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Small, but ideologically relevant inaccuracies spoil otherwise good reporting

15. März 2018 - 13:08
Thursday, March 15, 2018 - 13:00Hans DembowskiFake News in one of Germany's high-profile publicationsSometimes one wrong sentence makes an otherwise good essay useless. Frankfurter Allgemeine Woche, a weekly version of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Germany’s leading conservative daily, recently made such mistakes in its coverage of global development issues.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Woche is a high-profile magazine. Its stories read well, and they tend to be well researched too. I read it sometimes, but not regularly. Yesterday, I read last weeks issue. It included two long items that dealt with Africa. Both were flawed by small, but highly relevant inaccuracies. These inaccuracies matter because they reinforce the world view of right-wing populists in Germany.

The first essay was Philip Plickert‘s “Problemfall Afrika” (which means: Africa, a problem case). It accurately argues that, while the rich are getting richer internationally, the poor are not getting poorer and that their share of the world population is even declining. It also correctly notes that other world regions have been making faster progress than Africa, and that Africa lacks employment opportunities for masses of young people. These points are all valid.

Unfortunately, Plickert’s first paragraph included fake news. It stated that, “while people in rich countries are having fewer children, the number is ever increasing in poor countries.” This is nonsense. Birth rates are declining in all developing world regions. In 1960, women in sub-Saharan Africa used to have 6.6 children on average in 1960. The comparative figure for 2015 was 4.9. That is what World Bank statistics reveal. Yes, population growth is a serious problem, but no, birth rates are not going up. On average, Africans are much younger than Europeans – and more of the women are of child-bearing age. This is an important driver of population growth.

I know, humans make mistakes, and inaccuracies happen. As the editor of D+C/E+Z, I know that our publication is not perfect. The problem with declaring that African women are having ever more babies, however, is that it fits the propaganda of the AfD, Germany’s right-wing party. One of its leaders, Björn Höcke, has publicly expressed his worries concerning reproduction patterns in Africa. The term he used was “afrikanischer Ausbreitungstyp”, which basically means that Africans proliferate in order to conquer more territory. Such propaganda is obviously racist poison. Höcke’s  terrible message, however, was seemingly endorsed in the first paragraph of an otherwise enlightening essay. Perhaps this was done unwittingly, but ideologically relevant mistakes are the ones journalist must do most to avoid. (Update one hour after first posting: I have been in touch with the author. He states that he meant the absolute number of children and was not referring to birth rates. I accept that he did not mean to spread racist propaganda, but I insist that his wording was poor and misleading. If an author discusses the number of children people are having, it does suggest he is thinking of individual women, not the aggregate number.)

The second article was by Kurt Gerhardt and dealt with Niger. This is a desperately poor, landlocked country. Gerhardt’s headline was “Ein Bild des Jammers” (a picture of misery). He elaborated on how members of Niger’s government live in luxury while masses of people are stuck in poverty. As far as I can tell, the picture Gerhardt paints is probably realistic.

There is a snag, of course. The essay’s lead paragraph states that lack of foreign money is not the reason of poverty in vast parts of Africa, and that “official development assistance is indeed part of the problem”.  The irony is that the essay argues the economic situation is better in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Ghana. Gerhard praises these countries for dynamism and healthy attitudes to governance. Ethiopia, Rwanda and Ghana, however, have been recipients of massive aid flows in the past two decades. Obviously, ODA was not part of the problem there.

It is irritating that Frankfurter Allgemeine Woche uses the example of Niger, a particularly poor country, to suggest that aid is adding to problems everywhere, only to go on and praise countries where aid has proved helpful without mentioning this important fact.

On the other hand, the paper fails to point out that donor interest in Niger has recently grown. The reason is that donor governments hope that tighter border controls in Niger might reduce the number of refugees who try to get to Europe. Niger, after all, is a transit country. Some aid money flowing to Niger is thus meant to serve primarily European interests.

Oh, and it would of course been worth mentioning that the EU is in favour of regional integration, linking national economies to form larger markets. Regional integration, of course, is about opening borders, not controlling them more strictly. ODA policies are indeed sometimes full of contradictions. Frankfurter Allgemeine Woche did not make readers aware of this one.

Let me end by stating that I found other items in last week’s edition of Frankfurter Allgemeine Woche very good. The coverage of US trade policy was spot on, and an interview with Aiman Mazyek, who chairs the association of Muslims in Germany, was excellent. The topic was hate crimes, and Mazyek deserves to be heard on that matter.  

International relations and cooperationSub-Sahara Africa
Kategorien: english

This matter cannot wait

14. März 2018 - 13:54
African policymakers must do more than pay lip service to the Sustainable Development Goal to improve education at all levels

Education is a crucial prerequisite for fulfilling all essential needs of society (health, food, energy et cetera). This is a multi-dimensional issue because quality education is the key to success in all other sectors. Accordingly, the question arises whether societies pay education appropriate attention and commit sufficient resources accordingly.

Unfortunately, policymakers tend to be obsessed with delivering visible results fast. This makes them shy away from investments that only lead to results in the long run. Ensuring that the young generation goes to good primary and secondary schools does not pay off immediately. If they go on to university, which is even more costly, the returns will accrue even later, though they may be even more substantial.

It is generally agreed that access to schools is a basic right, and that governments must make it happen. Nonetheless, the quality of education remains inadequate in many places. Too many youngsters drop out, and too many, who finish schools, are not trained in the skills they need to earn a living.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that the international community adopted in 2000 have made a difference. As pledged, primary school enrolment has increased dramatically in developing countries, especially in Africa. However, quality was often neglected, and so were secondary and tertiary education.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which the UN adopted in 2015 as the follow-up agenda to the MDGs, are more comprehensive. SDG4 is “quality education” at all levels, including vocational training and special education for those with disabilities.

Achieving SDG4 will require resources. Additional schools must be built and more teachers need to be hired. Class sizes must decrease and infrastructure must improve – not least to ensure access to information technology (IT). According to estimates, Africa will need about $ 60 billion annually. It is very unlikely that Africa will be able to meet the needs without partners. To encourage official development assistance, however, African policymakers must prove they take education seriously.

Tertiary education must not be neglected. One reason why tertiary education matters is that it boosts the quality of primary and secondary education. The better teachers are trained, the better their work will turn out.

More generally speaking, higher learning is the key to future success, not least because it will form the next generation of leaders. It is shameful that national governments and the donor community used to consider higher education a luxury for developing countries.

The truth is that African colleges are mostly in a rather poor shape. The number of universities increased by 115 % from 2000 to 2010, and enrolment more than doubled from 2.3 million to 5.2 million students, according to UNESCO. However, only one African university was among the worlds 100 best, to judge by the world universities ranking of 2016. Africa’s future depends on educational institutions becoming better at all levels.

No, doubt, the future is about knowledge. It is time for Africa to take advantage of the new demographic realties and maximise its dividends by transitioning to knowledge-based societies. Africans must become competent and competitive in all sectors.

Unless we aspire to roles of global leadership, we will not become global leaders. Paying lip service to education is not enough. African governments must rise to the challenges and deliver results. They must set in motion a virtuous circle in which better education at all levels further improves education at all levels. This is an issue that cannot wait. Postponing the matter means to postpone the future.

Belay Begashaw is director general of the Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa (SDGC/A) in Kigali, Rwanda.

Kategorien: english

10 % of the disease burden

9. März 2018 - 10:53
India needs determined action to fight air pollution

Ashwini’s four year old daughter has had a persistent cough since November. Her throat is itching. The doctor says her lungs are inflammated because of Delhi’s air pollution. Ashwini has been told steaming is a must, and it would be good to use air purifiers and keep her child indoors. The girl missed more than 20 days of school this winter.

Vikas, a 30 year old cancer survivor, complains about a tough winter. Wheezing bothers him, and he has even been to the emergency ward. He too has been told to use air purifiers.

The poor are disproportionately affected by air pollution, of course. They cannot afford air purifiers or good quality pollution masks. Moreover, they do not benefit from the protected environments of sealed spaces such as cars, offices or well-built apartment houses.

Air pollution has caused concern in the expatriate community as well. For example, Mariela Cruz Alvarez, Costa Rica’s ambassador to India, described in a viral blog post how India has become a threat to her health. At the onset of every winter, Delhi finds itself in international spotlight for poor air quality. This year was no different. At the end of October 2017, some monitoring stations reported an AQI (air quality index) of 999. According to experts, this is equivalent to smoking 45 to 50 cigarettes daily. The Indian National Medical association declared a “public-health emergency”, and Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi, likened the national capital to a “gas chamber” in a tweet.

AQI is based on measurements of PM2.5, the tiny particulate matter emitted by combustion engines. It can slip into the lungs and enter the blood stream, adversely affecting human health. Impacts include cardio and respiratory problems. According to a study published by the science journal The Lancet, various kinds of pollution resulted in 2.5 million deaths in India in 2015 — the highest number anywhere in the world. The World Health Organization has stated that half of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India. Indeed, the air quality of places like Gwalior, Allahabad or Patna is worse than Delhi’s.

Yet the Indian government seems to be in denial. The central government has told the parliament that there was no conclusive data to establish a direct correlation between air pollution and death or disease in February 2018.

However, not all state institutions are negligent. The Supreme Court of India has been nudging the Ministry of Environment (MoE) to take nationwide action. Its judges have stressed that the problem does not only concern the national capital region.

