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Archive for June 23rd, 2009

Africa: Prices keep food on the shelves

Posted by African Press International on June 23, 2009

Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) – An increasing number of Africans living in urban areas are finding it harder to put enough food on the table, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) has warned.

“The food crisis and shortages are still there in some African countries,” said Adam Elhiraika, ECA economic affairs officer. “We see [a] crisis when we do not have enough income to buy the food we need.”

Elhiraika, coordinator of a team which prepared the ECA’s Economic Report on Africa 2009, told IRIN in Addis Ababa: “We have less purchasing power. We also still have food shortages because many African countries do not have the capacity to respond to demand.”

Released on 28 May, the report, which was jointly prepared by the ECA and the African Union, is an assessment of the continents economic performance in 2008. It also examines prospects for 2009.

“In many countries, urban populations are finding that there is food on the shelves, but they cannot afford to buy it,” it noted. Citing the case of Liberia and Guinea, it said governments there were struggling to import enough to feed their people.

“Pastoralists in Djibouti are discovering that sales of vital livestock fetch very little grain on the market, while in Mozambique and Uganda, rural farmers can hardly afford to buy the seeds and fertilizers they need to grow their familys food, let alone reap the benefit of high food prices,” the report said.

Across Africa, food commodity prices are likely to rise in the next 10 years, even though a decline is expected in 2009 and 2010 as supply and demand respond to high prices resulting from the global economic recession.

“Africa is one of the most affected regions by the high food prices,” the ECA noted. “Food prices peaked in June 2008 and declined by more than 50 percent on average during the second half of the year. At the end of 2008, they stood at the level of 2005 but were still considerably higher than the 2000 level.”

According to the report, the decline in world market prices had slowly worked its way into domestic prices in many developing countries.

“Still we have food shortages in many African countries because of drought and conflict situations,” Elhiraika said.

”We see [a] crisis when we do not have enough income to buy the food we need”
Emergency aid

To avert the consequences, emergency aid was needed in many countries, including those in East Africa.

“The recent food crisis and looming starvation are threats to political and social stability, especially in east and west Africa and in conflict countries,” the report warned.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food prices had remained high in many developing countries and access to food by the poor remained threatened by loss of employment, income and other effects of the global economic crisis.

However, in a Food Outlook on 4 June, FAO said the world food supply looked less vulnerable to shocks than it was during the 2008 food crisis.

“In spite of strong gains in recent weeks, international prices of most agricultural commodities have fallen in 2009 from their 2008 heights, an indication that many markets are slowly returning into balance,” it said.

The improvement was largely in cereal production – the critical sector for food security – after record production in 2008 overshot original forecasts. The bumper crop had also facilitated replenishment of global reserves to pre-crisis levels.

source.UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)

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Africa: Microfinance faces collapse as financial crisis bites

Posted by African Press International on June 23, 2009

Nairobi (Kenya) Microfinance institutions in Africa have very little chance of surviving the current financial crisis as loan repayment default soars. Most of their low-income debtors will be too busy concentrating on personal survival to think of repaying their loans.

This is despite a show of resilience by the global microfinance sector in a new survey conducted by CGAP, an independent policy and research centre dedicated to advancing financial access for the world’s poor.

“There have been few failures among microfinance institutions since the onset of the current financial crisis. However, the more than 400 respondents to the March survey reported significantly tougher market conditions,” reads the report, released recently.

In East Africa, microfinance institutions have been pivotal in spurring growth and development for the majority of rural dwellers. They also support a thriving small and medium scale enterprise sector that today account for about 30 per cent of the gross domestic product of countries like Kenya.

However, the full impact of the financial crisis is likely to be felt in the second half of this year. Accordingly, many MFIs are taking steps to cope, such as taking a more conservative lending approach and in some cases, even cutting staff.

“Many poor households are struggling with the many consequences of the global food, financial and employment crises,” said Elizabeth Littlefield, CGAP’s chief executive.

She added, “Their income sources like revenue from small businesses or from money sent from families working abroad, have become more erratic. At the same time, many expenses like food, are still far higher than before. Savings are thus being withdrawn and loan repayment rates to MFIs are worsening.”

