Shrinking & Suffering

Shrinking & Suffering

trumpbudgethitsafricaIf there’s anything at all good in Trump’s “skinny” budget it’s that Americans might start paying attention to the sweeping power of their government. The draconian cuts will indeed effect each and every American but the budget will also lay waste much of the rest of the world.

That’s quite uncomfortable to most Americans who either don’t know or don’t care how they effect the rest of the world. A Kenyan analysis shows how the Trump budget will devastate the continent, exponentially increase suffering and death and likely lead to war. Kenyan analysis shows that the Trump budget will lay waste the continent, exponentially increase suffering and death and likely lead to war.

Read more

мат

мат

russiainafricaRussia wasted no time using Trump’s election to increase its global power. Yesterday it thrust a masterful spear between Africa and the U.S. by aligning itself with African countries threatening to withdraw from the World Court.

The renegade power’s lightning fast global moves have been reported this morning in Central America, Syria, and of course right here in America, but it is in Africa where Russia may be most successful acting so quickly.

Read more

Another ‘Election’

Another ‘Election’

somalielectionObama leaves office having created the largest American military complex in Africa in history with operations in at least 22 African countries.

The incredible size and scope of the American military in Africa was first reported in Mother Jones in 2013, but gained no wide audience. I was surprised then and remain surprised, today. Is it because we’re safer? Or because we just don’t want to talk about it.

Read more

What a Mess

What a Mess

freefallingrandLest this be too technical for those unfamiliar with Africa, this morning is a mess.

“Chaos has been unleashed and we all will be poorer,” writes a commentator this morning in the respected journal, African Arguments.

Many former British colonies in Africa are forcing calm while quietly panicking about Brexit, especially South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.

I can’t see this getting better. Even if the hoped for British pivot occurs and somehow Article 50 is never triggered, the genie is out of the bottle. Economies don’t pause for politicians to catch their breath.

The biggest single concern with South Africa and Kenya is the plummeting pound. Kenya is also worried that a new British executive will be less disposed to foreign aid. Nigeria’s concern is the increased dollar which puts downwards pressure on oil prices, Nigeria’s lifeblood. South Africa suffered a 1.2% retraction last quarter and Brexit is likely now to dump them into a full blown recession.

There is even widespread concern that money transfers will be more difficult, something that will effect all aspects of business and trade.

By 0730cdt this morning all the indicators were moving in terrible directions. Former African colonies’ currencies usually move with the pound. Although weaker currencies are often spun positively for manufactured exports, most former colonies import more than they export so their economies become stressed when their currency weakens.

Add to this a 10% drop in the price of oil (as of 0730 cdt) and Britain’s former colonies are in a terrible mess this morning.

“Politicians paint a very beautiful picture of a very bad idea just to ascend to power,” writes one Kenyan about Brexit, today. “They dupe [the electorate] into voting for them, knowing very well that whatever they are promising cannot work even under any circumstance. That is exactly what Cameron did.”

Most Americans have never traveled to Kenya or South Africa or Nigeria, much less even the UK. Our economy remains the largest on earth so likely the one that can be least hurt by any other. But we are not immune to the effects of Brexit, and I mean that as much politically as economically.

Every Britain should have known what a disaster this would be, but their politicians duped them, to use the Kenyan’s words. The Leave Campaigners promised all sorts of things that they are today retracting like yo-yos, essentially admitting lying.

But there were even double-dupes like Cameron bringing up the whole idea then trying to turn it back; and triple-dupes like Corbyn only half-heartedly campaigning against the Leave because he really wants it.

In the end the electorate was only given one choice: leave or not. I think what the electorate manifest was a protest vote, a No vote, a vote against politics, against the status quo, because like many of us around the world, that’s the only power we’ve been left by our hoarding, power hungry politicians.

The most terrifying lesson to learn from this mess is that Donald Trump might win.

Refugee or Reprobate?

Refugee or Reprobate?

Donald-TrumpMy first job after the anti-war movement was in Paris with UNESCO. Diplomats were aghast back in 1971 that before the end of that year there could be one million refugees under the responsibility of the United Nations.

Yesterday the UN announced it was handling 65,300,000 refugees.

That is one out of every 113 people who live on planet earth.