Nonetheless, the Central Pollution Control Board, which is subordinate to the MoE was recently reported to have permitted 400 thermal power stations to continue to emit pollutants above the official limit, for up to five more years. Things are thus hardly set to get better. Thermal power generation accounts for about 90 % of industrial emissions. On the upside, the National Green Tribunal has decided that no new thermal power plant will get an environment clearance unless it complies with the new norms.

Rural areas are affected by air pollution too. Indeed, research done by the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and the Health Effects Institute shows that 75 % of air pollution-related deaths occurred there. Indoor air pollution – which mostly results from cooking on coal, wood or cow dung fires – matters in this context. As the central government’s recent Health of the Nation’s States report showed, indoor air pollution has been coming down significantly since 1990, while outdoor air pollution is getting worse. Together, they accounted for 10 % of the total disease burden in 2016, second only to child and maternal malnutrition.

The nation’s battle against pollution needs much more than ad-hoc, knee-jerk reactions which concentrate on the national capital region only. India must make valiant and persistent efforts to improve the air quality because a healthy workforce and conducive natural environment is essential for the country to enjoy the full benefits of its slowing but still rapid economic growth.

Roli Mahajan is a freelance journalist based in Delhi.

Kategorien: english

Trump’s trade policy is ill-advised and dangerous

9. März 2018 - 10:02
Friday, March 9, 2018 - 10:00Hans DembowskiAn erratic US president is playing with fireUS President Donald Trump has now formally declared that he will impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports. The rates will be 25 % for steel and 10 % for aluminium. Canada and Mexico will initially exempt, and other allies of the USA can apply for exemptions. These steps are ill-advised and dangerous.

They are ill-advised because, as many economists have argued, they have the potential to slow down the global economy, hurting the US economy as much as they will hurt those of steel exporting countries. They are dangerous because other countries are now under pressure to retaliate. If they do not do so, they will allow Trump to bully and blackmail them. They would unilaterally renounce the principles of rules-based trade.

Retaliation may tempt Trump to impose yet more tariffs. Such tit-for-tat action can escalate into a trade war that would severely damage the global economy. It could ultimately affect all companies that depend on cross-border supply chains. In today’s globalised world, that means almost every manufacturing business in advanced nations, emerging markets and developing countries. 

The trade-war risk is exacerbated by the fact that the Trump administration has been slowly undermining the arbitration system of the World Trade Organization. If a government considers tariffs newly imposed by a trade partner to be unfair, it can appeal to the WTO system – and if the WTO arbitrators accept its arguments, it gets the permission to impose punitive tariffs in retaliation.

For months, the White House has been blocking the appointment of new arbitrators who would replace those who retire (see my recent D+C/E+Z contribution “The Trump jolt”). Without a sufficient number of arbitrators, decisions will become impossible later this year. The implication is that retaliatory tariffs could no longer be legitimised by WTO decisions and trade disputes would become much more difficult to resolve. Global trade is heading for a chaotic free-for-all era.

At this point, WTO arbitrators should permit retaliatory tariffs. The case is difficult because the Trump administration is the first government arguing in the WTO context that it needs tariffs for national-security reasons. In principle, that is WTO compatible. There is no precedent, however, and the rule is not clear cut. Trump is opening a kind of Pandora’s box. Following his example, any country might impose "national-security" tariffs on all sorts of products. Almost any commodity, including food, can be considered security-relevant, after all.

If appealed to, WTO arbitrators should therefore focus on the fact that Trump's arguments are incoherent. On the one hand, he argues that his tariffs are needed to protect national security. On the other hand, his tweeting reveals that he wants to use the tariffs as bargaining chips in trade talks, including with Canada and Mexico. There is no indication at all of defence industries in the USA lacking metal supplies, but a clear pattern of Trump catering to his base in rust-belt states. This is a quite evidently a trade, rather than a security issue. Why else would the president have invited steel workers to attend the event he hosted to sign the new rules. The WTO cannot accept a flimsy "national security" pretext if it is to protect the rules-based system.

If the idea is that the USA needs its own steel and aluminium industry, it does not make sense to exclude Canada, Mexico and potentially other allies only temporarily. If, however, the idea is that US-based armed manufacturers can rely on supplies from close allies, they should be exempted from tariffs permanently. If, as seems most likely, the idea is to please Trump’s base and detract from his administration’s many scandals, it is not valid in legal terms at all. None of this matters, however, if arbitrators do not get a say anymore, which may be the case in a few months.

To some extent, regional trade agreements and meta-agreements between them may contribute to limiting the damage. It is interesting that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is now being concluded even though Trump withdrew the USA last year. The remaining governments emphasise that they want a rules-based system. Apparently, they are inviting others to join. However, trade agreements are very hard to negotiate because they touch upon very many interests in very many sectors and very many places. 

That Trump’s trade policy is mad has been pointed out by many commentators. I’ve done my best to summarise the most important points. If you want to read more, check out a column that Martin Wolf, the chief economist at the Financial Times (which uses a paywall), wrote. It summed up the “trade follies” brilliantly. In the New York Times (which allows you to read a number of articles free of charge), Paul Krugman has been hard on Trump’s case as well. Relevant columns were posted on Tuesday and today. Today's issue of The Economist includes relevant stories too. 

Trump is erratic and loves to play with fire. This is something the global public became aware of even before he became president. It is absurd to expect him to assume responsibility at some point because he obviously has no understanding of what it means to assume responsibility. He excels in bragging, bullying – and changing his mind.

The time to consider his personal unfitness for the office he holds is over. Criticism must now focus on the Republicans in Congress who haven been – and still are – enabling him. Some now warn that tariffs are an awful policy choice and ask him to reconsider. Others still support him, saying he is only doing what he promised. Neither side has much credibility.

Unfortunately, it is obvious to anyone who cares to look that the entire Republican party is unprincipled and prone to double standards. They used to demand balanced budgets, but have now decided that huge tax cuts are more important. They promised to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something much better, but are now slowly destroying the health-care system in small steps because they lack any coherent concept. They used to insist on family values, but now they look away when their president pays hush money to a porn star. They used to attack Hillary Clinton because she may have used her office as Secretary of State to put important people in touch with the charitable foundation of her husband Bill Clinton. Today, Republicans refuse to look into how Trump and his family are using the White House to enrich themselves.  

It is fascinating to watch how the media, civil society and state and local governments are fighting back in the USA. US democracy may yet recover from the Trump disease. For the moment, however, it is quite obvious that governance in the USA is struggling with a very serious illness. Due to Republican negligence, checks and balances are not working.  

P.S.: Yet more diversion: the headline news today is not tariffs, but Trump's decision to meet North Korean dicatator Kim Jong Un. I'll refrain from commenting, and will only mention that a top-level meeting with the US president has been high on the wish list of North Korean leaders since Bill Clinton was in the White House. Trump, who likes to act tough, is set to be the first to make it come true. Kim is likely to make it look like his nuclear programme has made him so powerful that Trump must treat him as an equal. Perhaps that is necessary to maintain peace - but it certainly does not make America look great again.   

Democracy and the rule of lawInternational relations and cooperation
Kategorien: english

The Turtles of Tripoli

7. März 2018 - 12:20
Small groups in Libya have started waste-sorting to protect the environment

“The book is part of a project,” says Najwa Wheba. Her group also runs workshops with teachers, encouraging them to spread the information in schools. She is a co-founder of the civil-society organisation Oxygen Association for Environment Protection.

“The book consists of three chapters. The first focuses on a number of animals and plants and their relevance in the ecological balance,” Wheba explains. “The second chapter discusses urban garbage problems and explains why waste sorting must start at the household level. The third one offers handicraft ideas inspired by nature.”

“Turtles of Tripoli” is the title of efforts that focus on the damage that plastic causes. “Sea turtles die because of plastic bags which look like jellyfish, so they feed on them,” says Thurya Al-Sedig, the chairwoman of Oxygen.

Hanan Banooga belongs to the teachers’ group. They now want to teach students how to handle garbage at home. “We have formed a team of students from different classes that we call ‘police of environment’.” The team is taught to use three large bags to sort waste in schools and on the school grounds. One is for plastic, one for paper and one for biodegradable waste.

Maher Alshahry, a local environmentalist, says the project is very important even though it has little resources and, so far, does not have much support. “It is a promising start,” he maintains, “and it inspires hope.” He points out that government authorities tend to stay silent on environmental issues, and many are probably unaware of what needs to be done. A clean environment thus depends on civil-society action. Oxygen is implementing its project in coordination with the Tripoli Municipal Council, sponsored by VNG International, a Dutch association which is working on behalf of the EU.

Moutaz Ali is a journalist and lives in Tripoli, Libya.

Oxygen Association for Environment Protection:

Kategorien: english

Ignored achievements

7. März 2018 - 11:35
In order to rise to future challenges, humanity needs to be aware of past achievements

One example is public health. International data show that it has improved dramatically. Smallpox has been eradicated, and Polio has almost been eradicated. In 1988, 350,000 new infections were reported around the world. Now we are down to two-digit figures. In 2013, there were 45 % fewer Tuberculosis (TB) patients than in 1990, and the mortality rate had declined by 41 % in that time span. From 1995 to 2014, some 7.6 million deaths of HIV/AIDS were prevented with free supplies of anti-retroviral medication.

Statistics for other sectors are good as well. In India, only 70 % of the people had access to safe drinking water in 1990, but the share rose to 94 % by 2015. In China, the respective figure even went up from 66 % to 95 % – and in Ghana from 55 % to 89 %.

