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Congo

Tag Archives | Congo

Noaz Deshe on his Film, White Shadow: A Fight for Survival in East Africa

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A scene from 'White Shadow'

“Albinos don’t die, they just disappear.”

A scene from ‘White Shadow’

Director Noaz Deshe’s debut feature film, White Shadow, is about the plight of an albino boy, Alias, played by newcomer, Hamisi Bazili, living in Tanzania, whose father (Tito D. Ntanga) is hacked to death by locals for his meat and organs which are believed to hold special powers. It is powerful in it’s realism. The film very well could have been told through a documentary format but in doing so it would have lost its power of persuasion. The film is premiering at the Sundance Film Festival.

After Alias’s albino father is murdered in the dark of night, his mother (Riziki Ally) sends the young boy off to live with her brother, Kosmos (James Gayo), Alias’s uncle, in the city believing that this will protect the young man. Unfortunately he faces as many risks stemming from superstitions involving albinos in the city as he did in the country. His life in the city initially involves the mundane, selling basically junk items like CDs and sunglasses for his bully uncle. The plot involving his burgeoning relationship with his uncle’s daughter, Antoinette, is especially touching.

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Rwanda’s Development Drive

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Rwandan President Paul Kagame during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2013.  Photo: Moritz Hager

For many Rwanda is synonymous with genocide. However, since the inter-ethnic conflict has ended, President Paul Kagame’s government is focused on revolutionizing Rwanda’s public image and converting the nation into the economic powerhouse of East Africa.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2013. Photo: Moritz Hager

After coming into office in 2000, Kagame outlined his primary economic objectives: privatize state-owned industries, reduce financial regulation for businesses and transform Rwanda from an agricultural economy to a knowledge-based economy. What is helping to achieve these objectives is the government’s wide-ranging advisory support from institutions such as the Singapore Economic Development Board, the Clinton Foundation and the African Development Bank.

In terms of infrastructure development, Rwanda ranks 96th out of the 144 countries surveyed in the Global Competitive Index. This is due to major transport deficits which impede national and regional connectivity and contribute to the high costs of doing business. In response, the government has instituted the National Transport Sector Policy which provides the implementation framework for transport development. Among the envisaged projects is an ambitious transnational railway line which will link the Rwandan capital, Kigali, with the Kenyan port city of Mombasa. Since the Rwandan section costs an estimated $1.5 billion the railway line will rebate its cost by creating a cheaper and more efficient trade route for Rwanda to export its agricultural products and mineral wealth to international markets. More importantly, the railway line is expected to reduce the cost of importing machinery and construction material - both of which are imperative in the development of Rwanda’s infrastructure.

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Will Congo Benefit from Grand Inga Dam?

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Pictured: Three Gorges Dam in China.  Advocates argue that the power generated from hydro outweighs any negatives.  Source: news.com.au

Africa’s poorest nation, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), plans to build the world’s largest (and most expensive) hydropower dam, Grand Inga on the Congo River’s Inga Falls. A day before I set forth for the DRC, the huge project took a significant step forward with the signing of a “cooperation treaty” by the DRC and South African governments.

Pictured: Three Gorges Dam in China. Advocates argue that the power generated from hydro outweighs any negatives. Source: news.com.au

The treaty makes South Africa the principal purchaser of the power generated at Inga III power plant, the first phase of the Grand Inga. The country will buy 2500 MW of the total 4800 MW from the proposed dam. The balance will be sold to mining companies in Katanga in southeastern DRC. As expected, the signing event, held in Paris in May, attracted a lot of media coverage and excitement within the government circles in the DRC and internationally. It made headline news within the DRC for a week running. My mission was to see for myself what challenges damming the Congo River at Inga Falls would bring.

The DRC capital of Kinshasa is huge and full of contradictions. There are over 10 million people and less than 30 percent have access to electricity, in a country with so much potential to generate electricity. Connections are intermittent and less than 10 percent have electricity for 24 hours a day. So what do the rest use? Charcoal trading is common in most African cities but in Kinshasa it tops the list. It was everywhere, being sold in street kiosks, loaded on lorries and trucks along the roads and its smoke billowing out of homes. But on the other hand, electricity was being used wastefully where it was available. I tend to be quite conscious of water and energy saving in all the establishments that I come across.

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Sustainability and Development and the Disastrous Effects of Mining

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Britannia Mine in British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Craig Elliott

Britannia Mine in British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Craig Elliott

It has been a fiction that has held sway for a time. Mining booms create trickledown wealth. It is tagged as “sustainable” when it is premised on temporariness. Natural resources work for countries that possess them in abundance. Only on the periphery do we see the sense of foreboding that comes with these assets, be it the murder of such leaders as Patrice Lumumba in the Congo over fears that he might have handed over natural resources to the Soviets, or the fear of becoming a two speed economy, one dangerously reliant on commodity prices and extraction dues.

