Thursday, January 31, 2008

Donors move to freeze aid to Kenya

Major donors have decided to freeze funding until the Kenya’s post-election crisis can be resolved.

From the Nation in Nairobi.

The aid freeze letter to the ministries said: “In cases where your department/agency has submitted a basket funded procurement request to the governance reform programme the approval of these requests will be put on hold until further notice.

“In cases where procurement requests from your department/agency have already been approved by the governance reform programme, the Financial Management Agent will not be in a position to make a financial commitment in support of the specific activity.

“You are therefore advised not to proceed with these procurements until further notice.”

Foreign Aid donations only make up six percent of Kenya’s budget, reports the Telegraph in London.

Jendayi Frazer, the American assistant secretary of state for Africa, said the U.S. government is also reviewing its aid program, the paper reported.

In an analysis piece for the East African, from Nairobi, editor Jaindi Kisero claims the freeze in funds could destabilize the government’s financial standing.

With more than 40 per cent of the country's Ksh150 billion ($2.3 billion) development budget funded by donor flows, the freeze is likely to destabilise the government's finances badly - with serious macroeconomic consequences.

As it is, the aid freeze will put at risk large capital expenditure outlays on the roads, education and health sectors, which are heavily financed by the country's European bilateral donors, especially grants.

Although most of what European creditors give Kenya is designated as project aid, the truth of the matter is that the government accesses most of this money in the form of reimbursables - cash refunded to the government by donors to replace what the government has already spent.

Thus, if the aid freeze is effected, one of the biggest sufferers will be the Ministry of Education -one of the largest projects, the Kenya Education Support Programme, is heavily funded by donors, with part of the money going directly to suppliers - what is referred to in jargon as appropriations-in-aid - and the remainder coming in as reimbursed revenues.

World Bank’s plan for post-conflict states discussed in Liberia

In the second leg of his week-long African tour, World Bank President Robert Zoellick flew to Liberia to meet with officials from the Liberian government, international development agencies and the private sector to search solutions to help rebuild the country.

The Bank president said it was imperative to bring in the private sector to help create jobs and rebuild the country’s infrastructure.

From Reuters:

…Zoellick met donors and U.N. officials to discuss how to fund Liberia's infrastructure needs, which the government puts at $700-800 million, mostly for roads. The Bank oversees a Liberia infrastructure trust fund which already has $90 million.

Liberia has struggled to attract private companies to build roads, mostly due to high costs importing equipment. Chinese firms have expressed interest but want to be sure they can get contracts if they spend the money bringing in the equipment.

Zoellick said post-conflict governments faced a shortage of skill-led workers, with many professionals having left the country and living abroad. The challenge was to either quickly train new professionals or compensate and attract back those who had left.

During his two-day trip Zoellick also meet with finance ministers of four other West African post-conflict countries – Guinea, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo and Liberia – to seek advice how to provide financial support to speed the recovery of these states. Other than providing monetary aid in a timely manner, I could not find any other concrete suggestions solicited from the group. More later, I hope.

The existential meaning of football in Africa

African fans don’t care how well their footballers play in Europe. What matters to those fans is how well their players play for the home team.

From New Statesman:

The African Nations Cup is important on many levels. It is not just a place where tomorrow's Drogbas, Kanus, Yakubus and Essiens will be spotted by European club scouts and the 16,000 journalists accredited to cover the tournament. The cup symbolises differing outlooks in the west and Africa about the importance of football to nations and ordinary people. It's a reminder that although wealth and fortune are facts of life in football and an important motivator for players, there are dreams and aspirations at the heart of the beautiful game that transcend money.

It's about the magic of having heroes. The reason why it is so important in Africa is that it shows the millions of young fans, who probably don't have enough to eat most days, who probably have no shoes on their feet and little education, that, like Samuel Eto'o, they too can make an impact on the world.

West African meningitis update

From the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which predictably sounds much more helpful in French: Bureau de la Coordination des Affaires Humanitaires.

(I don’t have a link because it was emailed to me. Hat tip: Julianna.)

A worrisome increase in cases of meningitis has been reported in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria since the end of 2007. Several suspected cases of the disease have also been reported in other countries of the region. In Burkina Faso alone, some 297 cases, of which 52 were fatal, have been recorded within the first two weeks of January 2008.

Some eighteen countries of the Sub-Saharan Africa, extending from western Senegal to eastern Ethiopia, are particularly prone to epidemics of meningococcal meningitis, especially during the dry season. The meningococcal meningitis is the only form of bacterial meningitis which can evolve into an epidemic. Although infants are, in general, the group the most vulnerable to the disease, adolescents and young adults can also contract it when an epidemic strikes.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has set emergency and epidemic thresholds at 5 cases per every 100,000 inhabitants and 10 cases per every 100,000 inhabitants per week within one health district respectively.

In 2007, West Africa was severely affected by an outbreak of respectively which resulted in deaths of some 2,000 people in 9 countries: Benin, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Togo and Burkina Faso, where 75 % of fatal cases were recorded.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Investment opportunities in Sierra Leone.

Is corruption gaining of foothold in Benin?

Beninese political parties and the customs services are the country’s most corrupt sectors, according to a survey jointly carried out by the government and the World Bank, the Journal Chretien reported.

“Out of the 971 persons questioned in the households, 80% felt that the political parties are the most corrupt sector, followed by customs services (79%), tax administration (70%), traffic control police officers (62%) », the survey reveals.

According to the survey released on Monday in Cotonou which also targeted 28 state services, 55% of the people questioned felt that « the Beninese customs are corrupt ».

The other corrupt services include the justice system (45%), the highway police, the dues and taxes, the criminal investigation police, the electricity and water services, the public works, and the education and health services.

The survey disclosed that "the corruption is a worrying issue in Benin" because it biases the stability and security of social actions and sullies the democratic values. Such drawbacks are likely to compromise the socio-economic development and law and order.

To fight this plague, the government issued a bill to prevent and crack down on corruption and similar offences, an official source said.

Of course, this survey looked at perceptions of corruption within Benin. When compared to other states, the country has a pretty good track record. According to the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, Benin does favorably well compared to other governments on the continent. Overall, the country ranks 13 of 47, but does score low in “Rule of law, transparency and corruption.”

Transparency International ranks Benin 118 out of 179 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index, placing it below other West African states like Ghana, on par with states like Mali, and well above states like Gambia, Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea.

Mauritanian refugees trickling home

Ever so slowly, Mauritanian refugees are beginning to return home from Senegal.

From IRIN:
Of the 35,000 Mauritanian refugees who settled in Senegal 18 years ago, 24,000 have expressed interest in returning home, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), although the Mauritanian government has said it is expecting 15,000 to 20,000 returnees.

After several delays to the start-date, and with many questions still remaining, 115 black Mauritanians who have lived in Senegal for over 18 years, returned home via Rosso a town in the south-east that borders Senegal on 29 January.

The governments of Mauritanian and Senegal are working with UNHCR to run the returns process in stages, starting with 20 families.

While UNHCR and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) will provide the returning refugees with blankets, mosquito nets, basic sanitation supplies and food for three months, after this they will be left to support themselves.

Moussa, a black Mauritanian from the capital Nouakchott, said that it is after the UN agencies leave that the difficulties might become more acute.

"The refugees have not received any concrete guarantees,” he said.

Diaspora representation at AU?

Senegal will propose to elevate Africa’s Diaspora to observer status at the body of the African Union during the set of two-day session beginning January 31.

From Journal Chretien:

The Diaspora would be represented in the AU conference for a five-year rotating mandate with a special observer status, said the report copied to APA.

Such initiative would also allow heads of states and governments to better prepare for the AU/Diaspora summit billed for the first semester of this year in South Africa.

The report said the proposal was made as part of a more comprehensive involvement of the Diaspora in realising the « African Union » project.

In this vein, Senegal had previously proposed to make the Diaspora the sixth region of the AU.

Africa’s Diaspora has become an increasingly important group with political and economic clout. The estimated 30 million strong Diaspora is responsible for sending for $40 billion in remittance flows back to the continent in 2006, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development. This money has become a significant form of development. In some countries, like Gambia and Mali, remittances make up more than 10 percent of the country’s GDP.

