Poached By The Rich

Poached By The Rich

rhinoboatThe escalating poaching of elephants and rhinos will not stop until the increasing gap between rich and poor is stopped.

There is mixed information right now about whether or not the poaching of elephants has slightly slowed, but even so it remains at relatively high levels.

But the poaching of rhino is escalating and is of most serious concern because there are far fewer rhino than elephant.

Indian rhino are a particularly endangered species, and rich Indian consumers are among the Asians who purchase rhino products as medicines.

Kaziranga National Park in India’s Assam is the center of the rhino war in India.

The irony is that until just the last few years the trouble in Assam was not with rhino poaching, but Muslim extremists. I regularly visited Kaziranga in the 1980s before it was often closed to tourists because of this political extremism.

While much of the world is suffering from religious extremism, and while it continues in Assam, rhino poaching is now a bigger issue, there.

Over the last few years efforts to curb both elephant and rhino poaching have been massive, and much of this has been successful. Why, then, does the problem continue?

“Rhino horn is worth more than gold,” explains Jeremy Hance writing for the ecological journal, Mongabay.

An average-sized rhino horn is now worth around $60,000.

The price of rhino horn has never gone down, but the fluctuations in the gold price have meant that there were times – about a decade ago when gold was at historic lows – that rhino horn was more expensive.

But in today’s world, with gold above $1600/ounce, it’s astounding that a natural-product medicine – which is what rhino horn is used for – would command a greater price.

Modern Asian’s use of animal product medicines is just like American’s use of natural products bought at health food stores. Of course there are fanatics, but most of us use them as supplements, not as principal treatments.

The analogy continues to the demographics in the market. Natural product health foods in American generally are used by an increasingly wealthy upper class.

The increasing spread between the rich and the poor gives the rich much more disposable income, and that will increasingly be spent on luxury goods and ancillary and tertiary products … like rhino horn and ivory.

A rich man’s fancies are a market man’s treasure, because the cost of a hobby or a fancy escalates far faster and higher than normal consumables in the market.

The dynamic is double-edged. As the rich get richer, they play more with their fancies and hobbies. At the same time the poor get poorer and more desperate and are willing to attempt risky business like poaching just to survive.

Of course the lack of today’s societies to distribute wealth fairly has much graver outcomes than the extinction of animals, but conservationists understanding of the route cause of their battle may at last force their politics to the fore.

Climate change, health care, a minimum wage and fair earnings – these are all issues that suffer when wealth is unfairly distributed to the powerful rich people of the world.

Add to that, now, the biodiversity of earth.

Delta Destruction

Delta Destruction

DeltaDestructionThe battle between fossil fuel mining and the environment has moved into Botswana’s main tourist attraction, the Okavango Delta.

The photo above of a painted frog was taken by EWT client, Melissa Michel, this year. The background of a mining waste dump is compliments of Rio Tinto.

Tourism in the Okavango Delta is the second largest source of Botswana’s GDP, after mining (which dwarfs it, by the way: 40% vs 12%).

Exact figures are hard to confirm, because the government has not defined how government and ancillary industries like educational training and direct contributions contribute to or diminish the tourism and mining sectors. But clearly mining is 3 to 5 times as important as tourism.

Historically most of this was with diamonds. Botswana is the world’s largest diamond producer, but several years ago the government recognized that “diamonds aren’t forever.”

This led to increased fossil fuel exploration and bingo, there’s a lot of it. Relative to diamonds, coals lasts forever.

The largest Botswana owned company, Tsodilo, listed on the Toronto stock exchange, recently announced plans to mine more than 440 million tons of iron ore, and with less fanfare, a rather sizeable amount of coal.

Botswana’s chief mining official said that Rio Tinto, the world’s largest mining company, would be the principal in coal extraction.

“The future of Botswana mining is going to be the coal and iron ore resources…,” he said before adding as an afterthought, “and of course diamonds.”

Botswana is already the 65th richest country in the world. This will likely push it up further.

Unfortunately, much of the iron ore discovered is underneath or close to the Okavango Delta.

Although Botswana has a variety of big game habitats, it is the Delta which is the draw. Unique on earth, it’s where a desert seasonally floods. This produces extremely unusual habitat as well as major deterrents to human settlement.

