public coffers. Tax avoidance, on the other hand, accounts for more than $900bn each year, money that multinational corporations steal from developing countries through practices such as trade mispricing.

This enormous outflow of wealth is facilitated by a shadowy financial system that includes tax havens, paper companies, anonymous accounts, and fake foundations, with the City of London at the very heart of it. Over 30 percent of global foreign direct investment is booked through tax havens, which now collectively hide one-sixth of the world’s total private wealth.

This is a massive – indeed, fundamental – cause of poverty in the developing world, yet it does not register in the mainstream definition of corruption, absent from the UN Convention, and rarely, if ever, appears on the agenda of international development organisations.

With the City of London at the centre of the global tax haven web, how does the UK end up with a clean CPI?

The question is all the more baffling given that the city is immune from many of the nation’s democratic laws and free of all parliamentary oversight. As a result of this special status, London has maintained a number of quaint plutocratic traditions. Take its electoral process, for instance: More than 70 percent of the votes cast during council elections are cast not by residents, but by corporations – mostly banks and financial firms. And the bigger the corporation, the more votes they get, with the largest firms getting 79 votes each. This takes US-style corporate personhood to another level.

To be fair, this kind of corruption is not entirely out-of-place in a country where a feudalistic royal family owns 120,000 hectares of the nation’s land and sucks up around £40m ($65.7m) of public funds each year. Then there’s the parliament, where the House of Lords is filled not by-election but by appointment, with 92 seats inherited by aristocratic families, 26 set aside for the leaders of the country’s largest religious sect, and dozens of others divvied up for sale to multi-millionaires.

Corruption in US is only slightly less blatant. Whereas congressional seats are not yet available for outright purchase, the Citizens United vs FEC ruling allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns to ensure that their preferred candidates get elected, a practice justified under the Orwellian banner of “free speech”.

The poverty factor

The UN Convention is correct to say that poverty in developing countries is caused by corruption. But the corruption we ought to be most concerned about has its root in the countries that are coloured yellow on the CPI map, not red.

The tax haven system is not the only culprit. We know that the global financial crisis of 2008 was precipitated by systemic corruption among public officials in the US who were intimately tied to the interests of Wall Street firms. In addition to shifting trillions of dollars from public coffers into private pockets through bailouts, the crisis wiped out a huge chunk of the global economy and had a devastating effect on developing countries when demand for exports dried up, causing massive waves of unemployment.

A similar story can be told about the Libor scandal in the UK, when major London banks colluded to rig interest rates so as to suck around $100bn of free money from people even well beyond Britain’s shores. How could either of these scandals be defined as anything but the misuse of public power for private benefit? The global reach of this kind of corruption makes petty bribery and theft in the developing world seem parochial by comparison.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. If we really want to understand how corruption drives poverty in developing countries, we need to start by looking at the institutions that control the global economy, such as the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the policies that these institutions foisted on the Global South, following the Washington Consensus, caused per capita income growth rates to collapse by almost 50 percent. Economist Robert Pollin has estimated that during this period developing countries lost around $480bn per year in potential GDP. It would be difficult to overstate the human devastation that these numbers represent. Yet Western corporations have benefitted tremendously from this process, gaining access to new markets, cheaper labour and raw materials, and fresh avenues for capital flight.

These international institutions masquerade as mechanisms for public governance, but they are deeply anti-democratic; this is why they can get away with imposing policies that so directly violate public interest. Voting power in the IMF and World Bank is apportioned so that developing countries – the vast majority of the world’s population – together hold less than 50 percent of the vote, while the US Treasury wields de facto veto power. The leaders of these institutions are not elected, but appointed by the US and Europe, with not a few military bosses and Wall Street executives among them.

Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank, has publicly denounced these institutions as among the least transparent he has ever encountered. They also suffer from a shocking lack of accountability, as they enjoy special “sovereign immunity” status that protects them against public lawsuit when their policies fail, regardless of how much harm they cause.

Shifting the blame

If these patterns of governance were true of any given nation in the global South, the West would cry corruption. Yet such corruption is normalised in the command centres of the global economy, perpetuating poverty in the developing world while Transparency International directs our attention elsewhere.