According to the survey, as opposed to their counterparts in emerging economies, leading MFIs in the West are well positioned to adjust their operations to weather the financial storm. Many are investing more in client communications and tightening credit and collection policies. It is critical that these organisations stay financially viable, as their clients will need their services now more than ever.

It is this burden that local and regional microfinance institutions will have to deal with as the crisis finally takes its toll on Africa, coupled with other economic situations that may hamper their survival chances in the face of the crisis.

“On the client side, we foresee a further deterioration in food consumption and loan repayment in many markets resulting from sustained high food prices and a drop in incomes,” says the survey.

While half of the MFIs participating in the survey expected loan delinquencies to improve over the next six months, this optimism was tempered by the finding that more than 60 per cent of MFIs expect to face liquidity pressures over the same period.

A majority of MFIs report that the liquidity drought is hurting, with smaller institutions suffering more acutely than their larger counterparts. Sixty-five per cent of respondents to the CGAP survey reported declining — or at best stable — loan portfolios in the most recent six months, reflecting the impact of the credit crunch. In addition, more than two-thirds of MFIs reported an increase in their portfolio-at-risk levels.

There are, however, strong regional differences, with MFIs in more integrated economies — particularly Europe and Central Asia and Latin America — reporting the largest impacts from the crisis.

It is expected that the same effects will befall those operating in the emerging economies like Africa in the second phase of the crisis.

The World Bank predicts that between 50 million and 90 million more people could be driven into poverty by the current global crisis.

source.The East African (Kenya)

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Namibia: A cautionary tale from Kenya

Posted by African Press International on June 23, 2009

Windhoek (Namibia) – One of the weapons effectively used against Kenyan corruption buster John Githongo and which eventually drove him to isolated paranoia and into exile, was constant electronic surveillance by the Kenyan security services.

Githongo’s downfall was his single-minded pursuit from 2002, from within Mwai Kibaki’s office, of the astronomical Anglo Leasing scam, in which hundreds of millions of dollars were corruptly appropriated under the guise of ‘national security’ and funnelled into shady offshore shell companies. The scam implicated Kibaki and a host of senior cabinet ministers, who used the Kenyan state’s impressive electronic surveillance capabilities to neuter and hound a moral man, who only wanted to serve and better his country, out of office.

The Anglo Leasing affair, as well as Githongo’s revelations of high-level corruption, was one of the direct detonators of the December 2007 ‘stolen’ elections, post-election violence in which more than a thousand were killed and hundreds of thousands still remain internally displaced, and the fracturing of Kenya into a tense tribally divided state.

This cautionary tale has echoes in the current discussion around the ‘spy clause’ in the Communications Bill, and once again highlights the ambiguity of ‘national security’.

In Namibia, if we’re honest, the line between party and government has long since blurred and Swapo has explicitly voiced its intention to staff key civil service sectors with “loyal party cadres”, thus tightening its grip and ownership of the state.

In Namibia, if we’re honest, the ruling party is fractured, with roiling internal strife intermittently spilling into the public sphere.

In Namibia, high-level corruption is being blissfully ignored, as evidenced by the unforthcoming findings of various presidential enquiries. This is also a country where information that should be public is kept secret and centralised.

Against this background, is there still someone who’ll try and convince me that the ‘spy clause’ and its clumsy insertion into the Communications Bill is not party politically motivated?

Consider that the ruling party has already displayed a very marked aversion to boisterous internal debate and disagreement, and is prone to sycophancy – it doesn’t take much to draw a rational conclusion. And we’re supposed to blithely disassociate the ruling party’s Zanu-PF-esque tendencies, despite the Mugabe regime being such a close ally, from this piece of contentious legislation.

And since when is the infantile everybody-else-is-doing-it a sensible argument for doing anything, much less spending millions of taxpayer dollars?

In a country already in the grips of a culture of fear, I’d hazard it would take only the perception, with a few calculated early demonstrations, of being spied on for complete silence to reign. The very nature of legislation like this is to monitor, control and manipulate who says what to whom, a la former East Germany.

The point here is that the proposed legislation is inward looking and not focused on perceived external cyber threats.

We, the people, can very easily and quickly, at the whim of the unscrupulous, become the victims of such a regime, as the Githongo story illustrates. That is not to say that electronic surveillance, of politicians and others, is not already happening – it probably is – but this upgrade would push the state’s intrusion into private space to a whole other level.

