Friday, October 30, 2009

Stemming the Tide of African Hunger

Over the past few months, there have been an increasing number of reports, forums, Congressional hearings and legislation focused on food security. The Obama Administration is pushing its seven-part plan to deal with food security, and civil society organizations are figuring out how to support efforts to feed the hungry, many of whom live in African countries.

According to Bread for the World, the number of hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa has increased from 198 million at the beginning this decade to an estimated 265 million this year. The organization told a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health this week that nearly three million children in Africa under five years of age died last year due to malnutrition. Moreover, tens of millions more malnourished children will never reach their developmental potential, suffering from physical and/or cognitive damage from lack of sufficient caloric intake and clean water. The impact of that could cost African countries as much as two to three percent of lost gross domestic product over time.

In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama said: “To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.”

To achieve this lofty goal, there will have to be reform in how the United States addresses the issue of food security. Too often, we see this as charity for those suffering from natural disaster, war or civil unrest. However, climate change has entered out consciousness as a major cause of hunger. We now better understand that what had been considered chronically poor rains is actually a change in climate to which donors and recipients must adapt. Lifestyles developed over millennia must change, as will the international response to the issue of hunger. Furthermore, unless we want to provide food aid indefinitely to the same people in the same areas of Africa, we need to look at long-term strategies to enable Africans to meet their own food needs. Capacity building for farmers and cooperatives, better access to international markets and enhancing available financing are among some of the recommendations to help Africans become food sufficient in the long run.

The Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in America, another Subcommittee hearing witness, warned that current efforts to address hunger are hampered by “stove piping” of programs on which there is a rigid separation of funding accounts and a complex system for selecting contract or grantee organizations to implement responses in situations in which conditions or priorities change. The organization suggests a “Food Security Fund” to allow for a unique mix of assistance to be tapped that is appropriate for each nation or region.

Both Care and Friends of the World Food Program called for a safety net program for vulnerable people, which would provide temporary assistance to enable the poor to hold onto their assets in the event of unexpected shocks so they don’t fall into destitution. Moreover, due to the scale of chronic food insecurity, it is suggested that the United States reconsider shipping food from here to those in need because it is “expensive, slow and unpredictable,” and shipments often reach only a fraction of the population in need.

Will the job of restructuring our food aid so it is more effective get done? A recent survey indicates that 85% of registered voters polled agreed that we “need to modernize how foreign assistance is currently organized and implemented, and another poll taken during the height of the recession in November 2008 revealed that 87% those polled agreed that “in a time like this, we need to make foreign assistance more efficient and get more of our aid to people who really need it.” Add to that President Obama’s pledge to double foreign assistance by 2015 and food security legislation in both houses of Congress, and you have the stage set for change.

What kind of change is up to those of us who want to see the hungry of Africa better served.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

African Apparel Sector Wearing Thin

When the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was being promoted during the campaign to obtain Congressional approval, success stories were predicted for the export of African-made clothing to the United States. In the first AGOA, as well as in three successive measures, tweaks were made to facilitate ever-higher levels of African clothing exports. For awhile, these prophecies of clothing success seemed about to come true. Several African nations have led the way to a tripling of African textile and apparel exports to America since 2001: Lesotho, Madagascar, Kenya, Swaziland and Mauritius.

However, the African apparel success story began to unravel in early 2005 with the ending of the Multi-Fiber Agreement, which had limited Chinese domination of the apparel sector. Chinese, Indian and Bangladeshi exports of apparel began to crowd out African apparel, especially since African producers had not protected their intellectual property rights. You began to see more Ghanaian Kente cloth produced in India than in Ghana itself. The market share, transportation and economies of scale advantages in Asian countries put the African textile and apparel sector in decline.

While it is true that the African apparel exports to America under AGOA have skyrocketed since the trade process began in 2001, AGOA apparel exports to the U.S. declined by 10.4% last year. Four of the top five African apparel exporters are lagging when today’s exports are compared to this point last year, except for Mauritius, which is slightly ahead of the previous year. There are numerous reasons for the decline. The downturn in the global economy meant fewer buyers. Continuing infrastructure and transportation difficulties eliminated the AGOA tariff advantage by increasing the cost of apparel shipment from African when compared to the shipping costs from Asian countries. The reoccurring uncertainty of the expiration of tariff benefits under AGOA led many U.S. buyers to be leery of sourcing from African suppliers. African countries that produced cotton did not achieve the vertical integration hoped for, failing to turn African cotton into African-made fabric and yarn and then into African-produced clothing.

