American Privilege

American Privilege

trumpemigrationThe African diaspora in North America is a vital component of today’s modern African societies, and Africans are now worried that Trump could change that.

The possibility that a large number of Americans will emigrate to Canada in reaction to a Trump presidency is not a sarcastic joke, but a realistic threat to many Africans.

Concerned that Americans will be able to ‘break the queue’ getting residency rights to Canada, Africans worry they’ll be displaced from the pipeline.

Sunday, Nairobi’s main Sunday newspaper published a page 3 story assuring concerned Kenyans this was probably not the case.

Discounting several new websites in the States like “Maple Match“ the article interviewed “businessman Neil Katz,” a well-known agent who helps Kenyans obtain dual citizenship, for his take on the possibility that ‘Americans will flee to Canada.’

Katz told the Daily Nation, “Americans opposed to Trump hardly meet the UN definition of a refugee.”

Katz assured the interviewer that Canadians would not alter their policies for fleeing Americans, although he conceded that the Canadian “break the queue” loophole allows anyone with $100,000 to invest to go to the head of the line.

This could be someone who uses that money to buy a home, and this is the type of “mass emigration” that worries the Kenyans.

Diasporas are something quite foreign to Americans, since as of yet there really isn’t an American diaspora anywhere. In contrast, the 80,000 Kenyans, 40,000 Ethiopians and 120,000 Nigerians with residency in the U.S. are integral components to their homeland’s economy.

Jobs in North America pay roughly ten times the wage for a similar job in their African homelands, and many more jobs are available in North America than Africa.

Many of the jobs taken in North America by African immigrants are in nursing, home care and maintenance for which there aren’t enough American applicants. But there are also many very successful business people.

These folks create networks that stretch back home, bringing everything from high tech startups to simple manufacturing industry skills to these rapidly emerging economies.

Expecting the “largest increase in housing values” for years, one of American’s favorite Canadian holiday destinations, Cape Breton, is enjoying a remarkable housing boom.

A controversial Cape Breton website explicitly inviting Americans to emigrate was widely circulated in February, and has toned down in reaction to concerns like those expressed this Sunday in Kenya. It now emphasizes that it welcomes everyone around the world, not just those fleeing Trump.

It remains, however, the perfect example as to why foreigners considering emigrating to Canada are worried that Americans will displace them.

The average housing price in Canada is just over $80,000. The average home in Cape Breton is 50% higher, reflecting a genteel, modern and up-scale community. But that price is actually well below what most retirees in America considering emigration already hold as equity in their current home in the States.

The $100,000 threshold to break the queue in Canada is thus no big deal at all for these retiree ”asylum” seekers.

Note that a similar move by the well-off, older middle and upper class occurred in the Weimar Republic, not long before a populist became the leader of Germany.

A Stable, Stagnant World

A Stable, Stagnant World

for a stable worldTrickle-Down economics slams Africa and its leaders line up like misbehaving school kids to take the paddle.

President John Magufuli of Tanzania just reduced taxes. There’s no worse move at a time when Tanzania needs stimulus not austerity. All the creativity and imagination Africa has shown in the last several decades has been smothered by western starlight.

The “spring meetings” of the IMF and World Bank confirming that African growth is tanking so scared African leaders that they’re now doing exactly the wrong thing: playing capitalism at its worse.

The global economic system is stacked against the poor. It’s why China ultimately embraced it but also why China, India and Brazil will always play second, third and fourth fiddle to the puppeteers in the west.

The reason Magufuli’s move is so illuminating is that it exactly reflects what China did multiple decades ago: give in.

Tanzania’s economy never performed in any outstanding way, especially relative to its neighbors like Kenya and Ethiopia. Corruption is the main reason, but as I’ve often proved, corruption is western Trickle-Down. To bribe a Tanzanian official to build a ridiculous anti-missile defense system there has to be a briber. The briber is always from the west.

So it doesn’t matter that Tanzania is sitting on the world’s second largest streak of gold, or that it has some of the finest uranium deposits on earth. It doesn’t matter, because the capital that it takes to exploit this rests solely in the west.

And the dosey-doe game Tanzanian officials play with their bribing counterparts stalls development.

Modern Tanzania was born of Cold War China. Listen, that didn’t work, either, but the initial goals of humanism above capitalism still strike me as profoundly correct.

The first president, Julius Nyerere, was such a wonderful person. He began swimming in Chinese capital that allowed him to revolutionize education in at-the-time terribly illiterate Tanzania. He still wears proudly his nickname, Mwalimu, “teacher.”

But humanism grew doctrinaire, too, in China then Tanzania. Mwalimu tried to collectivize villages almost at the same time that they were failing in China. So the experiment didn’t work. The Cold War ended. China changed faces and Tanzania went flat out broke.

Well, like any good ole radical, Tanzania now seems to have flipped completely.

Humanism was and in most cases still is African’s main mission, and I remain hopeful that Africa can demonstrate this lesson to we egocentric capitalistic westerners.

Tanzania like Ethiopia and Nigeria should slap the western banker in the face. A one or two penny drop in payroll taxes is nada.

The government’s own mouthpiece, the Daily News, pointed out that “its effect on disposable income is insignificant.”

But its effect on education, tourism, mining and road building will be profound. So Tanzania will remain beholden to the west yet again, for aid and miserly capital. It will be incapable of generating its own wealth.

Wake up Tanzania.