Most of Africa’s Diaspora includes people living in other African countries. However, a sizable number of Africans live in the United States and a significant migration of Africans exists in former European colonial powers, namely France, England, Netherlands and Italy.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mauritania squeezes money, promises out of World Bank

World Bank President Robert Zoellick traveled to Mauritania for a two-day visit with President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi.

From Reuters:

In a signal of support aimed at donors and private investors, Zoellick signed a memorandum of understanding with the Mauritanian government on the development of the country's mineral resources and still-growing oil sector, the expansion of Nouakchott port and exploitation of natural gas for electricity.

Zoellick’s week-long tour will also take him to Liberia, Ethiopia to attend an African Union summit and Mozambique.

Expanding economies allows Ghanaian media company to plant its flag in foreign countries

A Ghanaian group of radio stations have slowly been moving into markets in Sierra Leone, Togo, Democratic Republic of Congo and Gambia. Most recently, this group has moved into Liberia.

The group, Multimedia Group Limited, operators of Joy FM and five other radio stations in greater Accra and the Ashanti Regions, also has two online news websites. The company provides satellite-distributed programming for all its stations, including another 38 African and 13 stations in Europe where it shares affiliation programs.

In an interview with, Kwasi Twum, the group’s CEO, said that a globalized media environment has forced the company to look beyond Ghana’s borders to continue growing.

From the interview:

Discounting the claim that local companies do not have the capacity to challenge competitors in the sub region and beyond, the CEO asserted that Multimedia Group Ltd has the organisational capacity to grow, not only in West Africa but in Africa as a whole.

“Ghana has become a net importer of media; the time has come for us to change that,’ Mr Twum stated.

With a strength of 279 full time and 66 part time staff, the company has built internal capacity by focussing on training and development as the core feature of its operations, spending 4% of annual turnover on training, with staff benefiting from both local and international training programs.

Touching on challenges facing the media industry in Ghana, Mr Twum mentioned low advertising rates, pointing out that rates in Cote d’ Ivoire, are four times higher than in Ghana, while they are 12 times higher in Nigeria. The CEO said the potential for development in the broadcasting industry exists but for this to happen, the regulatory authorities would need to create a more conducive growth environment. A conscious effort should be made to promote the growth of individual private businesses to reach the world class standards which will make them competitive anywhere.

The Multimedia Group CEO intimated that the company had looked at the possibility of listing on the Stock Exchange in 2004 but the stock market went soft.

He said the idea had come up again and there has been support from its various quarters, given that it would give the Ghana bourse a boost but the company was of the view that the taking of such a step should be determined by the its long term objectives.

“The motivation for floatation should be very clear because the ultimate aim would be to create real value for the prospective shareholders,” he said.

In which we comment on the State of the Union as seen through the lens of America's relationship with Africa

The State of the Union of the United States of America.

For those people in need, here is the text of U.S. President George W. Bush’s final State of the Union speech, so you can read along with yourself. Also, Foreign Policy supplies a very handy list of the number of times Bush has peppered his seven State of the Union speeches with keywords – Iraq, terrorists, Osama bin Laden. The list allows you to gauge the importance of these issues over the years and where the Bush administration’s attention lay. (Hint: the term “freedom” is a big winner.) One problem is that Africa doesn’t make the list. I Don’t know if this is due to lack of references or what. (I could go back and count, but that sounds to be a rather painful undertaking.)

Finally, for those who don’t know, this is why Presidents must make the State of the Union speech, and why journalists must capitalize it.

First comment: In response to the newly negotiated free trade pact with Columbia, Bush claimed that if Congress fails to pass this agreement, “we will embolden the purveyors of false populism in our hemisphere,” a reference to Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Purveyors of false populism? I’ve always thought his speech writers were more than a little hokey – Patriot Act, Operation Enduring Freedom and all – but they definitely could have done better than this.

Fighting terrorists and leaders who terrorize
Let’s get on with the speech:

We are engaged in the defining ideological struggle of the 21st century. The terrorists oppose every principle of humanity and decency that we hold dear. Yet in this war on terror, there is one thing we and our enemies agree on: In the long run, men and women who are free to determine their own destinies will reject terror and refuse to live in tyranny.

I’ve never believed this. Fighting terrorism – with words, ideas and weapons – will definitely be a struggle, but it won’t be the defining issue of our time. For that, I think we have to look at the day’s major news event: the burial, with state honors, of Gen. Suharto of Indonesia. The U.S. government spent some 30 years (we hope) attempting to juggle the importance of befriending a strong leader who kept his potentially chaotic country together, but had a serious bloodthirsty streak. (Not just during the invasion of East Timor, either.)

We’ve all come a long way since the end of the Cold War and we understand a lot more about the potentially volatile features of supposedly stable states run by strongmen: the blatant corruption, the summary justice, the non-existent institutions.

The problem is strongmen are not going to go away. There are people in every country that carry a certain warm spot for authority. Perhaps it’s the hope of stability in a multi-ethnic country; distaste for the often-messy and vacuous side of participatory government; the myth that “directed” economies run better; the desire for law and order. Maybe some countries are best run by them. Maybe not.

This much I do know. Leaders of governments and international businesses, NGOs and other non-governmental institutions need to come to terms with how best to approach these strongmen and their people. Sure, I believe that “freedom” is good, but unlike President Bush I don’t lay some spiritual significance to its creation. Sensible people will always argue what it means to be “free.”

In real-world circumstances, governments and organizations have to make tough decisions. The things we now know about bad governance – another catchword, I understand – should help us come up with nuanced conclusions. This is why I think the debate on how to deal with dictators, not terror, will carry us into the near future.

U.S. opposes genocide and supports freedom
Anyway, let’s get to the concrete issues of foreign policy presented in Bush’s speech. Scanning this year’s State of the Union, one has to follow all the way to the bottom of the text until Bush mentions the world beyond the United States and/or the Middle East.

From the speech (Applause has been added by the White House.):

Protecting our nation from the dangers of a new century requires more than good intelligence and a strong military. It also requires changing the conditions that breed resentment and allow extremists to prey on despair. So America is using its influence to build a freer, more hopeful, and more compassionate world. This is a reflection of our national interest; it is the calling of our conscience.

America opposes genocide in Sudan. (Applause.) We support freedom in countries from Cuba and Zimbabwe to Belarus and Burma. (Applause.)

America is leading the fight against global poverty, with strong education initiatives and humanitarian assistance. We've also changed the way we deliver aid by launching the Millennium Challenge Account. This program strengthens democracy, transparency, and the rule of law in developing nations, and I ask you to fully fund this important initiative. (Applause.)

From the Council on Foreign Relations, here is the response of J. Anthony Holmes, former U.S. ambassador to Burkina Faso:

President Bush went through a short checklist of African issues in his speech, reiterating long-standing administration policies and programs in Africa. He restated U.S. opposition to “genocide in Sudan,” while proposing nothing to end it. He expressed his support for “freedom in Zimbabwe,” but did not suggest anything new that the United States would do to achieve it. The president endorsed U.S. leadership in the global fight against poverty but did not indicate an enhanced U.S. commitment.

He called on Congress to “fully fund” his signature Millennium Challenge Corporation, which despite solid bipartisan support has been allocated not more than half of the funding that the administration has requested in the past several years. He also urged Congress to pass a new law that would, for the first time, permit U.S. taxpayers’ funds to purchase food surpluses generated by foreign farmers. (To date, the United States can purchase excess farm production only from American farmers.) While he mentioned his anti-malaria initiative in Africa, Bush reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS and asked Congress to appropriate $30 billion over the next five years for that battle.

While signaling his strong support for continued U.S. engagement in Africa, the president did not acknowledge the difficult tradeoffs that must be made, in terms of both policy concerns and resource allocations, as the U.S. government sets its international priorities for the coming year.

Back to Bush’s speech

America is leading the fight against global hunger. Today, more than half the world's food aid comes from the United States. And tonight, I ask Congress to support an innovative proposal to provide food assistance by purchasing crops directly from farmers in the developing world, so we can build up local agriculture and help break the cycle of famine. (Applause.)

