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!

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.

The Year of the Beast

The Year of the Beast

impeachzumanow“T’is the autumn of treason.” Things are heating up in South Africa:

“Twenty-two years into democracy and nearly three years after Mandela’s death, the air is again thick with political paranoia… of high treason … sedition and betrayal, with talk of mysterious foreign… agents who have “infiltrated” the mass media, business, foreign multinationals, NGOs, religious bodies, opposition parties and student movements and who … threaten the state.”

The administration of Jacob Zuma is running scared and has begun to defy democratic institutions. This is new. Previously he was something of a lone gun. Now, he seems to be organizing his government into a fortress of ignominy.

From afar one wonders if a global malaise is sweeping the world. Demonstrations, impeachments and lots of name shouting in South Africa is exactly what’s happening in Brazil.

But the South African story has been building for a longer while, and I think that Jacob Zuma and the ANC party that led the country out of apartheid is sinking fast.

Here’s a quick timeline:

The current president, Jacob Zuma, was pegged a failure from the start and it was remarkable that the ANC actually brought him to power. He was instrumental in the revolution and Mandela originally named him a Deputy President.

But he was sacked from the government in 2005, ostensibly when prosecutors charged him with rape (acquitted by the High Court) but more so because he nearly destroyed a Burundi peace process that was underway at the time.

Two years later in 2007 a high court rules that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute him for a variety of corruption charges, including bribery. Most people thought his story was over.

Then, remarkably, the ANC nominates him into a position to become the third president of the country after the end of apartheid, after Mandela and Mbeki.

Although South Africans were aghast I saw it very much as our first several presidents who all came from the revolutionary movement. Maybe, I thought, he’d now clean up his act.

Anything but. He built himself a gigantic mansion using public funds in broad daylight, flaunted his public duties and appeared like playboys all around the world with a different girl at his elbow every night, sacked and appointed people at will and let cronies siphon off millions of public funds and probably worse of all, ordered in police to massacre mining demonstrators.

To call the man a buffoon is generous. What he is a too typical African potentate dictator, and that doesn’t fit modern South Africa.

Jacob Zuma is now officially on the way to being impeached. Not quite as far along as his colleague in Brazil, but far enough that he’s now lashing out, threatening arrests and implying even more if the opposition continues with its program to get rid of him.

Even more severe, the ANC is considering “recalling” him, which in the arcane and rather old-fashioned communist way forces his resignation. The ANC would do so to avoid the more public impeachment.

Like elsewhere around the world, the ANC as a dominant political party may be in trouble partially due to this global political malaise. It may indeed be “down and out” in the same way the American Republican or Brazilian Worker’s Party seem to be tumbling down. And that is, of course, an incredibly interesting story.

But the main story in South Africa is squarely the story of Jacob Zuma. Whether it’s coincidental that his buffoonery dove-tails with global revolution, or whether he is organically a part of the virus bringing revolution to the world, right now Jacob Zuma is in deep trouble.

And for the good of South Africa and its revolution, he better fall quick.

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 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.

Revolutionary Religion

Revolutionary Religion

mboroThe world is itching for a fight. Not another war – although they seem inevitable – but fights within societies, bangers and busters, revolutions, civil wars. This is how some South Africans see the world today.

Recently Nechama Brodie of South Africa’s “Mail & Guardian” charged a highly respected American research organization with promulgating controversy and hate through media manipulation.

M&A charged that the widely respected Pew Research Center inflamed religious tensions in the U.S. by republishing a research study they didn’t do and giving it a more provocative title.

Pew – which concentrates much of its research on social and religious trends – reported on a 2015 study by the Demographic Institute and retitled it as a Pew Report, “Why Muslims are the world’s fastest-growing religious group.”

M&A pointed out that the original studies – a behemoth of research by a huge collection of social scientists – had no intentional focus on what particular religion might or might not become the dominant one. The report’s mission was specifically to study persons who consider themselves unaffiliated to any religion.

But PEW took that research and rebranded it in an inflammatory way. It didn’t skew or misinterpret the research, it simply looked at it from an unusual angle differently from what the original designers intended. Brodie calls this “hyperbole” and I agree.