The share of the world population’s extremely poor people has decreased dramatically too. About 90 % of the 1.1 billion people who lived in 1820 were struggling at the subsistence level. In 1970, that was true of 60 % of 3.6 billion people. In 2011, only 14 % of 7 billion people were extremely poor.

Population growth, some might now say, is a challenge in itself – and that is true. However, the speed has been reduced remarkably, and the peak is in sight. The world population may yet grow to 11 billion people at most, but from that point on it will decrease according to current trends.

In spite of such data, many people believe that things just keep getting worse. In rich countries, many citizens doubt that global development efforts make sense at all. Three issues are driving this misperception:

  • The media find it much easier to sell bad news, and that results in the impression that things used to be much better than they are today.
  • Donor government’s aid efforts are measured by the input. A successful minister for international development manages to mobilise more money, for example, by making his government fulfil the decades-old pledge of spending 0.7 % of gross domestic income on official development assistance (ODA). Taxpayers, however, want to know what is done with those financial resources, and they are not satisfied with mere disbursement figures. It is impossible to indicate the results precisely in euros and cents, and this is directly linked to the third issue.
  • Humanity is facing several huge challenges that can only be mastered by taking many small and separate steps. To fight poverty, we must act at local, national and global levels and deal with many different issues – from food supply to employment, from education and health to elderly care. To protect the climate, we must improve energy efficiency and switch to renewables in all sectors – including manufacturing, agriculture, transport and private households. The options are multidimensional, and all action is piecemeal. Causal attribution of results to individual players is next to impossible because of the multitude of partners who must assume responsibility.

The truth is that the share of the world’s extremely poor people has been declining for decades, but many people nonetheless believe that the poor are only getting poorer. And no, the global financial crisis of 2008 did not reverse the long-term trend.

Governmental and non-governmental development agencies alike must do more to make the public aware of developmental success. The point is not to claim that ODA is at the root of all progress. As argued above, linear causality is hard to establish in highly complex context. It would, however, be absurd to argue that ODA is completely useless when some developmental goals have indeed been achieved and others look increasingly within reach.

We must fight hopelessness and resignation. Humankind is indeed facing daunting challenges, and rising to them will require huge collective efforts. In order to tackle this enormous task we need to better understand how much we have already achieved – and how much more we can achieve.

Matthias Meis heads the strategy unit at Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Kategorien: english

Ahead of Egypt’s managed elections, Saudi crown prince supports incumbent president

6. März 2018 - 11:12
Tuesday, March 6, 2018 - 10:45Hans DembowskiGrand Neom vision is unrealistic, but politically usefulEgypt will hold elections this month, and it is no secret that incumbent President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi will be confirmed in office. As he is the only serious candidate, he has no reason to fear that voters will kick him out. He may nonetheless worry about losing face. That might happen. Low voter turnout may prove that the people are not enthusiastic about his rule.

In this setting, he has just hosted a prominent guest. Mohamed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince, came to Egypt and promised further support to el-Sisi. The two leaders pledged to establish a $ 10 billion fund that will promote infrastructure development and urbanisation near Sharm el-Sheikh, the Red Sea resort at the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula. Saudi Arabia will lease Egyptian land there and invest in the projects.

For Egypt, a poor nation with 95 million people but no natural resources, this undertaking looks very promising. Seen from the other side of the Red Sea however, it is only a small part of a much bigger project. MbS, as the crown prince is commonly called, wants to build a new high-tech mega city which will be called Neom. Investments worth an estimated $ 500 billion will be needed. The new agglomeration is supposed to reach into the territory of Egypt and Jordan. It will include two uninhabited islands in the Red Sea that el-Sisi has conceded to Saudi Arabia some time ago.

The vision is grand. MbS wants Neom to become a hub of industry and commerce, attracting financial institutions as well as manufacturing and tourists. On the one hand, Neom is supposed to become something like a special economic zone (SEZ), where the laws of Saudi Arabia do not apply, so it will be easier to foster businesses and attract investors. On the other hand, however, the zone will not have the competitive advantage that SEZs normally rely on at first. If, as planned, Neoms economy is to be marked by innovative robots and advanced information technology, labour costs cannot be low. The obvious reason is that robots and computers will do a lot of the cheap work.

Experience tells us that an SEZ can be very successful. In South China, Shenzhen grew from a small fishing village to an industrialised mega city of some 10 million people within a few decades. Economists have studied this example well. Initially, garments, toys and other low-tech items were made there, but in the meantime Shenzhen has become a centre of the electronics industry.

Experience also tells us, however, that it is close to impossible to start a high-tech hub in the middle of nowhere. The reason is that high-tech companies need high-tech services. Otherwise, it is hard to solve sudden, unforeseen problems, which are sure to arise when taking innovative approaches. This is why hubs of high-tech industries typically grow in near established urban centres where physical and social infrastructures – from power supply all the way to research intensive universities – are firmly in place.

Silicon Valley, for example, has always benefited from the strong infrastructure of the San Francisco Bay area. And it is no coincidence, of course, that Shenzhen is close to Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Neom will not have that kind of an economic environment. The vision is bound to fail.

At the moment, I doubt that either el-Sisi or MbS worry much about whether the Neom vision is realistic at all. They promote the vision because it makes them look strong and confident.

Both el-Sisi and MBS know that the viability of Neom will not be critically assessed by their nations’ media. Their governments strictly limit the freedom of expression. MbS is eager to show off his modernising ambitions. The Neom scheme serves that purpose. For el-Sisi, Neom does not matter that much. Ever since grabbing power in a military coup in 2013, el-Sisi’s regime has depended on Saudi Arabia’s financial support. The new urbanisation fund for the Sharm-el-Sheikh area is only the latest instalment.

From el-Sisi’s point of view, however, Neom does have a downside. Some patriotic Egyptians were upset when the two islands mentioned above became Saudi Arabian territory. All in all, however, el-Sisi probably thinks that attracting Saudi money for improving infrastructure on the Red Sea coast probably does more to boost his standing – not least, because Egyptian media are not going to emphasise the islands.


Democracy and the rule of lawPhysical and social infrastructuresMENA Middle East North Africa
Kategorien: english

Back to a normal life

28. Februar 2018 - 12:25
A former child soldier from Colombia reports how she found her way back into society

If you sit opposite Claudia (name changed) you can see that she is a likeable young women, who has a good sense of humour, noticeable dimples and red strands in her long black hair. The student dreams of travelling to as many countries as possible and “making full use of her life”. Claudia is a former child soldier who has made it back to a normal life.

The 20-year-old woman comes from a rural area of Colombia. Her father was a single parent and raised her and four other siblings. Money was tight. When the enthusiastic student went to 11th grade, the family’s economic hardship became overwhelming. When Claudia was 16 she saw no other way out than to join the armed militia group that was a regular presence in her village. Claudia shared her story with us in late January at an event Don Bosco hosted in Bonn.

Poverty is the main reason why minors (young people) join the rebels. In addition to the best-known rebel group FARC-EP (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo), the UN has repeatedly accused other groups such as ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional) of recruiting children.

The 2016 peace agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government ended 50 years of civil war. This tentative agreement made it easier to work with the victims of the civil war, Father Rafael Bejarano says. He directs Ciudad Don Bosco in Medellín, the child-protection centre where Claudia lives. Domestic companies, for example, have been hiring victims of armed conflict. Yet, in spite of the agreement with the FARC, Colombia is still far from peace, Bejarano regrets. The rebels’ political and criminal motives were intertwined, especially as militant groups’ funding depended on the drug trade. In late January, the Colombian government suspended the peace talks with the ELN rebels – for the time being.

Claudia tells the story of her everyday life during the 15 months she spent with the fighters. She learned how to handle weapons and participated in armed clashes with government forces. She recalls being very scared. “You can’t forget times like that, but you can come to grips with the memories,” she says.

While on an errand in the city, she was arrested by government soldiers one day. That was her salvation. At first she came to live with a family, later she would move to Ciudad Don Bosco in Medellín. The long road of reintegration had begun. Claudia’s advantage, according to her supervisor Olga Cecilia García Flórez, was that she had been attending school for a long time before joining the militia. Many of the children arrive at the Don Bosco not only in poor physical and mental health, but they are also illiterate. Most missed several years of formal education.

Claudia remembers, however, that her early years in the centre were very depressing. A ray of hope was her brother, whom she reunited with at the Ciudad Don Bosco. He had joined an armed militia group before her and was also captured by the military.

Around 250 former child soldiers are presently cared for in the Ciudad Don Bosco. In addition to the house in Medellín, Don Bosco has another centre in Cali. The traumatised children and adolescents receive a foster family in the community, the caregivers try to give them a sense of belonging and prepare them for a future in society, Father Rafael reports. When the young people leave the child-protection centre, they have been taught vocational skills, from hairdressing to car mechanics. Father Rafael says that the children come to the child-protection centre voluntarily, and this contributes to the centre’s success.

Over the past years, Don Bosco has looked after over 2,300 former child soldiers in Colombia. The two institutions in Medellín and Cali not only train young people, but also help them to cope with the traumas. Claudia stayed at Ciudad Don Bosco for three years and has recently left the programme. She is presently fulfilling her dream of studying health management – with the help of a Don Bosco scholarship.