In Nigeria, their homegrown apparel industry, already crippled by high production costs, was further undone by Asian firms taking over factories and exporting clothing to America using AGOA benefits. In Ghana, second-hand foreign clothing became a booming business, as a provision that allowed non-governmental organizations to import and sell a limited amount of such clothing was greatly abused. In Uganda, thousands of women are preparing to sue the largest apparel manufacturer for failure to observe the terms and conditions of employment under which they were hired with abuses including low wages, poor working conditions and housing men with women.

Certainly, Africa’s apparel sector is not in irreversible decline, even though woven and knit apparel only represented Africa’s sixth leading export to America last year. So-called heritage clothing surely has a niche market if marketed properly, that is, if they are sold to targeted stores catering to a clientele that values African clothing year-round. To stem the decline in African clothing sales in America, Howard University’s Africa Business Club has begun the “Purchase for Africa” initiative in conjunction with the Kingdom of Lesotho aimed at encouraging consumers to be label conscious and “look for Lesotho labels” when they shop for clothing. “Our idea is based on a belief that Africans should be empowered to take charge of their own destinies. We want to put their future in their own hands, and break Africans’ dependence on foreign aid for their daily bread,” stated a letter by the club.

That may seem like a tall order, but at least someone is trying to make a concrete contribution to Africa’s survival in a way that is surely doable. Others are fighting to ensure that legislation being considered in Congress will not give an undue advantage to Asian apparel producers to the detriment of African producers. Both tactics will be needed if African apparel is to maintain its currently small share of the American market. Those of us accustomed to being able to buy and wear dashikis, kaftans, boubous and other items produced from north to south in Africa had better keep track of and support these efforts if we want to keep supplies flowing here in the United States.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Guinea Crisis Seen As “Litmus Test”

The international community as a whole has reacted sharply to the crisis in Guinea. The Economic Community of West African States held a special summit and imposed an arms embargo on the Guinea regime after condemning the “atrocities” committed against demonstrators on September 28th. France, the former colonial power, also imposed an arms embargo. The European Union as a whole has condemned the violence, and its development chief has called for Guinea leader Captain Moussa “Dadis” Camara to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court is investigating such charges in the wake of the deaths of an estimated 157 people and the wounding of more than 1,000 others in the incident. The United Nations Security Council authorized an independent commission of inquiry on the incident. Even China is distancing itself from the Guinea regime, reportedly backing away from a US$7 billion deal with the China International Fund.

The one actor that has been slow to take the Government of Guinea to task is the African Union. The African regional body imposed a deadline on Camara to renounce his ambitions to run for President in the next elections. Not only has Camara failed to meet the deadline, but he now all but guarantees his candidacy, saying: “No one can stop me.” Still, the threatened AU sanctions have yet to materialize. In fact, the AU President, Libyan leader Muamar Ghadafi, issued a statement condemning the AU probe into last month’s government-sponsored violence.

“The African Union strongly rejects this intervention, which it considers as interference in the internal affairs of an independent country.”

Certainly, Ghadafi is well-known for taking an independent stance on African issues, but the AU has not contradicted this view, and combined with the lack of actual action on Guinea, it is sending a message of weakness when other global organizations are taking a strong position in support of Guinea’s beleaguered citizenry. At a time when the Guinean military are engaging in post-incident banditry and brutality, the AU is awaiting further investigation before acting. Rather than condemning the UN investigation, the Camara regime itself is pledging to cooperate. Why then is the AU so passive on this matter?

Of course, Camara’s regime is simultaneously trying to minimize its culpability in this tragedy. Camara claims the incident, which his government says saw only 57 deaths caused largely by trampling by an over-excited crowd, was caused by overly-zealous military forces and an opposition that held an illegal rally. He has at times claimed to be a prisoner of his own army and sounded defiant about what the international committee can do about it. Despite the killings (however many the government is responsible for), the continuing open robberies by soldiers and the untold numbers of women and girls who allegedly have been and still are being raped by soldiers, Camara’s regime has arrested or prosecuted no one.