Even if we do decide to focus on localised corruption in developing countries, we have to accept that it does not exist in a geopolitical vacuum. Many of history’s most famous dictators – like Augusto Pinochet, Mobutu Sese Seko, and Hosni Mubarak – were supported by a steady flow of Western aid. Today, not a few of the world’s most corrupt regimes have been installed or bolstered by the US, among them Afghanistan, South Sudan, and the warlords of Somalia – three of the darkest states on the CPI map.

This raises an interesting question: Which is more corrupt, the petty dictatorship or the superpower that installs it? Unfortunately, the UN Convention conveniently ignores these dynamics, and the CPI map leads us to believe, incorrectly, that each country’s corruption is neatly bounded by national borders.

Corruption is a major driver of poverty, to be sure. But if we are to be serious about tackling this problem, the CPI map will not be much help. The biggest cause of poverty in developing countries is not localised bribery and theft, but the corruption that is endemic to the global governance system, the tax haven network, and the banking sectors of New York and London. It’s time to flip the corruption myth on its head and start demanding transparency where it counts.

Dr Jason Hickel lectures at the London School of Economics and serves as an adviser to /The Rules. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jasonhickel

China Funding construction of new airport in Malawi

First it was a parliament building, then a road to connect Karonga and Chitipa, a five-star hotel, followed by a stadium, and now it seems they will be building an Airport. China is Africa’s new friend and within the last decade, they have made some serious inroads into Africa. The question that interests me looking at all the things China is doing in Africa, and considering they are not a colonialist is this: why didn’t any of the former colonialists build infrastructure comparable to what China is building in Africa today, when back in their own countries, they continued to build structures which no doubt contributed to their economies during the same period? Especially since some of these organisations had large empires which no doubt contributed to their enormous wealth….

Was it because they didn’t think Africa needed its own infrastructure? There was no plan …? Or was it because they had no money?

Anyhow i’ll ponder that another day 🙂

While President Joyce Banda should be commended for pushing through this excellent development (which is exactly the kind of infrastructure Africa needs) since it is true that our airports are outdated and in serious need for improvement, I wonder what she has granted the Chinese in return? What does the deal involve? Is the deal public? Would be interesting to see what is being offered in return…

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Protesters in Lilongwe against nonpayment of salaries by the Malawian Government

demos
Civil Servants Demonstrations in Lilongwe – Image via Malawi Breaking News

We’ve just received reports that civil servants have gathered in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi to protest against the government’s decision to send them home early for the Christmas holidays without pay. According to reports, some civil servants have not been paid for two months (November let alone December). If this is widespread, the Christmas holidays may be a very hard time for some.

It seems the actions of donors to withhold budgetary aid are having a serious and far-reaching effects on the operations of the Malawi government, in that not only is the Malawi Kwacha continuing to slip against the dollar, but  while the president continues to travel around the globe, her government has now found itself in a difficult position where it cannot afford to pay its own employees??

This is interesting because, just a few days ago, someone in Malawi informed me that this was going to happen. Further, I was told that the 60% increase of civil servant salaries promised by the government here (see another report here), and for which Joyce Banda received a lot of acclaim, press attention and media coverage, has in fact not been effected??

Further, we are also hearing reports that the government has rescinded a promise to loan civil servants fertiliser, to a current position whereby a civil servant can only receive 2 bags on loan.

Again, we need to verify these reports carefully, but it seems there was an agreement / promise in place that stipulated that as long as a civil servant produced proof that they were into farming, evidence of land and how much they were investing, they were going to be loaned as many bags of fertiliser as they needed.

Empathy – the key to societal harmony

Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu – it means you must serve your fellow man. You see? You must respect and serve your fellow man faithfully. That’s what, because without their support you can never progress. That’s what it means. – Nelson Mandela

Anyone who has experienced a certain amount of loss in their life has empathy for those who have experienced loss.  – Anderson Cooper

Look, I’m a cancer survivor, all right? So I have great personal empathy for people who have pre-existing conditions and can’t get insurance. – Carly Fiorina

There is a man who lives near my mother’s house, who is blind. This fellow also happens to attend the same church which mother belongs to, and I see him almost each month seated at the bus stop, or walking around the neighbourhood, assisted only by a white cane.