Two years later Kathleen and I were working for the Kenyan government on the border with troubled Uganda under the ruthless dictator Idi Amin. We traveled into that dangerous country and saw first-hand the devastation that gives rise to a refugee.

We saw children scraping roadways for food. We saw people dying. We saw educated people hiding for fear they would be killed for no reason other than they were educated.

We saw people who made the incredible decision to leave home.

I don’t think most Americans understand refugee-ism. In our current politicized environment, in fact, it seems to boil down to believing most foreigners are on-the-take, people making somewhat casual decisions to increase their opportunities.

Most refugees have no idea where they’re going once they pack up to leave.

Imagine that. Imagine deciding that your situation is so dire that you have to leave, no matter where you go or what might happen to you. “Chance” which obviously might include something worse is better than sitting still.

I’ve watched Americans mature in my life time as they inch towards the realization that they are not just Americans, but human beings, members of the same race on the same planet, brothers and sisters no matter what.

How can we tolerate such displacement of our fellow human beings?

The Brookings Institute says it’s because Americans have been brainwashed into being afraid of refugees. “Brain-washed” are my words.

The hardness, the callous disregard of our fellow human beings is about the most disgusting, low and immoral position any other human being can take. The “plasticity of public sentiment” – which is how Brookings sugar-coats brain-washing – among Americans is so damn embarrassing. For the first time in my life, when I find myself in a foreign environment unable to fully explain my country, I find myself ashamed of being an American.

We have to look inwards and understand that nobody is trying to minimize our anger – or our fear, for that matter. But directing our worries upon unknown fellow human beings and presuming totally absurd things about them — particularly when those refugees are among the most honest, courageous and loyal of all in our shared species – is nothing short of social and intellectual blasphemy.

It reeks of an egocentrism and selfishness that belongs exclusively to The Dark Side.

I have written about refugees, I have worked with refugees, I have housed refugees in my home, and I have worked for refugees.

Not one of the dozens that come to mind ranks one baby step in moral or intellectual stature below myself, my mayor, my governor or senator or religious guide, my mentors or my favorite people. To a person they have demonstrated the best of a human being.

It’s one thing to sling invective at opponents for ideological reasons. It’s another to condemn your own species.

The Largest Panda of All

The Largest Panda of All

wwfvsbakaPeople with deep faith in the good work that they do sometimes develop blinders that become destructive. This may be happening today with the world’s largest and most revered wildlife organization.

We all know – or think we do – the World Wildlife Fund. In fact it’s actual name isn’t the World Wildlife Fund, but the “World Fund for Nature.” The name morphed over time and when the organization adopted its URL, worldwildlife.org.

It’is the largest wildlife conservation organization in the world, with a balance sheet of just under a half billion dollars. Remarkably its liquid assets of $337 million are derived by less than 10% through fund raising, reflecting an “organization” that is mostly an endowment and grant sponge.

Too big too fail comes to mind.

WWF has enormous power throughout the world. In the Cameroon it implemented without much oversight what looked like good ecological programs mostly to protect the forests of the Congo Basin, but with little oversight by the Cameroon government the WWF programs may in fact be destroying the indigenous pygmies, the Baka people who live there.

In February a competing NGO, Survival International, filed a formal complaint against WWF with the OECD in Paris. According to the Guardian newspaper, “The complaint contains eye-witness accounts of alleged brutality, video testimonies, and reports from the Cameroonian press accusing the eco guards of violent actions against the pygmy groups.”

I was skeptical. Accusation is not evidence. But the evidence is now coming in, and it’s damning.

WWF’s strategy to protect the Congo Basin forests is deeply mired in partnerships with commercial enterprises like logging companies. At first this doesn’t seem so unusual: private/public partnerships is the tagline for much progressive public policy today.

The idea, of course, is that good public advocates will curtail the otherwise ungoverned exploitation of commercial interest, and that if well done, sustainable commerce can be achieved.

In logging, for example, historical partnerships between logging companies and government and private conservation entities have actually created long-term renewable forests in the U.S.

But in pursuing its private/public partnership in the Cameroon WWF embraced a French logging company, Rougier that had a long and troubled history with indigenous forest peoples. WWF had little choice who to partner with as it was the Cameroon government’s choice.

But there are now credible reports that Rougier has displaced Baka pygmies – who have claimed the forest as their home for millennia – without compensation and in violation of its own agreement with the Cameroon government.