You Can’t Burn Ivory Towers

You Can’t Burn Ivory Towers

width=No matter how much ivory Kenya burns or how widely NPR publicizes it, the poaching of elephant will not stop until individuals stop buying ivory and until rich people cede much of their wealth to the poor.

Conservation will not succeed if its implementation is so narrow as to neglect those who it could hurt or destroy.

It’s true that some of the earliest ivory ever used was for purpose not beauty. Its unusual molecular strength keeps it from splintering or breaking even under the most stressful conditions yet it has a “softness” that mutes rapid or forceful contact.

Ivory was plastic, before plastic was invented.

So what was useful for elephants and walruses undoubtedly was useful to early man.

Until seven millennia ago early elephants roamed China nearly as much as they are found in Africa, today. As they disappeared, ivory became a luxury item as much as a component of tools.

The “art of beauty” is often defined by levels of scarcity. Perhaps this contributed to ivory becoming a currency of the rich.

After more than a half century of very global and very public movements to save elephants and restrict ivory sales, even the Chinese are coming round. But demand for ivory, as with demand for old paintings or rare artifacts from Alepo, is not going to abate even as the Chinese public changes its attitudes.

The demand for ivory is global, not just Chinese. So long as there are rich people willing to pay for stolen treasures of the Mideast or blackmarket Picassos, there will be ivory seekers worldwide.

The supply side is equally daunting.

Today’s poaching of elephant is not the corporate business it was in the 1970s and 1980s. Virtually all the elephant killed today are lost to itinerant gangs unsupported by Emirate sheiks with their Sikorski helicopters and private ships.

These gangs risk the enormous hazards of killing an elephant then having to find some scumbag broker because they have no better way of surviving.

They have no jobs, no livelihood and the sustenance their ancestors eked out of their lands is no longer viable. The land is leeched or confiscated or over grazed, and sustenance living can’t provide the capital to be successful in a modern world.

It’s terribly disturbing to me that so many truly well-intentioned conservationists express “feeling sick” when they see a pyre of tusks being burned but are not similarly demonstrative over the destruction of Alepo or systematic reductions in U.S. foreign aid.

You just can’t separate the phenomena. It’s OK to “feel sick” seeing that media picture of burning tusks provided you in your mind also know how sick and neglected the children near that burning pyre actually are.

You must realize that the father and brother and uncle of that little girl care about her, that they care so much about her that they will commit a crime to feed her.

You’ll notice once you affect that understanding that things get more complicated, that your “sickness” isn’t quite what you thought. It’s cure isn’t quite as simple.

Kenya is doing the right thing. They are doing it possibly for duplicitous reasons, that tourism needs a boost, but I also really believe that young, educated Kenyans have seriously embraced conservation. That’s wonderful.

But it just … doesn’t matter.

It won’t stop poaching. Rich people alone can stop poaching. They can stop buying and hoarding ivory, and their wealth alone redistributed can eradicate global poverty.

Otherwise, the wild elephant is doomed.

Of Shoes & Planes

Of Shoes & Planes

slave-statesWhile one current election debate is about the immorality of American multinationals using slave labor abroad, it’s time to understand how entire societies are now doing this.

America’s alliance with the Gulf States is preeminent foreign policy. But the Gulf States are enslaving Africans as if it were the 18th century, again.

Gulf States need labor. They are cash rich and muscle poor. Seventy percent of Kuwait and 84% of Qatar’s population is composed of foreign laborers who have no rights, lured by the prospect of a job – any job.

An Ugandan journalist, Yasin Kakande, will soon publish a scathing account of such African labor in a new book, Slave States: The Practice of Kafala in the Gulf Arab Region.

In the preview to publication one of several personal stories is being circulated, that of “Harriett” from Uganda.

Harriet earned an advanced degree at a respectable Ugandan university but could find no job. Lured by recruiters from the Gulf States, she paid an agent $600 for a visa and air ticket to Dubai.

Part of the agreement includes a “sponsor.” This is very similar to what is required by immigrants into the United States. In Harriett’s case, it was a company, an airline.

The airline needed lots of unskilled laborers to clean its aircraft between flights. Kakande doesn’t name the airline, and he I think he should, but virtually all the Gulf airlines are expanding incredibly rapidly.

With fares and service that the more established carriers are finding hard to match, these companies do not use other Gulf States citizens for their employees because … there aren’t any.

So to give you the fine service and remarkable fares, these companies hire people like Harriett.

Harriett was offered a salary of $215 per month. That isn’t bad by Ugandan standards so she took it. What she learned, though, was that it hardly kept her alive in Dubai.

The only lodging she could find was to share a one-room apartment with three other foreign workers. The apartment didn’t allow any cooking, so all meals had to be purchased as take-outs, and that was expensive.

The apartment didn’t allow any laundry, except when using the apartment’s laundromat, and that was expensive.

When Harriett developed terrible rashes determined to come from the harsh cleaning agent the airline was using, Babacon, she was taken to a hospital and treated. When she left the hospital, the airline reduced her salary from $215/month to $54/month to cover the medical treatment.

The only way she could try to get another job was to get a “NOC” letter from the airline. This “No Objection Consent” from the sponsor was required, but the airline refused.

Harriett’s personal story actually ends better than this, but many don’t. Few workers have the savvy, intelligence or skills that Harriett had.

So I find it annoying that while our current election debate properly engages the question whether Nike is using Bangladesh labor, the liberal reply that they oppose such policies doesn’t address the current liberal administrations alliance with the Gulf States.

Much less the increasing number of Americans using Gulf States airlines.