America is leading the fight against disease. With your help, we're working to cut by half the number of malaria-related deaths in 15 African nations. And our Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is treating 1.4 million people. We can bring healing and hope to many more. So I ask you to maintain the principles that have changed behavior and made this program a success. And I call on you to double our initial commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS by approving an additional $30 billion over the next five years. (Applause.)

From CFR again, here is the response from Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Laurie Garrett:

The key announcement made in regard to global health issues was President Bush’s call for a doubling of funding for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR): this is not new. The call to reauthorize funding for PEPFAR at twice its current level, bringing it to $30 billion, for five years worth of HIV/AIDS programs in 15 countries sounds impressive, but it was included in the White House FY09 budget request, sent to Congress months ago. In both the House and Senate Democrats well surpassed the Bush administration request, counter-offering $50 billion. In effect, then, the President was asking Congress to reduce PEPFAR spending by $20 billion.

The President mentioned plans to reduce malaria illness by half in sixteen countries. Here, again, he has backed off from higher ground. In prior speeches, Bush called for “eradicating malaria illness in Africa,” a far larger goal.

Light at the end of the tunnel
We won’t have Bush to kick around much longer. He came into office claiming his administration wasn’t going to try and change the world. Rather, it was going to do a few things well. Admittedly, Sept. 11, 2001 amended Bush’s dreams. In the turmoil, he found a new lens to look at the world through: terrorism.

This has lit more than a few wildfires. But those issues remain largely outside this blog’s purview. Outside the Middle East and a few other “hotbed” states – the Philippines, Pakistan, Somalia, for example – the administration has refused to admit the rest of the world doesn’t fit snugly into their boxes. Thus, these non-aligned-to-the-war-on-terror states have been largely ignored as the administration has scrambled to keep its many fronts going.

This may not be a terrible thing. As the U.S. has embroiled itself in two wars, the rest of the world has learned to move on. The attraction of terrorism (to the media and to radicals) will wear off as it had in the past. Perhaps the next big issue will be the economic and political rise of those second- and third-world countries this administration – and, frankly, its predecessors –has largely ignored. Talk about world changing.

Hey, innocents abroad: A warning about America

We like to concentrate on Africa at this site. Not how Americans or Europeans view Africa, but more how Africa sees itself. Of course, it’s very difficult. There’s nearly 900 million Africans, yet I largely side with the people with access to the internet – or those in my personal life. Some international issues have certain effects on Africa, and vice-versa. Finally, I am not African. To me, there's enough relevant information regarding the continent that comes from outside of Africa. Maybe it’s by Africans living abroad or foreigners with a special take on the continent. Maybe it’s a smart-talking dude who makes me laugh. Who knows?

This is all leading somewhere, trust me. It comes in the form of a warning. We at Africa Flak are planning to publish some interviews concerning the upcoming U.S. election(s), investigations into the effects of the U.S. Farm Bill (mainly dealing with agriculture subsidies and food aid resources), and a post analyzing statements made by President George Bush – who is soon to travel to Africa – during his yearly State of the Union Speech.

Anyway, there’s going to be a lot of American-centric news emanating from this site for the next little while. Please be patient. Or, hold your nose. Or do whatever it is you do to accustom yourself to the already daily avalanche of “Let-me-tell-you-this” American-style information.

It’s not that we hate America. There’s just enough noise already coming from their room – and not enough from Africa.

Monday, January 28, 2008

West Africa: Home to the world's most expensive and inefficient road system

“It costs more to move goods across West African countries by road than any other region in the world due to the huge unofficial payments business owners have to make at the borders,” says Business Day in Nigeria.

From the Story:

WATH, a regional trade facilitator established by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), says the elimination of corruption at the borders is critical to the success of the economic integration aspirations of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The unofficial payments, WATH noted, most times cost more than what traders pay to the official sources. West Africa, the agency maintains, has the least efficient trucking in the world due to delays at numerous road check-points and border posts as a result of bribe-taking by uniformed officers such as the police, customs and immigration officials as well as gendarmes.

“West Africa has the most expensive, least efficient road transport in the world. Reasons include the high costs of inputs and taxation, low capacity use, overloaded vehicles running on degraded roads, and a surfeit of old, dilapidated trucks operating when they should be retired from the fleet.

“Another source of high costs is road barriers, set up mostly by law-enforcement agents to exact bribes from truckers. Bribery and delays also occur at border crossings, where officials may exploit the need to redo paperwork for cargo as part of the transition from one country to the next”

L'Arche de Zoe get eight years in France for kidnapping

From the BBC.

In Africa, everyone is home, but the lights are out

How important is it to have electricity in your home in Africa? It’s a convenience, yes, but would it help increase development? Most day-to-day living takes place out of doors (even in places like Ouagadougou), and heat is not really an issue in West Africa. Fans, of course, help. But are refrigerators a necessity? Meats and other food could be stored for longer periods of time without being covered by bacteria-carrying flies. How important are lights in a country where the sun goes down around 6 pm every night? You could make the argument it would be better for school kids who often have to sit under street lights to read past dark.

People have learned to cope, of course. People drink in bars with electricity in order to plug in and charge their cell phones. Televisions run on car batteries. So do small fluorescent lights. Cooking can be done on bottled gas and, in a less sustainable fashion, wood. Of course, this is very time consuming to collect, and often remains the responsibility of young girls who miss school for the pleasure of fulfilling this chore.

Regardless of how people feel on the development debate, the lights are mostly out across Africa. This map will show you. On average, only five percent of Africa’s population enjoys access to electricity. In rural areas, that number drops to about 2 percent.

A growing necessity
What may be seen as a luxury for home, electricity is a necessity for businesses. Machines or equipment can’t run without a current; nor can computers or lights. Cell phones won’t get charged.

What’s worrisome for entrepreneurs is not the lack of electricity, but an unstable electrical supply. When electricity is depended on, entrepreneurs embark in dangerous territory when the supply is cut or inconsistent. Stock could spoil; surges could damage machines; the workforce may be sent home without pay. The problem is that much of the continent’s manufacturing sector works in urban areas, and inconsistent electrical supplies in cities have become the norm. Growing metro regions sap a country’s electrical capability.

But in rural areas, where the possibilities of work outside of agriculture are minimal, a lack of electricity remains problem number one. Here is a good overview of small energy cooperatives making and selling power to everyday folks in rural Mali and Burkina Faso.

Resources, what resources?
On the macro level, however, Africa possesses enough resources to meet all its energy needs. Oil is a well known commodity. The continent’s fertile river systems – the Nile in the north, the Zambezi and Congo in the South and the Volta and Niger in West Africa – could easily be tapped for power. “The hydro potential of the Democratic Republic of Congo alone is estimated to be sufficient to provide three times as much power as Africa currently consumes,” writes Itai Madamombe in Africa Renewal, a UN-sponsored magazine.

West African energy production and consumption is a tale of the haves – Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire – and the have nots – Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. For those three relatively poor Sahelian countries, located far from coastal energy producers, electricity is definitely viewed as a luxury. (My neighborhood not included.)

The problem appears to be two fold. Costs, for one: electricity in import countries like Burkina Faso and Mali can be prohibitively expensive for most people; Secondly, the reach of electrical utilities is low because of old power plants and aging equipment. This is a problem the entire sub-region and the rest of the continent, writes Madamombe in Africa Renewal:

The bulk of power plants and transmission facilities were built in the 1950s and 1960s. Little investment and maintenance has left the infrastructure creaking at the seams. Nigeria, a prime example, operates at one-third of its installed capacity due to aging equipment.

Times are changing, however. This recent report (cited above) on Independent Power Producers claims that people are willing to pay for electricity, but cannot receive it because of the limited reach of public utilities. The reach of these IPPs is, by definition, very limited: perhaps 50 to a couple hundred houses receiving energy. But their importance is staggering.

The writers have found that these local power supplies are, in fact, cheaper than using other forms of power. In the examples of Mali and Burkina Faso, running a single appliance costs around 1,500 CFA ($3.33) per month, cheaper than car batteries, which must be charged every three or four days, totaling nearly 4,000 CFA ($8.90) per month. (Car batteries also have a finite life span.)