Doomsday scenarios aside, the question of course is whether we trust our leaders, and by extension those manning the spy technology, to act responsibly?

And maybe everything is as above board as put forward and we in the media are really just “sensationalising” the whole ‘spy clause’ issue.

Given the timing and political environment, somehow I think not.

source.The Namibian (Namibia), by Frederico Links

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Kenya: Kenya’s most dangerous Al-Qaeda terrorist

Posted by African Press International on June 23, 2009

Nairobi (Kenya) Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan is Kenya’s most dangerous terrorist. The commander of a legion of foreign fighters in the war on the transitional government in Somalia, he is an old Al-Qaeda hand and has taken part in nearly all successful and foiled attacks against Kenya.

He coordinated the attack on Paradise Hotel in Mombasa in November 2002 and is believed to be the man who fired – and missed – a shoulder-launched missile at an Israel airliner packed with tourists as it took off from Moi International Airport in Mombasa 20 minutes before the explosion in Kikambala.

“That’s a demented guy, if there ever was one, not so much out of ideology but a misplaced sense of religion,” said a senior police officer, who cannot be named, commenting on ongoing anti-terrorist operations.

Though he did not say why the police have failed to arrest him all these years, he said they were keeping a close watch on his activities. “He is not the kind of man you can afford to take your eyes off for a second,” he said, referring to Mr Nabhan’s involvement in the operational arm of Al-Qaeda.

On February 24, 2006, the FBI added Mr Nabhan, along with the now deceased leader of the Iraqi insurgency Abu Mus’ab Al-Zarqawi,to its list of most wanted terrorists. The Kenya Police have also put him in their wanted list in connection with the embassy bombings.

Mr Nabhan, along with Harun Fazul, the terrorist mastermind, went to Afghanistan in 1998 and received paramilitary and small arms training at an Al-Qaeda training camp near Khowst. He fought in the Afghan civil war and the following year was a sufficiently good soldier that he became a trainer. Still in Afghanistan, he trained in bomb making, electronics and surface-to-air missiles before returning to Kenya in 2001.

Last March, a US submarine fired two tomahawk cruise missiles at Mr Nabhan’s hideout in Kismayu, but he survived. He spent the year supervising the training of foreign fighters in an Al-Shabaab training camp in the area.

Like most other Al-Qaeda operatives, he fled Mogadishu in 2006 when the Islamic Courts Union was kicked out by transitional government, backed by the Ethiopian army. Towards the end of last year, he released two videos, one urging volunteers to join the fight in Somalia and the other showing off the Al-Shabaab terrorist training facilities that he ran.

In open-source and other profiles of Mr Nabhan seen by the Nation, he comes across as an ambitious, gifted terrorist. He entered the Al-Faruq training camp in Afganistan at only 19 and three years later became a trainer.

But he is believed to have had a rocky relationship with his boss, Al-Qaeda’s top dog in East Africa, Abu Talha al-Sudan, now dead, so much so that he is reported to have asked the leadership of the terrorist group to allow him to mount his own terror operations.

“His relationship with the Pakistan-based leadership has been unsteady in recent years and Al-Qaida probably views Nabhan’s ambitions as having outpaced his successes,” according to one profile.

His videos, according to the profile, may have been an attempt to show the leadership that he was concentrating on terrorism as much as he was on his many wives.

The absence of Abdullah Fazul, the Comoran terrorist who has been the Al-Qaeda top man in the region and who is believed to be hiding in Tanzania, has given Mr Nabhan a chance to consolidate his leadership of the foreign fighters and stake a claim to the leadership of Al-Qaeda in Somalia.

Mr Nabhan is from a Mombasa family some of whose members are influential.

A man with three wives, he is known to move in and out of Mombasa. It is therefore strange that Kenyan authorities have never succeeded in trapping him.

source.The Nation (Kenya)

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Viewpoint: Tsvangirai’s ambiguous trip – he arrived in the West’s capitals like a collection of many personalities

Posted by African Press International on June 23, 2009

Angela Merkel and Morgan Tsvangirai inspect a guard of honour (15.06.2009)
Morgan Tsvangirai was saluted and greeted on his extensive tour of the West

In our series of weekly viewpoints from African journalists, columnist and filmmaker Farai Sevenzo considers Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s week.