Kategorien: english

Sugar crisis in Mexico

28. Februar 2018 - 11:56
In Mexico, a consumer protection organisation campaigns against the food lobby and fights for sensible health policies

How bad is the diabetes crisis in Mexico?
Today, Mexico is talking about an epidemic of overweight and obesity that affects 72 % of adults and one third of children and adolescents. In 2016, diabetes mellitus caused more than 100,000 premature deaths in the country, which led to the Ministry of Health to declare an epidemiological emergency.

Why did the crisis reach such proportions?
The problem of obesity was identified a few decades ago, but researchers who pointed it out were ignored. Instead of introducing preventive measures that would have slowed down the problem, the doors were opened to the big multinational corporations in the food and beverage industry, while at the same time neglecting Mexican agriculture. As a result, ultra-processed products proliferated across the country. They are also known as junk food, containing ingredients from monocultures such as wheat, corn or soybeans and artificial substances. New eating habits developed, with industrial products replacing traditional drinks and foodstuffs. Due to a lack of regulation, junk food became more accessible and affordable in Mexico (also see article in D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2018/02, p.6).

What is the role of soft drinks such as coke or soda?
The consumption of sugary beverages is a huge problem. For several years now, Mexican per-capita soda consumption has been the world’s highest. The problem is the high sugar content and the use of corn syrup with high fructose content. These drinks not only make people overweight and obese because fatty tissue grows in the body. They also lead to metabolic damage that makes the development of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases more likely, and these are the main causes of death in Mexico today.

Mexico is even known as the “Coca-Cola nation”....
Coca-Cola products are sold not only in the country’s 21,000 large Oxxo stores, but also in small shops and restaurants. The corporation paints their walls and provides them with table cloths and kitchen utensils. In some rural communities, Coca-Cola signs welcome visitors. Although the company has stated that it does not advertise for children under the age of 12, marketing efforts are made even in amusement parks.

Are certain groups, such as children or rural people, particularly affected?
The poor have less access to healthy food and less information about the damage caused by junk food and sugary drinks. Neither people with a lower level of education nor children have sufficient information to withstand the million dollars worth of advertising and the prominence of unhealthy food in everyday life. Unfortunately, this is true of indigenous communities as well. In the Altos de Chiapas region, for example, Coca-Cola’s per capita consumption is 2.25 litres per day. A recent study shows that overweight and obesity have increased significantly in rural areas, while they have stabilised in urban areas.

How does the disease change the everyday life of those affected?
Many poorer individuals only find out that they have diabetes when a wound on a foot does not heal, or when they start to go blind, and the doctor finds that they have retinal damage. It is common for people with diabetes to develop complications. The most common complications are vision problems and loss of vision. Amputations are needed too, and kidney failures occur. Many diabetics take drugs, but most of them do not manage the disease well. The quality of life of the individuals concerned deteriorates. If diabetes is diagnosed early on and managed well, complications and consequential damage can be largely avoided.

To what extent do patients receive appro­priate medical care from state agencies?
Overweight and diabetes cause considerable costs for families and the state, which leads to horrendous household expenditures. To give you an example: Hemodialysis, which is needed by people with kidney failure due to diabetes complications, is very expensive. If the state wanted to include them in the “Seguro Popular”, the insurance with the largest coverage in Mexico, it would have to invest 80 % of its total budget – which is obviously impossible. We know that many hospitals deal with ulcer complications that cause gangrene by amputating limbs instead of applying less invasive but more expensive treatments.

Mexico introduced a tax on soft drinks in 2014 in the fight against the diabetes crisis. Does the “soda tax” work?
Studies have shown that the tax reduced the purchase of sugary beverages by 6.3 % in its first year, and the impact was even greater on households with children (11 %) and poorer households (10.3 %). In addition, the purchase of bottled water rose by 16.2 %. Next, the soda-tax revenue – or at least a substantial share of it – should be used for measures to prevent overweight and obesity. In cooperation with other civil-society organisations, we have proposed to create a fund to prevent overweight and obesity, but the government is reluctant to impose this measure.

Do you see a rethink among the Mexican people so far?
The people have become aware of the harmfulness of some products such as sugary drinks, but there is a great ignorance of other unhealthy foods such as processed cereals, yoghurt and other products that are marketed as being healthy even though they contain a lot of additional sugar.

Government and corporations block reforms. You and other health experts even became targets of espionage attacks (see also D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2017/06, p. 14). What’s happening?
There were attempts to tap our computers and phones. The Israeli NSO Group sent me an infected link with a spy malware named Pegasus. The company only sells these systems to governments – to fight organised crime and terrorism. Two days after I received the link, another colleague who was in Congress to campaign for the soda tax increase got it too. At the same time, the computer of a prominent researcher from the National Institute of Health was infected with Pegasus. Thanks to an investigation, we know that a dozen journalists and members of non-governmental organisations campaigning for human rights and against corruption were spied on. Based on the information available, our only convincing hypothesis is that public administrators provided espionage services to private-sector companies, which shows that the links between corporations and the government are close.

What power do corporations have over policymakers?
The food and beverage companies lobby legislators, buy scientists and sow public doubt. These are just some of the strategies they use to thwart sensible health policies. The National Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Overweight, Obesity and Diabetes, which the current government is implementing, is an example of how Mexico’s food and beverage industry interferes with public policy. The policy’s measures do not comply with the relevant international recommendations and guidelines. Some measures actually serve the interests of the food and beverage industries more than they help consumers. It is now mandatory to put a label with nutritional information on the front of food packaging, but the format is difficult to understand. The rule’s implementation is unconvincing.

What must be done to control the crisis?
This health crisis requires a human-rights approach, which must be supported by policies to prevent overweight, obesity and chronic diseases. Experts recommend a holistic approach, tackling the problem at all relevant levels, from food production to policy implementation. The consumption of unhealthy food must be made more difficult, whereas the consumption of healthy food and beverages must be facilitated and promoted. Relevant issues include regulating advertising for children, introducing convincing labelling and regulating school meals to ensure that children receive healthy food and free drinking water. Further taxes on unhealthy foodstuffs would also make sense, and so would subsidies for healthy products.

Alejandro Calvillo is the founder of El Poder del Consumador (Consumer’s Power), a Mexican civil-society organisation.

Kategorien: english

The grim legacy of dictatorship

28. Februar 2018 - 11:00
Since the end of the military dictatorship, Argentina’s governments have found it difficult to deal with the armed forces

A 2017 report by Latinobarómetro, a polling institute, showed that public opinion in Argentina is polarised over the armed forces. According to the study, only 50 % of the people trust the military. Apparently, it is perceived not just as a protective institution, but also as a threat.

Military rule was murderous in Argentina. The generals grabbed power in 1976 and their regime only fell after losing the Malvinas (Falklands war) in 1983. Influenced by the USA, they promoted conservative nationalism and claimed to protect the status quo. They opposed any kind of redistribution of income or wealth, and even liberal forces were hounded as supposedly leftist insurgents. Experts reckon that their state terrorism claimed about 30,000 lives. In Chile, in comparison, where military rule lasted much longer, repression killed about 4,500 people. Today, the populations of Argentina and Chile are almost 45 million and 18 million respectively.

After Argentina’s last military junta collapsed in 1983, various governments faced a fundamental problem: they needed to decide how to deal with the armed forces. According to Paula Canelo, a sociology professor at the University of Buenos Aires, this meant solving the “military question”. The impacts of military rule had to be dealt with some way. Canelo says that “the armed forces had historically shown a clear tendency to create their own definitions of their purpose, doctrine and mission”. That mission was typically directed against an internal threat, not an external one.

The sociologist also sees “crucial significance in the fact that the armed forces absolutely compromised themselves by committing serious crimes”. As a result they are still being “totally rejected by one part of civil society”. Criminal action and defeat in the Malvinas war plunged the armed forces into deep crisis.

New social movements

It was clear from the very first democratically elected administration that any attempt to address the “military question” would have to focus on human rights. The reason was the pressure applied by numerous activist groups, the most prominent of which was the “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo”. This organisation demanded information concerning the fates of missing relatives.

Canelo argues that President Raúl Alfonsín (1983 – 1989) wanted to see a small group of perpetrators to be sentenced to exemplary punishments, so the rest of the military institutions could be absolved from blame. The relevant trial, which took place in 1985, is known as the “Juicio a las Juntas” (the reckoning of the juntas).

In 1986, the Alfonsín administration passed the “Ley de Punto Final” (full stop law). It was supposed to ensure that the list of accused culprits would not grow any further. Nonetheless, there was a steady stream of new indictments, and that prompted a series of military rebellions. Canelo says that they were directed “against the ‘progressives’ in the military and government, who were considered incapable of upholding a general amnesty”. Under such pressure, the Ley de Obediencia Debida (law of due obedience) was passed in 1987. It exempted all lower ranks from prosecution for any crimes committed during the “dirty war”, provided they were not considered “excesses”.

The military had thus achieved its objective, but the majority of Argentinians regarded the legislation as a betrayal of the promise that law and justice would prevail. People rallied against the military, demonstrating around barracks and displaying their determination to defend the new democracy.

The administration of Carlos Menem (1989 – 1999) decided to let bygones be bygones as far as the armed forces were concerned. In 1991, it granted amnesty to junta dictators, ushering in a phase of considerable harmony between the government and the army. According to sociologist Canelo, “the new heads of the armed forces were strengthened”. Criminal proceedings were put on ice, and state agencies no longer showed interest in human-rights abuses.