Hypocrisy seems a part of all politics, but in today’s age a clarity of meaning is being demanded. Some say that’s why Trump is so popular – he might be wrong, he might be dangerous or dumb, but he says what he means.

I’m not sure I agree with that. But I understand the thirst for clarity of meaning, and criticizing American multinationals for subcontracting foreign labor is no more important than recalibrating our immoral alliance with the Gulf States.

Or deciding which airline you’re going to fly.

Discounted Business Class

Discounted Business Class

eastafricanboatThe Somali war began in 1993; Ethiopia’s various versions of terror started in 1979. Yesterday, more than 450 mostly Somalis and Ethiopians drown in the sea when their refugee boat capsized near Greece.

It seems this is the first large “migrant” incident with mostly East Africans.

Why now?

I don’t doubt that many of those on board led lives as tenuous as those fleeing Syria. Over many past decades we’ve grown calloused to the sufferings in Africa. Many westerns think it’s just a “way of life” for Africans.

But on the other hand there’s no actual fighting or bombing in Ethiopia right now. Particularly why in Somalia – where it’s more peaceful than in the last 30 years – are people taking these huge risks now?

It’s simple. Europe has opened its heart, since it was unwilling or unable to open it’s military hanger. Europe is passing through a period of great guilt and it’s a piece of melancholy but hope as well for mankind.

Another reason is that ever so slowly East Africans are amassing bits of wealth. Under reported almost to the point of immorality, every migrant you hear about or see flailing in choppy seas has paid upwards of $10,000 for the chance of making it to Europe.

Many Americans couldn’t wrestle up that cash. Syrians were a rich people. Doctors, lawyers, professionals of all sorts compose the migrant diaspora.

Last August I wrote fondly of a young, educated and professional Somali refugee who made his way all the way to South Africa.

The risks he took were manifest and he undoubtedly had quite a stash of bribes available.

Now, the prospect of reaching a welcoming European coast despite all the tragedies we hear of daily is worth a man or woman’s life savings and possibly, life.

We’ve got to understand this story. We’ve got to think about why someone, anyone – anywhere in the world – would leave the place they were raised or born in and risk everything, that they would pay the equivalent of a roundtrip business class air fare from New York to Sydney to be packed into putrid suffocation on a rickety boat likely to capsize in high seas.

It’s not so far fetched to imagine a Latino American citizen, a professional with some wealth and status, fleeing a Trump America.

But how would they get over the wall?

Conservation vs. Development

Conservation vs. Development

Mom.gorillaIs conservation just? Not always, according to a study in Uganda’s Bwindi National Park.

“Conservation [needs] to get serious about environmental justice,” a September study from the University of East Anglia claims, one of the world’s top universities for developmental studies.

This is just one of lots of recent intellectual fistfights between sociologists and conservationists. Conservationists, on the one hand, are presumed to want to protect the earth at nearly any cost. Sociologists, on the other hand, put people first and claim that contemporary conservationists don’t.

The argument surfaced at the beginning of this decade but by 2014 the New Yorker called the debate “vitriolic.”

Finally at the end of 2014 the highly respected scientific publication, Nature, allowed two scientists to publish an article about the fight: “We believe that this situation is stifling productive discourse, inhibiting funding and halting progress,” they wrote.

Stop whining. This is an important debate and nothing that I’ve seen is offensive or immature. Quite to the contrary: The East Anglia study continues this debate on the side of sociologists, and I believe appropriately so.

I know Bwindi pretty well. It is the Ugandan section of the volcanoes national park in which the mountain gorillas live. Like the other sections in Rwanda and the DRC-Congo, mountain gorillas have enjoyed a wonderful rebound from near extinction at the end of the 1970s.

The main reason is tourism. It will cost you a hefty $750 for one permit to be with the mountain gorillas in Rwanda for one hour, and one of the 56 daily permits are often hard to get.

It’s less expensive in Bwindi, but that reflects the unsettled political situation in Uganda. But even in Uganda’s untroubled days, Bwindi’s operations were never on the up-and-up.

Bwindi was terribly corrupt. If you had trouble getting a permit, the right bribe to the right ranger would get you one, and if in fact the day was truly booked up, someone would find a way to take you to a gorilla research group which was technically off-limits to tourists.

The East Anglian study touches on this but in fact sticks mostly to the non-corrupt, stated policy issues. Their main criticism is that the original peoples of the area, the Batwa, have been intentionally excluded from the benefits of Bwindi’s growing gorilla population.

The main benefit to the growing gorilla population is tourism: revenues from the permit tax which supposedly go directly to the government; and jobs created in the tourist industry: staff for lodges and transport and guides.

The Batwa do not benefit from any of these. The Ugandan government has always been openly hostile to these progeny of “pygmies,” their land was never properly deeded to them so they were unable to participate in the leasing arrangements for the tourist lodges, and few if any tour companies hire them at any level.

Prior to the interest in conserving the gorillas, the Batwa’s lifeway was bush meat hunting in the forest – not gorillas, but mostly monkeys, and also duikers and other small forest creatures. This is now prohibited in the interests of gorilla and ecological conservation.

So without benefitting from the growth of tourism and conservation while being restricted from the forest which was their traditional lifeway, the Batwa have grown more poor and more estranged from modern society. Implicitly, of course, it’s presumed they become poachers.

“Successful” conservation policies lead directly to poaching.

The East Anglia study suggests that scientists should adopt certain principals of manifest justice that could delimit conservation goals, but which in all cases would ensure justice for the local peoples like the Batwa.