The latter is particularly relevant to the Australian context. Leaders like proclaiming the country as stable and untouched by the political fractiousness that tends to afflict other countries with similar pools of wealth. These scions of plunder are attempting to give lessons to other countries in the game, which is much like a thief teaching other thieves how best to open a safe in a sustainable, green way. This is the message at the Mining for Development Conference taking place in Sydney over May 20 and May 21.

The conference profile reads like a smooth document on dispute resolution and good governance, a manifesto of promise and environmental equilibrium. Mining, in short, is praiseworthy. It has had its problems, but the guests are keen to follow such standards as the EITI (Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative), the global standard for transparency of revenues from natural resources. And it has the blessings of AusAid, thereby surreptitiously linking aid to developing countries with a noble mining sector. If Coke would sponsor programs on nutrition, this is what it would look like.

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Arab Spring’s Impact on Sub-Saharan Africa

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Ethnic Tuareg in Northern Mali. Source: Foreign Policy

In 2011, the actions of a young street vendor in Tunisia initiated a movement that reverberated throughout the Arab world.

Ethnic Tuareg in Northern Mali. Source: Foreign Policy

Bouazizi’s startling act of self-immolation highlighted the subdued political dissatisfaction brewing within the modern Arab state. Within weeks, the leadership of Tunisia had fallen to dissident forces, and one by one other nations followed suit. Hundreds of people were left dead in what many considered political martyrdom while US policymakers struggled to react to the sudden change in this Arab state. As the Center for Strategic and International Studies observed, “the fact that no one had even appeared to entertain the possibility of events unfolding in the way they did raises troubling questions about the assumptions made about countries and the strength of the contingency plans put in place to deal with unexpected events.”

With Africa’s increasingly potent ties to the Middle East under the southern spread of Islam, the extension of Arab Spring’s effects into its sub-continental region could threaten US influence in what has historically been a region of Westernized colonialism, a growing example of globalization, and a testimony to the effects of aid on influence. Should the events of Arab Spring cause a significant impact on Sub-Saharan Africa, the US would be faced with either setting a precedent for other Western nations, or remaining silent in what could be a massive allegiance sector for the Middle East.

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U.S. Foreign Policy and Africa: The Next Four Years

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An Air Force HC-130 prepares to refuel off the coast of Djibouti

Over the next four years the U.S. will face a number of foreign policy issues, most of them regional, some of them global. It is important to analyze some of the key issues for Africa as this continent is proving to be vital for U.S. foreign policy.

An Air Force HC-130 prepares to refuel off the coast of Djibouti

Africa is probably the single most complex region of the world and arguably its most troubled. While the world concerns itself with the Syrian civil war and the dangers it poses for the Middle East, little notice is taken of the war in the Congo, a tragedy that has taken five million lives and next to which the crisis in Syria pales. Africa represents 15 percent of the world’s population, yet only 2.7 percent of its GDP, which is largely concentrated in only five of 49 sub-Saharan countries. Just two countries—South Africa and Nigeria—account for over 33 percent of the continent’s economic output. Life expectancy is 50 years, and considerably less in those countries ravaged by AIDS. Hunger and malnutrition are worse than they were a decade ago.

At the same time, Africa is wealthy in oil, gas, iron, aluminum and rare metals. By 2015, countries in the Gulf of Guinea will provide the US with 25 percent of its energy needs, and Africa has at least 10 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. South Africa alone has 40 percent of the earth’s gold supply. The continent contains over one-third of the earth’s cobalt and supplies China—the world’s second largest economy—with 50 percent of that country’s copper, aluminum and iron ore.

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M23, North Kivu and why Rwanda’s Donors Might Hold the Key to Peace

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UN Peacekeepers patrol Bunagana in North Kivu province. Sylvain Liechti/UN

Goma, the capital of the North Kivu province in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, is now in the hands of M23 – a rebel group accused of human rights abuses and the recruitment of child soldiers.

UN Peacekeepers patrol Bunagana in North Kivu province. Sylvain Liechti/UN

The Congolese Army offered only sporadic resistance and the UN retreated to the airport. Some 50,000 people, including 35,000 from a nearby refugee camp, are thought to have fled the region around Goma. Once more the UN proved impotent, and once more thousands are forced to leave their homes. To make matters worse, Rwanda claimed that the Congolese Army fired on Rwandan territory. Rwanda, however, did not respond with military action and was accused by the DRC that it fired on its own territory in order to establish a precedent for a later invasion. The protracted conflict in North Kivu, characterized by murder, rape, exploitation and all forms of depredation that make this place one of the most dangerous in the world, has just added another cruel chapter to a never ending story. Just as many previous conflicts characterized by welter, nihilism and heinous crimes, this one involves various parties following their own interests.