I expect Pew will simply argue this is creative mining of data. But to what end? To the same end that media excuses itself from all such inflammatory reporting: it’s what the public wants.

That means the public wants inflamed religious tension. That means the public wants disruption, bangers and busters, revolutions, civil wars.

In another closely related South African story, Pastor Mboro was snatched from his Easter service in Johannesburg by a beam of light that took him to heaven where he took selfies of himself and Jesus ‘hot’ Xhosa wife.

The Prophet Mboro later recanted his story when confronted by South Africa’s CRL Commission. The Commission was set up specifically to counter the growing fanaticism among South African religious groups.

So South Africans know a little bit about religious ridiculousness and we should take heed. Prophet Mboro earned a tidy sum from his journey to heaven by selling a lot of his selfies for $350 each!

That exceeds most Americans’ monthly tithing to their churches, but it’s a lot less than Pew researchers get paid daily! By the way, Pew is funded by the Pew Charitable Trust, an endowment of oil company heirs.

Got enough kindling? Feel the Bern?

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.

Where Has All the Power Gone?

Where Has All the Power Gone?

UgandaPresidentialElectionAre you tired of political debates? Join presidential front-runners Donald Trump and self-appointed president-for-life in Uganda, Yoweri Museveni.

Trump and Museveni have a lot in common: similar policies (e.g., none) and style (dismissive, offensive, threatening).

And … they’re both way ahead in the polls.

Museveni’s spokesman told reporters yesterday that he can’t make the last debate (he’s not made any of them) because of a “tight campaign schedule” and because “people he hasn’t addressed are yearning to hear from him and he can’t disappoint them.”

The spokesman added that “most of the questions have [already] been asked” and that answering the same questions “would be a repetition.”

In two weeks Museveni will win another “election” and become Africa’s longest serving dictator after Robert Mugabe.

He has some very Trump-like brownshirt strategies this time around:

(1) Over the last year his government funded 30,000 “volunteers” from around the country that local police have trained in “crime prevention, ideology and patriotism.” I’m not sure if they give out their names, but there might be a Cliven Bundy or two among them.

(2) In past elections Museveni simply sent thugs beat to a pulp his perennial rival, Kizza Besigye, but this year by sanctioning more candidates than he’s ever allowed before, the other candidates are doing the beating!

(3) Museveni is leading in the polls. According to pollsters the overwhelming reason is that the electorate fears Museveni will kill them if they don’t vote for him.

Last night in America we had our first valid presidential debate. Front-runners duked it out while masterfully remaining polite despite media taunts, defining clear differences that could result in meaningful voting.

That was one of how many? A dozen debates so far?

Even in America, like Uganda, like Zimbabwe, like for numerous school board elections or union chapters or government cells in China or Greenland, democracy is horribly corrupted.

Power has shifted from each individual citizen’s one-man vote that reflected her own studied self-interest to manipulators and tricksters. Power today rests solely with collectives of elite.

In some places like China they may, indeed, be intellectuals. In America, it’s corporations. In Uganda it’s a single man: If the guy’s good, things will be OK. If the guy’s bad, tough story. Hard to say whether flipping the coin on a personality or choosing a complex social collective is better. Talk about lesser of the evils…

Is democracy dead?

Vizuka Mara

Vizuka Mara

maraghostsOne of Africa’s most iconic prides of lions were poisoned last week in the Maasai Mara, and it’s now time to implement Richard Leakey’s dream to consolidate all Kenyan wilderness under a single federal government agency.

Eight of the magnificent “Marsh Pride” were poisoned by Maasai herders, according to officials who have arrested two men.

Animal poisoning in The Mara is not new, but this killing is receiving unusual attention since this is the pride featured in the BBC documentary, “Big Cats.” The pride has resided for my entire 40 years of guiding outside Governor’s Camp near the Mara River.

Many Maasai believe that protecting the Mara for wildlife/tourism is an unfair usurping of their traditional pastures. This conflict grows at the margin of seasons (which is now) when new rains sprout nutrient grasses.