This no-brainer is often neglected, the authors claim, because conservation goals appear “to be driven by faith in a particular (utilitarian) model of justice that holds that conservation consequences justify their means.”

I’m glad to have this “vitriolic” debate: I’ve always believed in Africa that people must come first, that conservation is not anathema to that at all, but that stitching the two together is imperative.

Imperative to conservation, not to the peoples’ will and that’s the key. The people have the sovereignty. Conservationists do not. It’s clear who must sew the seam.

Click or Bang

Click or Bang

NorthLuangwaThe tug between conservation and hunting has reached a crescendo in Zambia where 30 years of effort by the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) is in jeopardy.

The vast wilderness of eastern Zambia is divided into two great reserves, North & South Luangwa. Like the Serengeti some of the land at the periphery of the these national parks is used for sports hunting.

But unlike the Serengeti Luangwa can well nigh afford hunting. While it contains the richest biomass in Zambia, it’s scant compared to the Serengeti. So as tourism demand increased over the last thirty years Zambian officials correctly reduced leases for hunting.

But in the last 4-5 years tourism has declined continent-wide while there has been a marked increase in demand for sports hunting. So Zambian officials are reversing themselves and allowing more and more hunting.

The most dramatic reversal came in August, 2014.

There was an outcry from the public. This remark taken off the Zambia National Park’s Facebook page is representative:

“Trophy hunting for rich foreigners will not bring tourists to Zambia, it will deter them from coming… I can assure you, I will not visit any country which squanders its wildlife for the pleasure of a few disturbed individuals.”

Immediately the parks authority reversed the reversal, but immediately after that the umbrella state agency above tourism reversed back to the original reversal. The state of confusion has never been resolved.

I see two obvious forces at work here: The first is that sports hunting is on the increase, particularly from Russia and the United States, with very strong increases from a number of South American countries like Argentina. The revenue lost from tourism hurts. From a business point of view, it makes sense to increase capacity in response to increased demand.

But second is probably more significant: the rank confusion reigning between Zambia’s various authorities suggests corruption is rampant. Hunters tend to be quite rich and professional hunting guides are the government pay masters.

Three weeks ago the German embassy hosted a party in Lusaka to celebrate three decades of partnership between FZS and the Zambian government conserving North Luangwa.

A recent elephant survey showed that North Luangwa has the densest elephant population in the country and the most promising black rhino programs.

“I think it is fair to say that 20 years ago no one would have anticipated this development,” the project leader, Ed Sayer, told the guests.

In fairness one of the reasons North Luangwa’s elephant population is the most dense is because there has been so much poaching in the country’s other reserves.

According to Katarzyna Nowak, a South African elephant researcher, Zambia’s Kafue reserve lost almost half its elephant population to poaching since 2004.

North Luangwa is the most remote of Zambia’s reserves. That applies equally to tourists, hunters and poachers. Kafue is much more accessible.

Moreover, hunters themselves are disparaging of Zambia’s reduced game:

“…the quality [of lion and leopard hunting in Zambia] is on the decline due to hunting pressure and one needs a good deal of time to be sure of a good trophy,” writes safariBwana.com which labels itself “The African Hunting Authority.”

Last year neighboring Botswana banned all hunting, and until then it had been a significant hunting destination.

Scraping the old barrel to get the last bit of honey out of it might just crack the barrel.

Shell Games in Africa

Shell Games in Africa

panamapapershidemoneyEver since the leak last week Kenya’s Daily Nation has published multiple stories of hanky panky exposed by the Panama Papers. One of their best is about a shady Danish character who has terrorized Kenya for some time, and the story makes Agatha Christi look like a children’s author.

Peter Bonde Nielsen arrived in Kenya some 30 years ago and learned quickly the political racket. (In the U.S. we call it “lobby.”) He was often seen among the most powerful politicians.

Then, he was rich.

His penultimate scandal was a few years ago just as Kenya was designating a huge amount of land near the town of Kajiado for a massive industrial and high-tech development scheme. Surprise, Nielsen owned a lot of the land.

But as often happens with tricky surveys, the airstrip was laid over various plots owned by different people before they were contacted or bought out. Nielsen, who had built a luxury private lodge in the area to woo his politicians was so furious that he turned his anti-poaching unit into a fully armed militia.

Meanwhile the true owners of the place, two different clans of Maasai, began to argue over the ownership of this increasingly valuable land and challenged Nielsen’s militia. Skirmishes, gun battles and fatalities ensued.

Not good for PR. Nielsen’s influence began to slip.

Nielsen’s official Kenyan company was called Avon.

[Important Digression: there are more “Avon” companies in the world than under any other name. Guess why?]

The address of Nielsen’s “Avon” was Titan Hangar, Wilson Airport. As the heat on Nielsen increased he bought a company, called Titan Worldwide Ltd. (TW) [no website] through Mossack Fonseca, the law firm central to the Panama Papers.

Don’t confuse TW with Titan Aviation that owned the hanger which was the address of Avon, and please don’t confuse it with Atlas Air Worldwide, the actual owner and parent company.

Backed by references from Kenya’s reputable Stanbic Bank Nielsen transfers the shares of the companies that previously owned Titan, Europan and Lespian [no wesbite], to Avon. So he now owned Titan, technically didn’t own Avon, which was now owned by the people who previously owned Titan.

Confusing? Intentionally so.