The government’s decrees did not reconcile the armed forces with society, however. On the contrary, they triggered opposition and gave rise to new social movements. The best-known organisation is HIJOS (Hijos e Hijas por la Identidad y la Justicia contra el Olvido y el Silencio – Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice Against Oblivion and Silence). Its activities include the public naming and shaming of military people who were involved in the crimes of the dictatorship. The HIJOS thus created a form of public justice that the judicial system had been unable to deliver.

Important ally of the USA

The ensuing years were marked by military defeat in the war over the Malvinas Islands (1982) and a soaring national debt. Argentina had to adopt tough structural-adjustment policies devised by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Public spending was cut, the economy was deregulated and opened up to the world market. At the same time, the country’s military alliances changed. President Menem withdrew Argentina from the non-aligned movement, forged close relations with the USA and, in 1990/91, joined the international alliance for the Gulf War.

Argentina has since contributed soldiers to UN peacekeeping missions in far-away places like Cyprus, Kuwait, Kosovo and Libya. This new role for the armed forces on the world stage is known as “active engagement”. This policy has made Argentina one of the United States’ most important allies outside NATO.

While these new international alliances were being forged, however, the defence budget was cut. It still is comparatively small. A new defence law was enacted, moreover, which strictly separates defence against external threats from internal-security issues. The armed forces are to confine their activities exclusively to national defence and may only be deployed to address military and external threats. As a matter of principle, they are banned from getting involved in matters of internal security.

Unfortunately, this principle is not enforced resolutely. Christian Castillo, a sociology professor at the University of La Plata, argues that two institutions – the Gendarmería and the Prefectura – were given everything they need to suppress social unrest by force. Semi-military action is thus still possible with regard to domestic-security issues such as drug trafficking, terrorism, organised crime, gun running and ethnic conflicts. In view of the country’s traumatic past, it is unsurprising that many citizens are uncomfortable with this scenario.

More indictments

After Argentina’s devastating financial crisis in 2001/02, the defence budget was cut further. Moreover, human-rights groups insisted on dictatorship crimes being prosecuted once more. Trials resumed. Between 2007 and 2016, around 1000 members of the military and security forces were taken to court, and some 300 guilty verdicts were handed down. In the eyes of sociologist Canelo, this new judicial activism partly served to “restore the state’s lost legitimacy”.

The administrations of Néstor Kirchner (2003 – 2007) and Cristina Kirchner (2007 – 2015) were ambivalent about the military. On the one hand, at a highly symbolic official ceremony in 2004, President Néstor Kirchner ordered that all photographs of former dictators and Junta generals be removed from the walls of the military academy. At the same time, he created an illegal espionage and intelligence apparatus.

Since the inauguration of the new administration led by President Mauricio Macri in 2015, attempts are once again being made to secure impunity for convicted soldiers and to suppress police investigations against their civilian accomplices. This could be related to the fact that the incumbent president’s family profited massively from the dictatorship. The Macri Group grew from seven to 47 companies during those years, and the junta even nationalised private debts it had incurred.

In November 2017, the submarine ARA San Juan disappeared with 44 servicemen on board off the coast of Argentina. Ever since, voices on various sides have demanded to increase the military budget. The government seems unconcerned, however.

In the past three-and-a-half decades, Argentina’s political leaders have tried in various ways to find an answer to the pressing – yet still unresolved – question of the role that the military should play. Nonetheless, the nation has still not come to terms with the human-rights violations committed during the dictatorship.

Sebastián Vargas is a journalist from Buenos Aires. He lives in Munich.

Kategorien: english

Many churches, many names

27. Februar 2018 - 14:25
Scholars disagree about whether Africa’s independent churches constitute a group of their own

Even the “I” in the English acronym may stand for a variety of ideas.

“African Initiated Chur­ches” stresses the fact that the churches arose on the initiative of Africans. “African Independent Churches” emphasises their independence from missionary churches. “African Indigenous Churches” makes clear their cultural autonomy. The expression “African Instituted Churches” underscores the fact that they were founded and are led by Africans. This is the term the pan-African umbrella organisation OAIC (Organisation of African Instituted Churches) prefers. About one third of the AICs have joined it.

There is no scholarly consensus on whether African independent churches actually constitute a group of their own in theological terms. They are often categorised as Pentecostal or Evangelical churches. John Pobee, Thomas Oduro and John Gichimu are the most important African theologians who are shaping current discussions on the classification and social role of the AICs.

Examples of AICs include the Celestial Church of Christ in Benin, the Cherubim and Seraphim societies in Nigeria and the Zion Christian Church, which has the most members of any religious community in South Africa. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the most well-known AIC is the Kimbanguist Church.

The church landscape in East Africa includes the African Brotherhood Church, which developed as a self-help organisation for the people of the provincial city of Machakos, Kenya, and the Holy Spirit Church of East Africa, which is based in western Kenya. (hs)


Kategorien: english

Close to God and the people

27. Februar 2018 - 14:13
Why the African independent churches matter

African Instituted Churches (AICs) exist in almost all sub-Saharan African countries. The term applies to churches that are led by Africans and that have deviated from the colonial churches led by white people over the course of the 20th century. This trend should be understood partly as a rejection of European models and partly as resistance to white hegemony. The AICs have followed their own trajectory, cultivating indigenous spirituality. This kind of church only exists in Africa.

The struggle for independent churches began in the late 19th century. During the first wave, African churches arose in the context of the “Ethiopian” movement. It emphasised a biblical reference to Africans, who were called “Ethiopians” in the original Greek text. A second wave began in the 1920s when African prophets started churches that focused on healing and prayer. This was a form of silent protest against colonial powers and missionary churches, which initially ignored, then condemned and sometimes even persecuted them. The new churches played a role in African independence struggles and the indigenisation movement.

African countries’ independence from colonial rule gave the AICs another boost, and it went along with the establishment of yet more churches. Nowadays, there is a multitude of denominations and organisational models (see box, p. 16). Some 100 to 120 million people are estimated to belong to an AIC. In 2010, there were about 450 million Christians in Africa.

The theology of the AICs draws on a variety of sources and traditions. Their pan-African umbrella organisation, the Organisation of African Instituted Churches (OAIC), distinguishes three basic types:

  • To “nationalist” churches, the fight for control and leadership matters very much. Part of their divine calling relates to the conflict with Europeans. “Nationalist” is an external designation. They refer to themselves as “Ethiopian” (South Africa), “African” (West Africa) or “independent” (East Africa).
  • The “spiritual” churches emphasise the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit. To a large extent, that reflects African culture. They are frequently associated with alternative forms of community life that do not fit European models. Such churches include the West African Aladura movement (prayer churches) as well as the Celestial Church of Christ and the Cherubim and Seraphim societies, the Roho or Akurinu churches in East Africa and the apostolic and Zionist churches in southern Africa.
  • “African Pentecostal” churches are strongly future-oriented while at the same time staying true to their African roots. They were founded during the third wave, after national independence, and are influenced by the Evangelical movement around the world.

The AICs have in common that religious communication may be nonverbal. Music, dance, rituals, visions, dreams, clothing and flags are relevant, for example. For a long time, formal theological training was considered an expression of colonial paternalism. The independent churches’ top priority is to not impose any limits on the Holy Spirit. Most of their theology remains unwritten.

Since the 1970s, the AICs have made focused efforts to tap their potential of fostering African-owned development. The OAIC was founded in Cairo in 1978. Pope Shenouda III, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, initiated the step. The idea was to make Africa’s indigenous churches contribute to African unity and self-determination. His action had great symbolic meaning given that the Coptic Church is Africa’s oldest church. He wanted to forge a link with the independent churches of sub-Saharan Africa.

Self-confidence and self-determination

Nowadays, the OAIC emphasises local self-determination and direct access to the divine. Its guiding principle is community without poverty, exploitation or illness. The umbrella organisation promotes “solidarity with the poor, powerless and vulnerable” through its development programmes.

In the past decade, the anti-HIV/AIDS programme was a watershed, both in a social and theological perspective. The members of AICs are affected considerably by the pandemic since most of them live in poverty, with little access to education and health care. The OAIC wants to build just communities. In order to do so in spite of its limited means, OAIC General Secretary Nicta Lubaale relies on resourcefulness on the margins.

The OAIC engages in interfaith dialogue. On several occasions, Lubaale has represented the interests of African churches at the UN level in the debate on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In July 2014, he organised the African Faith Leaders’ Summit in Kampala to discuss the SDGs.

The OAIC has made astonishing achievements, particularly with regard to inter-church relations. Today, it works closely with the churches that arose from European missionaries. It has become a valued and trusted partner of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC). The World Council of Churches recognises the AICs as an independent confessional group.

Churches as development partners

Scholars from Humboldt University Berlin (HU) have recently been doing field research on whether AICs can serve as local partners for international development agencies. The country they considered was South Africa. So far, the results are quite encouraging. Especially in the field of education, the services of the AICs reach a large number of people, including members and non-members. Churches run schools, universities and training centres.

Occasionally, they join forces with other religious actors. As Marie-Luise Frost of Humboldt University’s Research Programme on Religious Communities and Sustainable Development, points out, one example was the AICs’ participation in events to celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November 2017 in South Africa.

Frost encourages international-development agencies to take an unbiased look at the social work that AICs are doing. Their efforts should be assessed realistically. “Respect for the religious identity of the AICs is the key to successful cooperation”, she stresses.

The AICs appreciate the unprejudiced interest of the researchers from Berlin. What matters particularly to African church leaders is that dialogue must take place on equal footing and the AICs must be involved in international development debates. Education is certainly a possible area of international cooperation.