Recently, the Government of Guinea has reached out to Washington to recruit a team to conduct a fact-finding mission. However, they have received a cool response from those unwilling to take part in a whitewash of the September incident or its continuing aftermath. In the past, the Government of Sudan, the Government of Zimbabwe, the Government of Nigeria under Sani Abacha and other rogue regimes have found it much easier to identify those willing to take a paid trip to see what the government in question wanted them to see and return to the United States as apologists for that regime’s crimes and abuses. The situation in Guinea, however, has been so widely seen as egregious that previously successful appeals are now falling on deaf ears. Even if a team could be put together, it likely would ruin the reputations of those participating rather than help redeem the Camara regime’s reputation. A strongly critical report would be difficult to document if the government does not facilitate a genuine examination, and such an independent probe is not in their interest.

EU development chief Karel de Gucht said the global response to the Guinea situation is “a litmus test on the seriousness of the international community.” The AU would do well to heed his words as other parts of the international community are choosing to isolate the Camara regime – not defend it or postpone action against it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Reexamining Governments of National Unity

Now that Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has been convinced by U.S. officials to accept a run-off election, concern is rising about the possibility of that election being free and fair. The violence that kept voters home the first time is still believed to be a problem for a re-run. Consequently, talk is growing among Western leaders about the possibility of a Government of National Unity (GNU) either in lieu of a second round of elections or until such elections can be organized effectively. Before such a GNU is pressed on the Afghans, two examples in Africa should be taken into account.

In light of suspect election results in Zimbabwe in March 2008, the international community pressed Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai to form a GNU to ease tensions and bring into the executive branch those in the opposition considered more representative of the voters’ intent. Opposition parliamentarians already out-numbered the Zimbabwe African National Union in the legislature as a result of the 2008 elections. In theory, this would ensure that both sides were involved in governance – the same sentiments heard in formulating suggestions for Afghanistan.

In Zimbabwe, however, ZANU leaders had little intention of really sharing power. Leading up to the formalization of the GNU in early 2008, Mugabe’s security forces reportedly murdered five opposition activists in a 24-hour period alone. Many others were killed, jailed or harassed. Even after the formation of the GNU, Mugabe’s government has pursued power over cooperation. Civil leaders and human rights activists in Zimbabwe last week released a memo describing ZANU round-ups of people in Mashonaland East province to force them to chant party slogans or sign up for party training. According to the memo, villagers were threatened with decapitation if they opposed the version of the constitution being pushed by ZANU, which would retain strong presidential powers.

For more than a year, the Zimbabwe GNU has been hanging by a thread, but late last week. Tsvangirai announced that his party members in government were distancing themselves from their ZANU colleagues. They weren’t pulling out of government, a spokesman made clear later, but by not participating, government would not be able to function constitutionally without their cooperation.

Yet another African example of the dysfunction of GNUs is Kenya. Ethnic violence in the aftermath of the disputed results of the December 2007 election surprised the world in what had been a formerly stable African country. So horrific were the slayings that the international community again believed a GNU would put together the major ethnic groups, much as is now being proposed in Afghanistan. President Mwai Kibaki and then-opposition leader Raila Odinga represented major ethnic groups in Kenya, and the thinking was that an alliance would calm the ethnic storm. That thinking did not take into account the mistrust the men have for one another nor the antipathy of their supporters, which is largely ethnically fueled. The office of Prime Minister is a created one that has no longstanding constitutional authority. Its success depends on the good will of all parties, which has been lacking in Kenya. Such considerations should be taken into account when deciding how to handle Afghanistan’s situation.

In Kenya, the Government of National Unity has become known inside the country as the “Government of National Impunity.” The broad nature of corruption in Kenya has led to a sort of alliance of corrupt officials who cover for one another or use investigations to offer up sacrificial lambs. The one thing they aren’t doing is trying to end corruption and punish those who have subverted the system. The government broadly has been unwilling to cooperate with investigations of the post-election violence because both sides have leaders involved. We already know that Afghanistan suffers from rampant corruption so why would anyone think a GNU would solve this problem? If Kenya is any indication, it could make the government less accountable rather than more.