Then two years ago Avon is sold to a Mossack Fonseca law firm in the British Virgin Islands, Harneys, allowing Avon to remove all its assets and records from Kenya. There is now nothing left in Kenya with which to investigate Nielsen.

This story shows that illicit fund transfers aren’t simply theft, but masterful paths for all kinds of deceit.

Developing countries – especially those in sub-Saharan Africa – are losing a greater percentage of their GDP to illicit financial transactions than any other part of the world.

As journalists throughout Africa delve into the Panama Papers it becomes clear once again that Africa’s being hurt the most. And it’s not as detractors would presume only or even mostly African potentates stealing people’s money, although they figure well enough in the scandal.

Instead it’s mostly shady foreign investors like Nielsen taking advantage of Africa’s weak currency and financial laws.

“African states need cash for development, but their tax revenues are lower by the billions than they should be because of illicit financial flows,” South Africa’s Daily Maverick explains.

It’s absolutely true that it takes two to tango. Nielsen needed corrupt Kenyan politicians, and they are – or at least were, a dime a dozen. But Africa is replete with these morally depraved opportunists from the western world. They come in all forms from evangelical preachers to crooks like Nielsen.

But note: Without a Mossack Fonseca skilled in taking advantage of the terrible weaknesses of our global capitalist system it would be a lot harder for these guys to make their scam.

Pesa Millions!

Pesa Millions!

wherehasallthemoneygoneThe third major bank within a year has gone bust in Kenya, further evidence that global capitalism has serious problems.

The main cause for the bank’s failure was over lending. That doesn’t sound too onerous to us maverick socialists until you realize that most of that over lending was to the bank’s directors.

Big bonuses for failing performance. Heard that before?

Kenya’s economy is teeny-weeny : roughly the size of St. Louis’. But proportionately banking is just like at home. The seven largest Kenyan financial institutions hold 80% of the country’s cash.

Whether in the U.S. or Kenya human beings who call themselves bankers find themselves swimming in a bunch of money and getting giddy or scared or both and start to gulp some of it in especially after the pool cracks and the water’s pouring out.

Capitalism isn’t what it’s ranked up to be when left uncontrolled whether in Kenya or the U.S. But because Kenya is so small relative to the U.S. the shenanigans are easier to see.

According to Bloomberg, Chase Bank-Kenya restated its liabilities Wednesday: twice as high as filed under tax law less than a week ago. Half of the exploding debt was to directors and employees, originally filed as $3.2 million revised Tuesday to $13.6 million.

Chase is the third large Kenyan financial institution to go belly up recently: Imperial Bank and NBK fell earlier last year. (Chase is not linked to any American bank. Its private stockholders come mostly from Luxembourg and Germany.)

It’s remarkable how this is being explained in Kenya.

The country’s main newspaper simply reported official bank statements claiming that underperforming loans and high interest rates implied as government policy, compounded by “rumors” of the bank’s imminent demise were to blame.

One of the bank’s former executives blamed corrupt government executives who have been charged with stealing an educational agency’s funds, which were held by the bank!

As always the small depositors are the ones to suffer. The Kenyan Government would give no date for the bank’s reopening.

(Bills due Friday.)

In July Global Credit Ratings, a reputable South African financial rating institution, assigned Chase Bank an A- rating with a stable outlook. Heard that before?

This little story in little Kenya won’t gain much traction in the world press. The accumulated losses of this one bank in Kenya are less than what my state loses every five hours.

But we should take note. Big scale or little scale, capitalism kicks the little guy in the butt with a Salvatore Ferragamo. Justice won’t apply, because justice is funded by the same foot. So no one goes to jail, no one does anything but start the whole thing over, again.

I’m not blaming Zafrullah Khan or Jamie Diamond. They’re just necessarily plug-ins to a rotten system. The hydra’s head has many buds.

Kenya and the U.S. have upcoming elections. The U.S. is first. Kenya modeled its banking system on America’s, so maybe it will follow the U.S. election outcomes in the same way. Always has in the past.

Ray of hope? Feel the Bern?

Den of Thieves not in Africa

Den of Thieves not in Africa

Clive Khulubuse Zuma, nephew of Jacob Zuma
Clive Khulubuse Zuma, nephew of Jacob Zuma
No surprise that Jacob Zuma’s family is named in the Panama Papers, and a sorry story it is raping Nigerians of their oil. But here, take my bet: When all is said and done there won’t be that many Africans implicated. Corruption is almost exclusively a western world disease.

Over the weekend the biggest money laundering scandal in history was revealed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

Well who knows? It may not be the biggest money laundering scandal in history, but it’s the biggest money laundering scandal in history … proved.

More than 140 bigwigs, most of whom were publicly elected top leaders of countries like Russia and Argentina and Iceland, many of whom continue in office right now, are proved to have stolen millions from their country’s treasure chests.

The finely strewn paths of deceit led from the bigwig to one or two intermediaries to a single German law firm that managed the end-game by arranging that the money be hidden in tax havens in places like Switzerland and the British Virgin Islands.

This is likely illegal in almost every case, although the law firm’s actions are not illegal.

That’s what corruption is all about. It’s about … loopholes: creative manipulation of existing law so that the actual implementer of the illegality – in this case the German law firm, Mossack Fonseca – remains free to strike another dirty deal.

It’s illustrative to study Mossack Fonseca’s defense of its actions:

“For 40 years Mossack Fonseca has operated beyond reproach … Our firm has never been accused or charged in connection with criminal wrongdoing.” Spokesman Carlos Sousa said that the firm “merely helps clients incorporate companies.”