Electricity Integration
Cote d’Ivoire, which already exports electricity to Togo, Benin and Burkina Faso, recently announced the creation of 500 km worth of power lines through the northern part of the country to Mali, where it will export 200 megawatts of electricity. The move is seen as a positive step not only for southern Mali’s development, but also for Cote d’Ivoire because the country was recently divided in two due to a prolonged civil war.

One problem facing the electricity project, which should be complete in 2010, is that Cote d’Ivoire itself is undergoing an expansion of its power grid at a time when consumption appears to be increasing faster than production. Cote d’Ivoire has long used gas-fired plants and dams to create power, but with the country’s consumption already increasing six or seven percent per year, blackouts like those witnessed in 2007 may become more common.

The Cote d’Ivoire-Mali project is part of a regional plan called the West African Power Pool, created in 2000 by the 15 ECOWAS-member states, that strives to increase power production and energy integration, allowing electricity to move freely across borders. This would allow countries to pool technical and mechanical resources and diversify everyone’s energy supplies. And, of course, hopefully bring down energy prices.

WAPP is also researching renewable energy sources, like wind, solar and biofuels.

$150 for Electric Company and Water Works?
One constant in West African power sectors is that the state remains a major player. Only Cape Verde and Cote d’Ivoire have portions of their sectors owned by foreign private companies, according to this report. And only Benin, Togo and Ghana allow independent distribution companies. (Presently, five countries permit IPPs: Burkina, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal.)

In a paper for the World Bank, a researcher argues the high rate of state ownership in West African public utilities takes away the profit motive to improve performance and “is liable to result in the excessive costs, low service quality, poor investment decisions, and lack of innovation in supplying customers in these markets.”

For governments that run their energy sectors, the only method to bring down electricity prices is by increasing user subsidies, never a popular method with World Bankers. The better way, researchers claim, is to allow private firms search out new markets they’ll find profitable, passing along savings to their customers. However, this group of researchers found that increased privatization in the energy sector has brought on greater rates of electrification for the poor, who often reside in rural areas. (The authors, Stephen Karekezi and John Kimani, argue electricity rates to the poor should drive the argument on the efficacy of reform.)

In defense of the World Bank paper, the author, John E. Besant-Jones, is less sanguine than you'd expect about developing countries jumping directly into reform. That’s because the power sector is unlike other areas of Bretton Woods-sponsored state retrenchment: Education and public health. One, the power sector is very complex, making highly technical specialists necessary; secondly, building new infrastructure requires a very large influx of cash. These reasons have led to failures (especially in the form of higher prices) when West African states have attempted to radically reform their energy sector.

Back to development
Because energy is so important for economic development, it is seen as a pre-requisite to lift many in Africa out of poverty. This is especially true for those who live in rural areas.

Presently, fossil fuels presently provide much of Africa’s energy consumption. Like Western countries, Africa needs to begin searching alternatives.

According to a speech at a workshop titled "Electricity Access and Development Challenge in Africa,” improved energy access will free up women’s time, reduce air pollution by moving away from burning charcoal and wood for cooking, thus improving health. (Girls not needed for collecting wood may find their ways back in the classroom.) Medical care will also be revolutionized, especially for maternal care, drug storage and increased sterilization.

For economic benefits, Africans could begin processing some of their many natural products – shea butter, cotton, palm oil, etc – that are made elsewhere to high profit margins.

Benin: Rising sea waters threaten property and jobs

“Huge breakers constantly battering Benin's coast - and the rest of the shoreline on the Gulf of Guinea - are starting to take their toll,” writes South Africa’s IOL. “Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Nigeria are also fighting to stop the sea from gulping up chunks of land.”

The erosion to Benin’s coastline is staggering. East of Cotonou, since the country’s independence from France in 1960, the beach has retreated some 400 meters, claims a member of the UN Environmental Program. The encroachment of water affects properties along the beach in obvious physical ways, but subtle effects are now seen. For example, fishermen now experience problems getting their boats through the incoming rush of tide.

The story refers to a study from Columbia University (which I can’t find) that estimates sea water levels could rise nearly 50 centimeters by the end of the century. Newly minted Nobel Peace laureates, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says sea levels could rise between 20 and 60 cm in that time period.

But these predictions due to Global Warming are not the only problem exacerbating issues facing West Africa’s coast. Local human activities can also be blamed. The construction of two massive dams, one in Benin and one in Ghana, on rivers near the coasts send discharge far into the ocean that is usually meant to stabilize the shoreline. People make cement by using beach sand – more than one million cubic meters each year in Benin alone, according to IRIN. We must also take into account all the land lost from dredging the coastline to build the region’s major ports in Abidjan, Tema, Ghana, Lomé, Togo and Cotonou.

Who knows how much this has affected places like Grand Popo, a small town near Togo’s border with Benin, that now rests largely underwater. Could a big urban area like Cotonou find itself submerged?

From the IOL story:

A number of other studies have underscored just how quickly most of Cotonou, Benin's commercial capital, could disappear under the waves.

One by the French firm SOGREAH-Laboratoire DEFT said: "If nothing is done before 2025, the coastline will lie 950 metres farther inland than it did in 1963."

Hardest hit would be the section of Cotonou known as Les Ambassadeurs, which the French study said would be swallowed up completely, as would the road that links the administrative capital Porto Novo to Lagos in Nigeria. Other districts of Cotonou could follow pretty quickly, it warned.

But it was only in September that the government banned local construction companies from pumping sand from the seacoast and told them to use sand from rivers instead.

Benin's next big plan is to build dikes to protect its 125-kilometre coastline. The €50-million project financed partially by the World Bank is set to start in first half 2008.

"Our first goal, stopping the extraction of sea sand, has been achieved. We are now going to build dikes in two directions starting from Cotonou channel: towards the Togolese border and towards the Nigerian border," Urban Planning Minister Francois Noudegbessi told AFP.

UNEP experts, however, said that only a full regional dike would be beneficial, stretching at least along the five countries from Ivory Coast east to Nigeria.

Economic considerations
Its coastline brings in a good portion of Benin’s GDP. Continuing sea level rises could easily destabilize the country’s socio-economic-environmental balance: Great financial resources may have to be diverted to build dikes and other water control systems; those who rely on the water for work, like fishermen, may struggle to keep up with the great changes in their occupations; coastal villages may be forced to move inland, possibly creating land tenure issues; the loss of coastal wetlands may affect the availability of clean drinking water.

This study tries to take that all into account. By reviewing land height and population density, researchers predict that if West African coastlines rise by one meter over the next 90 years, 2.3 million people could be directly affected, costing economies as much as $3.6 billion when compared to GDP. If water levels increase by five meters, it will affect 3.3 million people and total $4.9 billion in GDP.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Zenawi to West: Don’t force democracy upon Africa, but keep the checks coming

From the Guardian:

Western countries should stop trying to browbeat Kenya's warring political leaders into submission and do more in practical terms to prevent poverty, lack of opportunity, and Islamist terrorism from further destabilising the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, has told the Guardian.

"The threat of western sanctions as a response to the current crisis in Kenya is very, very misguided," Meles said. "If it is presumed that the Kenyans will democratise in order to eat the peanuts of development assistance from the European Union, for example, it would be a big mistake."

Placing pressure on resources to influence the post-election process, which has degenerated into violence amid claims of government-engineered fraud, would not work and could be counter-productive, he said.

So says the man who has been in power since 1995 and whose government received $1.9 billion in bilateral and multilateral aid in 2007, the world’s fifth highest amount.

What does that money buy? Here’s what the U.S. Dept. of State reported about Ethiopia’s 2005 parliamentary elections:

After the May elections, serious human rights abuses occurred, when the opposition parties refused to accept the announced results, and in November after the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) called for civil disobedience, which resulted in widespread riots and excessive use of force by the police and military. Although there were some improvements, the government's human rights record remained poor and worsened in some areas. In the period leading up to the May national elections, campaigning was open and debates were televised. The Carter Center described this period as credible and commendable. However, in the period following the elections, authorities arbitrarily detained, beat, and killed opposition members, ethnic minorities, NGO workers, and members of the press. Authorities also imposed additional restrictions on civil liberties, including freedom of the press and freedom of assembly.