The problem is not endemic to The Mara or Kenya but exists throughout all the rapidly developing lands of Africa. Ironically, the problem may be exacerbated by Kenya’s faster and broader development compared to many other African countries.

The situation unique to The Mara, though, is extraordinary. It’s a mess: an entanglement of personalities, politics and corruption the likes of which belong in a TV sitcom.

First of all, there really isn’t “A Mara.” Elsewhere in the continent there is “A Serengeti” or “A Sabi Sands” surrounding “A Kruger.”

“The Mara,” instead, is a collection of government and private reserves each separately managed and funded. The map looks like a gerrymandered set of 10 districts in my dysfunctional state of Illinois.
“The Mara” is not a Kenyan national park: the main responsibilities for it rest with the county of Narok in which the wilderness is located. This is an freakish historical legacy of the local Maasai unwilling to share power or land.

Richard Leakey tried to change this decades ago when he was the country’s wildlife czar. He failed miserably, succumbing at the time to a very powerful Maasai politician, Ntimama.

Ntimama is today a very old mzee out of favor with the younger, more progressive regime in Nairobi. But it was only a few months ago that the old man resurrected the land issue of which the Mara is front and center.

The rectangular portion which borders Tanzania to the south is the “government” county reserve, but even that is divided into three administrative sections. The area to the north of the county land is made up of nine private conservancies, more than doubling government land.

It was the development of these northern private areas in the last 25-35 years that contributed so substantially to the increase of animal populations including the great migration.

(A similar situation exists with private reserves like the Sabi Sands which surround South Africa’s Kruger National Park.)

Traditionally all of these lands were used as pastures for cattle and goats by the Maasai. Had none of the lands been protected, the cattle and goats and Maasai would likely have eaten themselves out of house and home by now, identical to what you see today in so many other parts of Africa where overgrazing ends in societal suicidal.

From the point of view of the people living there, though, that’s not such a bad outcome if what comes next are highways and factories. IBM is still in the throes of a fraction-of-a-billion dollar deal to build a high-tech industrial park in what was once Kenya’s Tsavo wilderness.

I doubt you’ll find too many young Maasai today who will lament herding cattle for pennies a day if the alternative is writing computer code and driving to work in a Benz.

Equally sad, private tourism stakeholders are just as mercenary as the Narok Maasai. There have been periods of vicious competition among businessmen, some foreign nationals, vying for the best spots. In this management mayhem developed the private reserve map we see today, with little scientific or management rational and little or no interaction between the competing areas.

That spells disaster. BBC has the exposure to wander between reserve boundaries unimpeded, and thus the “Marsh Pride” became very special. But I’ve known several young field researchers who would have loved to work in the Mara ecosystem, but who turned to Tanzania instead because the politics and restrictions of working trans-reserve were too difficult.

The private reserves do everything themselves: anti-poaching, rules for wildlife management and intervention (several of the Marsh Pride that were recently poisoned were then treated by vets), fees and marketing. But the land has never been actually transferred from Maasai ownership: it’s leased, and that’s the private reserves greatest flaw:

Maasai owners could only be encouraged to compromise their age-old historical life style as pastoralists if they could be paid enough. For a while, they were. The revenues from tourism throughout the 90s were greater than the revenues from cattle farming.

But with political instability followed by terrorism which effected Kenya so seriously from 2007-2012, tourism revenues fell precipitously. Although safari revenues in neighboring Tanzania have planed or shown a slight increase, this has yet to occur in Kenya.

In their heyday the private reserves became extremely sophisticated, bettering the government reserves in anti-poaching and educational efforts. Like all bureaucracies, though, their appetite for capital grew well beyond the simple lease payments to the Maasai owners. Since 2008 virtually all the private Mara reserves have fallen into arrears.

Stefano Chile, the chairman of the second largest private conservancy, the Mara North Conservancy, wrote to supporters recently that “our ability to pay and cover all these costs is seriously challenged.”

He said the conservancy needs $355,000 to become sustainable, again. The first appeal for donations launched at least a month ago has raised only $13,000.