The temptation to press for GNUs seems like an effective way to include those cheated in a poor election and ensure that various ethnic groups are included. Often, American officials will point to Democrats in Republican administrations and Republicans in Democratic administrations as examples of GNUs here in the United States. However, those individuals of other parties represent themselves and not their parties, which is the major difference between what we do and what we ask others to do.

It was somewhat extraordinary for President Obama to select his main rival for the nomination as Secretary of State, but he didn’t consider nominating Senator John McCain for a major post. That has not happened in modern history because what ruling party would want someone who could use their position to run for President later, and what opposition party leader would want to help his rival’s government succeed when he or she may face them in a subsequent election? We should keep that dynamic in mind when we recommend to others to form a GNU. Harmony in such cases is more than a notion. It isn’t that GNUs cannot work; it’s just that those governments that promote them ignore the necessity of certain conditions required to make them work and forget why they don’t institute GNUs themselves.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Does the New Sudan Policy Have a Real Chance?

The Obama Administration has released a new policy formulation on Sudan that has allayed some fears of softness in official U.S. handling of the situation in this East African giant. However, while the new policy strikes all the right policy chords, implementation of this plan may be more difficult than anticipated as tensions are running high in the country.

The three strategic objectives for the new Sudan policy are: 1) a definitive end to conflict, gross human rights abuses and genocide in Darfur, 2) implementation of the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that results in a peaceful post-2011 Sudan, or an orderly path towards two separate and viable states at peace with each other, and 3) assurance that Sudan does not provide a safe haven for international terrorists. These are all very laudable goals, but over the past few years, the signs have pointed against progress in these areas.

Reuters is reporting that there is a military buildup in Darfur, especially in the north, and rebel and government forces seem to be massing for more conflict. UNAMID, the hybrid African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur, also confirms a military buildup, although neither the government in Khartoum nor the rebels would admit to moving forces and weapons in the region. Observers note that this military movement demonstrates that neither the government nor the fractured rebel movements are ready to lay down their arms. Peace accords attempted in the past have failed due to continuing government intransigence on establishing and maintaining peace in Darfur and safety for its citizens, as well as impact of the splintering of rebel movements in the region.

Similarly, Jane’s Defense Weekly reports that military conflict between the North and South could rematerialize, as satellite imagery is showing 33 new T-72 tanks en route to the South. Meanwhile, the Khartoum government has repeatedly failed to live up to the terms of the CPA, signed in 2005 to end the North-South civil war. The bulk of the country’s oil reserves are in the South, and Khartoum has refused to abide by the commission established to set the boundaries between North and South. In Southern Sudan, leadership appears to be awaiting the 2011 referendum that will almost certainly lead to independence. Yet full control over their oil is obviously not a development the Khartoum government is prepared to accept.

From about 1992 to 1996, al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden based themselves in Sudan at the invitation of Islamist theoretician Hassan al Turabi. Providing information on al-Qaeda has been a lever the Khartoum government used to curry favor with the Bush Administration since there were rifts between Sudan President Omar al-Bashir and Islamist extremists such as Turabi. Turning in al-Qaeda elements had an upside for Bashir. But since his International Criminal Court indictment earlier this year, al-Qaeda leaders have tried to use it as an enticement to bring Bashir’s government to their side. In March, al-Qaeda’s number two in commend, Ayman Zawahiri urged the people of Sudan to prepare for a long guerrilla war against the West and asked Bashir to "repent." Should the U.S. and other western allies continue to support the indictment, Bashir might make common cause with Islamists who share his disdain for the West and its justice.

President Obama’s government has its work cut out for it in resolving the mess that is Sudan. The President expressed his intention to remain tough in the fight for peace in Sudan. “Later this week, I will renew the declaration of a National Emergency with respect to Sudan, which will continue tough sanctions on the Sudanese Government,” he said in a statement issued by the White House. “If the Government of Sudan acts to improve the situation on the ground to advance peace, there will be incentives; if it does not, then there will be increased pressure imposed by the United States and the international community.”

The President is applauded for his sentiments, but China and Russia have stymied the effective implementation of tough sanctions before. With conflict about ready to erupt again and terrorists aiming to get back into Sudan, stronger allied cooperation will be required to make President Obama’s words actionable.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The New Scramble for Africa

Absa Capital, the South African investment bank, predicts that several major African currencies could gain strength against the U.S. dollar next year if global commodity prices continue to rise. However, such an increase in commodity prices could end the current trend of improvement in the global economy. Consequently, Africa’s good news could be bad news for much of the rest of the world.

