Jumbo Jangles

Jumbo Jangles

eleClarity on how badly elephants may be declining is at hand. Wednesday scientists began the “2017 Selous-Mikumi Large Mammal Census” which will be conducted over a huge area of nearly 43,000 sq. miles in central Tanzania.

It will be the first such careful animal census of the area since 2014 but more importantly will help determine the much debated viability of the “Great Elephant Census (GEC)”, which tore through the continent a year ago. One of the great criticisms of that inflammatory report was precisely that it ignored areas that the current census will now sample.

Why believe this one?

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False Charity

False Charity

PAMS vs charityCrimes are often subjective. Elephant poachers, drug users, and teenage suicide bombers fall into this category. There are thousands more examples across a wide spectrum of wrongness.

Wednesday evening one of the most successful crusaders against elephant poaching was murdered on the streets of Dar-es-Salaam where he defied his notorious reputation with a zealous fight against poachers and brokers of illicit ivory. It’s no surprise.

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The Monster Rests

The Monster Rests

rhinoNPR’s fuzzy wuzzy reporting in the last few days about the northern white rhino is high school journalism. I’m not suggesting that this story needs the due diligence of Jared Kushner’s Russia contacts, but what is an important battle between science and performance NPR has reduced to a smiling emoticon.

NPR reported as if it were new a crowdfunding campaign for in vitro fertilization to save the last three known surviving northern white rhino. In fact the campaign has languished for more than sixteen months. And there are good reasons it’s languishing.

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Give Directly?

Give Directly?

G3FVYeVSeveral secret, unnamed villages in Kenya have become the “beta test” for the theory that a guaranteed income will eradicate poverty world-wide.

The Silicon Valley motivated charity, GiveDirectly disperses its donations to Kenyan villages in cash as a guaranteed monthly income. No tractors, no computers, no medicine, no scholarships or other training – just cash. The organization has operated since 2008 and believes it now has the data to prove its theory.

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People or Wildlife?

People or Wildlife?

angry villager fight eleIt’s immoral to support saving wildlife at the expense of saving people. It’s that simple and today in Kenya I realized first-hand this travesty.

It begins with climate change. Surely you notice weather is changing where you live, and I’ve often explained that the developed world is more capable of adjusting to this than the developing world.  But when you feel compelled to assist efforts to mitigate climate change in the developing world, shouldn’t you consider the people who live there rather than just the wildlife?

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Democratic Disease

Democratic Disease

gabon and polioRotary Charity and Gabon Wealth, two very different issues this morning that teach a similar lesson: you can’t buy success.

The oil rich country of  Gabon remains unsettled this morning following contested elections and days of violence.  A third case of the presumed eradicated polio was confirmed this morning in Nigeria.

Two extremely different African tales share an amazing similarity. Both of them were completely predictable and for the same reason.  Let’s start with Gabon.

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Be Careful What You Support

Be Careful What You Support

raisedtobekilledWild animals in Africa are threatened as never before by western hypocrisy.

Thursday two wildlife organizations, Panthera & WildAid, announced a “Cecil Summit” to plan the allocation of $1.25 billion raised annually to save the lion. This campaign is as absurd as it is distasteful, a stunt playing on good people’s feelings and essentially unmasked by its own hypocrisy.

Cecil was a trophy lion killed by a Minnesota dentist last year which brought to public attention the horrors of “canned hunting,” raising and containing captive lions specifically to be shot for sport.

The public reaction to the story of Cecil was extensive: The U.S. slapped new restrictions on lion hunting and United Airlines forbid future transporting of lion trophy parts were just two of many such actions reflecting widespread public outrage.

Donations flooded into wildlife organizations.

All this was well and good. Lions are in trouble. The world’s top lion researchers concluded in October that the population has declined 43% in the last 21 years down to around 20,000 remaining individuals. This excellent study, however, becomes nearly as hypocritical as the “Cecil Summit” when it analyzes the causes.