For documentation of some of the Ethiopian Army’s handiwork during its invasion of Somalia, taken from testimony from Human Rights Watch:

In the Ogaden, we have documented massive crimes by the Ethiopian army, including civilians targeted intentionally; villages burned to the ground as part of a campaign of collective punishment; public executions meant to terrify onlooking villagers; rampant sexual violence used as a tool of warfare; thousands of arbitrary arrests and widespread and sometimes deadly torture and beatings in military custody; a humanitarian and trade blockade on the entire conflict area; and hundreds of thousands of people forced away from their homes and driven to hunger and malnutrition.
He's right, democracy alone will not pull a country out of poverty. Good governance, however, does help. The Mo Ibrahim Good Governance Index rates Ethiopia 27 out of 48 states. I'd call that C work. Corruption is also important in the fight against poverty and the battle against Islamist terrorists, who prey on crooked governments. But the fight against corruption is not an exceptionally bright spot for the Zenawi regime, either. Transparency International ranks Ethiopia 138 out of 179 in its Corruption Perception Index.

One way to pull a country out of poverty is to make it a little easier to do business there. Ethiopia does rank well against other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, but it remains in the bottom half of the "Ease of Doing Business" index when compared to the rest of the world.

British teens handed one-year sentences for transporting cocaine

From Ghanaian Chronicle.

The sentence, according to the court was to take effect from July 18, last year, the day the girls were remanded into custody.

In effect, the two would be spending about three months at the borstal home, where they are expected to be incarcerated.

The convicts, both residents of North London were arrested on July 2, 2007 at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, when they were attempting to export 6 kilograms (13 lbs) of cocaine.

The substance was found hidden in the compartments of their laptop computer bags, when they were about to board a British Airways flight to London.

Optimism follows malaria vaccine trials

Researchers remain optimistic after the results of an initial test of a new malaria vaccine showed a six-fold increase to the body’s defense system against the mosquito-born disease. The doctors supervising the study from the Malaria Research and Training Center at the University of Bamako point out that the initial survey only included 60 participants, one-third of whom received a full dose of the vaccine, another third taking a half dose and the final third took a control dose of a licensed rabies vaccine.

Each participant received three doses of their respective treatments, spaced one month apart. And all participants showed prior exposure to malaria parasites.

From Science News:

Those who received the candidate vaccine tolerated it very well and experienced a significant boost (up to a sixfold rise) in levels of vaccine-specific antibodies, while those who received the rabies vaccine had declining levels of antibodies as the rainy season receded.

Researchers will now increase the study to include 400 children in Mali, all between the ages of one years old and six.

How to get malaria
Malaria is a parasitic infection transferred through female Anopheles mosquitoes. (Males do not feed on blood.) These mosquitoes act as transmitters of the disease by receiving the malaria parasite by simply stinging an infected person. These females usually bite at night, but they transfer the disease through saliva, injecting a protozoan parasite called Plasmodium (or in some extreme cases Plasmodium falciparum) into the bloodstream of the host (you or your friends).

Once the human (you) becomes infected, malaria develops in two separate stages: Through the liver or directly to red blood cells. If the Plasmodium heads to the liver, it can lie dormant for up to two weeks where it begins attacking by asexually reproducing inside red blood cells. Once enough of the parasite is available to attack the red blood cells, it could break out to invade other cells. This is what creates fevers in the host body, which is attempting to fight back the attack on its red blood cells. By staying within the cells, malaria evades the body’s immune system and can continue its attack.

The parasite often attacks in stages, producing cyclical periods of hot and cold in the body. For the most part, malaria causes symptoms very similar to the flu: chills, headache, muscle ache, vomiting and malaise (whatever that means). However, the Center for Disease Control warns, if malaria is left untreated some people can develop complications like brain disease, anemia and kidney failure.

Economic affects
The CDC estimates that each year 500 million are treated for malaria at a hospital or clinic. At least six out of ten of those falling sick reside in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria kills an estimated one million people per year, and sub-Saharan Africa makes up 80 percent of those victims. In Africa, children make up a large majority of malaria deaths.

For adults who fall ill from the disease, its effect on income is substantial. Lost hours due to sick time and money spent on treatment adds up to reducing sub-Saharan Africa’s economic growth by 1.3 percent each year, according to findings from a study conducted by the World Health Organization and the London School of Hygiene and Tropic Medicine.. Taken all together, Africa has lost an estimated $100 billion if malaria had been wiped out in Africa 35 years ago

There are also researchers who claim that countries with high malaria incidences (and mortality rates) lose investment opportunities. Also, tourism and travel to that country may by inhibited by high malaria rates.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ignoring its own advice to other nations, U.S. government plans no ‘shock treatment’ for ailing economy

File this under irony (or is that ironical?). Maybe development guru Jeffrey Sachs could offer a helping hand.

From the Los Angeles Times:

In the 1990s, when Latin America and Asia were rocked by financial crises similar to the one now dogging the United States, Washington officials were quick with stern advice: Don't bail out distressed banks. Don't intervene when stock market and real estate bubbles pop. Let your overblown economies shrink to their natural levels.

"It was all, 'You've got to be tough and take your castor oil,' " said Joseph E. Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Clinton and former vice president of the World Bank.

To date, U.S. officials haven't followed any of the advice they so readily dispensed to others. They have tried to aid troubled banks. They have slashed interest rates to help the struggling housing and stock markets. They have made it clear that they will go to extreme lengths to keep the American economy out of recession.

A muder in Burkina Faso raises all kinds of difficult questions

Murder makes an interesting topic. It’s almost too late to pass of this as local news, but murder, murder always makes for an interesting topic. Queue ominous choral music. Allude to overtones of money, power and the universal need to better oneself. This also may be a story about race and the place foreigners occupy in West Africa. But at the bottom, I'll argue, this tale most likely concerns ideas about the rich impeding the economic growth of the poor.

It was nearly two weeks ago when the corpse of Idrissa Ouedraogo, a money changer who plied his trade in front of the airport, was found in his house. His friends and colleagues noted that had been with a Lebanese who had apparently wanted to change around $50,000.

Shortly after finding the body, the authorities discovered that the Lebanese and his driver had fled in his boss’ car for Cote d’Ivoire, which is where he lived eight months prior to moving to Ouagadougou. In fact, he had an Ivorian passport and an Ivorian wife with an eight month old baby. He apparently told border guards that he was borrowing his boss’ car to take his sick baby to a hospital in Abidjan, where he could get better treatment because of his Ivorian nationality.

As the news circulated through town, the small Lebanese community of roughly 800 held two overriding fears. First, they worried over the act of the new member of their community, who would not fare well if he was caught in Burkina Faso. Secondly, this class of merchants and businessmen who were part of a Diaspora long installed in West Africa feared for their safety and security of their businesses if the local population were to inflict retribution for the murder of their compatriot. Community and political leaders immediately relayed messages down to Lebanese in Abidjan as Burkinabé authorities relayed notices to Interpol.

This proved to be too late. The Lebanese escaped from Abidjan on a Royal Air Maroc flight, yet he was also missed by the authorities in Casablanca. By the time the law caught up with him, he had arrived in Beirut.

By decree of the government, the press didn’t publish much information regarding the crime, especially the name or origin of the perpetrator. Since the body was not found until Friday morning, the newspapers were out of the game until their Monday editions came out. The radio and television – where most people receive their news – were mostly silent on the matter. Of course, this may have helped fuel the rumor mill, wrote another blogger in Burkina.

Lebanese shopkeepers in Ouagadougou closed up their shops on Friday afternoon. Until Tuesday morning they remained shuttered.

Lessons from another murder
When the press came back online involving the crime early next week, their argument for silence was a healthy fear of retribution. It was not the first time a perceived rich and power business entity would feel the wrath of people who felt justice had been cheated. It was not much less than a year ago when another murder, or set of murders, shook Ouagadougou.

As I recall, two men called upon Modibo Maiga, main owner of Kundé bars, chain in Ouagadougou known for their loud music, dancing and all-night festivities, to purchase his truck. The two took the truck out for a test drive, and their friends never saw them again. A few days later, their bodies were found in a reservoir near the edge of town. They had been decapitated, and I believe their sex organs were removed. The city was shocked – not only because of the murders, but their brutality. I remember driving through town and trying to turn left as the funeral procession arrived. I must have waited 15 minutes before attempting to take another route.