According to Absa, Zambia’s kwacha could appreciate 14% to the dollar, making it 4.09kwacha to US$1 provided copper prices continue to be strong. Tanzania’s shilling may gain 8.1% to the dollar if the price of gold maintains its prices level. Uganda’ shilling may see a 6% increase against the dollar, largely due to newly discovered oil deposits and an expectation of new income due to oil revenue. Nigeria’s naira is expected to be stable due to the fall in oil prices this year, but could rise if oil prices make a turnaround. Only Angola’s kwanza is expected to depreciate seriously, declining to the parallel market rate of 100 kwanza to US$1 because of the 2009 decline in oil prices.

The surge in commodity prices has been relatively broad, but is led by industrial metals such as lead, nickel, copper and zinc, all of which have risen significantly. Oil prices may be down from last year’s high, but seem to be finding a stable level somewhere around US$70 a barrel – twice last December’s low of US$35 per barrel. Agricultural commodity prices have soared, with soybeans leading the way at 50% higher and corn, wheat and cocoa rising between 10% and 20%. Yet, the prices for precious metals, especially gold, remain about the same as they were earlier in the year.

In addition to oil–rich countries such as Nigeria, Angola and Gabon, African countries such as Cote d’Ivoire (cocoa and maize), South Africa (platinum and wheat) and Ethiopia (copper and gold) are all the subject of an intensified foreign interest in their natural resources. In fact, Professor A.B.K Kasozi, Executive Director of Uganda’s National Council for Higher Education, calls the current situation “the new scramble for Africa.”

Since 2005, China’s purchase of strategic minerals and other resources from Africa have skyrocketed. African oil now accounts for 25% of China’s energy supplies. By next year, India is estimated to require 5 billion barrels of oil per day, and African countries are most definitely on India’s target list for oil. Nickel prices have risen 200% since the end of last year, zinc is up 176% since that time and copper has recorded a 109% increase in the last year. Some predict copper will reach record price levels by 2013. According to Professor Kasozi, African leaders will have to be better negotiators than their ancestors if Africa is to avoid the disastrous results experienced in the 19th and 20th centuries.

So if negotiations involving resources can be handled effectively and with an eye toward future value, African currencies may indeed see the increases in value relative to the U.S. dollar that are being predicted. Unfortunately, as I stated earlier, this situation is not in everyone’s interest. Commodity prices are rising in expectation of a global economic recovery, but higher commodity prices will have the effect of blunting that very recovery. Therefore, it is in everyone’s interest that the commodity price increases be managed such that African currencies can appreciate against major convertible currencies like the U.S. dollar and that such increases do not spur harmful levels of inflation in countries needing these resources.

If a mutually beneficial outcome is to occur, African governments will have to gather their intellectual resources and negotiate a mutually beneficial outcome in as transparent a manner as possible. Back-room deals by African leaders and officials will only sacrifice the future of their countries in the interest of a few. They’ve been through that before, and with the stakes ever rising, they don’t need a repeat of the deals that sold out Africa’s people.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Minnesota’s Somali Problem

The state of Minnesota has become the focal point for the U.S. export of Islamic fighters to Africa. Nearly two dozen young Somali men have disappeared from the state and joined rebels fighting Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and Ethiopian forces that are supporting that government. While there appear to be varying motives for their joining in the civil war in Somalia, all those who leave the United States to take up arms in Somalia are considered in league with terrorism.

Like any location in the United States, Somalis were attracted because others from their homeland emigrated there, and once a critical mass was achieved, Minnesota became the place to be for Somalis in America. As of the most recent census in 2007, there were 35,000 Somalis in Minnesota. Most Somalis arrived here with refugee status because of the violence in their homeland and lack of government for nearly two decades. For the approximately 250 Somalis not here as official refugees, the U.S. government has just extended their temporary protected status that allows them to live here until March 2011. Perhaps someone in our government recalls that it was only after the United States withdrew as an ally of Somalia in 1991 that everything fell apart there.