Hans Spitzeck is a Protestant theologian and has a PhD in political science. He has been working in international development since 1992. From 2008 to 2015, he was a theological consultant for the Africa division of Brot für die Welt. His current focus is the connection between church and society in Africa and interfaith relations.


Organisation of African Instituted Churches:

African Initiated Churches and sustainable development in South Africa – potentials and perspectives:

Kategorien: english

People dying of hunger are “being murdered”

27. Februar 2018 - 12:43
Jean Ziegler, member of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, urges the international community to end world hunger

“A child dying of hunger today is being murdered”, says the former UN special rapporteur on the right to food. While one third of the food produced worldwide is thrown away every year, 815 million people suffered from under-nutrition in 2016, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In the previous year, 38 million fewer people were affected. Every year, about one percent of the world’s population dies from hunger and its immediate consequences.

Ziegler emphasises that people who lack access to food simply cannot afford it. The reasons are structural, Ziegler argues, and one issue is the liberalisation of the world economy. Multinational corporations buy land in the global south to produce goods for the global north, weakening subsistence farming and production for local markets. Additionally, climate change and natural disasters lead to famine, while food speculation increases food prices. For all these reasons, people struggle to get the provisions they need.

Humanitarian aid organisations are chronically underfunded in acute hunger crises. Ziegler recalls that only $ 247 million of the required $ 4 billion were committed to the World Food Program (WFP) at the donor conference on the hunger crisis in spring 2017. At the same time, private investors are becoming more involved in humanitarian aid, and they intend to maximise profits. Launched in September 2017, the Humanitarian Impact Bond raised 25 million Swiss francs for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is using the money to finance three rehabilitation centres in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and Nigeria. Once pre-agreed development goals are achieved, the private investors will receive repayments, including interest and perhaps even an extra profit. The repayment is guaranteed, among others, by the governments of Britain, Belgium, Italy and Switzerland. Ziegler sees a dangerous trend that could erode the moral basis of humanitarian aid.

At an event hosted by medico international, an international non-governmental organisation, in Frankfurt, Ziegler said in February that governments around the world are too closely linked to financial elites, and that official development cooperation supports unjust structures through its cooperation with despots and multinational corporations. Moreover, the governments are increasingly losing regulatory competence and sovereignty through market liberal restructuring and globalisation.

A working group of the UN Human Rights Council is currently working on a draft agreement for an international agreement on business and human rights. Although it may take years to come into force, Ziegler hopes the agreement will replace companies’ ineffective voluntary commitments and serve to better protect the human rights of workers and people affected by business operations. The agreement would force nation states to establish laws that compel companies to respect human rights in their global supply chains. It could also empower victims of rights violations to sue companies for compensation.

Ziegler places the greatest hopes in a “planetary civil society”, which is resisting global injustice. One example is La Via Campesina, an international movement of peasants and farm labourers. La Via Campesina campaigns for the principle of food security – the right of every country to provide for itself. This approach is meant to give all people access to a sufficient amount of healthy and nutritious food. Ziegler also praises the World Social Forum, an annual meeting of civil society organisations critical of globalisation.


Kategorien: english

Trapped in a vicious cycle

27. Februar 2018 - 12:21
Since the global spread of non-communicable diseases not only results from longer life-expectancies, social disparities must be tackled

That was then. Life expectancy has risen in most places. Internationally, the number of people who are overweight is now twice as high as the number of those with insufficient calorie intake. Development has resulted in people living longer lives, and one implication is that chronic NCDs have become more common. Humans are mortal. If infectious diseases, violence or accidents do not kill us, an NCD will eventually cause our death. Blood pressure and blood-sugar levels tend to increase with age, and accordingly strokes, heart attacks, kidney failures and other terminal crises become more likely. Cancer becomes more likely with age as well. (Some kinds of cancer are infectious, but it often becomes chronic and requires long-term management.)

Unfortunately, masses of people get ill far too early in life. Ageing is not the only cause of NCDs spreading. Another one is that major food corporations are promoting unhealthy products. Moreover, air pollution makes respiratory illnesses more likely.  NCDs are complex conditions. Over-simplification must be avoided, but it is true that the main drivers of the NCD plague include:

  • food that contains too much fat, sugar and/or salt,
  • the consumption of tobacco, alcohol and other stimulants,
  • lack of physical exercise and
  • stress, time pressure and lack of rest.

If an NCD is managed well, patients normally do not suffer devastating consequences for a long time. Even most kinds of cancer can be kept in check. The problem is that the majority of people living with an NCD today belong to low-income groups. Most are not in a position to manage their health issues well for the rest of their lives. All too many lack access to professional health care. And even if they are diagnosed, they probably cannot afford all relevant medications and treatments. Families are overburdened, especially as an unchecked NCD reduces a patient’s ability to work and earn money.

Health has socio-economic aspects, and poor patients get stuck in vicious cycles of deprivation. They lack information, services and resources. Knowing they are unlikely to get the support they need, many do not even want to be diagnosed, so their health deteriorates faster than it has to. Steps to contain the problem early on are much cheaper than interventions at later stages. For good reason, the NCDs are on the agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals. Relevant targets include reducing premature mortality from NCDs by one third by 2030, making relevant NCD medication affordable and accessible and achieving universal health coverage. These things are indeed vital issues for fighting poverty and making societies more inclusive.

Personal behaviour matters too, however. NCD patients should exercise regularly and adopt healthy diets. However, sensible lifestyle is not only an issue of personal discipline, but of money too. Gym memberships are expensive. In urban settings, traffic and air pollutions keep people from exercising outside. Many hard-working and time-stressed urban people, moreover, find fast food is affordable – but not restaurants that serve healthy food.

Hans Dembowski is editor in chief of D+C Development and Cooperation / E+Z Entwicklung und Zusammenarbeit.

Kategorien: english

Caring for too many people

27. Februar 2018 - 12:12
In Ghana, every person with a job must feed many members of an extended family

Fataw Yakubu is 27. He has no wife or children yet, but he is taking care of five relatives, including his parents who don’t have jobs. Fataw carries loads in the bus terminal. “I have to do this to support my family,” he says.

Not only market workers carry heavy family burdens. Clement Boateng is a communications officer for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Tamale in northern Ghana. He does several other kinds of work too. He does not need money only for his immediate family, but for other relatives as well. “I spend about 20 % of my earnings to help them,” he reveals.  

Large family sizes are part of the circle of poverty. Alhaji Issifu Iddi of the Ghana   Population Council says:  “Relatives knock at your door; they want their child’s school fees – and that is your nephew. Your niece comes because she needs to go to hospital, so you can’t say no.”

Things are set to get worse in the long run. Demographic change has set in. The share of children is shrinking, and the share of the those aged 65 and above is growing. Children require less resources than the elderly, and in the not so distant future, the share of the economically active will begin to decline too.   

According to statistics, in Ghana one person is expected to take care of around seven more people. One consequence is that young people cannot focus on promising careers, because they are forced to do several jobs to make ends meet. They cannot pursue ambitions of higher education for example.  

This scenario is worrisome. “We need to invest in the youth, so that they can pursue further education and work towards a really good job,” says Mammah Tenii from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The overwhelming majority of Ghanaians are still under 40 years of age.

In December 2017, Ghana launched a Strategic Roadmap for harnessing demographic dividends, the local component of the African Union’s Demographic Dividend Roadmap. Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo noted that “through investments in the youth, we have made essentially a pact with both present and future generations to leave them a better legacy than we inherited from our forebears.” To what extent policymakers will make a difference at the grassroots level remains to be seen.


Maxwell Suuk is a journalist and lives in Northern Ghana.


Kategorien: english

Poisonous air is making us sick

27. Februar 2018 - 11:59
Exhaust fumes and airborne particles make the incidence of pulmonary and cardiovascular disease rise in China

Surgeon Zhao Xiaogang wanted to express in words what he experiences at the hospital every day. So he wrote an admittedly satirical poem about respiratory disease. The opening line describes what Zhao has seen on a growing number of computer tomography images: “I am the lung’s ground glass opacity (GGO).” The murkiness has “fed on the delicious mist and haze,” and is in good company with “my fellows swimming in every vessel. My people crawl in your organs and body.” The poem is an ode to broken bronchia and lung cancer.

A translation of the poem was published in a medical journal in the USA a little more than a year ago. Soon, Chinese news sites picked up the story, and it went viral on the internet. Zhao was surprised at how strongly his words seemed to resonate. He said: “I wrote this poem to bring ordinary people some common knowledge of pulmonary disease, lung cancer and other illnesses that result from constant exposure to smog.”

The health consequences of air pollution are a huge and widely discussed issue in China today. In October, the government took ambitious steps to clean up the air, closing tens of thousands of factories and coal-fuelled power plants across North-Eastern China. In one of China’s hardest-hit regions, the greater Beijing metropolitan area, smog levels are lower than they had been in years. But other parts of the country are still cloaked in the brown haze of the noxious air that China has become known for. And it is only a matter of time before the economic pressure reaches a boiling point, forcing the government to allow the factories around Beijing to re-open. Then the city will disappear in a new cloud of smog.

Pervasive air pollution results from decades of a booming economy and runaway growth. China’s heavy-industry sector has become huge. In 2016, Hebei, the province surrounding Beijing, produced more steel than the rest of the world put together. Moreover, coal-fuelled power plants cover two-thirds of the People’s Republic’s energy needs. It is no wonder that China spews more particulates and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than any other country.