Rumors flew that it was black magic that attracted so many people to the Kunde bars – not the more earth-bound system of cold beer, loud music and dance girls. To keep the bars full every day and night, Kunde’s owners had to pay their debts to the spirits through these ritual killings. As someone who has lived in Burkina Faso pointed out to me, black magic is common here, but it never appears to be a force of good. It is used to harm people.

The number, and anger, of these mourners soon grew. The subtext, of course, is money and power. The chain of bars have made Kunde’s owners rich and acquainted them with those in power. Most Ouagalais understand that this recipe means a pardon would be forthcoming for these crimes. The crowd that began gathering at the original Kunde bars had other plans. All told, more than half of the chains 33 bars were burnt down, but not before their interiors were looted. One Kunde employee was killed. A crowd then took revenge on the home of Modibo Maiga, lighting it on fire and blocking the fire trucks from arriving on the scene.

The leaders of the Kunde bar were taken into custody for what the police called “protection.” And a few days later, they appeared at a press conference exclaiming their innocence. They had been cleared by the police, and would now help the victims’ families properly mourn the dead. Even with the destruction of more than 20 of their bars. (Many reopened within the month; some never would.)

The idea of vigilante justice is nothing new to Burkina Faso. The press patted itself on the back with the knowledge they may have stopped groups rampaging through Lebanese stores over the murder of Idrissa. That’s because more so even than the owners of the Kunde, the Lebanese are seen by most as rich merchants and business owners. But they are also seen as being mostly foreign, which can translates into appearing above the law.

A history lesson
Since their arrival in West Africa at the tail end of the 19th century, it has been hard for the Lebanese to not be seen as being separate and above the law. The continent was under colonial rule then, and it was French authorities who re-routed Lebanese stopping in Marseilles on the way to immigrating to Brazil and the U.S. Some of the passengers did not have enough fare to reach the Western Hemisphere; others could not pass U.S. health tests. The French simply routed their boats to Dakar, by then the French capital of West Africa. These immigrants had left behind abject poverty in Lebanon, Michael Crowder in West Africa Under Colonial Rule explains, and decided that facing difficulties in West Africa made more sense than returning home empty handed.

In fact, the opposite happened. Their fortunes quickly took off. Unlike European merchants in West Africa, Lebanese were willing to live at a level even below local standards. The Lebanese were content with living with lower profit margins, which allowed them to sell their wares at prices below their competitors. They hired family members, paying them little and keeping overhead low. They returned most profits to the business. Learning African languages were not above them. Nor was haggling. What truly set them apart was credit. Through other Lebanese family members, one could get credit to set themselves up in business.

Their numbers quickly grew. In French West Africa, a census counted 28 Lebanese in 1897; three years later, there were 276. At the end of the twentieth century’s first decade, 1,100 Lebanese were counted. By the end of the 1920s, Lebanese virtually ran all the retail and middleman trade throughout much of West Africa. Africans were relegated to traditional trades, like kola nuts, cattle and dried fish. Otherwise they merely became producers in their own economy. Europeans moved on to the large import-export houses and some colonial set asides.

By independence, Lebanese traders and businessmen were firmly established everywhere in West Africa. I know a Lebanese man born 40 years ago in Dakar whose father, he tells me, opened the first candy factory in West Africa. He makes soap in Burkina and plastic bags in Cote d’Ivoire. Who knows what his sons will do. If they want, they’ll have access to a pool of credit much deeper than 99 out of 100 entrepreneurial Africans. This lack of credit is perceived as the major stumbling block for Africans to expand their business ventures. As Crowder points out, the difference in credit is not only due to perceived and real riches of Lebanese, but also to nuances of African culture. “The African was bound by his extended family so that profits which would be ploughed back by the Lebanese to his business would have to be spent on a cousin, a wedding, a funeral, a baptismal ceremony.”

In the mind of some Africans, the Lebanese now held the position vacated by former European colonial masters. Instead of running political lives as the Europeans did, the Lebanese controlled the commercial and economic lives of Africans. They also hired Africans, and as this blogger points out, they are seen as being very strict. In some communities this lead to hostility. This could stem from the impotence Africans feel in the face of this growing economic power.

At least to one observer this power meant Lebanese were in cahoots with often corrupt African leaders, who understood how tied Lebanese businesses interests were to the rest of the region. As a side note, a Burkinabé friend says he has a bet with his friends, asking them to call him when they spot a Lebanese in a local gas station. He’s convinced the Lebanese are surreptitiously importing gas into the country without paying import duties – in full knowledge of those in power – depriving the state of much needed financial resources and providing cheaper gas for their people.

From Lansana Gberie in A Dirty War in West Africa: The RUF and the Destruction of Sierra Leone:

For well over a century in West Africa the Lebanese have failed (or rather refused) to integrate into their host societies, concentrating almost wholly on trading. A large number of the more successful continued to maintain close ties to the politics of the Middle East, a reality that only compounds their image in much of West Africa as exploitative and corrupt. Lacking serious local political ties, the Lebanese in West Africa have over the decades since independence shown no scruples about working with unsavory political and other groups as long as money can be made. It is therefore not surprising a number of key Lebanese figures in the region were implicated in the ‘conflict’ diamond trade with the RUF.

Back to Ouagadougou
The reason for Lebanese closing their businesses were two fold: to keep the crowds from attacking their employees and their stock; and to show proper respect for the dead. When shops reopened Tuesday, Lebanese owners unfailingly told the press how they unquestionably closed their doors for the weekend, at a time when they did their best business, citing their “enormous” loss to profits. The leader of the Lebanese community quickly pointed out that the killer was not a real member of the Burkinabé Lebanese community; rather, he was portrayed as being merely a somebody who came up here a few months ago from Cote d’Ivoire to help manage a shop. For its part, the Lebanese Consul will pay the victim’s family $225 a month for five years. They have also engaged the services of two lawyers, one for the prosecution and one for the defense, for the capital trial, which will take place in Beirut because the two countries don’t share an extradition treaty. (Even if they did, the Consul candidly admitted that it was doubtful the government of Lebanon would extradite a “compatriot”) Two members of the victim’s family will also travel to witness the travel

As the press duly noted, not as much as a harsh word was spoken towards a Lebanese in the days after the murder. Not to their faces at least. Some observers have detected a grumbling undercurrent, not only against Lebanese but towards all foreigners who appear to live above the law. I’ll argue that economics plays a much larger role than any xenophobia creeping into Burkinabé culture.

The economic differences between foreigners and locals are apparent with anyone with working eyes. Should it be this drastic, however? Burkina Faso is staring down the barrel of nearly seven years of economic growth. More than the Lebanese and a few connected locals should be profiting from this. Yet people aren’t. Even as huge mansions go up and fancy BMWs and Mercedes 4x4s start to clog the streets.

Of course, finding a pathway to economic growth isn’t the responsibility of the Lebanese. The next time a splashy murder like this comes about, however, they may have wished their Burkinabé partners in government did a little more for the common person.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Niger: Driver of French journalists freed

From Reporters Without Borders:

Al-Hassane Abdourahman, the driver of French journalists Thomas Dandois and Pierre Creisson, was released today without having to pay bail, Reporters Without Borders has learned from his lawyer. The organisation is delighted by the decision, taken by the investigating judge in charge of the case.

Abdourahman had been held in Kollo prison camp (20 km south of Niamey) on a charge of "complicity in a violation of state security." His lawyer, Daouda Samna, filed a request for his release on 18 January after a similar request submitted by the lawyer of the two French journalists was accepted. "He left the prison this morning and is now with his family," Samna said.

Both Dandois and Creisson were freed on bail late last week.

The death of Françafrique? Or, old wine in new bottles?

Jean-Marie Bockel, the French minister of overseas aid, recently dropped a bomb: He’d like to sign the death certificate for “Françafrique,” the oft-corrupt, old boy network France uses to do business with its former colonies. The reason? It’s a waste of money that hinders the development of Africa.

France is a “generous” country, he says, last year alone doling out €9 billion in development aid through the French Development Agency. However, he admits there is a creeping skepticism regarding the results obtained from spending all these Euros. “I understand this skepticism. The efficacy of our aid, just like that given by other donors, is far from being optimal. It is useless to deny it. The results of several decades of development aid to Africa are disappointing,” he told an audience on January 15.