Somali refugees have largely been content to “fadhi ku dirir”, which means in Somali “fighting while sitting down.” In other words, older Somalis, and even some younger ones, debated the causes and remedies to the continued violence and warfare in their homeland. In late 2007, Somalis began to consider doing more because of the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia. The two countries have had a contentious history over territory each claims, and many Somalis feared the Ethiopians would take advantage of the chaos in their homeland to annex territory and protested the Ethiopian invasion vehemently. But some young Somalis became convinced they needed to go home to prevent this from happening.

Of the nearly two dozen or so young Somalis who left Minnesota to join the fighting, eight are believed to have been killed, including Shirwa Ahmed, who became a suicide bomber last fall. Another believed to have died is Zakaria Maruf, a reformed gang member authorities think was instrumental in recruiting the others to go to Somalia to join in “fighting the enemy of Allah” as a former associate quoted him as saying. Most of the young Somalis were good students who didn’t get into trouble; they just became convinced they had a duty to protect their homeland. However, also among the Minnesota boys who died in the fighting was Troy Kastigar, a white Muslim convert who became convinced he needed to fight for his new-found faith.

Many of the young men attended the Abubakar As-Saddique mosque in Minneapolis. Officials at the mosque deny they radicalized the young men. Still, young Muslims did listen to presentations from Somali Islamic warriors and saw videos about the war in Afghanistan and about perceived Muslim victims of injustices in places like Palestine and Nigeria. One young man reported that he and others were encouraged not to get married and to sever ties with their families so they would be ready to take up the cause of jihad.

What undoubtedly has American officials concerned is not only that young Somalis are being radicalized and sent to fight in East Africa, but that those left behind are becoming ever more violent. Somali youth often grow up in poverty and broken homes. Since December 2007, at least eight young Somalis are known to have died in gang violence that often mirrors the clan feuds back in Somalia. Somalis are estimated to comprise only one percent of the known gang members in Minnesota, but authorities in Minneapolis take this trend seriously enough to have created a position for a Somali liaison officer. Since Somalis are reluctant to cooperate with police due to their bad experiences in their homeland, that tactic may be rendered ineffective.

Meanwhile, federal authorities take very seriously a video released recently by Al-Shabaab, the insurgent group trying to overthrow the U.S.-supported Somali government. In that video, its members are shown training and pledging allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Al-Shabaab now controls most of Somalia’s territory, and this is leading the federal government to take a hard line against those surviving young Somali men who return home. Three of them are now being prosecuted for participating in Somalia’s war. Abdifatah Isse and Salah Ahmed have made a deal with federal prosecutors and pled guilty to providing material support for terrorists. The third, Kamal Hassan, also pleaded guilty to the same charge, but is being further prosecuted for providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization. The difference in treatment may be because Isse and Ahmed stayed only a few days in the Al-Shabaab training camp before returning home, while Hassan may have actually fought alongside Al-Shabaab after it was declared a terrorist organization.

The concern over possible Al-Shabaab/Al-Qaeda infiltration in the United States has caused federal security agencies to engage in what some Somalis in the United States consider intrusive questioning and unreasonable searches. Many Somalis in America disavow the suicide bombings and fanaticism of Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda, but they may be embittered by what they consider harsh treatment and American military intervention in Somalia, such as the recent air attack that killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan wanted over a hotel bombing and a simultaneous, but botched, missile attack on an Israeli airliner leaving Kenya's Mombassa airport in 2002.

Last week, Somali TFG President Sheik Sharif Sheikh Ahmed visited Minnesota and denounced the recruitment of young Somali men from the state and said he will work with the U.S. government to bring survivors back home. It is uncertain whether his appearance will have the desired effect because of clan rivalries and the memory of the TFG leaders, former warlords themselves, abusing the rights of the people. After all, it was the lawlessness of the warlords that gave the Islamic Courts Union, the original rebel movement in Somalia, a foothold of support among Somalis.

The U.S. government will surely keep an eye on Somalis in Minnesota and elsewhere. One hopes they will wisely deal with them, or they could radicalize those who now oppose Al-Shabaab and its terrorist tactics. It may only take a nudge to turn Somali gang members into Islamic fighters. We’ve already seen what good Somali boys can turn into.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Rating African Governance

Two ratings of the governance of African nations were released within days of each other. The first was headed by Professor Robert Rotberg of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and the other was headed by Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese-born cell phone entrepreneur. With some differences, they both agree that countries such as Mauritius, Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Cape Verde and Ghana are among the top 10best governed countries on the continent.