Over the eons vast numbers of endemic species have arisen in The Delta, many which remain to this area alone. These are mostly plants, amphibians and fish, but the area is also outstanding for more notable, rare and larger animals like sitatunga and wild dog. Many water fowl absolutely depend upon the Delta and many are extremely rare, like the Wattled Crane.

The world’s growing appetite for fossil fuels is as undisputed as the fact that most of them will come from Africa.

Why should Botswana be denied compromising its ecosystem for greater wealth, as Alaska and California did big time last century?

The answer is usually that the world’s just come too far. Time is not on their side, as it was with the Rockefellers and early gold diggers: The global warming apocalypse takes precedence.

That’s such a subjective argument it falls on deaf ears in Africa. South African environmentalists, however, are trying more clever answers.

Winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, Desmond D’Sa recently explained that the argument that mining will “create wealth for the people” was fallacious. “We’ve seen the mining industry in South Africa, hundreds of years, has created impoverishment and poverty… The majority, the 99 percent of us in the country, are poor, are living in abject, poor conditions.”

And that’s true and compelling … for the instant. But what happens if – as many of us hope – this changes and there is a real redistribution of wealth? Like in China?

Reversing the world’s poverty is going to take a lot of industry. Protecting the unique ecosystems under which that industry is fired will be no small task.

Arusha, Chicago & Kenya

Arusha, Chicago & Kenya

March And Vigil Remember Chicago Student Beaten To Death Near Community CtrCoastal Kenya, Chicago and Arusha suffered terrible acts of violence these past several days, and it leaves us wondering if it’s safe to walk out of the house.

The violence along Kenya’s coast just seems to get worse and worse. Although 28 of the 29 deaths this past weekend occurred outside established tourist areas, one fatality was a Russian tourist in Mombasa town who resisted an attempt to rob him of his wallet.

In Arusha, the hub for Tanzania’s famous tourist industry, a third violent attack this year happened Monday night when an IED was thrown into a popular Indian restaurant in the center of town.

No one was killed but eight people were hurt. The Verma Indian restaurant is attached to a popular city gym and is frequented by Arusha’s more affluent residents, including many foreigners.

In Chicago 16 people were killed and 80 others seriously wounded in gun battles that raged through the city’s south side for most of the weekend.

What are we to make of all this?

The Kenya violence is a continuation of the Muslim/Christian world war, a specific retribution by al-Shabaab for Kenyan occupation of Somalia.

Kenya has suffered three such attacks monthly for more than the last year alone. The Kenyan invasion, encouraged and outfitted by the Obama administration, has done much to pacify Somalia and reduce the terrorism threat to the United States, but at Kenya’s peril.

In Chicago the violence strikes me as a result of increasingly lax gun ownership restrictions. Chicago’s top cop said this to CNN. Of course why there is such anger and frustration that utilizes the available guns is the more profound question, and unlike Africa, it isn’t a Muslim/Christian war.

It’s more akin to a poor/rich war, which in fact could be the explanation for the Arusha bombing last night.

Tanzania has not participated in the war in Somalia, and so unlike Kenya and Uganda which have, Muslim groups have not claimed any responsibility for attacks seen on the Tanzanian mainland.

But the three attacks in Arusha over the past year have been political or religious. A prominent and popular Arusha politician and his wife were hurt at a political rally, and a Catholic church was bombed in a second attack.

Monday’s attack in Arusha targeted what’s considered an expensive restaurant, owned by Indians, in one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods. Throughout the last several centuries Indians in Africa have often been the brunt of attacks against political systems that favor business and the rich.

This suggests three completely different motivations for the violence in Arusha over the last year.

In the end, the simplest explanation for all the attacks is that weapons are too easily available. The next level of explanation is that identifiable groups of people feel marginalized:

Muslims in Africa. Poor in Africa. Poor in Chicago.

Some believe this in insoluble: that there will always be poor feeling marginalized, that there will always be one or another religions that feel oppressed by other religions.

I disagree. There are not enough poor in Sweden or Denmark or many, many European countries for there to be a problem of rich vs. poor in those countries.

Recent progress in Ireland proves that enmity between religions isn’t eternal. And even when some friction continues, as in Quebec, it rarely if ever becomes violent.