Fine particles linked to lung cancer

It is a well-established fact that people who are regularly exposed to smog show a much higher incidence of lung cancer. Burning coal and other fuels releases huge amounts of particulate matter into the air. The finest particles, anything less than 2.5 micrometres (PM 2.5) pose the greatest health risks. When breathed in, they can work their way into the alveoli in the lung and into blood stream next.

In China’s cities, airborne fine particulates are a toxic concoction of nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide. These tiny particles spread throughout the body, where they can trigger deadly carcinomas. While some may form quite quickly, cancer more often develops slowly and stealthily over several years. It is impossible to accurately predict just how many people in China will develop lung cancer in coming decades. It is similarly difficult to gauge the health consequences of long-term exposure to smog. It is clear, however, that they can result in irreparable debility and premature death.

Song Jaili, a doctor at the renowned Xuehe Hospital in Beijing, knows first-hand that smog leads to chronic lung disease. In her office, she explains the process, using a laser pointer to highlight the white spots on an X-ray of a female patient’s lung. “This is not a smoker’s lung,” the 58-year-old physician points out. It is a steel worker’s lung. The doctor has dedicated most of her career to the effects of smog on the airways, a problem the Chinese government denied until just recently.

Song explains that sulphur dioxide reacts with water to form sulphuric acid, an irritant that inflames the eyes, skin and airways. When first exposed to smog, a healthy person will experience temporary symptoms like headaches and nausea. Fine dust particles may build up in the lungs, causing inflammation long before cancer has a chance to develop. The body responds by mounting an immune attack, and patients frequently experience a hacking cough, often with discharge. For healthy people, temporary exposure is not particularly problematic, and the coughing will go away with the smog once the immune system is not longer battling with alien particles in the lungs.

People forced to breath in smog, exhaust fumes and other poisonous particles on a regular basis are not so lucky. The contaminants can cause irreversible damage to the lungs. Doctors speak of “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease” or COPD. The symptoms include a chronic cough, which can develop into chronic bronchitis if the mucous membranes in the lungs are damaged.

Short breath and cardiovascular disease

A healthy set of lungs responds easily to the body’s changing oxygen needs. But chronic bronchitis narrows the airways so not enough air can pass through. The result is shortness of breath. Over time, respiratory distress causes the lung tissue to over-expand, leading to pulmonary emphysema. The heart beats faster to compensate for the lack of oxygen, overworking the heart muscle and ultimately resulting in serious cardiovascular disease.

The elderly, children – whose organs are not yet fully developed – and people with weak hearts are particularly susceptible to the risks of smog. “Extreme exposure to contaminants weakens the immune system and can facilitate breathing problems and cardiovascular disease,” Song notes. The Beijing Health Department issues a health warning when the haze over the Chinese capital thickens, and that happens with alarming regularity. Song says: “This is why the number of strokes and heart attacks immediately shoots up when air pollution levels rise.” Polluted air changes the heartbeat and can put the entire autonomous nervous system off kilter, she says.

Scientists have demonstrated how quickly the body responds to poisonous air. According to doctor Song, the first symptoms – an overall feeling of malaise and a dry cough – occur within 15 minutes of exposure. An inflammatory response generally begins after two to three days, and around a week of exposure to smog results in a constant irritation in the lungs.

People who have sustained lung damage from smog are advised to go to a place with cleaner air as quickly as possible. This is easily said, but hard to do in China. In some winters, more than 800 million people live in central China under a thick blanket of haze for weeks on end. Even neighbouring countries like South Korea, Japan and Taiwan suffer from the air pollution that blows over from China.

Face masks are a very common sight across East Asia. People want to protect their lungs from the contaminated air. And while a face mask is an integral part of almost any Chinese urban dweller’s outfit today, their effectiveness was only recently tested by scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Researchers found that the most popular washable cloth masks primarily filter large particulate matter from the air, allowing the smaller ones to pass right through. Worse yet, wearers tend to breathe more heavily under a mask, so they may actually be inhaling more of the dangerous tiny particles. More effective prevention methods include surgical masks and indoor air filters that remove particles under PW 2.5. These options are very expensive though, and only the wealthy can afford to buy them.

Studies in the USA have also found that a vitamin-rich diet can help counteract the negative health impacts of smog exposure. Scientists discovered that the lungs of children in Mexico City who drank a glass of orange juice every morning were less affected by the fine airborne particulates than those of children who did not start the day with a glass of juice. Beijing-based doctor Song, however, cautions: “I wouldn’t count on orange juice alone.”

Felix Lee is the China correspondent for the tageszeitung (taz), a German daily newspaper.

Kategorien: english

Fighting for democracy at home is not enough

26. Februar 2018 - 15:43
Human Rights Watch accuses global community of paying insufficient attention to suffering in Yemen, Syria and Myanmar

The international community is currently not paying sufficient attention to violence and arbitrary state action. HRW argues that the suffering in Yemen, Syria and Myanmar is being exacerbated because the perpetrators of serious crimes feel free to act. Western governments increasingly tend to look away.

According to Kenneth Roth, the organisation’s executive director, the USA is led by “a president who displays a disturbing fondness for rights-trampling strongmen and the United Kingdom preoccupied by Brexit”. Roth argues in the report keynote that these two “traditional if flawed defenders of human rights” are no longer playing the global roles they used to. Because of racist and anti-refugee activism in Europe, Germany, France and other countries have not filled the gap. Roth states that democracies such as Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan and South Africa should also be doing more.

The good news is that, according to Roth, the wave of right-wing populism in the west looks weaker than it did one year ago. He applauds French President Emmanuel Macron for winning last year’s election by confronting the right-wing Front National (FN) head on. His principled stance, Roth argues, allowed him to prevail over FN candidate Marine Le Pen with a huge margin. The HRW leader praises Macron for standing up to “autocratic rule in Russia, Turkey and Venezuela, and a willingness to support stronger collective European Union action against Poland’s and Hungary’s assault on rights”. However, Roth wishes the French president was less reluctant to confront rights abuses in China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Roth points out that centrist and centre-right leaders of other European countries have tried to pre-empt the populists’ appeal by adopting some nativist positions, but such strategies only made populists stronger. That was the case in Austria, the Netherlands and the German Land Bavaria, for example.

With regard to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the HRW director states that forming the new federal government was made difficult by the fact that the populist AfD won seats in the Bundestag in the September elections. Roth insists, however, the AfD was strongest in those areas where mainstream politicians copied their approaches and weakest where they were firmly resisted. Roth concludes: “Principled confrontation rather than calculated emulation turned out to be the more effective response.”

With regard to the USA, Roth also has some good news. He states that President Donald Trump is destructive, but he finds the broad resistance his administration is facing encouraging. Civil society, the media, judges and even some members of Trump’s Republican party have limited his impact. In a similar way, Roth praises civil-society activism in Poland and Hungary.

Fighting for democracy and the rule of law at the national level is good, Roth argues, but it is not enough. In this context, he refers to Saudi Arabia and Libya, for example:

“With a seeming green light from western allies, Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince, Mohamed bin Salman, led a coalition of Arab states in a war against Houthi rebels and their allies in Yemen that involved bombing and blockading civilians, greatly aggravating the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Concern with stopping boat migration via Libya led the EU – particularly Italy – to train, fund and guide Libyan coast guards to do what no European ships could legally do: forcibly return desperate migrants and refugees to hellish conditions of forced labour, rape and brutal mistreatment.”

Roth also points out that the lack of western powers’ involvement in human-rights issues gives scope to authoritarian regimes, including especially those of Russia and China, to violate human rights at home and encourage abusive action abroad.


Kategorien: english

Silent killer

26. Februar 2018 - 15:30
Managing life with hypertension is difficult in India, even if one can afford private health care

The prevalence of hypertension is increasing in rural as well as urban communities. Researchers argue that changing lifestyles and diets as well as urbanisation are driving the trend. It also matters that life expectancy is generally rising, and blood pressure tends to increase with age.

Exact, up-to-date statistics are hard to come by. Some years ago, a systematic review (Anchala et al, 2014) of existing studies was published. The conclusion was: “About 33 % urban and 25 % rural Indians are hypertensive. Of these, 25 % rural and 42 % urban Indians are aware of their hypertensive status. Only 25 % rural and 38 % of urban Indians are being treated for hypertension. One-tenth of rural and one-fifth of urban Indian hypertensive population have their BP under control.” Experts reckon that things have since become worse.

Another team of medical researchers did a survey of almost 50 villages and 20 urban wards in a central Indian district (Bhadoria et al., 2014). They found that 17 % of more than 900 respondents had high blood pressure. The prevalence was more than 21 % in urban areas and almost 15 % in rural areas. Central India is not typical, but mostly rural and underdeveloped. The cities there are small-townish. According to the survey, the causes of HTN included physical inactivity, age, consumption of salt and tobacco, overweight and obesity.

The scholars stated clearly: “There is a need for comprehensive health promotion programmes to encourage lifestyle modification.” Referring to long-term data, they pointed out that the HTN prevalence increased 10 times among villagers “in the past three to six decades”. The respective figure was 30 times for urban people.

The national government is aware of the challenge of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Last year, it launched the National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases and Stroke (NPCDCS). The idea is to:

  • act at the district level,
  • promote healthy behaviour,
  • screen people at risk to ensure early diagnosis and
  • provide treatment to patients, including, if necessary referral to higher facilities.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare proudly declared that India is “the first country globally” to adopt the World Health Organization’s NCD Global Monitoring Framework and Action Plan at the national level.