I can’t even begin to imagine what challenges this man has had to face, or indeed what challenges his condition presents him every single day. Thinking about it alone gives me a chill, although something tells me his experiences have got to be unpleasant, very hard. Not being able to see clearly, or not seeing at all, the sunlight (or in the case of Manchester – the grey skies + rain), the landscape, birds, people, the innocence on a child – the smiles on their faces; cars, television…the world; needing help with cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc; a life in which just being able to move about in one’s own house is probably a bit of a challenge…the apparent helplessness, I just can’t even begin to imagine it.

And while there is research out there that suggests that people with blindness have heightened senses, (see other links here and here) as the above links try to explain, living with blindness is still something that those of us who have sight can’t completely comprehend, even after a visit to Dans Le Noir (see another review here).

A different example was given to me by a friend, who quoted this story which includes the following paragraphs:

“The UN identifies long-term solitary confinement as a form of torture and the effects on Warsame were clear. He became apathetic, lethargic and depressed. He rarely left his cell to exercise in the locked cell adjacent to his own. The social isolation was tortuous and agonizing.”

“At the sentencing, the judge noted that he had “seen nothing in the record or the last five years of proceedings demonstrating that Warsame poses an immediate danger.” Why then had he refused to suspend or modify the SAMs?”

“While the judge also observed “nothing that adequately demonstrates that Warsame was part of a specific plot against the United States, and very little that suggests he was especially useful to Al Qaeda,” he refused to impose a sentence of time-served, instead adding another twenty-four months, for a total of ninety-two months, or almost eight years.”

“The judge’s deference throughout the case to the government’s bloated claims of national security is disturbing. Yet evidence indicates that the court’s deference is not aberrational but replicated in other terrorism cases in US courts. The plea deal suggests that Warsame never posed a security threat. That conclusion is reinforced by Warsame’s deportation: allowing him to simply leave the country contradicts the notion of immediate danger the government repeatedly asserted Warsame’s unmonitored communications posed.”   – Article written by David Thomas, Criminal defence lawyer, How Mohammed Warsame Became an Accidental ‘Terrorist’

This post is not about blindness, unique restaurant experiences, the challenges people with blindness face or how US law treats suspect terrorists.

Instead, in my daily life, I have often encountered or heard views from capable young people who feel a sense of helplessness. That the world around them does not understand their circumstances, and is incapable of helping them.That their plight is solely up to God. They have little or no role in turning their own fortunes.

It causes me a lot of sadness.

They feel left out, that nobody seems to care, that they are powerless, with no hero either in their family or in the leadership of their society, region, country who can confront this helplessness that is causing them much stress, and slowly dragging them deeper and deeper into depression. I meet youngsters with a deep sense of deprivation and failure; who think they have no hope and can do absolutely nothing to transform their own lives for the better. Most are Africans, or of African heritage.

It’s one thing meeting a disaffected person, and giving them advice (even good advice) that could help them plan how to get out of their hardship zone, it’s quite another thing assisting them, step by step, practically and over a period of time, in overcoming their challenges. I find the latter more helpful, but often the constraints on my own life curtails how much helps I am able to offer; that wretched feeling when you know precisely how a certain situation can be tackled, made good and turned around, having tamed similar situations in the past, yet you are unable to offer much help because of your own problems…

Which is why I have great respect for organisations such as Turning Point. However, most of these youngsters I meet doubt whether such organisations can do much to help them, and in fact tend to think such organisations are only targeted to former addicts, or people have been made homeless or have met some domestic catastrophe…

The problems I hear vary from the absence of motivation and financial constraints, to frustration with leadership and life; including family entanglements and baggage from the past which they can’t quite separate themselves from, or reconcile with the present. Last week, a fine young man wrote me:

I concluded one thing and it’s how us black people as a whole lack hope. We say all this stuff about our belief in God and the love and faith we have for him. But we lack hope. We allow ourselves to be forever imprisoned by these unnecessary emotions of hate, greed, complacency and inconsistency. We are right now incapable of having the dreams that our former leaders fought with and had till they died, Kamuzu had a vision, the same way Mandela had his. That’s why they were good friends. But this generation we struggle with conviction, for we are too busy stuck here on social media websites posting all these things and having discussions. It is as if we don’t have what it takes to take that step forward for change. … But it goes back to our lack of conviction as a whole. We lack that power that our past ancestors had before, we lack that vision. Africa now has no dreamers but it is … mercenaries who dream to keep Africa at bay, and because we don’t have what it takes to dream big and beyond, to trust God for our talents we are stuck here, writing bitter statements and statuses about what’s happening to our brothers and sisters. I ask myself everyday if I care, and what should I do? But the inner spirit within me reminds me that it is not up to man to say I will change the world with my own works. … I don’t have that will power within but I know where it comes from, only God…

To me these kinds of statements come in three main forms. Grievances against general trends within society their present society, and back home in Africa; grievance against a certain type of thinking / practice, which in some forms manifests itself in”…too busy stuck here on social media websites posting all these things and having discussions” ; and grievance against public / private equity institution (both abroad and back home in Africa) which ‘fail’ to provide them with capital, or whose requirements in ascertaining suitability of a loan (which the aggrieved thinks is necessary to reverse their fortunes) to the recipient are too high to meet.

In another form, the grievances highlight the inability of even an afflicted person, to devise a solution to their own problems. Yesterday, I was speaking to a young man in Malawi who complained about how there is a total lack of leadership in local government, and how even the simplest of ideas get shot down, not only by the leadership – who do little except complain and ‘go around in circles‘, but also by those who are affected:

“Man, things in Malawi are bad, I don’t even know what will happen next, except that we are going down. The 60% pay increase civil servants were offered in early February is yet to be effected. There has been no follow-up, and i don’t think its going to happen. Our bosses invite us to meetings, every other day, where the only outcome is throwing blame and finding excuses. …

We were meant to be paid on the 21st [November], but up until now [8th December] we have not been paid. Salaries, allowances have not paid. It’s a mess. To add insult to injury our duties have been increased and we have to pay tax, even when we are not being paid. Fuel in the country is going up, the dollar is at K417 on the black market at K450, and since there is no money to pay us, we will be sent on holiday next week because the coffers are dry. But what will we eat if we have not been paid? People are disgruntled,, right now the president is going to South Africa, and after that to Kenya for some celebrations ….more travelling and money pointlessly spent. Madness really on behalf of our president. 50 years of independence achimwene [brother], and we keep going backwards….

And when you make a suggestion, even the guy standing next to you, on the same level as you, who is also suffering like you are, shoots all your ideas down, but they can’t even come up with a single idea??”

He goes on to say:

I don’t see a leader amongst any of them. I havent even registered to vote. These guys don’t deserve to be presidents. They keep recycling the same old politicians with the same old ideas. So where do you think our country is going to go if youngsters are not given a chance? Sadly we live in society that is so embedded in “bola moyo” [At least we are alive] . That’s what is sooooo heartbreaking. People that let others take advantage of them because of poverty or ignorance

What then do you do when you know that the aggrieved person is a capable hardworking individual who if given a chance, can flourish, who if given an opportunity, can achieve something, and make a success of his life.
Another young man, a distant nephew who I have known for many years said this several months ago:
Thus what am teaching Mathematics. I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Management Information Systems uncle, am teaching for survival, what else can a man do for survival?
Further, several years ago, another young man, a former classmate said this:
…Haven’t been yet… The same factors that delayed my Malawi trip also delayed my [trip to] Israel. Doing business in Nigeria is astronomically hard. The easiest thing to do is enter politics and steal money
This was near the time that Nigeria was to have its elections, and at the time, some Nigerians, going by the name Nigerians Must Unite And Liberate Nigeria, created this photo:
nigerian
Whatever you think of this poster or its creators, to me it represents the growing feelings of discontent most people of African heritage have within. The bottled pain, the frustrations, the powerlessness that can only be translated into song, art or writing. They’ve done the demonstration, they’ve petitioned organisation, people, politicians – the power blocs, they’ve done almost everything, and nothing seems to work, very little seems to change.
It is true that most people who have the power to change things in the world today either deliberately choose not to act, they act too late, or act in the wrong kind of way. And that list of enablers is not limited to those from within Africa alone.
Even sound advice from experienced activists, including writers who have spent years exploring and analysing Africa and its woes is largely ignored, making the task of resolving the problems even harder.
Looking at all this, what is encouraging to me is that there are some people (another here, here , here and herehere) who have  some understanding of the issues on the ground. And are willing to help, one step at a time. Although few in number, and without the capital of the larger aid organisations, these stories demonstrate that even though the situation in Africa can be described as extremely difficult, some people empathise. Some people understand. Thus, if more people looked at the helpless young people with the same lens as these people view those they have gone out to help, and offered to help, or even  practical advice which the young men and women could implement, it would represent a step forward towards defeating that sense of helplessness and failure that is common in our societies, especially across Africa.
Which is why sometimes when I see that blind man in my mother’s neighbourhood, I find myself thinking that if only I had the means to help him, if only I could do something about it, I would have offered him some help. Explored the possibility of getting him a guide dog, or even offer to pay for a part of his healthcare, I don’t know, something, even if it were just a one-off thing …