What makes a country well-governed may seem self-evident, but the Rotberg index states that: “The best governed African countries are peaceful and prosperous. They are well led, they deliver good services to their citizens, they hold free and fair elections and they are less corrupt than their neighbors. By contrast, the worst governed African countries are convulsed by conflict, hopelessly corrupt, run by autocrats and often afflicted with the resource curse.”
I have selected three example of countries rated poorly on both indexes as examples of what poor governance looks like in practice.

Zimbabwe has for some time now been the poster child for poor governance in Africa. From 1983-1987, as many as 20,000 members of the Ndebele minority were killed by Shona-dominated military forces. Since then, the government has used violence and intimidation to keep the opposition from taking over the government in subsequent elections, passed a series of laws that all served to limit freedoms of speech and assembly and drove out white farmers, black farm workers and vendors in a series of campaigns supposedly in the interest of citizenry. Mishandling of the country’s economy led to inflation so high it could scarcely be accurately calculated. The now-unity government has taken solid measures that have brought inflation within reason, but donors are awaiting action to repeal the repressive legislation and police actions that still plague this country.

After Moussa Dadis Camara seized power in Guinea through a military coup last December, he was considered a breath of fresh air in a country ruled autocratically by the late Lansana Conté until his death last year. Camara promised to finally bring genuine democracy to Guinea and then launched a public campaign against drug traffickers. However, he changed his mind on promising not to run for election to hold onto power. When a wide range of civil society organizations demonstrated against the increasingly dictatorial military government, soldiers opened fire on demonstrators, stabbed people with bayonets and gang raped women. An estimated 157 people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured. However, those figures can’t be confirmed since soldiers have kept people from moving around freely or claiming the bodies of the dead. Camara admitted that some elements of the army were “out of control.”

Kenya is mid-list on governance indexes. Corruption and post-election violence in late December 2007 has diminished the country’s standing in most measure of governance, human rights and transparency. However, I cite Kenya for its failure to serve the needs of its people in dealing effectively with the ongoing drought and the predicted heavy rains associated with El Niño. The post-election violence in early 2008 caused widespread dislocations in farming areas, and many people are afraid to return home for fear of continued ethnic revenge killings. Then persistent drought conditions exacerbated the situation by causing food shortages and further violence over control of water resources and pastures. An estimated 10 million Kenyans are affected by current food shortages, caused by crop failures, rising food prices and the decimation of livestock due to a viral disease. Agencies such as the World Food Programme are feeding Kenyans while the government does very little to meet the needs of its people. The anticipated flooding will surely make the current situation worse, but no plan of action is forthcoming from the unity government.

Good governance looks remarkably similar in those countries that practice it, but bad governance has many faces. It prevents the people from exercising their human rights; it fails to keep people safe from rampaging security forces it cannot or will not control, and it ignores the needs of its people in their times of greatest peril. The question is: how does a government move from one end of the scale to another?

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Friend to African Economic Development


At the closing gala dinner for this year’s Corporate Council on Africa Summit, a genuine friend of Africa’s economic development was honored: Ambassador Andrew Young, Co-Chairman of GoodWorks International. (In the interest of full disclosure, Ambassador Young also is Chairman of the Board of the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, for whom I work.)

Ambassador Young is considered a civil right icon for his collaboration with the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was a force behind the scenes during Dr. King’s civil rights heyday. It was said that Dr. King led people in the streets, while Young was negotiating with white businesses in the suites. The value of engagement with these businesses must not be understated, since they would one day not only allow African-Americans to sit at lunch counters and ride on buses without restrictions, but would also employ them. The seeds of those developments were laid during the discussions Young had with these businessmen. Ambassador Young was involved in street actions as well, but his experience as a mediator and a figure with whom white businesses could discuss uncomfortable issues served him well in his subsequent roles as Congressman from Atlanta, Mayor of Atlanta and Co-Chairman of the committee that successfully brought the 1996 Summer Olympic Games to Atlanta.

Ambassador Young’s international credentials include a significant role in convincing the U.S. House of Representatives to end what was increasingly considered a rogue Central Intelligence Agency operation in support of Angolan rebels in 1977. He also helped to successfully negotiate Rhodesia’s transition to majority-rule Zimbabwe in 1980. Consequently, his American civil rights credentials have been burnished by the vital role he played in working to resolve two major conflicts on the African continent.