The aspirations are good. Screening programmes to detect and track HTN make sense. Pre-hypertension should be noticed as well. All too often, patients do not even know that they are at risk. Health-care workers should support them at the local level. Patients deserve support for adapting their lifestyle to their health requirements, and their condition must be monitored regularly. To increase the people’s knowledge of NCDs, information should be incorporated in all education and awareness raising programmes.

Private health care in the cities

The problem, however, is that India’s governmental health-care system is traditionally weak and overburdened. Some progress has been made, but considerable gaps are still evident (see Ipsita Sapra on maternal mortality in D+C/E+Z e-paper 2017/08, p. 21). Patients in need often do not get access – and many people do not trust health-care institutions anyway. Nation-wide NCD screening and medical support are visions for the future, not something that is reliably available today.

Unsurprisingly, private health care has become a huge market in India. Generally speaking, it is not hard to get an appointment with a good cardiologist or medical specialist provided one has the ability to pay the consultation fee. Specialist doctors are available in all big agglomerations like Kolkata, Mumbai or Chennai for example. Specialty clinics and private health-care providers are active in smaller cities as well, but not in remote rural areas where they would be unlikely to make substantial profits.

In the cities, consultant doctors give reliable advice if one visits them at their own chamber. However, they are prone to pushing for unnecessary clinical and pathological investigations which, of course, cost money. This is especially true of doctors who work for one of the major corporate health-care chains. Depressing stories of unnecessary hospital admissions abound, and complaints of overbilling are common as well.

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) does not seem to be in control of the health-care market. To some extent, corporate players are free to do what they want. Compounding the problems, patients do not have strong organisations or associations that might protect their interests.

In India, many middle-class people have health insurances that cover the costs of hospitalisation and expensive treatment. However, patients’ families must bear the costs for consulting a doctor, clinical trials or medication bought in pharmacies. Such costs put a considerable strain on the household budget.

Doctors suggest regular exercise, but that advice is hard to follow. Gyms are very expensive. Heavy traffic, congestion and air pollution mean that regular walking along streets and allies is not an option. Most public parks are very small, and the large ones are often used for political events and commercial exhibitions. In western cities, cycling has become fashionable, but in India, it remains very dangerous. Managing life with hypertension is not easy, even for those who can afford private health care.

Sandip Chattopadhyay is the founder-secretary of the Chandradeep Solar Research Institute in Kolkata.


Anchala, R., et al, 2014: Hypertension in India: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prevalence, awareness, and control of hypertension.

Bhadoria, A. S., et al, 2014: Prevalence of hypertension and associated cardiovascular risk factors in Central India.

Kategorien: english

Wrong chairman

26. Februar 2018 - 15:01
In spite of his merits, Rwandan President Kagame is the wrong man to head the African Union

The DRC was supposed to hold elections last year. They were postponed to December this year. People wonder whether they will actually take place (see Christoph Vogel in D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2018/02, p. 26). Many assume that President Joseph Kabila will try to cling to power, disregarding constitutional principles. Violence is erupting in various places, including, for example, the Ituri region.

In situations like this, international organisations should play a moderating role. They should put pressure on governments to accept the rule of law und respect human rights. The Economic Community of West African States has been setting the right kind of examples in recent years (see Vladimir Antwi-Danso in D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2018/02, p. 22). Unfortunately, other regional organisations have kept endorsing autocrats, and the Kagame-led AU is unlikely to change its stance.

For two reasons, Kagame cannot be considered an honest broker in the DRC. The first reason is his history of sponsoring militias that are involved in the neighbouring country’s power struggles. Rwanda, moreover, is known to benefit from exporting natural resources that were mined in the DRC. Kagame thus lacks the disinterestedness he would need to be a convincing leader of any diplomatic intervention.

The second problem is his history of authoritarian governance at home. He set a bad example by insisting on constitutional changes to allow him yet another term in office. He then won the presidential election with almost 98 % of the vote last year. Such figures are implausible in a competitive democracy. The truth is that Rwanda is a police state which curtails the freedoms of expression and association. According to Human Rights Watch, journalists are harassed, people are detained illegally and some are tortured.

Nonetheless, many observers argue that Kagame is the right person to lead the AU. To some extent, their arguments are sound. It is true that Kagame is not the typical African strongman who uses power to exploit the country and enrich his family and friends. Kagame has a healthy understanding of economic development, and Rwanda has been prospering under his rule. After the horrific genocide in 1994, he rose to power as a victorious militia leader who ended the civil war, and some experts give him credit for reuniting his nation. He thus has the reputation of being a good administrator committed to the common good.

His technocratic competence may indeed do the AU good. Its head office was wiretapped by China, which had built the facility. This embarrassing fact was kept secret for months. An international organisation must obviously do a better job of shielding itself. An efficient administrator like Kagame might indeed make the difference.

Africa definitely needs more intra-African trade moreover. Kagame understands these issues, and perhaps he can speed up the AU’s Continental Free Trade Area. He has earned the respect of donor governments and has been a powerful voice for pan-African interests in global affairs.

That said, Kagame’s faim as a peacebuilder in Rwanda is exaggerated. The truth is that, under Kagame’s authoritarian regime, there are public rituals of remembrance, but differences between Hutus and Tutsis may not be mentioned. He insists that the distinction, which led to such terrible bloodshed, no longer exists. If people are not free to share their experiences, define their identities and express their views on such sensitive matters, a nation cannot come to terms with its history. Reconciliation depends on mutual understanding, not on keeping silent.

Kagame is certainly a better choice for the AU leadership than Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s recently ousted strongman, was three years ago. Mugabe had none of Kagame’s merits, but all of his flaws. Unfortunately, Kagame too has proven to be a ruthless leader who is determined to stay in power at any cost. This attitude is harmful. It is certainly not what Africa needs.

Hans Dembowski is the editor-in-chief of D+C/E+Z.

Kategorien: english

Crisis of legitimacy

26. Februar 2018 - 14:27
Kenya’s government strikes out against the opposition like a wounded buffalo

It is easy for academics to wade into the dichotomy of whether the East African country is still a democracy or is now under autocratic rule. The short answer is: it is complicated. The key pillar of any democracy is free, fair and credible elections, and the presidential elections of 8 August 2017 failed that mark. The Supreme Court annulled them because of procedural shortcomings. For several reasons, however, the rerun election on 26 October was unconvincing too:

  • President Uhuru Kenyatta had used his party’s majority in the parliament to change electoral laws.
  • He publicly intimidated judges.
  • The electoral commission was split, with one member fleeing to the USA and the chairman arguing for a long time that a free and fair election could not be guaranteed.
  • One day before the election, the Supreme Court failed to convene sufficient judges, so it could not decide whether they should go ahead or not. Chief Justice David Maraga voted then next day, but that in itself does not lend elections credibility.

The greatest problem, however, is that the opposition boycotted the event. Presidential candidate Raila Odinga had demanded reforms to ensure the elections would be free an fair – to no avail. The polls went on, but they were disrupted by protests in many Odinga strongholds. Data showed that the majority of Kenyans – up to two-thirds of the registered electorate – did not cast their votes.

Kenyatta has since been sworn in for a second term. In narrow legal terms, this was correct. Kenyatta’s problem, however, is his lack of legitimacy. He won in an unconvincing race.

In late January, Odinga staged a dramatic protest event, swearing himself in as the “people’s president”. In formal terms, this step was absurd. In political terms, it was shrewd. The opposition leader managed to cast doubt on Kenyatta and make himself the focus of public attention.

It has become absolutely clear that his supporters will never accept Kenyatta as head of state. They suggest that the low voter turn-out shows that – had the elections been fair and Odinga had run – their leader would have won. This is a claim that cannot be proven, so they too have a legitimacy problem. Given that Kenyatta was set to win because Odinga had dropped out, it is plausible to say that some of Kenyatta’s more lukewarm supporters stayed away knowing he would not need their votes. Nonetheless, Kenyatta’s government struck back like a wounded buffalo, further undermining its own legitimacy. It temporarily shut down private TV stations. Next, the lawyers who had facilitated Odinga’s oath were arrested. One of them was illegally deported to Canada on the grounds that this Kenyan-born man had become a Canadian citizen in the 1980s. The government suspended the passports of various opposition leaders. It has a track-record of displaying authoritarian impulses, and that tendency is becoming ever more evident.

Western governments too have lost legitimacy. The traditional champions of “democracy” in Africa took the middle road of blaming “both sides” and calling for dialogue. In a patronising letter western envoys even asked Odinga to “recognise” Kenyatta as the president. Many Kenyans, however, have not forgotten that the same powers wanted to see Kenyatta tried by the International Criminal Court because of election-related violence in 2007/08. It is well known that the case collapsed because witnesses were intimidated in Kenya. The president, who first promised to cooperate with the ICC, later turned against it.

The stance of western governments does not look principled. One suspects that business interests matter more to them than democratic rule.

All summed up, Kenya now has a legal government without legitimacy and an opposition with legitimate grievances that is resorting to civil disobedience. The media system is in the stranglehold of a regime-leaning business elite, and civil liberties can no longer be taken for granted. How this will end, only time will tell.

Alphonce Shiundu is a Kenyan journalist and fact-checker. He is currently a Chevening Scholar studying Media and Development at the University of Westminster in London.

Kategorien: english