The study concludes that “indiscriminate killing in defense of human life and livestock, habitat loss, and prey base depletion” are the three principal causes.

Put into simpler terms: human/wildlife conflict and habitat erosion.

That’s fine and they should have ended it there. Instead, in what can be considered nothing short of pandering to African governments and rich westerners at home, the study further claimed that “trophy hunting can … be a tool for conservation but also a threat, depending on how it is regulated and managed.”

Anyone with a tiny bit of experience in Africa knows that in areas outside southern Africa the regulation and management of trophy hunting has been a joke for years. Ping-ponged between authoritarian decisions easily swayed by bribing, to flawed policies imposed by the World Bank, trophy hunting in Tanzania for example has been a corruptible mess for generations.

This duplicitous analysis takes it right from high science into abject hypocrisy.

Imagine you’re an African businessmen or farmer, the family’s breadwinner. Imagine a lion killing two of your cows. Imagine having four children and sixteen grand children with only one child having gainful employment and living next to a wilderness area with lots of bushmeat.

Now imagine that as you try to survive, by getting rid of the lion that’s killing your cows or going out to your backyard and trapping a wildebeest for food, that wildlife officials paid by Panthera or WildAid find you, fine you and imprison you … while a rich Texas businessman is blowing animals – including lions – to smithereens and pasting his trophy pictures all over the internet.

There’s little difference between canned hunting and “wild” hunting, or as it is more egotistically called, “trophy hunting.” You kill an animal. One is a bit tamer than the other, so easier to kill certainly, but the act is exactly, precisely the same.

Canned hunting is simply a more honest version of wild hunting. Each time a lion is shot there is one less lion, and that is not conservation.

Why can a rich Texan break the law? How do you explain this to the businessman or farmer trying to survive?

You can’t. And when you try to, your whole mission is impugned in hypocrisy.

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.

When More is Too Much

When More is Too Much

MoreGorillaHelpWhat do Mother Jones and the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) share in common? They’re always broke?

Yesterday, tens of thousands of persons on Mother Jones’ mailing list received an appeal from AWF to add their signature to a petition against oil drilling in the Virunga mountains. Virunga is home to the endangered mountain gorilla and a host of other lowland rainforest species.

Ostensibly the one-click link within the email adds your signature to a petition telling the Ugandan government not to issue oil licenses in the area, but in fact the page looks remarkably like a signup sheet for the AWF newsletter.

Like the “Stop the Serengeti Highway” which continues nearly five years after the Serengeti highway was stopped, aggressive development of Virunga for oil was stopped three years ago after Leonardo di Caprio’s remarkable documentary, “Virunga” was nominated for an Oscar.

Di Caprio was incensed when a British oil company began exploitation of the Virungas in 2013. Together with an aggressive campaign by the World Wildlife Fund which collaborated slightly on the film the original oil companies developing the area pulled out.

That was more than a year ago.

There were probably many reasons major oil companies pulled out of the area. We were on the brink of the decline in the oil price, so if anyone was aware of the upcoming glut, these companies were.

The new peace that came to the Virunga right about that time remained fragile, and it was and remains actually Uganda, not the DRC where most of the reserves have been located, that is trying so aggressively to sell its rights. Without clear collaboration with the DRC, development would be incomplete and probably too costly.

Without the major oil companies’ interest, the Ugandan government’s possible imminent assignments of exploration blocks in the area isn’t quite as serious as it seems.

This kind of global pandering is typical of the Museveni government as he thumbs his nose at an increasingly critical foreign community. Last week western ambassadors walked out of his umpteenth inauguration ceremony when he deviated from published remarks into a tirade about the west and the World Court.

AWF is not alone in the current campaign. It’s joined by Greenpeace. Both organizations have had a long history of positive work in the Virungas but this current campaign rings a bit hollow.