There are even reports that many Baka have been tortured, and further claims that WWF trained anti-poaching units have been involved.

WWF portrays it otherwise insisting the issue is one of poaching, not displacement. Too many videos and eye-witness accounts have proved WWF’s defense is empty of reality.

Moreover, WWF has done everything to keep this out of the English media.

When pressed by a Belgian advocacy group for Cameroon, WWF responded (in French) that its partnership was sound and ethical, that Rougier was acting in accordance with ecological agreements, and that the logging was mostly taking place in an area soon to be flooded by a dam.

WWF aggressively defended its partnership with Rougier until April, 2015.

March and April, 2015, was when Stephen Cory, Survival International’s Director, demanded documents from WWF-International’s director, Marco Lambertini, regarding the accusations.

Shortly thereafter WWF stopped issuing press reports or field science monographs in English from the area. WWF assigned the Head of its “Issues Management” department, Phil Dickie, to respond. Dickie took several months, finally sending an email to Survival that read in part:

“Apologies for the delays… This is a personal note…. I would prefer to operate on the basis that our organisations both have the interests of the Baka and other indigenous people at heart….If you want to explore the possibilities, let me know.”
12 May 2015 15:37

It strikes me that WWF is in deep do-do, holding hands with a French logging company whose behavior is probably criminal. Like the leaders of our own Republican Party, WWF may have lost control but finds itself unable to extract itself into any original moral position nor to unentangle itself from its own perhaps unintentional involvement in displacing indigenous people.

It’s the disease of the Too Big, Too Powerful. In my view organizations and institutions this large can only function in a moral way when they are accountable to the people who support them and who they serve.

10% fund raising doesn’t reach that level.

Happening Right Now, Folks!

Happening Right Now, Folks!

obamawarAstounded. Shocked. No mainstream or even maincreek media covered today’s military conference in Arusha called by and hosted by the U.S.

Even the Army’s own publications buried the story. Talk about a society burying its head in the sand… First, the news…

General Mark Miller, head of Obama’s Africom, hosted 37 of Africa’s land chief heads of force in Arusha, Tanzania, today to talk about … what? Gender mainstreaming?

You have to go to the Army’s Africom twitter account to get what’s really going on. Africom’s website might suggest it’s a conference about gender mainstreaming, but their twitter account revealed the truth.

No, they aren’t gathered primarily to talk about gender mainstreaming. The agenda is obviously secret, but here’s some suggestions:

● Drone Assassinations
● Al-Shabaab & Boko Haram
● Military budgets and hardware
● U.S. Navy docking privileges

As I’ve often written AFRICOM is the mendacious brainchild of Obama. The command’s operating budget is currently a quarter billion dollars. (Navigate to the pdf page 107, document page 104.) This does not include, of course, an equal or greater amount through the CIA or direct country-to-country assistance.

For example, in 2015 Kenya was given around $100 million to fight terrorism and undoubtedly that much or more through other agencies.

It’s a complete guessing game, but I imagine that there’s at least $5-6 billion annually for Obama’s proxy militaries in Africa.

Congress likes AFRICOM, one of the few things that Congress likes from Obama and 2017 funding is expected to increase, and that’s why there are 37 educated leaders with their hands out in Arusha today.

As I’ve conceded, AFRICOM has made America safer for the time being. And, the TV asks, isn’t that the President’s job?

The key qualifier here is “for the time being.” I know from history and common sense that budget-creep, gun-creep, militarism-creep will stifle terrorism in the short term, but terrorism is impossible to extinguish altogether.

So when a relative period of peace and stability arrives, and the budget and the military aid and the overall militarism is toned down, the ugly terrorist raises his head yet again.

Newly reborn with new technologies and a period of good night’s sleeping.

If in this interim period during which the terrorist has been suppressed, the people of the forest terrorized by the terrorist have improved their lot, they probably will support the terrorist less. If their lot has declined, they will all wholeheartedly become terrorist martyrs.

We decry the notion of “nation-building” and it is so historically loaded with baggage I suppose we should. But I can’t really think of a better moniker for what has to be done to avoid this constant cycle of greater militarism and greater terrorism.

It isn’t happening now and that’s why AFRICOM is so mendacious. All it does it rev up this terrible cycle.