Cheli is one of the most creative and long-time entrepreneurs in the East African tourism industry, perhaps best known for building Tortilis Camp in Amboseli. But in my estimation this is way beyond his or any other excellent tourism manager’s job.

For one thing were a campaign like this successful it would hardly be the last time private reserve officials came to us hat in hand. Which of the nine reserves would you decide to support? I have a hard enough time juggling contributions to two public radio stations serving my area. If appeals came from nine of them, a distinct impression is created that nobody knows what they’re doing.

Collectively that’s the point, they don’t.

Private wildlife reserves have been a very important part of Africa’s conservation efforts for more than a half century.

But nowhere else in Africa is a collection of hodgepodge private reserves so terribly organized and so terribly suspicious and competitive with each another as in the Mara, and trying to treat them as charities is overwhelmingly impossible.

What will work is the Kenyan government getting serious. The photographer Jonathan Scott reported on his blog two days ago that may be happening.

From my point of view there’s only one answer. The government must take over the whole kitandkaboodal. This will really freak out the private reserve stake holders.

But it’s time they listened to themselves: if wildlife conservation is the goal, then look at Amboseli. Look at the Aberdare. Look at the heroic efforts in Nakuru. Look at all the other wonderful national parks in Kenya.

Frankly, it’s time the Maasai of Narok, and the stakeholders of the private reserves were all sidelined, and that the Kenya Wildlife Service takes the whole thing over.

Richard Leakey’s dream was right then, and it’s right now: The Maasai Mara National Park.

Turning Point

Turning Point

zumaoverseescollapseFor years I’ve resisted thinking of South Africa as a banana republic, but what happened yesterday is a slap to my reasonable face and what might be the beginning of an irreversible banana republic mentality.

If you don’t follow South Africa, you wouldn’t understand that President Jacob Zuma’s unannounced firing of Nhlanhla Nene as Finance Minister is what I’m talking about.

Nene had resisted financing some of the most egregious of Zuma’s escapades, including a nuclear power deal that Zuma is personally invested in and lavish plans by an incompetent CEO of South African Airways who Zuma appointed that he himself suggests is his mistress.

The markets’ gaping jaws tell it all. The Rand fell below all anticipated floors. South Africa’s bank stocks, reserve holdings, long term bonds … everything plummeted today.

Last Friday Standard & Poors downgraded South African bonds to a single step above junk status. The worry now is that they’ll go further.

The country’s most widely read online newspaper held no punches:

“[This is] an act of willful sabotage, an act that will have catastrophic effects for everyone…. It is the act of a leader who despises those he leads, a leader who has no respect for his office, a leader who is there to serve a closed network of friends, advisors, backers and loyalists. It is an act that resembles a Hollywood terrorist plot …so close to treason that it becomes difficult to give it another name.”

Only the much more conservative Financial Mail urges calm:

“SA could tolerate 10-20 years of mounting debt or expansive social spending before reaching the cliff.” South African government spending is currently at 45% of GDP. Real banana republics often flirt with 70%.

The heart of the problem, though, is what that debt is being used for:

Zuma’s antics as the leader of Africa’s most powerful economy are legend, and I’ve written often about them. The pitiful nature about them is that he doesn’t even try to deny them, often revels in them:

He’s built himself mansions with public funds, flouted official global functions with various wives and mistresses, publicly laced his family’s coffers with uninhibited nepotistic appointments and most lately, pushed South African Airways to buy many more new aircraft than they need and pushed for the expensive government financing of nuclear power.

But I’ve ended every bad account of Zuma’s corruption with reminders that this is still an early republic, still led by those from the core of revolutionaries who pulled off independence. Unusual latitude in public discretion might be acceptable.

But I don’t know, anymore. Zuma takes the cake.

The South African constitution guarantees the integrity of ministerial offices like many parliamentary democracies. Once appointed, Nene ran the treasury with skill and national pride rebuffing Zuma’s petty schemes.

Many thought he was bringing Zuma round to his senses.

But the power of appointment is also the power to fire, and that’s what happened unexpectedly yesterday.