Not because it lacks merit, but because it carries a very obvious ulterior motive: fund raising. Fund raising for all not-for-profits is a never-ending struggle and there’s nothing negative about it per se.

But there are thresholds of “urgency” when asking for money. AWF in particular has recently initiated a number of crisis campaigns, from elephants to lions, with increasingly short intervals.

It’s hard to get attention in these days of Trumped-up reality. But the right way to do it isn’t just by increasing the volume.

The Gift Horse’s Mouth

The Gift Horse’s Mouth

clintontripAfricans are bristling but resigned to the current Clinton safari the same way I’m resigned to a President Hillary. What a dreary day.

The Clinton clan minus Hillary is currently on a 9-day African tour to Kenya, Tanzania, Liberia and Morocco, and they are not getting the reception they had expected.

Like the Bill Gates Foundation, the Clinton Foundation is highly vested in Africa, and so you would think it natural that from time to time the principals would come here.

“O, fellow benighted Africans! Gaze down at the bleeps emanating from your electronic device – a device powered by the marvelous coltan mined on your land. Can you not see the newsflash? Dignitaries, Big Names indeed, have come to our continent in order to help us help them help us,” famous African filmmaker and writer, Richard Poplak, wrote yesterday.

Poplak is white, South African born bred and nurtured, and like most of the intellectuals of all colors on the continent, not particularly happy with the Clintons.

Poplak continues:

“…the Grand Priests of the Clinton Foundation, the givers who give almost as good as they get, [have come] to sniff the cow dung burning in rustic villages, to pat the heads of the doe-eyed children they have kept safe from brand name infectious diseases.

“O, African, behold Chelsea Clinton, future presidential candidate of the Democratic Party… Lynn Forester de Rothschild, the billionaire boss of E.L. Rothschild… [billionaires] Jay and Mindy Jacobs are here!

“O, but Africans, there is more. No one less than Hadeel Ibrahim is here! The daughter of Sudanese-British billionaire mobile phone philanthropist Mo, Hadeel Ibrahim is a great friend of Chelsea’s, and they apparently spent a wonderful thanksgiving together at the Clinton pile in Chappaqua. All has been forgiven since Bill Clinton Cruise Missiled the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in 1998.”

Like the Bill Gates Foundation, the Clinton Foundation is even more heavily invested in Africa. I believe this is Bill’s penance for having “made a mistake” (his own words) when he ordered his United Nations ambassador to vote against increasing the Canadian UN force that could have stopped the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The problem is, Clinton has piled one mistake on another in Africa. He hugely empowered Ugandan president Museveni when all of us knew that was a mistake. Museveni is now one of Africa’s great dictators, the author of the “kill the gays” bill.

Poplak continues:

“Along for the ride are many other Clinton Foundation donors… professional philanthropists, Silicon Valley whizz-kids and generally outstanding humans. The safari …will culminate in a dazzling conference in Marrakesh, presided over by that famous empowerer of women and long-time Foundation supporter, the King of Morocco.

“And it is equally churlish to think of the Clinton Foundation as a giant corrupt money suck akin to the worst African banana republics: … [The fact that] Bill Clinton seems to have helped a Canadian mining magnate hand over 20% of America’s uranium resources to the Russians while Hillary was leading the state department, does not ipso facto make the outfit rotten.”

But she would be the first woman president!

“And what does it matter to you, O African, that tens of millions of dollars have flowed into Clinton pockets from women’s empowerment centres like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, either for speaking fees or for donations?

“… it may be tempting …to imagine that the Clintons and their Foundationites are using the continent as a theatre set, and we Africans as drooling extras… It is tempting to say that this is all about big money and real politick, because Bill and Hillary Clinton, along with their Chelsea clone, serve power for power’s sake.

“You might wish to say that this all seems so garish and ghastly, millions of dollars blown by a 0.1% cabal on swanning about the continent, billions of the world’s wealth zipping over the African savannah in a legions of Lear Jets.