And nobody, it seems, cares even to know.

Kenya Backs into The Future

Kenya Backs into The Future

charcoal stockpilesJust as Kenya was doing everything right it arrests a journalist for uncovering corruption, while the Kenyan army that Obama built to route Somali terrorists turns out to be in cahoots with the terrorist leaders!

When will Kenyans stop being on the take?

The government’s interior minister oversaw the arrest Tuesday of a prominent Kenyan journalist who’d uncovered possible corruption in his ministry. The backlash was swift, the journalist was released, the minister comically claimed he hadn’t order the arrest, but the damage was done.

And today another courageous group of Kenyan journalists released a scathing report linking Kenyan occupying forces with the illicit half billion dollar trade in sugar and charcoal that had hugely financed Somali pirates.

Interior Secretary Joseph Nkaissery oversaw the arrest Tuesday of Kenyan journalist John Ngirachu. The journalist had discovered a multi-million dollar hole in Nkaissery’s budget that was unaccounted for.

By the time police brought Ngirachu to the station, the outcry in Kenya was so loud that he was simply kept for a short time and not even interrogated before being released.

Then yesterday, acting as if this was all news to him, Nkaissery ordered the “end to any investigation” by journalists claiming he knew nothing about it.

It’s so lame. Just before the arrest Nkaissery told Reuters that Ngirachu’s reporting was “unacceptable” and “calculated to harm the nation” since it portrayed his ministry as corrupt and that it was a trend by journalists “increasingly taking the shape of a larger plot of economic sabotage.”

So whether the minister then went down a floor and ordered the arrest by his chief of arrests, or whether his chief of arrests knew he would be canned if he didn’t do it on his own, the arrests came swiftly thereafter.

We often scratch our noggin wondering how in the world corrupt politicians think they can get away with it. Well, in Kenya you have to scratch all the way through the scalp to wonder how this guy would think just by denying what he had just said to a worldwide news agency, everything would be fine!

Today Kenyan soldiers are paid well and are well equipped, because of our own dear Obama. I’ve written critically many times about the Obama war effort in Somalia. We Americans built, funded and trained the Kenyans to oust the Somali warlords that had more or less run that evaporating country for nearly 20 years.

And they did a great job.

Now they’re flipping.

According to the Kenyan Journalists’ report, “Eating with the Enemy,” the Kenyan occupying soldiers have struck a deal with what’s left of the al-Shabaab they were supposed to nuke.

They are splitting about $24 million annually through illicit exporting of charcoal to the Arabian peninsula.

Charcoal burning stoves still fire many of the homes in the Arabian peninsula, where there aren’t any forests. Somalia has been deforesting itself for decades to supply them. So this isn’t just an illegal and corrupt act, it’s raping the planet.

But the Kenyan soldier scandal doesn’t stop there. Putting together UN reports with other Kenyan journalist reports, Nancy Agutu of Kenya’s Star wrote today that $400 million is being earned by the Kenyan soldiers and their middlemen back home for the illegal importation of sugar from Somalia.

There are so many angles to this story it’s hard to parse: America once again duped into trying to do good with military means; the ongoing rape of Somalia’s earth even after the war is stopped; the corruption of Kenyan officials high and low; the demand for charcoal in a modern age…

Only one thing is clear. There are some really good, possible heroes among Kenyan journalists.

One of Kenya’s most famous anti-corruption activists, John Githongo, told Reuters recently, “This is the most corrupt Kenya has been since we began measuring corruption in the ’90s.”

Kenya has been working so hard recently to combat crime and corruption, to work through their new constitution, to deal with the Somali crisis at their borders and stem terrorism … that’s it’s simply a crying shame that idiots like this minister and cowboys in the army we built would try to blow their future to smithereens.

Dangerous Dennis

Dangerous Dennis

norwegiansuitShould a paid aid worker in a dangerous part of the world be able to sue his NGO for not protecting him well enough?

Steve Dennis sued his employer, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), for gross negligence that resulted in his kidnapping in 2012. Dennis refused more than a half million dollars out-of-court settlement, and a Norwegian judge will now soon decide the matter.

Dennis and several others were kidnapped from the Dadaab Refugee Camp on the Kenyan/Somali border by Somali insurgents. They were freed four days later by a commando raid of Kenyan and Somalia government forces.