But taking a vacation is different from social activism. I’ve said for some time, now, that I feel the danger to vacationers in Kenya has broken at least the threshold of perception of visitors’ safety, so I can’t recommend traveling there for most people.

But to Chicago or Arusha it’s simply a matter of knowing where and where not to go. Don’t visit Chicago’s south side. Don’t eat in a downtown Arusha restaurant. Those are fairly simple tools for staying as safe as one has ever been.

The point is that this violence so far has not been random: The perpetrators are motivated by ideology, and their footprints are clearly tracked.

Visitors are not the intended targets. Only in Kenya is the violence so widespread that visitors have in fact been victims and this specifically because the focus of much of Kenya’s tourism is the coast where the religious conflict is centered.

There is still good news and bad news, and this is the bad news, today.

An Ugly Goose

An Ugly Goose

814 goldTanzania has some of the largest deposits of gold, uranium and other precious metals in the world, and Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world. Go figure.

And now, they’ve found gold in Ngorongoro. The rush has begun.

For the last month rumors have grown out of one of the most besmirched areas of the country, the far northeastern area of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, that there was gold in them thar hills.

At first it was put aside as just another “Wackie Waso.” Waso is one of the larger towns in the area where several years ago “Babu,” the Lutheran pastor turned herbalist, began dispensing a brew that reportedly cured everything from diabetes to AIDs.

Lots of people raced to Babu, literally in the thousands from as far away as the Emirates. And lots of people died.

The area is just south of Loliondo adjacent the Serengeti and due north of Olduvai Gorge. It’s been in all sorts of controversies in the last several years, including a main stop on the proposed Serengeti Highway.

This is a rich agricultural area with a rapidly growing population. The place has all the makings of a real “Wild West” community.

So when gold was reported in a seasonal stream about a month ago there were two distinct reactions: run to the place or laugh. The government tried to stem the tide, but to no avail. The rush is on.

Reports today have more than a thousand individuals panning a stream hardly a kilometer long that at its best is 2 meters wide.

Yet this week government agents confirmed it is gold. Not surprisingly, authorities announced that they would not allow any major commercial exploitation, but let the local people “enjoy the windfall.”

That may strike outsiders as strange, given how valuable a real streak of gold could be to a poor country. But Tanzania already has the world’s second largest seam of gold and has been trying to benefit from it for the last 15 years.

The Lake Victoria gold mines have been a mess for years. Mismanagement, corruption and lack of security have meant that Tanzania has been unable to benefit from what is clearly Tanzania’s greatest single “pot of gold.”

According to this week’s Arusha Times, government experts “verified that the mineral being scooped in Samunge is actually gold, but that should just be windfall for the residents of the surrounding village as well as other artisan miners because the government won’t allow large conglomerates to start excavating the newly found treasure.”

Woe is luck. Without good commercial exploitation, the Wild West Samunge Gold Rush will make a couple folks rich but most of them just miserable, especially children.

The continuing inability of Tanzania to get it together and benefit from the luck of being one of the richest natural resource countries on earth is enough to start a revolution.

But the days just go on and on. A few politicians and disreputable businessmen get rich from time to time, and the masses race for seasonal rivers in them thar hills.

Privilege Plays

Privilege Plays

oscarlupitaMany celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio don’t have an Oscar, a jubilant Nairobi commentator wrote today, “It is therefore a big achievement for a first timer to win!”

Kenya’s gone wild. The President of the country sent Best Supporting Actress Lupita Nyong’o several messages just before the Oscars began wishing her luck.

It’s very Kenyan to savor the moment before it happens. In a world with so much defeat, the simple possibility of success carries extraordinary joy.

President Uhuru Kenyatta wrote, “I hope that Lupita wins the recognition that she so richly deserves… I also believe that the fact that Lupita is where she is today is already a massively gratifying milestone.”

Many in Kenya were on their way to work. The sun was just rising in western Lou where Lupita’s family is from when the award was announced.

Another Kenyan commentator filled with hope wrote Sunday, “The first time it happened in India, when Slumdog Millionaire won, or when the South African film, Tsotsi, achieved the same feat, the success appeared to be dreams made in another world… Now, Kenya could have its moment of glory too if the gods of creativity and achievement smile on Lupita.”

Smile they did.

