Live Free To Die

Live Free To Die

protecting democracyUltimately it’s a matter of whether the people in power are good or bad. Doesn’t really matter whether they won an election or ascended a throne, whether they’re an elected judge or an appointed one. They’re either good or bad.

But as multiple African countries show, today, there’s a lot of bad running democracies. Listen quick: I’m not saying authoritarian regimes are better than democracies. I’m just saying there can be just as much badness in democracy as in authoritarianism.

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Now or Never?

Now or Never?

tanzanitenoworneverTourists are going to be floored this season by how expensive Tanzanite has become.

The Tanzanian president’s sweeping dictatorial attempts to reduce corruption are currently focused on the country’s precious minerals. The fight is far from over, but so far he’s struck out with the biggest player, Acacia [Gold] Mining, so he’s set his sites on Tanzania’s small Tanzanite industry.

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Kenyan Conundrum

Kenyan Conundrum

courtannulselectionDiplomats and experts alike are hailing Kenya’s Supreme Court for its decision Friday annulling the national elections as proof that this dynamic emerging nation has firmly sided on the rule of law.

I see it differently: another example that democracy is growing self-destructive. With opposition candidates already declining to take part in the announced election rerun, the chances for widespread violence and major political disruption are now greater than ever.

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Zeus to the Rescue

Zeus to the Rescue

MagufuliZeusTanzania’s president doesn’t so often follow the law as make it. The public doesn’t seem to mind. “He’s reducing corruption,” I often hear in his defense.

I’ve seen local police cower from motorists who are increasingly challenging their road stops. Clerks at national parks are subdued: The normal “chai” that greased palms is in short supply. Everybody fears that Magufuli will show up, fire them or worse, jail them.

But when “Magufuli Justice” was applied internationally, recently, it didn’t go so well.

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Corruption Starts at Home

Corruption Starts at Home

wherecoruptionstarts“Etete can smell the money. If at nearly 70 years old he turn(s) his nose up at nearly $1.2 bill he is completely certifiable. But I think he knows it’s his for the taking.”

This is an email from a consultant to a top-notch, highly educated, church-going multinational Shell oil executive referring to the bribe offered a Nigerian oil minister so that Shell could get control of one of the largest oil fields on earth. It was published by BuzzFeed working with by Global Witness.

We call this market capitalism. When done with sufficient finesse it’s not even illegal in the U.S. This is how the world goes round. Details at the Secretary of State’s office.

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Kurudisha Tanzania

Kurudisha Tanzania

BringBackRomaA very dark cloud forms over Tanzania. The country is increasingly unsafe … for Tanzanians. Kidnappings, extra-judicial interrogations and intimidations against opponents of the regime increase day by day.

Last week a popular Tanzanian rapper, Roma Mkatoliki, was kidnapped. Social media went bonkers. Fellow rappers produced a video that by this morning almost 100,000 people had watched on YouTube. The government of Tanzanian can ignore this no longer.

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What Future?

What Future?

imfmozambiqueReset by the global recession, reconfigured by massive new production of oil and gas in the U.S. simultaneously with aggressive development of non-fossil fuels, Africa begins to collapse.

Nigeria, Angola, Egypt and Algeria, even Ghana and many countries not wholly dependent upon natural resources are in economic tailspins. The best example is Mozambique.

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Not So Hidden Wealth

Not So Hidden Wealth

TanzanianGoldAt least 54 billion cubic feet of helium has been found in Tanzania. Add the country’s enormous gold reserves, large uranium deposits, massive coal, nickle and platinum reserves, Tanzania is now one of the richest countries in the world!

Or not.

Helium’s not as sexy as gold or uranium, but may actually be worth more. Engineers worldwide are celebrating the discovery as relieving the critical shortage of the gas which has stressed markets and high-tech companies for more than a decade. Helium is so important that the U.S. stockpiles it just like oil.

For nearly 25 years Tanzania’s natural resource deposits have just grown in leaps and bounds: More of the Great Rift Valley lies in Tanzania than any other country, and this is the reason it’s so resource rich. Yet the country remains poorer than 150 of the 185 countries ranked by the IMF in 2015.

The World Bank has lamented this situation for years: “Tanzania sits on about 15 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves, equivalent to approximately US$150 billion … or 6 times Tanzania’s current GDP,” the bank advised in 2012.

Four years since that announcement, no natural gas has been extracted. Do you know how popular natural gas is at the moment?

For more than two generations, Tanzania has been unable to benefit from its enormous natural wealth. I’ve often written about it.

There are several reasons. Corruption underlies all of them.