He contends that his PTSD syndrome and continuing physical ailments that resulted from the kidnapping were all preventable had NRC better security procedures in place.

I think this is nuts.

Everyone – even soldiers and aid workers – should have redress through the courts for being abnormally maligned or mistreated, but Dennis was not.

The NRC is one of the most respected NGOs in Africa. The 100+ recommendations the NRC generated from its own internal investigation into Dennis’ kidnapping have all been implemented and are being widely considered by all NGOs in the Dadaab area.

I suspect there is much more to the story than has reached the media.

Just after the actual incident, the then 37-year old Dennis told his home-town Toronto Globe and Mail:

‘[that] he remains committed to aid work despite having just gone through “a very bad long weekend. I’m still going to be engaged somehow. How, I don’t know. For now I think my job is to take a couple months off and then, if I feel good, take a couple more maybe,” he said with a laugh.’

Dadaab is one of the most dangerous refugee camps in the world, and if I know this I imagine that aid workers do, too.

There are about 22 million refugees living in camps around the world, the majority in United Nations’ organized mini-cities. There are nearly a million in Dadaab alone.

The 10,000 UNHCR employees overseeing these facilities are assisted by an estimated 50,000 other aid workers of the sort Steve Dennis was, persons who are actually working in refugee camps. (Altogether there are around a quarter million humanitarian aid workers worldwide.)

Aid workers are characteristically the most dedicated, moral and upstanding individuals you can imagine. I’ve often pondered why these incredibly intelligent and motivated individuals give up traditional lives with usually greater compensation for such hazardous work.

About a year after the July, 2012, incident Dennis began issuing more and more serious allegations and complaints: his mood had obviously changed. In court documents he chalks this up to his PSTD.

Also about a year after the incident, NRC changed CEOs. In a letter introducing himself, Jan Egeland concluded, “And finally. Be careful, take the necessary precautions and wear a seatbelt. We cannot afford to lose any of you.”

The NRC media arm that issued the letter featured a picture of a smiling, handsome and weathered Egeland holding a large hand-written sign that read, “Listen to Locals And Stay Safe.”

As Dennis’ legal wrangle starting taking shape, he asked the public for $50,000 through FundRazr. The $20,000 that the Guardian newspaper reported he finally raised was apparently sufficient enough to attract ambulance chasers now working on speculation.

I don’t doubt that Dennis suffers from PTSD or that he has other lasting infirmities from his kidnapping. I’m not even sure I approve of the half million dollar settlement NRG offered Dennis, but at the very least it strikes me as incredibly generous.

But if aid organizations are now sued by employees who work in the most dangerous conditions in the world, it would be like soldiers suing the Army for sending them into war!

Norwegians are among the most dedicated aid workers in the world, and Norway among the most committed countries on our planet to making the whole wide world better. So it’s not surprising that they will find fault with themselves.

But I hope the judge notes that Dennis used crowdfunding to attract ambulance chasers. This is not how to save the world.

Polio Plus a lot More

Polio Plus a lot More

PolioPlusPolio may have been eliminated from Africa.

Although the context is Africa, this is an uniquely American story. It’s a hero’s tale of misplaced generosity: More than 30 years ago a generous group of American middle class business leaders decided they would eradicate polio.

Last week the Global Polio Eradication (GPE) Initiative announced that it had been one year since any new case of polio had been identified in Africa.

(Qualification: a handful of new cases caused by the vaccine itself persist in Nigeria and Madagascar, but these are not infectious.)

The GPE began in 1988 after a 1985 Rotary Club project inspired when a Rotarian visited the Philippines and was moved by efforts there to eradicate the disease.

Within three years individual Rotarians had donated almost $200 million dollars. (To date they have contributed more than $1.3 billion.)

Reluctantly United Nations organizations joined the effort. I say reluctantly because the science of public health was most developed within the United Nations community, and it was understood by them that “a few years” was not a realistic goal.

The UN and its agencies get beaten to death when they set goals they don’t achieve. But UNESCO (the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) agreed to partner in the effort when convinced by the less political World Health Organization (WHO), which also joined the effort in 1988 after America’s CDC came on board.

But none of these three public health organizations – attracted by the enormous amount of the Rotary contributions – wanted to be the lead organization.