But they are dreams made in another world.

Lupita, as she will now forever be referred to rather than by her surname in Kenya, was born in Mexico when her very politically powerful father was a visiting professor in Mexico City.

Later he would rise to several cabinet positions in the government and like virtually every politician that has ever succeeded in Kenya, become quite rich. Lupita attended privileged private schools in Nairobi and had the resources to succeed abroad.

Her Yale education in the performing arts was instrumental in her later film career.

The rags to riches story doesn’t apply. Jared Leto and even Cate Blanchett are better nominees for that category.

But Kenya and so much of Africa is sustained on hope, and the only thing that’s wrong with that is that it comes so cheaply. Lupita’s talent is undenied. Financial and social resources can take an artist just so far, and she’s made the jump.

She’s proved that a trajectory to success in America, anyway, can all be wrapped into a single lifetime. And that is most Kenyans’ greatest inspiration, today.

Gates Gets Gross

Gates Gets Gross

gatesinafricaBill Gates is a very nice man captured in the last century, and his remarkable generosity grossly misses the mark.

The Melinda & Bill Gates Foundation just released Bill Gates’ “annual letter.” The Foundation continues to seek solutions to two of Africa’s crises, malaria and poverty.

The two, of course, are interconnected. Throughout the world the level of malaria infection is inversely proportional to personal income. I don’t think, though, that this fact drove the Gates Foundation’s mission development.

Gates and most of the world charities tackle problems as crises to the exclusion of remedying the fundamentals.

Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t as if these generous folks make crises out of situations in order to be good philanthropists. Malaria on an individual level is a distinct crisis. Hunger caused by extreme poverty has an immediate simple remedy when dealt with as a crisis: dinner.

But the problem with Gates and most of the world’s charities is that despite how rich they may be, they aren’t rich enough to tackle the fundamentals, and so they default to actions that deal with incidental crises.

Malaria is the perfect example.

Malaria was eradicated from most of the developing world without drugs or bednets. My own Chicago’s Fullerton marsh was a cesspool of malaria right until the great fire of the 1860s.

After the fire and a growing awareness that government had to step up, malaria was systematically eradicated from Chicago by an exponential increase in public expenditures that started with increased urban hygiene (better sewers and drainage) and radical use of crude oil to suffocate marshes.

Even at that time suffocating marshes was an ecological controversy, but the power of the public domain was much greater then than now. The majority ruled.

By the early 20th century, there was no malaria in Chicago. An early NIH study of the eradication found a number of additional socially progressive policies kept malaria from returning to large urban areas like Chicago, such as banning child labor.

By the 1930s malaria in the U.S. was confined to 13 poor, southeastern states that did not have the tax base to successfully eradicate the disease. So government came to the rescue.

The 1947 National Malaria Eradication campaign moved money from the rich industrialized northeast to eradicate malaria in the south, and was successful in doing so in less than a decade.

I suspect similar stories exist throughout the developed world. And the solutions employed then would work today in Kenya or Indonesia. But destruction of the environment (oiling marshes and later, using DDT) is no longer considered a tit-for-tat that might balance in the long run, and modernizing Nairobi’s sewage system is too expensive for even the Gates Foundation.

That example is a bit oversimplified, since in fact the Gates Foundation probably does have both the capital and wherewithal to modernize (at least once) the Nairobi sewage system. What I really mean, of course, is to effect a modernization and cleanliness that like in late 19th century Chicago was achieved by modernization of a public service.

Today Nairobi is exponentially bigger than Chicago was in 1860, and Nairobi is affected physiologically by what happens in Mombasa, Addis, Kampala and Dar, so fixing Nairobi without simultaneously fixing those other great metropolises would be problematic with regards to eradicating malaria.

BUT (and this is a very big but) so is the world’s wealth exponentially bigger today than in 1860, and that’s the point.

Were the public interest as dominant today as it was in Chicago in 1860, Nairobi, Mombasa, Addis, Kampala and Dar would be free of malaria, because the rich world would have fixed their sewer systems… (and of course, a lot more).

What has changed in the last 150 years is a disproportional amount of wealth has become concentrated among a few afraid it will be taken from them. There are not enough people in that pool of the paranoid very wealthy for any truly democratic or benevolent change to take place.