The robust UN Mission, MONUSCO, currently has a strength of nearly 20,000 personnel, which makes it the biggest and most expensive UN Mission worldwide. Notwithstanding its resources, MONUSCO is insufficiently equipped to provide security in an area the size of Western Europe. Most importantly, the mission is equipped merely with a reactive, rather than proactive mandate. That is, the protection of civilians rather than offensive military measures against rebel groups. Additionally, MONUSCO is not tasked to control the Rwandan-Congolese border – a region which should be observed with more scrutiny. The Congolese Army, controlled by Kinshasa 1, 700 miles to the West, is not a guarantor for stability in the region, mainly due to a lack of payment and proper equipment, which has resulted in low morale and motivation amongst its soldiers.

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China’s Investments in Africa

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Chinese and Chadian oil workers worked side by side at the exploration site in southern Chad. Ruth Fremson/New York Times

There is agreement among those who follow China-Africa relations that state-owned and private Chinese companies have become major investors in Africa over the past 10 years.

Chinese and Chadian oil workers worked side by side at the exploration site in southern Chad. Ruth Fremson/New York Times

Even Chinese individuals are investing small amounts in enterprises ranging from restaurants to acupuncture clinics. It is possible that in the past several years, China was the single largest bilateral source of annual foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa’s 54 countries. There is, however, considerable confusion as to what constitutes Chinese investment in Africa. Many analyses, especially journalistic accounts, conflate investment with multi-billion dollar loans from China to African governments that often use the loans to build infrastructure by Chinese construction companies. These loans tend to go to resource rich countries such as Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ghana and are usually repaid by shipping natural resources to China. These loans are not FDI; they are commercial deals, albeit often with a concessionary loan component. It is important to keep them separate from investment.

So how much have Chinese companies and individuals invested in Africa? I have concluded that no one, including no one in China, knows the answer to this question. For that matter, it is not even clear how China defines FDI. China’s Minister of Commerce, Chen Deming, stated in mid-2012 that as of the end of 2011 China’s cumulative FDI in Africa “exceeded $14.7 billion, up 60 percent from 2009.” Also in mid-2012, China’s ambassador to South Africa, Tian Xuejun, in a wide ranging speech on China-Africa relations, said: “China’s investment in Africa of various kinds exceeds $40 billion, among which $14.7 billion is direct investment.” He did not explain the difference between investment of “various kinds” and “direct investment.”

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Enter the Dragon: Will China’s Deal of the Century Save Congo?

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UN Peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Martine Perret/UN

Twenty-four trillion dollars. It is a number that beggars the imagination, almost 40% of the global economy, and it is buried in one of the world’s poorest and most violent countries: The Democratic Republic of Congo.

UN Peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Martine Perret/UN

Failed state, rape capital of the world, humanitarian catastrophe…Congo personifies all these but beneath the surface its dark earth holds $24 trillion of copper, cobalt, coltan, the bones and blood of information age manufacturing. For this reason, if for no other, the world cannot ignore Congo. It can’t afford to.

Called Congo’s “deal of the century,” in 2007 China recognized the beleaguered nation’s importance to the global economy with an unprecedented $9 billion resources-for-infrastructure agreement which holds the potential to unlock Congo’s vast mineral wealth and improve the material lives of its seventy-one million people with new roads, rails, hospitals, and universities. Now, five years later, Congo’s eastern frontier remains a lawless battleground with conflict minerals undermining regional stability and the $9 billion question remains: Will Chinese investment be the cornerstone for Congo’s development or a grave marker for dead dreams in the green hills of Africa?

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Ethiopia: World Bank to Fund Destructive Dam through the Backdoor?

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Gilgel Gibe III Dam on Omo River in Ethiopia. Source: Grand Millennium Dam

Some projects are so destructive that no reputable actors want to get involved with them.

Gilgel Gibe III Dam on Omo River in Ethiopia. Source: Grand Millennium Dam

Think of the oil wells in Sudan’s conflict zones, China’s Three Gorges Dam, and the gas pipelines in Burma. If the price is right, however, some will still be tempted to do business on such projects through the back door. The World Bank is currently taking such an approach with a big credit for Ethiopia’s power sector. The Gibe III Dam, now under construction in Southwest Ethiopia, will devastate ecosystems that support 500,000 indigenous people in the Lower Omo Valley and around Kenya’s Lake Turkana. The UN’s World Heritage Committee called on the Ethiopian government to “immediately halt all construction” on the project, which will impact several sites of universal cultural and ecological value. In August 2011, the Kenyan parliament passed a resolution asking for the suspension of dam construction pending further studies.

Ethiopia is one of the world’s highest recipients of foreign aid, and in spite of a poor record on human rights, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is one of the darlings of the international community. The World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank all considered funding for the Gibe III Dam in 2009/10. In the end, none of them got involved in a project that caused an international outcry and clearly violated their social and environmental safeguard policies.

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