It was understood that if public health organizations’ assessment of the enormous amount of time and money the project really needed were honestly conveyed to Rotarians the project might be abandoned. More puerilely, they might not get use of the funds. So the GPE was formed as an umbrella organization.

I was a Rotarian at the time, and I was extraordinarily humbled by my suburban club’s generosity towards projects I was developing in Africa. So I was roundly criticized as hypocritical and selfish when I opposed the polio campaign.

I knew the goals were unrealistic. Everyone was treating polio as if it were smallpox. The eradication of smallpox worldwide in 1978 (officially announced in 1980) still had enormous resonance in 1985 as a successful worldwide public health initiative.

WHO suggested, designed and led the effort to eradicate smallpox, a decade-long effort that began in 1958. The world – particularly America in 1958 – was considerably more socialistic than it is, today, and the successful eradication of smallpox in the U.S. and Europe inspired wonderful governmental generosity to take this know-how into the undeveloped world.

It was expensive, and it was paid for by increased taxes on westerners.

America’s psyche changed radically in the late 1970s and 1980s. Private initiative was displacing government initiatives.

Rotary is a private, capitalist club. To its lasting credit in this troubling period of change in America it was also developing thousands if not tens of thousands of small projects that were working better than the bluster of aid that was flowing for crony reasons during the Cold War.

It seemed to make sense. Private initiative. Less bureaucratic operations. Strictly altruistic.

But Rotary was not accountable to the body of science which governments and world political organizations were.

I knew that eradication of polio would take more than “a few years” and more importantly, that the quarter billion dollars raised for a few-year effort would have to become substantially more if the ultimate goal of the project was to be realized.

I knew because I had watched polio immunization in Africa fail, first-hand.

The problem is that a single immunization as was used to eradicate smallpox won’t work with polio. Polio eradication then required at least two immunizations per child and they needed to be spaced months apart.

That is a concept near impossible to convey to an illiterate peasant and particularly to skeptical ones. It’s also a regime that requires meticulous accounting and reporting. Who is immunized when is not an easy task to record when so many millions of young, undernourished and illiterate children are involved.

So it’s taken a little bit more than a “few years” and by the way, Rotary’s goal of worldwide eradication has not occurred. The infectious polio virus persists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It’s unclear how much has been spent to date. The New York Times reports the effort costs $1 billion/year.

Last February the Rotarian who inspired the program celebrated the 30-year effort by explaining why he felt the project could be done by Rotary:

“We didn’t need medical people, we could do it ourselves.”

Do it yourself is an American concept that is horribly immature. There is very little in the world today that can be successfully accomplished “by one’s self.”

Teams of very different kinds of people, spanning enormous disciplines and representing high science and lengthy specific experience, are required for almost everything even something as simple as counting children when the context is global.

What we need to do is tap into the incredible generosity of an individual Rotarian, which I can absolutely attest to. We need to develop that twinkling morality into a complete understanding that no Rotary – no homogenous organization – can work alone in a global context. Only massive efforts coordinated by governments can achieve global success.

And equally importantly, we must accept the facts, however daunting they may seem. Inspiration is great. Science is, too.

Getting to the Bottom of It

Getting to the Bottom of It

getting to the bottom of itWhile the battle against corruption in Africa is mostly going well, it’s hit a brick wall in Tanzania. Yesterday, most of the aid-giving free world (less the U.S.) chided Tanzania for dragging its feet.

The donor group, calling itself the “General Budget Support” (GBS) Group, gives Tanzania approximately a half billion dollars annually as direct cash into its general budget fund, about 10% of the country’s projected national budget.

The U.S. in comparison plans to give Tanzania this year approximately $1.15 billion.

The difference with USAid is that it doesn’t flow without conditions into the country’s general fund as is the case with the GBS, but towards specific projects and programs, many of which are outside the Tanzanian government’s budget programs.

Specificity in aid is a hallmark of U.S. assistance, and a controversial one. It’s not only a hallmark of USAid, but of Tanzania’s other principal donor, China.

By specifying what the money is supposed to be used for, the vendors receiving the funds are often U.S. and Chinese companies.

And the U.S. usually does a pretty good job; China often doesn’t.