While the French cooperation with Africa has yielded some good results, Blockel is certain the system remains bankrupt at its core. (The translation is mine, so please don't quote me. Here's the original.)

It is necessary to consider what did not work, to understand how to replace the raison d'être for development aid, so that our generosity is effective. One knows part of the answer. One of the first problems for development is bad governorship, the wasting of the public funds, the negligence of failing administrative structures, the predation of certain leaders. Everyone knows it, well little say it.

…When the barrel is with more than 100 dollars, and that important oil-producing countries do not manage to develop themselves, their governance is in question. When the social indicators of these countries stagnate or regress while a minority carries out a luxurious way of life, their governance is in question. What becomes of these oil incomes? Why does the population not profit from this money? Is it legitimate that our development aid is allotted to countries which waste their own resources?

…It is to the Africans themselves to judge the action of their leaders. My intention is not to adopt a posture of moralism; it is to require efficiency. Initially because these are sums of money from the State, I want to spend them correctly. But also, because it is of our interest, as French, Europeans, to see Africa developing.

I have long practiced the culture of results and evaluation desired by president Sarkozy. I want to apply it to development aid. All too often, the evaluation of assistance is a long document proving to explain why the results were only reached "partially.” And sometimes, really very partially... I want a true evaluation, and when that does not work, one will stop (the aid).

He then reminded the audience that this is not a pretext for unilaterally canceling or decreasing aid. On the contrary, aid will increase, but – and this is the important part –on the condition that countries put forward effective policies and practice good governance. To do this, the French government will have to dismantle and sweep away “Françafrique” – code words for the obsolete system of safeguarding particular interests, the defense of secure incomes, the propping up of criminals masquerading as political leaders.

Today, in front of you, I want to sign the death certificate of "Françafrique." I want to turn the page on the practices of another time, on a mode of ambiguous relationships and complacency, from which some, [in France] like over there [in Africa], take advantage [of the situation] to the detriment of the general interest and development.

His proposals include: French cooperants will be evaluated not only by the host governments, but through a dialogue with the civil society in these countries, made up of the youth and the elites. He also proposes to define France’s development priorities with the Parliament, including a tallying of progress in the broad sense of governance (democracy, human rights, fight against corruption, business environment) for the ten countries most aided by France. Finally, he hopes to open up the dialogue regarding the goals and efficacy of French development not only to the government, but also to include such groups as NGOs and businesses.

Radical? On one hand, this speech comes from a member of the government which helped define the term “neo-colonialism.” A government where the previous head of state lamented the loss of Togo’s long-serving psychopath Eyadema Gnassingbé as a “close, personal friend.” A government that had not allowed – the Independent in London once claimed – “perestroika to take place” in its former colonies. A government where companies who are run by people with close ties to former leaders continue to receive preferential treatment in former colonies – Areva, I am looking at you.

Others are not so sure. Roland Marchal, a fellow at the Center for International Studies, recently wrote a piece in CSIS Online Forum claiming the Sarkozy government may have grand ideas regarding France’s new relationship with Africa, but the importance of the continent will soon be eclipsed by other domestic and European issues.

Sarkozy uses the media well, and he is interested in proving how different he is from Jacques Chirac. “He conveys a sense of drastic reforms to come,” Marchal argues. “The reality, however, is more prosaic… he will very likely pass on the less flashy but vitally important work on the continent to expert advisers. The breakthrough or rupture he is claiming will likely be nothing more than an adaptation to dynamics and trends that are beyond his reach, at least when it comes to Africa.”

It will be interesting to see if these reforms present a real turning point in the French African relationship, or it represents nothing less than “old wine in new bottles.”

How much is it worth to you: Sex, economics and the influx of crowds

It was just yesterday that we reported – via the Voice – that pilgrimage of the sub-region’s sex workers to Ghana for the 2008 African Cup of Nations. A question on our minds, but a topic no news story could delve into, was how will these foreign women be treated? Not only by potential clients, but how will they be seen by other women?

If the world’s sex trade at least has more similarities than differences, perhaps this story by the Economist could shed a little light on the subject. The magazine recently ran a story regarding a set of papers on prostitution in Chicago and Ecuador delivered at a meeting the American Economic Association dealing in the sex trade. A couple caveats are in order: the paper on pimpin’ in Chicago is very preliminary. Secondly, we don’t know the similarities and differences enjoyed by the sex trade in these countries with West Africa.

The study, according to the Economist, found that sex work in Chicago is geographically concentrated, more than half the arrests for prostitution take place in just a few street corners. On the wage front, the study claims sex workers can expect to earn between $25 and $30 per hour – a number that may not translate all that well in Ghana. The important point is that this wage can be converted to about four times what the women could earn outside prostitution, a figure more relevant to our study.

Pricing strategies for sex are similar to any other economic transaction: fees vary by the service provided and clients are charged according to what they are perceived to pay. (Sorry, rich foreigners.) However, attractive prostitutes are generally paid the same fees as everyone else. One surprise: The charge for sex without a condom is not as large as expected, and their use is only found in 25 percent of tricks in Chicago. In Ecuador, however, condom use is standard.

In a relevant turn of events, the study’s authors stumbled upon a large festival in Chicago, so they could investigate what happens when demand suddenly increases.

By chance, the authors were able to study the effects of a demand shock. As people gathered for the July 4th festivities around Washington Park (one of the neighbourhoods studied), business picked up by around 60%, though prices rose by just 30%. The market was able to absorb this rise in demand partly because of flexible supply. Regular prostitutes worked more hours and those from other locations were drawn in. So were other recruits—women who were not regular prostitutes but were prepared to work for the higher wages temporarily on offer.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Niger: MNJ attacks northern town, abducts governor, kills seven soldiers

In a daring raid on a town in northern Niger, members of the Movement of Nigeriens for Justice captured a regional governor, several soldiers and a large cache of weapons, Agence France Presse reported.

The group claimed at 6 pm, January 21 it attacked Tanhout, a small town 200 km southeast of Agadez. It was the first time the group, known as its French acronym MNJ, captured a Nigerien citizen in their 11-month rebellion in northern Niger. During the raid, the MNJ claimed to have killed seven soldiers.

The governor of Zinder, a town to the east of Tanhout, Yahaya Yandaka confirmed Tanhout was attacked by an unknown number of men "moving around on three 4WD vehicles mounted with 12.7 mm machine guns".

Yandaka, speaking Tuesday on national radio said the attack left three people dead -- two soldiers and one civilian -- and six others wounded, five of them seriously.

He said a total of five people were taken prisoner: four soldiers, including one officer and the prefect of Tanhout Abdou Garba Kona.

Another two soldiers are reported missing, he said.

On it’s website, the MNJ claimed it targeted the Prefet of Tanout because of his “anti-republican acts” and the fact he held a meeting attempt to threaten officials into reporting locals who support the rebellion.

The killing of the seven soldiers puts the Niger military’s death toll over 50. The MNJ claims they are fighting for a higher percentage of profits from Niger’s uranium mines.

The government has insisted that leaders of the MNJ are merely bandits and smugglers without support among people in the north. The BBC claimed that some parts of Niger are calling on Niger President Mamadou Tandja to reconsider his position of not negotiating with the rebels.

Teenage pregnancy, unwanted babies and abortion in Burkina Faso

There’s a rise in teenage pregnancies in Burkina Faso, says IRIN, where as many as 500 unmarried teenage girls per year are becoming pregnant and often feel compelled to abandon their newborn babies.

The story paints a picture of niave girls moving with their families from the countryside to the big city, where sex norms are much more fluid. Shelters for pregnant single girls are full; and orphanages now overflow with abandoned babies.

The abortion issue
However, this information appears to be somewhat inconsistent with a 2003 study that estimated nearly 8,000 women undergo a clandestine abortion each year in Ouagadougou alone. The study, conducted by Demographic Research and Study Unit, or UERD, found that most of these women go to private clinics that perform abortion services after hours; others go to traditional healers and some purchase legal, yet dangerous drugs off the streets from unlicensed street venders.