In the end he arrived in the West’s capitals like a collection of many personalities:

The messenger, the fledgling diplomat, the suffering leader-turned-prime minister, the widower, the money-raiser, the prophet of hope sailing on rough seas of scepticism.

In a packed week, Morgan Tsvangirai was greeted in Washington, Oslo, Stockholm, Berlin, Brussels like the acceptable face of a country one remembers for the wrong reasons.

US President Barack Obama greeted him in the Oval Office and for the first time in a long, long time the sight of the Zimbabwean flag placed by a podium in close proximity to the host’s stars and stripes seemed to say – yes, the broken country is on its way to being mended.

Many questions

After all here is a man who has known beatings and jail standing next to President Obama, next to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and putting his country’s case to the world. Surely something is going to give?

But as usual, views about Mr Tsvangirai remained polarised:

Is he raising money for his Movement of Democratic Change party or the people of Zimbabwe? Is he in charge or is the old man, President Robert Mugabe, above him the new puppeteer?

No time to dwell on the gruesome details of the past… all the world needed to know was that Zimbabwe was now stable

Why is he being treated like a long lost relative by these people who have banned President Mugabe’s cabinet from travelling?

Why is he being saluted by the German defence forces as if he is the head of state? How much is all of this costing?

The questions were all over the place.

And depending on the answers you were looking for it was agreed that the man who entered into a pact with the people who once beat him, refused to salute him and killed hundreds of his supporters had gone through a kind of practical conversion in order for his broken country to be mended.

There was no time to dwell on the gruesome details of the past.

‘Wandering prophet’

All the world needed to know was that Zimbabwe was now stable – there is food in the shops, the 500bn% inflation has vanished like a witch in the night to leave 3% as the shining new number.

And the 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar note can be found in wallets from Harare to Helsinki only as souvenirs of the kind of figures which give calculators a heart attack.

But as soon the wandering prophet paints this version of peace, unity and development, Amnesty International lands in Zimbabwe and says the picture on his canvas is pure fiction:

Morgan Tsvangirai shaking hands with Hillary Clinton (12.06.2009)
The Zimbabwe PM spent five days in the US meeting top officials

Human rights are still precarious; citizens are still living in fear; the poor have no real hope of laying their hands on scarce foreign currency, which is the only currency in circulation.

That freedom of expression and the right protest is tied to police beatings and that human rights defenders, including journalists and lawyers, continue to be intimidated, harassed, threatened and charged.

And, tellingly, that the sweet words which laid the foundation for the unity government had not been followed by action.

“The government must give as much attention to securing human rights reforms as they are to seeking economic reforms,” Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International said.

And behold the miracle of miracles – she was saying this in a Harare press conference. Surely change is in the air?

Then the wandering prophet arrived in London.

‘Time to go home’

The thousands of exiled Zimbabweans who gathered to hear from the man they have only seen on news footage fighting enormous demons in a political life that required courage and tenacity focussed their mobile phone cameras on him.

They were like music lovers at a pop concert committing a star to memory.

Morgan Tsvangirai in London (21.06.2009)
Exiles were not persuaded by Mr Tsvangirai’s speech in London

But when he uttered those words, “It is time to go home”, the crowd turned against Prime Minister Tsvangirai and shouted their disapproval.

“Not yet,” they said. “Mugabe must go!”

They wondered how they could return to a country with no jobs, how they could uproot their children from this exiled life to a life of uncertainty and fear.

Now, I’ve never understood this need for asylum, and perhaps I’m lucky, but I go in and out of my home country as often as the pennies permit.

But there are thousands who say they fled to the United Kingdom in search of asylum from rape, torture and persecution.

So the prime minister’s words were in one stroke killing the legitimacy of their status.

“I am not saying you have to leave today,” said the prime minister. “But you should start thinking about it.” They did not seem convinced.

They said he was speaking just like Mugabe and heckled and booed him so much that his Moses speech to the exiled children of the broken country had to be cut short.

Somewhere in a presidential residence in Harare, a man may have seen the prime minister’s week on the news, and smiled.


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