How many billions if not trillions of dollars have been kept from the societies in such desperate need of them?

Note how many black faces there are in the picture above. It drives me crazy when almost everyone points to Africa and cites corruption as its biggest problem.

“Biggest” in what sense? In amount of money? In percentage of social assets? Of course there’s corruption in Africa, because Africa is often a conduit for the corruption that begins elsewhere, but no reasonable measure of total corruption in Africa can begin to compare with the corruption outside Africa.

No contest. A drop compared to an ocean.

So why then do we continue to cite corruption as Africa’s greatest failing?

I think I know the answer and it isn’t all that horribly scathing; it’s actually helpful. Africa’s economies are teeny weeny compared to the rest of the world. The entire GDP of Kenya is about that of St. Louis.

So there are fewer significant transactions to begin with. So the paper trail is easier to investigate. It’s more defined and easier to pinpoint.

Moreover, the incidents of exposed corruption in Africa are easily linked to specific harm of its society, because every single penny is precious.

So ouch, corruption hurts a lot in Africa. Law abiding Africans protest far more about corruption than law-abiding Americans, do, for example. So corruption is actually exposed more in Africa than elsewhere.

But get off Africa’s back! It didn’t begin there, for sure. It starts with bloated capitalism poorly regulated. In today’s conservative global world I think that’s intentional.

OnSafari: Price is the Driver

OnSafari: Price is the Driver

uberprotestnairobiIn Nairobi and New York consumers were mad, local government knew what it had to do but claimed not to have the money to do it, so private investors stepped in: Uber Alles.

Today the head of the Nairobi taxi association gave the government one week to “do away with” Uber or they will “grind the city to halt.”

That won’t be hard to do, since the city is more or less ground to a halt already. The 10-12 mile ride from the airport into the city normally takes two hours because of unbelievable traffic.

The government seems to be siding with Uber.

Tension is seriously building. Uber has been here for just over a year, and rates Nairobi as one of its biggest successes. In the beginning it was mostly expats (non Kenyans) who used the service, but very soon thereafter the idea swept the city.

Uber, in fact, was so impressed with the Nairobi response that it reversed the previously strict policy not to accept cash payments for a ride.

Here’s how it boils down in this city of too many cars and truly unimaginable traffic:

A ride from the airport into the city by a registered taxi is pegged at around $50. Few consumers pay that. Bargaining prevails and even the most inexperienced consumer can get $15 off right away. I normally get them down to $25. Uber’s formulaic calculations will render anything from $12-$18, and usually the higher because of traffic congestion.

Uber’s policy excludes tipping, but believe me, Nairobi Uber drivers let you know a tip is most welcome and I expect many users tip here.

Nairobi’s monopolistic taxi service is so similar to taxi services around the globe, and that’s one of the reasons Uber is seamlessly entering every corner of the globe. Traditional taxi service is supposed to be insured and licensed by the government. In Kenya the effective tax is about 3% (60 Ksh per available car seat per day of operation). Union “dues” take another 3%. And the union is in full control of car placement and driver hiring and eligibility.

Of course, it doesn’t work like that. Taxes are rarely paid or massively miscalculated. A driver often splits his fare with others in his neighborhood and even more so, with touts that round up customers from the streets. This is gross speculation: but I imagine when all is said and done the driver takes home about 50% of the fare paid.

With Uber he takes home 80%, but the fare is a quarter to a third less. Bottom line: it’s a scratch for the cabbie.

But the consumer wins big. The technology of near instant service and easy payment – something the cities should have done long ago – is value itself, but the fare is less.

Here’s the problem: it’s a capitalistic race to the bottom.

Before the consumer even discovers that Uber cars are usually as good if not better than taxis, that they are more prompt, that tipping is no longer necessary, they are drawn by the lower price. Particularly in a developing country like Kenya with all the problems this city has, taxi users here would probably complain if the ride were free.

Price is the driver, the raison d’etre for Uber’s success and Uber geniuses have found a way to scrape the little bit of earnings that don’t actually pay for getting from here to there into their own pockets…

… out of the hands of the tout, the politician and who knows who else. Those folks are cut out by Uber to the benefit of the consumer AND …

… the benefit of Uber. Uber takes 20%.

Uber made about a quarter billion dollars last year and is valued around $65 billion, making it larger than America’s largest car companies.

The portion of Uber earnings that came from Kenya has impoverished many, contributed to more crime and now threatens to bust one of the few unions left in the country.

There’s a solution here. Government has to get its act together. Uber claims it would welcome regulation, so let’s regulate. Let Uber take over the taxi business, but let the unions represent all the workers, including Uber drivers. How’s that for a start?

Totally unexpected.

One For All

One For All

richandpoorHave you noticed? Income inequality is a hot issue. Ok, try this one. How many billionaires’ net worth equals half the rest of the world?

14000? Maybe be bold and guess 765?

How about… 62.

Kenyan commentator Rasna Warah called this yesterday “a new extreme.”

It’s tough enough when a Kenyan realizes that his country’s entire GDP isn’t even as great as Chicago’s, but inequality like this converts disbelief into abject anger.

It’s no longer a matter of understandable time, time for development, time for industrialization. The collection of wealth among a few individuals has occurred with lightning speed.

In 2010 it was 388 individuals. Five years later, it’s 62, despite the fact that the world’s overall economy has grown substantially in those five years.

The collection of wealth in so few hands is terrifying.