Young’s credentials continue to allow him entrée to foreign governments, the U.S. government, the highest levels of the global corporate world, while he still maintains respect among the African-American community. He remains a unique figure who can move between governments, the business sector and civil society on both sides of the Atlantic.

GoodWorks represents or has represented clients such as Barrick Gold, ChevronTexaco, Coca-Cola, Delta, General Electric, Guiness, Monsanto, Motorola, South African Airways, Nike and Walmart. He has managed to help companies improve their images in the face of criticism or create business linkages for corporate clients with difficult governments through a few phone calls, whereas others could not do so despite all their efforts. It must be noted that much of the criticism of Ambassador Young and GoodWorks is by those unwilling to accept that the corporate world has anything good to offer developing countries. Young is the first and only civil rights hero to become truly successful as a business consultant because he has long understood the value of business as a driver of economic development.

It is important that by honoring Ambassador Young, CCA is acknowledging that a noted figure from civil society can transcend the artificial divide that has prevented the private sector and civil society from working together as partners on trade and investment as the situation now demands. Given the challenges faced by Africa in more rapidly integrating into the global economy, it is imperative now more than ever that more civil society representatives enter the business suites in partnership rather than keep to the streets in protest.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

An Environment for Africa’s Growth


Climate change is a hotly debated topic in the United States, which refused to sign the Kyoto Treaty over concern about its impact on economic activity. Scientists, politicians and pundits debate endlessly about what is happening and why it’s happening. However, in Africa, climate change is a reality and not a debating topic.

According to the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, the pace and scale of climate change may exceed even the most dire predictions previously recorded. Sea levels are now feared to possibly rise up to two meters by the turn of the next century. Hydrological cycles could be drastically changed, negatively affecting regional climates and spreading dry lands north and south of the equator. Africa is almost an exact mirror of these predictions, only earlier than for much of the rest of the world.

The islands that comprise the nation of Seychelles stand to lose up to 60% of their land due to the rise of the Indian Ocean in coming years, perhaps sooner than anticipated. A paper done by the Center for Global Development lists 12 African countries among 25 cities most likely to be exposed to significant storm surges due to sea rise caused by climate change. African cities such as Lagos, Monrovia, Luanda, Dakar and Abidjan may be partly submerged or at least find their beaches encroaching on the urban landscape.

Changes in rain patterns have so gradually caused water shortages that some still think they’re dealing with poor rains. However, the traditional 10-year drought cycles in East Africa, for example, shortened to seven years in the 1970s, then five years in the 1980s, two to three years during the 1990s and now just about every year since 2000. It isn’t poor rains; it’s climate change, and it is affecting livelihoods in Africa observed for centuries.

Africans are particularly dependent on agriculture, with about 70% of Africans involved in that sector. Crop yields will decline due to lack of water and desertification. Prices for the most important agricultural crops such as rice, maize and soy beans will increase. Rising feed prices will lead to higher meat prices and lower rates of meat consumption. At the end of the day, the calorie intake of Africans will wane, increasing malnutrition. This all starts with climate change.

Some don’t think many corporations have a vested interest in being environmentally conscious. Of course, there have long been “green” companies that have been known to engage in recycling, cleaning waste water before dumping it and other environmentally friendly practices, but is this attitude more widespread now? For the last decade, the Corporate Council on Africa has promoted environmental consciousness in its activities and events. In 1999, CCA leadership worked with the Clinton Administration on promoting corporate compliance with the United Nations Convention on Desertification. That UN compact called on countries to devise a plan to deal with encroaching deserts in African and other developing countries in conjunction with the private sector.

The 2009 CCA Summit agenda is replete with environmentally related forums. They range from safe water to renewable energy to natural resource development and management to climate change and carbon trading. CCA remains involved in bringing environmental issues before its members. Hopefully, this is resulting in more eco-friendly operations on the continent.

You always hear about the proper investment environment in Africa, but if water is at a premium, if the desert shrinks agricultural land and if cities and entire countries are threatened by the rising seas, there will be no successful business climate in Africa. It is, therefore, in the interest of business for corporations to take an interest in helping Africa address its climate change challenges.