“But you would just be sour to think that way. Ungrateful. When the beautiful waxed SUVs zip into your village and you smell the $1,500 anti-aging cream on the frozen faces of these Kings, these Gods, remember to thank them with the appropriate deference. Remember to bow and scrape.

“If we don’t look the part, then they don’t get the money.”

Charity Begins At Home 2014

Charity Begins At Home 2014

charitybeginsathomeCharity begins at home: In my estimation that means creating good government.

At this time of the year I get numerous requests from my generous and truly sensitive clients regarding charities I recommend in Africa. They are often surprised.

There are two reasons I discourage charity, whether to Africa or anywhere.

First, especially in Africa, charity is often a massive con game. There are many excellent not-for-profits doing heart warming work in Africa, but unfortunately there are many, many more that cause more problems than they solve.

Second, charity by its very nature coopts the responsibility that any reasonably moral society should take on its own. So by your act of charity, you are perpetuating the immoralities of your society.

The second reason is a contentious one, I concede. So for those who disagree with me on moral terms, my basic message changes to “stick close to home.” Charity is meaningless if wasted. All it does it make you feel good while possibly doing serious damage.

You must be able to do due diligence before giving, and you must be able to follow up to assess performance. Accountability is much easier the closer to home you get, and of course by “closer to home” I don’t mean simply proximity. You must be familiar with the situation, and you’re much likelier to be familiar with something near to you, geographically, socially and culturally.

Besides, we are rapidly approaching the time when poverty caused disadvantages like illiteracy are greater in parts of America than in the developed world.

I do due diligence in Africa. Good African charities are extremely few in number. They include Catholic Relief, World Vision and Médecins Sans Frontières.

Donations to many other large Africa involved organizations like National Geographic or the World Wildlife Fund are nearly useless. Their projects have become so massive they rely on their endowments to survive, diluting any individual giving to the point of meaninglessness.

Donations to smaller often locally created charities in specific countries, or to smaller church-based foundations, are usually destructive and anti-developmental. They are so mission focused that while they may indeed be helping a small group of people, more often than not they conflict with the greater social and governmental policies of the area.

One of America’s largest youth-based volunteer organizations, DoSomething.org, reports 11 facts about current America that are likely more egregious than in many parts of the developing world.

Consider this. Morning Edition reported today that in clustered communities of 10,000 children in Philadelphia there were only 33 books.

Literacy is difficult to specify, because different parts of the world define it so differently. UNICEF is the best mediator of literacy statistics worldwide, but the problem is that UNICEF does not generate literacy metrics for the United States. But clearly, literacy in that Philadelphia community is not good.

According to UNICEF, Kenya’s literary rate is just above 72%.

Why, then, would you send books to Kenya and not to distressed Philadelphia?

The conundrum of wanting to do good but being unable to do so will only be remedied when we create a society with a government that is trusted and moral.

That should be your greatest goal of the new year, not getting a tax credit.

Lion Realities

Lion Realities

Excellent photo by Rich Mattas on my March Great Migration Safari.
Excellent photo by Rich Mattas on my March Great Migration Safari.
Never ‘in my life’ would I have expected to be concerned about declining lion populations in Africa, but despite grossly misunderstood and badly used statistics, they are definitely in decline.

I always thought of lions, I suppose, like kitty cats: They’re ubiquitous! In fact, they are more of them than my birder friends think there should be, and where I live feral cats likely outnumber deer.

At the top of the food chain, what could possibly threaten lion?

The framing of my question reveals the mistaken notion of trying to figure out what’s happening to a wild animal strictly by what’s happening in the wild.

What threatens lions is development: people, roads, buildings, dams … all the things that make for a modern world.

Development impinges on lions directly, but by also constricting the freedom and growth of lion food – other animals – it’s a doubly whammy.

I’m astounded by the inability of research organizations to get a firm number on lion declines in Africa. It ranges from popular charities like NatGeo’s low balling to many others suggesting twice the number. Either way it’s a serious, rapid decline, but why no consensus on actual numbers?