That isn’t to say that a majority of rich people, among which I’m sure Bill Gates is one, are not generous and intelligent enough to ante up. In this year’s letter, Gates castigates Americans for their paltry $30 annually that the U.S. provides in world aid.

But the power brokers within that pool are not the Gates of the world. They’re the Koch’s of the world. And the Koch’s rule. So long as there are Koch’s there will not be more than $30 annually per American spent on world aid.

So what’s left?

Gates. Deal with a problem as a crisis and not a fundamental, and that’s precisely what’s happened with malaria.

In October the huge multinational pharmaceutical Glaxonsmithkline (GSK) announced it would market the world’s first malaria vaccine.

The vaccine is about 60% efficacious. Not bad but incapable of eradicating malaria. It took about 30 years and billions of dollars to develop this. The beneficiaries are not exclusively people saved from malaria. It will probably in equal measure make the rich, richer.

(Note this cynical observation: If there were a vaccine that could eradicate malaria, that could be a big downer for the investors who paid to develop the vaccine.)

When the world won’t step up, when your own government or township won’t tax enough to fix fundamental problems, we have no choice: Gates and GSK become our only hope and it’s a very momentary, transitory solution that’s provided: a stop-gap.

And the powerful in the pool of the wealthy then distort those efforts to suggest they are successful in terms that claim governments can’t be.

And the cycle of mythology is perpetuated. Gates recognizes this. His annual letter is built on a series of “myths.”

I prefer a Warren Buffet to a Bill Gates. Frankly, I don’t prefer either of them in theory. There should not be super rich.

But Buffet often focuses on the fundamentals. Gates is an engineer. Or as a brilliant Dutch satirist pointed out this week, Gates treats aid like he treats Microsoft: self-perpetuating and growing and never completely tackling the problem holistically.

See Ikenna’s video below:

Between Life & Death

Between Life & Death

bodyorgansforsaleTanzania has embraced a Wall Street Journal suggestion last week that a free market should be created to buy and sell human organs.

“It is none of our business,” Tanzania’s Minister for Health and Society Welfare said yesterday affirming the Tanzanian government’s position that it would not oppose such a market. He then confirmed that it’s perfectly legal for Tanzanians to sell their organs to the highest bidder.

The Journal’s Saturday essay argued that kidney transplants add more than 20 years of life to those in need, and that two kidneys aren’t necessary for a healthy life.

“How can paying for organs to increase their supply be more immoral than the injustice of the present system?” the journal asked.

The authors estimated that an open market for selling kidneys would result in an expected cost of $15,000 per kidney.

That’s approximately triple Tanzania’s average annual income.

In acknowledging the Journal article more quickly than the Tanzanian government normally acknowledges a health epidemic on its own soil, the Minister pointed out that there are already robust donor markets in Iran and India.

Two kidneys might not be necessary for a healthy life, but removal of any organ, even the redundant second kidney, is not without risks. Even if those risks are small the notion of literally selling part of yourself for cash belies desperation.

And in a “free market,” one that is truly global, there’s little doubt that the most desperate in the world would quickly become the suppliers. Suicide bombers and all sorts of other criminals are often little more than lives for sale. Reducing humanity to a commodity is the basest form of oppression.

The Journal article touched on alternatives that such countries as Denmark are employing, called “implied consent.” This presumes that everyone who dies naturally allows whatever viable organs remain to be taken and reused.

But such a policy if adopted worldwide would decimate the capitalist alternative suggested by the Journal. As shocking as it may sound, there are likely far fewer natural deaths that would result in viable organ donating worldwide, than there are living persons in the developing world willing to sell their organs.

Imagine if the going rate for a kidney in the U.S. was $150,000? That’s the equivalency with Tanzania’s economy. Imagine advertising this in Appalachia or Flint, Michigan. Imagine white buses with ambulance attendants and Brinks Trucks behind them.

There’s something terribly wrong with this scenario, whether it is in Flint, Michigan or Arusha, Tanzania.

Yet the Journal article is not ground-breaking. HBO Producer of the “Tales from the Organ Trade” and three-time Emmy winner, Simcha Jacobovici, is an aggressive advocate for allowing anyone to sell their organs for the highest price:

“For my part,” Jacobovici writes in the Times of Israel, “I am no longer a dispassionate reporter on the issue… Some suffering we cannot alleviate, but this suffering has a simple solution. While tens of thousands need kidneys, tens of thousands want to sell them. We each have two kidneys. We only need one.”