It’s been less than a year since China finished the Namanga/Arusha/Dodoma road, and it’s collapsing already.

I’ve traveled that road multiple times annually since 1973. It’s rare to be in very good shape, but the best period was from about 2000 to 2008, a legacy of Japanese aid and workmanship.

But no road lasts forever, and even less so when a country is developing and its trucks and commerce are growing.

So we were all extremely excited last year, despite the delays of construction, that this “new road” would bring new speed to the country’s prosperity.

Junk aid is the controversy that surrounds specificity of aid, which is the practice of the Chinese and Americans. Many European countries that have developed real expertise in aid to the developing world, like the Netherlands and Norway, prefer to work through world bodies like the World Bank, or directly with country authorities as is the case with the GBS.

So while it may seem counter-intuitive that giving unspecified aid battles corruption, that’s exactly what this does, as evidenced yesterday by the sweeping indignation of the GBS and its threats to hold back some of what is being pledged.

It’s the same policy that the European Union applied to Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. There was no specificity to the cash, other than you better get your house in order.

That’s what the GBS is doing in Tanzania, and from my point of view, it has a lot more effect than America and China’s grandiose claims that their aid avoids causing corruption.

An enormous percentage of USAid, for example goes to a handful of corporations, like Halliburton. (The exact percentages take institutions to figure out, and clearly are being intentionally made difficult to determine.)

Just as in Tanzania the Chinese road corporation, China Geo Engineering, received the funds to rebuild the Namanga/Arusha/Dodoma road.

These mega corporations then pay themselves and their country cronies for such things as equipment, and often for expertise and management as well. The Chinese actually are far more guilty of this than the Americans. It is hard to find a Chinese project with any locals above basic laborer.

That isn’t to say it doesn’t help the local economy, but advocates of the GBS form of aid argue it leads to much greater corruption.

And the corruption begins at home. Halliburton, like China Geo Engineering, is rife with nepotism, cronyism and just simple outright graft. Removed from many of the accounting restraints that would attend them for projects within their home country, they are essentially set free to work as they wish.

Bribing is par for the course.

And whether a Chinese or American capitalist monster, the bottom line is what counts. And that doesn’t seem to be effected by where the bottom of the road goes.

Power to the People

Power to the People

obamatanzaniaAmerican presidents one-upping each other is hardly news at home, but this time round it really is news for Africa. George Bush is personally credited with $15 billion for Africa, now Obama with $16 billion.

This year the Obama Administration requested a total of $7.5 billion for USAid to Africa. Twenty percent of that is for Egypt, with the remaining 43 beneficiary countries receiving $5 billion.

Nigeria is in second place, no surprise. If the country can ever solve its ethnic problems its massive oil reserves will make it literally one of the most important countries in the world.
2013USAidtoAfrica
But what is surprising is third place, Tanzania.

Obama just completed an Africa trip where the signature speeches, most dramatic announcements and largest contingent of Americans traveling with him (800) were in Tanzania. Why Tanzania?

Tanzania’s human rights ranking is terrible. Just before Obama arrived, an opposition rally in Arusha was brutally crushed by police. A month before Obama arrived the Tanzanian government announced wholesale movements of Maasai from their native lands to increase a hunting reserve for Arab princes.

And there’s been scandal after scandal, many centering on the country’s 15-year inability to make money from the discovery of the world’s second largest gold reserve.

Compared to neighboring Kenya, Tanzania is a banana republic with no clear optimistic future.

Why Tanzania?

There are two reasons. The first is because Obama’s predecessor, George Bush, doled out a huge amount of his $15 billion AIDs initiative in Africa to Tanzania. Why Tanzania? Because Kenya wouldn’t have him and South Africa didn’t really want him, either. In fact, because most of Africa did not want to be associated with George Bush.

The Bush Administration alienated most of the world with its invasion of Iraq, Africa included. Its foreign policy was hurtful to emerging countries in virtually all areas, from conservation to economics.

And its missteps were many and severe in Africa. Perhaps the most notable for this discussion was when George Bush became the only leader in the world to congratulate Mwai Kibaki on becoming elected president in 2007. Which he hadn’t been, which was why no other world leader offered the congratulations.

But those congratulations Kibaki immediately published on Kenyan media to consolidate his illegitimate claim to power, and that led to the terrible violence of 2007/2008.