Mutinational mining companies like Rio Tinto — which has tried multiple times to work in Tanzania and recently announced plans to develop its coal after abandoning both gold and uranium contracts here — are no sweethearts to work with. Tinto’s North Mara gold fields were often criticized by human rights organizations for miner abuse, even of using children. That led to a number of worker revolts. Tanzanian mines are often closed.

Point here is that government regulationa exist against all such workplace practices, but officials choose not to enforce them. Why? I’ll let you guess.

While the government developed the cities and airports near the mines years ago, it has allowed maintenance to horribly lapse. Mines need electricity. Tanzania has almost as many blackouts as electricity. Mines need roads. Tanzania never builds roads; it lets foreign donors do that.

Current Tanzanian government contracts with the multinational mining companies concede some of the lowest royalties in the world. And worse, government budgets show less than half what the mining companies claim to pay. Where’s the difference?

In the end the Chinese have cornered the Tanzanian mining market. Chinese dominate the gold and uranium mines, and I expect they will dominate the helium ones as well. That has been disastrous for the Tanzanian environment as Chinese mining practices are governed from afar by a home authority that looks sideways on its own expressed environmental concerns.

Tanzania’s problem is manifold, but in the end it all comes down to corruption. Often that corruption is started by the multinational. Understandably if yet distasteful, it’s hard for a lowly official who has not been paid by his government for three months to refuse a bribe.

That’s the core problem, really. It isn’t that people are evil. It’s that corruption is now systemic. The regulator’s income is paid by the company he regulates.

The current president, John Magufuli, is on a crusade to right the ship and end corruption. Just like every other president for the last 40 years.

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,

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.

Yipes! No, Yelp!

Yipes! No, Yelp!

YipesNoYelpHow do we get rid of bribing? We get rid of tipping. Use your cell phone!

Bribing is a universal, world-wide phenomenon … sometimes called tipping. Africans have been unfairly cited by westerners all my life for bribing while it’s actually they who bribe ten times more each day than an African ever could.

We sugarcoat a lot by calling it tipping: Journeymen’s gifts at Christmas, an apple for the teacher, flowers on Secretary’s Day, or how about those popcorn baskets to truculent vendors at the end of the year or Godiva candies to past clients?

“Expressing our thanks,” replaces decent pay and benefits, or put another way, ensures there isn’t decent pay or benefits.

Social media powered by cell phones is getting rid of bribery … and tipping … in two ways. In Nairobi as in New York, Uber and Yelp and a dozen other media sites are bringing sanity back into service, while mass demonstrations are sealing the deal.

Big tippers get cabs in Manhattan. I spoke to a cabbie recently in Brooklyn who said he can spot a big tipper across the Hudson. Their jacket is unbuttoned. They’re looking uptown even if they want to cut a hard right just ahead and go downtown. They step out into the traffic lanes. He said sometimes they even wave dollar bills in the air.

Same in Dar-es-Salaam or Lusaka. Look rich, ooze currency, and you’ll get a better deal in the end. At least until … Uber.

No charade. No cash? To comply with the reality that a lot of Africans don’t own credit cards, Uber now takes cash there! But… no tip! Often, no wait.

Big restaurant tippers tend to be loyal customers. Tipping levels often were the best rating restaurants had … at least as far as the owners were concerned. No more. TripAdvisor be damned. Looking for the best grub in Joburg? Go to yelp.

In Kenya they’re falling all over themselves to get the Yelp franchise… stay tuned.

There is no question that this is grass roots change and that the cell phone facilitates it. You can’t really optimize either Uber or Yelp without a cell phone at the time you need their advice and service.

But cell phones are working from the top, too.

Kenyan truckers are among the best paid, best educated and roughest individuals on earth. They often speak softly but could crush you with their thumb. They have to be this way in order to bring food into war zones or plastic pipe into a desert without gas stations for 300 miles.

It’s not a happy life, though. One of my top guys in Nairobi started as a trucker. It’s how he got his capital to buy his first vehicles. But he hesitates speaking about those days the same way a cousin I have who was a PT boat captain in Vietnam hesitates speaking about the war.

About the only thing that can disrupt a Kenyan trucker is … Kenyan police.

Kenyan police are generally fatter and less muscular, so in a brawl they’d lose. But they have power and saw horses that stop traffic. Ostensibly this is to check the safety of the vehicles: the tires, mufflers, etc. In reality it’s the way they get paid.

Truckers call these “road-block” taxes.

So to start the week in Kenya, today, thanks to Kenyans’ massive mobile phone networks, the entire country is coming to a halt as truckers turn off the engine on major highways.

The actual demonstration was prompted not by police bribes, but by the deaths of 37 truckers carrying cargo into troubled South Sudan. Truckers want Kenyan military escorts.

But they also want the end of road-block taxes.

So happy start of the week, Kenya! Make sure your phone is charged!