“For Zuma, it is another accomplishment in his mission to completely capture the state and will ensure unwavering loyalty from those who serve at his pleasure. There will be no defiance in cabinet ever again,” one of the country’s top commentators explains.

“The news broke late at night,” the country’s Mail & Guardian reported. “But instead of [just] shrugging their shoulders, South Africans raged. Something [has] snapped in the nation’s patience.”

Social media is alive with outrage. Close ANC advisories and relatives of those in power are vocal in criticism for the first time.

Public opinion has never tempered Zuma’s foolishness, so I doubt it will now.

We can only hope that the ANC, like America’s Republican Party, takes heed of the maverick destroying it, and unlike America’s Republican Party, does something before it’s too late.

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.

Changing Too Fast

Changing Too Fast

changingtoofastWhat happens when all the new Kenyan apartments start collapsing? Or when all the new highways cave into the earth?

The developing world might be developing too fast: Its super-development is terribly flawed and in as few as ten years everything being built now might collapse.

To understand this premise you’ve got to grasp how quickly things are developing in the emerging world, today. The already iconic internet example is from China, where a 57-story skyscraper with 19 atriums, 800 apartments and office space for 4,000 people, certified earthquake resistant, was completed in 19 working days!

The previous record was a 30-story skyscraper opened for use in 30 days, also in China.

Today a 60-story skyscraper in the U.S. normally takes 2½ years of construction from ground-breaking to open-for-use.

The Chinese records are ever so bit exaggerations, because in these two cases each floor was prefabricated and basically inset level by level into the exterior frame. But even so they represent remarkable feats.

Unless, of course, in ten years they fall down. It seems to be happening already.

In many cases it’s simple corruption, as with the collapse of the important Ugandan Katuugo-Kaweweta road only months after it was newly rebuilt.

Journalists discovered that the money for the project was massively diverted into the pockets of officials. While low-level corruption like this continues to plague much of the developing world, the more sinister prospects for new infrastructure collapsing is much more complex.

There seem to be two main reasons to expect the developing world’s infrastructure to collapse prematurely:

First is the simple notion that haste-makes-waste. The demand for new infrastructure in the developing world is unbelievable, hard to imagine by us in the developed world:

“The world is moving from agrarian to urban at a startling pace,” Michael Bloomberg wrote recently.

According to South African business developer, Wayne Duvenage, “We sit with … many costly capital expenditure debacles in Eskom‚ Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa‚ South African Airways and other inefficient state-owned entities” because “Our government’s ministers … are far too hasty in their acceptance of major capital expenditure projects” with no time for due diligence.

The second reason, though, is more subtle and more sinister.

“Urgent demand [for infrastructure] is already overwhelming adequate risk management and urban governance capacities,” according to a senior manager at the Institute for Sustainable Communities and former Director of the Clinton Foundation.

Today when a new interstate is built across America it is laid with exquisitely new technology that in many ways builds upon the old road that it lies over and replaces.

There is no old road being built over by the new highways in the developing world, but they are still being built with new practices and materials and high-tech engineering.

Modern buildings pose a similar problem, not because they may need the foundation of the older building, but because the inputs of water, electricity, internet and cable, etc., require that those fundamental infrastructures have already been built first. That’s simply not always the case.

The result is a mismatch that could prove fatal.

It’s pretty obvious, but contemporary politicians in developing worlds overseeing new infrastructure are loathe to embrace this. “Adequate risk management” is generally side-lined.

Lack of “governance capacities” is considered a liability that best not be admitted, and this leads to numerous projects being fast-tracked without adequate preparation.

“Kenya is building huge infrastructural projects [that] have been accompanied by malpractice in construction, land grabs, displacements [and] environmental degradation,” writes Kenya’s permanent ambassador to the UN, John Kakonge.

Finally because of the above red flags private investment normally attracted to these mega development projects is lacking. As a result many specialized projects that should be built by the better equipped and specialized private sector are instead built by less specialized and well-equipped government agencies.

This recipe for a disaster in the offing will not be easily remedied. Certainly head-on attacks on corruption will help, but the more sinister components of over demand and mismatching current technologies with historical situations have no easy solution.

It could be the world is just changing too fast.