So by process of default, Bush went to Tanzania. Obama has to one-up him. Bush’s $15 billion was for AIDS aid. Obama’s $16 billion is for electrification.

There’s a second reason.

Drones have assassinated no fewer than a dozen terrorists while they were living in Kenya and Tanzania. Kenya doth protest. Tanzania doesn’t.

Aid is a tricky game. I have a sense that Obama has mastered it far better than Bush did, but he’s shackled by his militarism and obsession with killing terrorists, and influenced by not letting his predecessor shine more brightly.

Aid is a tricky game. Morality isn’t. I don’t know how long it will take for America to sync itself into a truly moral stance after our generations of warring, but it doesn’t look like it will be soon.

Obama Reconsidered

Obama Reconsidered

africa25n-1webIn Arusha today rumors abound that President Obama will cancel his visit to Tanzania next week, because of Nelson Mandela’s failing health and the Snowden Affair.

Africa thrives on rumors like nowhere else, but my experience is this is so because they’re often true. Put another way, the NSA wouldn’t want to put a station here.

On the other hand, Arusha is the center of Tanzanian political dissent and Obama was never scheduled to muddy the waters by making his host, Tanzanian president Kikwete, venture into an area that hugely dislikes him.

But nevertheless last week’s rumors were that Obama was going to make a quick surprise visit to the north, where Arusha is located, just like President Bush did on the last American presidential visit here.

After all, this is where the big game animal parks like the Serengeti are, where much of Tanzania’s development in agricultural export is growing, and certainly the most educated and globally engaged part of the country.

My sources are the best there are: taxi cab drivers. I was with three different ones this morning in Arusha, and with little prompting they all said the same thing. They were also uncharacteristically hesitant to talk politics, almost as if doing so would contribute to the possibility Obama won’t come.

Africa’s love affair with Obama when he was elected has changed. There’s a lot of resentment that America has seemed far less engaged with Africa than under the last two presidents. Many respected experts are calling the trip “long overdue.”

I expect there are many protagonists who feel slighted by the world recession and the priority world leaders had to give that. And whether or not Obama has more severely slighted Africa than immigration groups or returning vets, he has hardly “disengaged” from Africa:

Total bilateral non-military assistance for Africa has risen from roughly $7 billion in Bush’s last year as president to $7.6 billion today. That’s a modest increase, but when set in the context of the world recession and the fact that much American aid was decreased, it’s actually a positive number.

But the headline is how dramatically military aid has increased – or at least we think so, because those figures are near impossible to parse. But the level of Obama military involvement from Somalia to Kenya to the CAR to Malawi is widely known and very considerable. Many of us have written that it is too involved.

But Obama has kept all this under the radar; I understand why there was little stomach to publicize our considerable military involvement, but I don’t understand why we didn’t tout our non-military increases in aid, explaining the relatively smallness in terms of the global recession.

“Kamma Obama,” one driver explained: ‘That’s Obama.’ He’s widely viewed throughout the continent as too soft-spoken and too much of a conciliator. Africa politics and culture is not accustomed to such politeness.

Tanzania is the place where the president’s most important speech is scheduled, and that because the Obama Administration hopes that East Africa will move more quickly to implement its East African trade agreements. It seems that all American administrations place increased trade as a top priority in dealing with Africa, and it becomes easier when African neighboring countries break down the barriers that exist between them, first.

But elevating Tanzania to this importance may be short-sighted. It’s understandable that it wouldn’t be Kenya, with the country’s president and vice-president under indictment from the World Court for crimes against humanity, but few consider Tanzania more important than South Africa or Senegal, the other countries scheduled to be visited.

An important part of any American presidential trip is to promote democracy, and Tanzania is hardly the shining example. A week ago Saturday an opposition rally in Arusha was bombed and three died, and many in Arusha believe the government if not directly responsible probably knew it was planned but did nothing to prevent it.

From my point of view, this is the real “disengagement” of Obama. He seems to have a good wide-angle lense on the situation here, but has no time for details. This lack of focus suggests distraction, but regardless it may be something his administration is coming round to realize.

And so an excuse like Mandela’s ill health or Snowden’s night flight to Havana might be all that is needed to scratch the journey at the last minute. And until the right, better focus is achieved, that might not be all such a bad thing.