The best researchers, like Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota, refuse to deal with the issue in the aggregate, assuring me that compiling trusted aggregate numbers is too difficult.

LionAlert was my guide for many years, but they’ve been unable to make a prediction beyond the 35,000 they published for 2012.

NatGeo among many other organizations is appealing to your pocketbook to fund their missions to stem the decline. It’s a waste of money.

Although the actual numbers in decline might not be known, the reasons are.

Craig Packer’s many scholarly articles and popular publications sum it all: His 2004 study in Ngorongoro started the news that lions were in serious decline, building on an earlier 1996 study about how lions were growing increasingly vulnerable to viruses.

By 2005 Packer had the lions in the Serengeti well understood, and it’s really on the basis of this detailed although localized research that I think we can generalize to the continent as a whole.

Subsequent reports and studies would confirm that serious human/animal conflict was the driver of decline, not just building roads.

By 2009 researchers were no longer reticent about blaming the Maasai’s poisoning of lion as a major contribution to decline in East Africa.

Don’t put too much emphasis on that, though, because it’s really all a part of the same problem. Lion attacking livestock occurs not simply because lion have decided it’s easier than pulling down a wildebeest.

It’s as much because there are fewer wildebeest and the lion’s range is declining because of overall human spread.

Maasai poisoning lion is identical to Montana farmers poisoning wolves.

This decline will not stop by contributing to NatGeo, and once again I’m infuriated by so-called conservation organizations driving their general fund with appeals of imminent catastrophe that they claim to know how to stop.

Much better to support the more difficult-to-understand but lasting attempt by Kenya to list lions as an endangered species.

That was set back this summer when efforts to do so were curtailed, in this case mostly by NRA-driven hunting groups that would be most effected immediately. As a result, South Africa – a powerhouse in determining African conservation policy but also one of the last easiest places to arrange a lion hunt – declined to support the listing.

But Kenya battles on and so should we. I can’t suggest that human development be held hostage to protecting lions. But I can definitely tell hunters to go take a walk.

Be Good to A Samaritan!

Be Good to A Samaritan!

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, say some. Others? Perfect example of cooptive liberation. Confused? Read on.

There are good and bad everything, although readers of this space know that I think most charities are bad. I argue that most charities afford a way that their supporters can believe they’re doing good, when they aren’t really, or when the amount of good that the supporters’ resources could have done is squandered.

And so believing that they are saving the world, the supporters of the charity lose interest in their own governments’ foreign aid programs. Worse, they start to believe they can do everything well that really it takes a huge government to do.

Ergo, charter schools, pay-as-you highways, subcontracted prisons and the list goes on and on.

I’ve said it so much, but here goes again:

The world is too big and too complex to be run by a school committee.

The problem is that often the governments, as is the case in the U.S. today, are shrinking and able to do less and less. So what the old aid agencies used to do be able to do with their own staff, they can’t, because they don’t have enough staff.

So they hire a contractor … an “NGO” – nongovernmental organization. They are, in effect, hiring a charity.

At this point things often get squandered just as hopelessly as they do with a individual church or Rotary project.

“Samaritans” is a fabulous new TV comedy series that takes my feelings to the sarcastic extreme. It’s hilarious.

It explains so perfectly Herbert Marcuse’s “cooptive liberation” concept while keeping you laughing at each moment. The creator told AfricaIsACountry recently that he was inspired when he learned of a charity in the U.S. that held an auction to raise money to save the rhino.

The auction was of a rhino hunt in Namibia.

The other story, of course, is how professional Kenya’s entertainment industry has become. Conceived, written, produced, directed and using Kenyan actors. Incredible accomplishment and as good or better than most stuff we see here at home.

Ever since Buzzfeed carried the story last month the show has gone viral.

You can rent the first two episodes for as little as $5! Click here.

Take a look! Then, please, take a think.