Global disease

Some parts of the world look just the same. If you look closely, carefully – their going-ons look exactly the same.

Never mind what Matt Damon says here about the world, in which he says:

“… that the wrong people are in power. And the wrong people are out of power.That the wealth is distributed in this country and the world in such a way, as not simply to require a small reform, but to require a drastic reallocation of wealth…Now if you don’t think, if you just, listen to Tv and read scholarly things, you actually begin to think that things are not so bad…”

…if you look closely enough, some things seem to be slowly replicating themselves, over and over, across the globe. Indeed there is nothing new under the sun.

Take Gloria Arroyo (see short profile via BBC here) the former president of the Philippines, for example. While some of her supporters will inevitably counter that the case brought against her regarding diversion of disaster relief funds (see another here), and misusing lottery funds (~$8.8 million) – for which she was arrested – is in fact politically motivated, few will argue that such things don’t happen elsewhere.

In Haiti – a country 10,000 miles away from the Philippines, reconstruction officials and aid organisations have been accused of diverting millions of dollars (see another source here via New Internationalist) of reconstruction funds. In Japan, after the 2011 earthquake and resulting tsunami, US$2 billion was diverted, according to a Japanese Newspaper. Even authorities in the US have been accused of attempting to divert funds raised and donated for hurricane Katrina victims (see source here), and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been sued over the matter.

In Malawi today, we have a president who, in my view, has a lot more in common with Gloria Arroyo, than with an ordinary Malawian woman from a village in Mulanje. (see a list detailing some of Gloria Arroyo’s government’s scandals here)

Joyce Banda has a whole string of gaffes behind her (either bad advice or she must learn to speak fewer silly things); Like Arroyo, Banda has been accused of diverting funds into private or personal projects (including using Independence Celebration funds for a PP party commemoration), and her food distribution exercises have been criticised, with some accusing her of attempting to ‘buy votes’ through distribution of maize and fertiliser. And just like Arroyo’s tenure had been, Banda’s government has been the subject of one political scandal after another. Like Arroyo, Banda has been accused of attempting to rig an election, and protecting corrupt colleagues from facing the hand of the law. Like Arroyo, her cash handouts have been criticised as wasteful, and calls of an audit as to the origins of the money she gives away at rallies have been heard far and wide within Malawi. Joyce Banda, like Arroyo has also been criticised for excessive travelling, and just like Arroyo, Joyce Banda has hired a PR company at great expense, to clean up her image, and that of her government.

And all that is even before you get to the ghost companies set up by civil servants – to embezzle funds, allegedly unexplained donations to the president’s foundation, and many other potential woes that can sit comfortably side by side with what the Philippines former president has been accused of.

But in the face of all that, including recently, a very public withdrawal of donor aid by Malawi’s donors – which minimally shows disapproval, Joyce Banda still maintains innocence.

Unlike Arroyo, who apologised (external link – YouTube Video) for speaking to an official of the electoral commission, Joyce Banda has not offered an apology to ordinary Malawians for the harm and devastation that has occurred under her government, especially in relation to the cashgate scandal.