I remember talking to these researchers a few years back, and Georges Guiella from UERD said that women with money can bribe their way into a clinic for an after-hours procedure. It is often common for a group of high school girls to gather up money to pay for a friend’s procedure, which cost (at least in 2004) between $50 and $100. For those who don’t have access to that kind of money, they often go to traditional healers who can make a concoction from leaves and tree bark that will kill the fertilized egg. For those who do not want to go this route, they can always purchase something off the street or a heavy dose of the anti-malarial medicine Nivaquine.

What is most worrisome to researchers and health workers is that teenage girls – most often between the ages of 15 and 19 – appear to make up the largest group of those looking for an abortion. These young girls are also the most likely to use the most dangerous methods to have the abortion.

The UERD study estimated that nearly 60 percent of women undergoing Ouagadougou’s clandestine abortions end up needed some form of medical care. Twenty years ago, the government set up a program to treat women needing healthcare from complications resulting from clandestine abortions. The problem, researchers and medical workers say, lies with women who relied on traditional healers and unlicensed vendors for their procedure. Dr. Blandine Thiéba from the country’s main hospital told me that these methods can often lead to infection, internal bleeding and other health complications. If left untreated, serious cases could lead to sterility, and as UERD found, sometimes death. (The UERD study estimated 28 deaths per year from clandestine abortions, which I found to be a little low.)

A worldwide phenomenon
In a report by the Alan Guttmacher Foundation, 210 million women throughout the world discover they are pregnant. Around 15 of every 100 of those women have a miscarriage. And, 22 percent of the world’s pregnant women terminate their pregnancy by a form of abortion. That adds up to 46 million women worldwide having an abortion each year, and nearly half of these procedures take place in countries where it is restricted or illegal. In Africa, more than 5 million women each year have an abortion, where it is oftentimes restricted throughout the continent. However, Africa is responsible for one-quarter of the world’s illegal abortions. Burkina Faso allows abortion for instances of rape and to protect the mother’s physical health.

The reasons for wanting abortion are universal: health issues of the child or the mother; economic concerns or any number of conflicts with the father. Also, for young unmarried teenagers everywhere, becoming pregnant bears a huge social burden.

In Africa, nearly 8 out of 10 sexually active women do not use a method of birth control. According to the Government of Burkina Faso, 22 percent of never-married Burkinabé women between the ages of 15 to 44 are sexually active. Of these women, 63 percent do not use contraception. For married women the same age, nearly 20 percent of those who “do not want a child soon” do not use contraception. All this adds up for the government of Burkina Faso to believe that almost one-quarter of all births are unplanned.

Opposition questions Senegalese election commission

With Senegalese local and municipal elections scheduled for May, opposition parties feel the body responsible for overseeing the vote is not autonomous enough to carry out its tasks in an impartial manner.

Moustapha Niasse, who ran against Abdoulaye Wade for president in Febrauary 2007 under the banner of Alliance Forces for Progress, AFP, would like to change the National Autonomous Electoral Commission, CENA, before voting begins. After running in the Presidential contest, a group of opposition parties formed a coalition known as the Siggil Senegal Front and boycotted the June parliamentary elections, citing irregularities in the Presidential vote.

President Wade’s party, Senegalese Democratic Party, won 131 out of 150 seats in the National Assembly.


The election commission, accused of allowing frauds to take place, defends itself and accuses opposition parties of spending their time criticising its work, instead of working constructively.

But, faced with strong criticism, the commission released earlier this month a 79 -page report indicating the 2007 parliamentary elections were "conducted in a generally correct and acceptable manner". The body also argued that it performed its tasks "seriously and rigorously".

However, in the same report, the commission mentioned that: "Although these elections were conducted peacefully, they had a somehow bitter taste because of the opposition's decision to boycott."

Since the report was released, opposition parties have gone one notch up in their attacks against the commission, amplifying any petty detail contained in the CENA's document which mentions a flaw in the system.

Sex workers flocking after soccer fans in Ghana. What will follow?

Think of the 20-day African Nations Cup as a public policy issues, especially in terms of health. With the arrival of thousands of football fans, footballers, their handlers and (let’s be honest) government officials, there is a fear of “sexual promiscuity and the spread of HIV/AIDS,” warns The Voice.

Other worries abound:

Frank Adu Poku, director general of the CID, said: “International sporting events have become fertile grounds for human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and children.”

United Nations Fund for Population Activities will distribute 5,000 condoms at hotels. Will it be enough?

Sex workers are flocking to Ghana to cash in on the thousands of potential customers at the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, which opened in Accra on Sunday.

Prostitutes, mainly from Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Liberia and Benin have already joined their Ghanaian ‘sisters’ on the streets of the four venues — Accra, Sekondi-Takoradi, Kumasi and Tamale — to do business.

“Hundreds of Nigerian girls suspected to be prostitutes are reported to have come in and rented apartments in Accra, where they will stay and work during the tournament,” Nathaniel Attoh of The Graphic Sports said.

According to Attoh, the largest numbers of ‘call girls’ are from Cote d’Ivoire and Togo, which share borders with Ghana.

Gambian government bans RFI

From Blogger News Network

The Gambia Government has resumed its crackdown on the press, as it banned Radio France International relay FM Station, which is aired on state radio, the Freedom Newspaper can reveal. The decision to band the popular radio comes amidst a story reported by the Paris based Radio France International that the terrorists who murdered the four French Nationals in Mauritania escaped through Guinea Bissau to The Gambia. RFI’S affiliate station in The Gambia has ceased to function since the reportage of the said story. The Government of The Gambia in a statement accuses RFI of “professional dishonesty and erroneous reporting. “ RFI is yet to react to the Government’s accusations.

A release from the Department of State for Information, rebuffed the RFI story describing as it as erroneous. The Government says there was no terrorists from Mauritania and therefore strongly disputed the authenticity of the RFI story. It says it had accordingly drawn the attention of the RFI about the “erroneous” story it reported about the Gambia.

RFI ceased to be on the airwaves since January 15TH 2008. Information Ministry sources say the decision to ban RFI in The Gambia emanates from the President. “ The Government has decided to suspend the operations of the RFI affiliate station housed by the Gambia Radio and Television Services for security reasons. The President was very upset when he heard on the radio that the killers of the French Nationals were harbored in the Gambia. His Government has been linked to welcoming Hezbollah terrorists into the country and they thought that the best way to punish RFI was to take off its relay station from the airwaves. He has given directive for all RFI programs to be suspended with immediate effect. SOS Gaye has since advised her staff to cease to broadcast RFI programs.” said a well placed source at the State House in Banjul.

Here is Reporters Without Borders overview for the year 2006 for journalism in Gambia.

Ten journalists arrested, one missing, many others in exile, countless unsolved murders for which supporters of the president are suspected of responsibility or complicity, the memory of a murdered journalist besmirched by the government and a permanent climate of fear: this is the terrible track record of President Yahya Jammeh’s as far as press freedom is concerned.

French reporters freed from bail in Niger

Sorry, we dropped the ball on this one.

From Reuters

A judge in Niger has ordered the release on bail of two French television journalists who could face the death penalty if convicted of colluding with northern Tuareg rebels, their lawyer said on Friday.

The two reporters for European TV station ARTE, Thomas Dandois and Pierre Creisson, were arrested in mid-December for violating the terms of their media accreditation by filming rebel fighters in the Sahara instead of reporting about bird flu, as they had said they would.

Bail was set at 10 million CFA francs, their lawyer Coulibaly Moussa said.

"We are trying to get together the deposit," he told Reuters. "We are optimistic about their trial because they were just doing their job."

The fate of their driver, Al-Hassane Abdourahman, remains unknown. The reporters hope he will also be freed soon.

Creisson and Dandois arrived in Niger and initially told authorities they would be traveling to the southern part of the country to compile a report on bird flu. However, they traveled north wishing to speak to members of the rebel movement, against the government ban. They were arrested shortly before arriving back in Niamey, the capital.

Presently two Nigerien journalists remain behind bars. Moussa Kaka, director of a private radio station and Radio France International’s Niger correspondent, has been detained since September 26 and also faces the death sentence for “complicity to undermine the security of the state.” The second, Ibrahim Manzo, manager of the bi-weekly newspaper Air Info based in the northern city of Agadez, remains in custody after being arrested October 9.