“In a world where one in nine people go to bed hungry every night, we cannot afford to carry on giving the richest an ever bigger slice of the cake,” Oxfam’s chief executive told the Guardian newspaper.

It is the respectable organization Oxfam that published the report several weeks ago.

I find it equally terrifying that I wasn’t able to learn about this from my own media. This strikes me as absolutely astounding: A commentator in Kenya that brought it to my attention.

It’s impossible to presume any logical fairness created this division. It’s just not statistically possible. Even 62 Big Blues would not be able to corner the market or coral capitalism to this level of advantage.

Oxfam, and I, believe it is structural within capitalism, and this is the reason that capitalism needs regulation. We’ve gone through a period of hyper deregulation, and this is the result.

More than $7.6 trillion of wealthy individuals’ net worth is held in off-shore tax havens.

On the one hand you can’t begrudge a wealthy person making herself wealthier. But the loopholes that allow this to occur, allow it to be freed of taxation, is often the result of the wealthy directing politics.

“These elites and über-rich individuals — and often their corporations — exploit the system for personal benefit in a way not possible for the rest of us,” one South African publication claims.

The ability of the wealthy to now direct history is mind-blowing.

Thanks to some Kenyans for letting me know. Clearly it’s not something the 62 want announced just yet.

But when is the horrible question.

Virgin Applications

Virgin Applications

virgin applicationA South African mayor has reserved part of her town’s college scholarships for virgins.

Concerned with the high rate of Aids and unwanted pregnancies, Mayor Dudu Mazibuko told the BBC that 16 of the town’s 113 college scholarships would go to girls cleared as virgins.

The certification is performed by an elder woman as part of an annual ceremony of homage to the Zulu king. Special intermittent testing would then continue – much like drug testing for sports – and whenever a woman fails the test the “Maiden’s Bursary Award” is terminated.

Even if the recipient has a 4.0?

“Unsurprisingly, this has been met with much controversy,” writes teen reporter Casey Lewis for Conde Nast. Lewis further notes that a college-age virgin is “very, very problematic.”

“Virginity testing is an invasive, flawed, traumatising and sexist practice, that has no bearing on whether or not women should be granted bursaries,” an on-line petition organized by South African university students contends.

The petition points out that the policy doesn’t address the role that young men play in unwanted pregnancies resulting in an “unequal” approach to young women.

With less than a couple thousand signatures so far, the now week-old petition is not doing well by South African standards. Despite the resolute equality provisions of the young South African constitution – which among other progressive components mandates that a certain proportion of publicly elected officials be women – sexism remains strong in the country.

KwaZulu Natal where Mayor Mazibuko’s town is, is a particularly conservative region. In fact towards the end of the anti-apartheid struggle in the late 1980s the region broke away from the growing black power movement to support the white-led apartheid regime.

The fact that the policy was promulgated by an elected woman mayor illustrates a global phenomenon of conservatism beautifully discussed this month in Foreign Affairs’ look into “inequality.”

Michigan professor Ronald Inglehart links the decline of economic equality to “cultural issues [that] pushed many in the working class to the right.”

During a fall meeting with Pullman High Schoolers regarding a proposed bill in the Washington state legislature increasing access to birth control, the very conservative Olympia woman state representative Mary Dye shocked students by insisting the conversation be governed by whether or not they were virgins.

Education and women’s health are global as much as local issues. Economic declines are often surprising, or at least at the start seem uncontrollable at that moment. As Ingelhart implies the anger manifest in those hurt most by an economic decline is often expressed in support for cultural positions and personal values that are clearer to evince than policies for economic recovery.

South Africa has an inequality ratio considerably higher than the U.S.’ already staggering high one. The reasons for this include global factors and are certainly complex.

Mayor Mazibuko’s continued support is not unlike Donald Trump’s.

No Vote Can Change This

No Vote Can Change This

AfricaDroughtWeather events – like football – keep getting nastier, and the more we comment on them the less attention we pay.

El Nino is flooding away America, but it’s also drying to a crisp much of southern Africa. That’s what severe weather is all about: When part of the world burns up another part freezes solid.

FEWS, the world’s early famine warning system, issued a severe drought alert last week for portions of eastern southern Africa. FEWS is not a weather forecaster per se, but an organization that anticipates what the weather will do:

In this case, a “food security crisis … is considered likely in the latter half of 2016 and early 2017.” ‘Food Security Crisis’ is just a step above “famine.”

Absolutely the world’s best forecaster globally is America’s own and proud NOAA. (That’s only since the Obama administration, by the way. Previous Republican administrations had eviscerated its funding.)

NOAA predicts a moisture deficit crisis for all of Zimbabwe, more than half of Mozambique, much of Zambia, some Botswana and nearly the entire eastern half of South Africa.

NOAA’s predictions further out suggest a return to normal. From FEWS perspective, though, that’s not good, because starting in March “normal” in southern Africa is the start of a long dry season.

Combined with the failure of rains in the past rainy season because of El Nino, food production will be lost over much of the area.

Tourism may also be effected. Earlier this year a number of Okavango Delta camps suspended their water-based activities because the water levels were so low.

There’s been some improvement, but not enough according to the University of Botswana:

“Tourism activities have so far become the first casualties of the on-going drought as water levels go down in the Okavango Delta,” a professor of tourism from the university warned last week.

My own sources suggest it’s not quite that bad yet, but water-based activities are being assessed on a daily basis.