It’s simply just incredible how similar the circumstances can be; the lessons so bountiful, yet political leaders (past and present) just don’t seem to learn.

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Fighting the waters : Diversion tactics and PR stunts

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Besides the revelations of corruption that have been levied against the government of Malawi, to me serious questions of doubt began after the reshuffle,  which retained many shady characters. At first I was willing to give Joyce Banda the benefit of the doubt, until in addition to everything that was flying around in the media (partly chronicled here), I read this report and saw this email.

Then I heard news of the 10% profiteering middlemen, people working for the government, or with links to the presidency who were demanding 10% in kickbacks or ‘commission’ for deals or transactions with the government, in which these people made themselves involved.

Among such shameless characters was one woman who frustrated a well-meaning philanthropist from donating desks to Malawi. In this deal, this lady who is very close to the presidency blocked a philanthropist, who wanted to donate ~100, 000 desks to Malawian schools. The lady – who is well-known and works at State House, and who you would think is remunerated by the Malawian government – demanded that she be personally paid commission totalling £100,000 for facilitating the desk donation deal (her job, i understand was to ensure that no tax or other charges were levied – except payment to her)?? As you can imagine, this suggestion infuriated the philanthropist beyond measure, he was shocked and disgusted by the very idea that desks meant for the children of Malawi, given for free to the children of Malawi, desks for which the philanthropist in his generosity would have to pay the cost of purchase, shipping and delivery, to a tune of over £300,000, should then be subject to an additional cost, a £100,000 ‘commission’ to be paid to someone whose job it already was to facilitate projects in the interests of Malawi…?? An already wealthy woman who was attempting to profiteer at the expense of poor Malawian children??

Sadly you don’t hear of these kinds of things in the news….even the person who told me this said the philanthropist, although upset, was afraid and didn’t want the public to know of his ordeal as he still has some interests and links on the ground in Malawi which he doesn’t want to be jeopardized by ‘political forces’…?? the kind of thing, he said, that happened to Madonna, which the public were fooled into believing Madonna was the one in the wrong, when in actual sense part of the story was that there had been a commission heist – and when Madge refused to pay up, she was accused, verbally assaulted, ganged upon by the said ‘political forces’.

In the case of the philanthropist, the desks deal didn’t go through, and the desks were never shipped… and of course the children who would have benefitted from them never got to receive them.

So, then you read that the Government of Malawi has hired a PR firm in London to clean up its image who straight away begin to point fingers to the previous regime? Playing the blame game? At such a critical time? When under your watch, rampant corruption has just been uncovered? Can Malawi, in its current state afford the PR agency? Is Joyce Banda using her own Money, or the money of the government to pay for Bell Pottinger?

When people are complaining of lack of medicines in hospitals, strikes and demonstrations because of the plunder at Capital Hill, fuel shortages and rise in prices of goods are on their way because of the withdrawal of aid, when there is a rise in child marriages revealing lack of opportunities and deprivation in Malawian society, when the country is littered with many problems, how is it justifiable to spend money you don’t have on what is effectively a PR stunt?

How much is this costing Malawi? Why not hire a Malawian PR company, and pay comparatively less? It’s such a shame. Joyce Banda’s government has hopped from one disastrous decision to the next… (see another here)

Personally, I don’t believe that Joyce Banda was unaware of the plunder that was happening at the time when she served as a minister then vice President in Bingu Wa Mutharika’s government, and in the articles above, I have clearly explained how and why I arrived at such a conclusion.

If Joyce Banda was serious about fixing Malawi’s troubles, she would have bought the medicines which are lacking in the hospitals on the ground, paid the teachers whose salaries have not been paid for 3 months, she would have ordered fuel reserves to last the country at least 2 years if the worst were to happen again, she would have spent resources on a big sustainable project that will reduce Malawian imports, a project that would create thousands of jobs, and generate substantial forex revenues. She would have pressed the Mozambican government over the Nsanje port issue – so that ships begin to enter via that route – an act that would again in itself stabilise or reduce the cost of goods coming into Malawi; Joyce Banda would have created a massive solar project for Malawi to generate its own electricity… and finally  she would have instructed independent auditors with neither links, no sympathies to the presidency, to get to the bottom of the Cashgate crisis.

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