More critical to the wildernesses of southern Africa, though, antelope populations like sassaby, wildebeest, hartebeest and zebra are declining. These great herds are less adaptable to drought conditions than other ungulates like giraffe and buffalo. (From a tourist point of view, by the way, dry conditions usually mean better predator encounters.)

Further east, though, including the great Kruger National Park, its equally famous surrounding private reserves like Sabi Sands, and almost all of Zambia’s reserves could face real trouble next year. When elephants start dying tourism isn’t exactly boosted up.

Humans can’t handle a drought as well as animals.

“Now that the drought has become even more severe, [food] production has nosedived,” the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board announced a couple weeks ago.

South Africa’s third largest city, Durban, began water rationing last July, and the situation has worsened considerably. By November publicly provided water systems were cut back 50% to both residences, businesses and farmers.

Sunday Durban began distributing bottled water to more than 2 million residents.

Compared to those in the South we in the North handle climate change pretty well, at least so far. Despite the headline news of apartments in mudslides, entire cities flooding down the river and beachfront eroding away, we aren’t starving and we aren’t likely to.

That’s not the case in the South. South Africa is the exception, although the climate situation there is so severe that it’s likely to put the country into a recession. But even that academic economic term carries a certainty that while dinners-out will be fewer, dinners-in will still happen.

Elsewhere in Africa’s south, that’s not the case. With each new climate change event there is greater hurt put on the world. Building walls might prevent the pain from getting to us right now, but someday it’s just going to get too severe.

Time for Odd Bedfellows?

Time for Odd Bedfellows?

oddbedfellowsHey, conservationists! How about big game trophy hunting to protect national wilderness areas? And will you put your money where mouth is?

Africa’s asking.

I don’t know yet how I’ll answer, but I want to clearly lay out the questions for all of us.

Fact 1: For the first several years running in my entire 40-year career, wildlife numbers are declining slightly.

Droughts and wars have taken serious tolls on East Africa’s wildlife in decades past, but animal populations always rebounded quickly. Unfortunately, good data compilations are still not available since competing NGOs remain provincial and selfish with their data, but my personal sense of what is in the public domain, combined with lots of anecdotal evidence convinces me of this slight decline.

There are two main reasons for this: rapid climate change and increasingly rapid economic development.

“Wildlife in Kenya is in serious trouble with numbers declining at around 3.2% per year while agriculture [is]… increasing at 8% per year at the cost of herbaceous wild habitat,” writes Calvin Cottar of the iconic Cottar tourism family in Kenya.

Fact 2: Also for the last several years, photography tourism – the main support of African wildlife reserves – has declined while big game hunting has increased.

In South Africa, a large consulting firm called the tourism decline “unprecedented” while big game hunting has increased and claimed the tourist industry there was losing 1600 people, 4 jumbo jets, daily compared to only a few years ago.

South Africa is stable and beautiful, and what’s more, has a Rand value against the Euro and dollar that has made vacations there more affordable than ever. So the decline is absolutely not linked to African politics, stability or terrorism, despite those scandalous claims often heard.

Rather, the decline is linked to the global economy, particularly the very poor economy in Europe and the crashing economies of Asia. But even America, with a relatively robust economy and overseas tourism that is soaring more than 5%, showed a whopping 13% decline to Africa in 2014.

America’s case may be slightly anomalous to the rest of the world. We are in an election cycle with heightened concerns about security that are reaching hysterical levels. I’m absolutely convinced that the world as a whole is not deterred traveling to Africa because of “terrorism,” but Americans may be.

Yet given South Africa’s predicament – located far from any terrorism – the conclusion that African politics, stability and “terrorism” is not a significant contributor to the current decline remains reasonable.

Calvin Cottar’s resume claims that his family has been operating safaris for 90 years in Kenya. In his piece in Nairobi Destination Magazine last month, he argues that conservationists have to give strongly in two areas:

First, they’ve got to get financially involved in ways they aren’t. By the way, he’s not only arguing for us foreigners to do this, but Kenyans and African governments as well:

“Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) – the leasing of land for conservation… involves philanthropic or other entities paying local people for the use of their land … to maintain wildlife.”

Cottar implies a situation which I believe goes too far: a sort of wholesale privatization of wilderness, although he concedes that isn’t politically realistic at the moment. Moreover, he cites numbers which are staggering: “Kenya requires $700 million per year … to secure just our existing wildlife populations and habitats – or 150,000 sq kms of land.”

Yet he insists it will work, because “Our experience in land leasing for PES in the Mara is that it is 100% corruption free.”

Major red flag. Nothing in the world is 100% and when people try to support their positions with such purity, I for one am turned off. Nevertheless, Cottar’s point with regards to PES is taken.

Second, we’ve got to allow hunting, which currently Kenya does not. This is a second article in the digital magazine which follows Cottar’s, and it is attributed to him, so I’m not sure if he simply wanted to duck the radar or if it is from someone else.

Regardless, it is certainly one of the most controversial strategies that exists.

Whether it is Cottar writing the article or someone else, it is a well compiled if somewhat disorganized discussion of the morality and practicality of promoting big game hunting, in the main as a hedge against poaching while generating the funds needed to local conservation:

“And as we grope our way toward wildlife preservation and sustainability, [big game sports hunting] appears to be more of an ally than a foe.”

It’s hard to see a good outcome, here. If overall wildlife statistics are hard to obtain, statistics about hunting are even less clear and generally wildly exaggerated by both sides. But the possibility of rounding up three-quarters of a billion dollars annually to preserve what is still a small part of the current East Africa wilderness seems completely unlikely.

What do you think?