The fact of the matter is that voluntary organ selling has been occurring throughout Africa for a long time, widely reported from Kenya to Nigeria. But there has been little comment about it until now and virtually no criticism.

The Journal article has forced the topic out, giving advocates of live donor selling in the developing world significant credence to the position that there is nothing immoral to the practice.

It is an incredible dilemma. My first reaction is that there is nothing baser than turning humanity into a commodity. My second reaction is that authority over one’s own physical body is inalienable: how can we the rich tell them the poor not to sell themselves?

Religious doctrine is pretty consistent:

“The answer is a definitive ‘No.’ The selling of an organ violates the dignity of the human being,” according to the Catholic Church, and virtually all major religions argue similarly.

But religious doctrine in my opinion is largely responsible for the multitude of dilemmas Tanzanians currently find themselves in, today:

From the historical condoning of slavery in the pre-colonial era, to the submission to greater force in the colonial era, to the oppression of vicious dictators in the post-colonial era, religion has not been a very good guide for the development of Tanzania.

For many millions in the developing world selling an organ is the difference between life and death. Twice.

Them! Is Here Already!

Them! Is Here Already!

Them! is here already!What does an African country do when Bill Gates says eat it or starve?

Most Americans think that the growing concern over what foods are safe is something that only their privileged, developed world has to suffer, that it is somewhat esoteric and – provided, of course that you aren’t culinarily involved – restricted to … nuts. (Peanuts, that is.)

Well, it’s not. In fact the debate over GMO is reaching a crescendo in Africa where scientists, multinationals, governments and NGOs like the Gates Foundation are in a diabolical battle over GM corn.

It is, literally, a matter of life and death.

Mom might wipe her brow when planning a contemporary Thanksgiving dinner at home, today. She might have to source out a natural turkey farmer and find a grocery store that sells gluten-free pie crust. This is all a lot more work than Aunt Evelyn did when the centerpiece of our holiday dinner was a jello salad.

But in Africa the sweat is over whether some people will starve or not, and my take is that GM foods are not the answer. Bill Gates disagrees.

You’ll have to be patient if using the links I’ve incorporated, because everyone is being quite deceptive. No one wants you to hear them shouting. But the uproar is rising and it’s focusing on a single of many ongoing battles:

Monsanto is one of a couple multinationals that is profiting from the development and patenting of GM crop seed, particularly corn (“maize” as it’s called elsewhere). That story is in itself distressing, as farmers who use GM seed can no longer use their own crop seed. They must buy it year after year from Monsanto.

There are literally tens of thousands, perhaps now hundreds of thousands of GM plants and organisms, and Monsanto owns a hunk of them.

One version of maize for which Monsanto had its highest hopes, MON810, whose appropriate brand name of “YieldGard” is all but ignored in the current debate, is the center of the controversy.

MON810 yields a corn that is remarkably drought resistant. It’s widely used in the U.S. and understandably was imagined as drought-plagued Africa’s savior seed.

About a third of Europe’s countries ban MON810. The most recent science from Norway declared MON810 harmful to humans, pigs, mice and butterflies.

An important European Commission (EFSA) that approves or disapproves GM products was given the task of deciding for all of Europe if Norway’s science was valid. On what many argue was a technical fault, the commission approved MON810.

The EFSA decision allowed multinational agribusiness to sue countries like Norway, France, Germany and Poland to reverse these bans, and Monsanto is succeeding in doing so… sort of.

Europe’s political interface is not yet complete, and so recently France “rebanned” MON810 after “reallowing” it. Other nations are likely to follow suit.

I can’t possibly pass judgment on the science. I can’t even figure out how to decide which science is worth reading; it’s all over the place.

The main crusader against GM foods is Prof. Gilles-Eric Séralini whose arguments verge on the hysterical. But his science is widely used by opponents of MON810.

There are many very respected groups whose approach is more measured but forceful, like the “Occupy Monsanto” crowd.

The problem – and it becomes critical in Africa – is who to believe: crusading scientists, respectable citizen groups or government commissions. No one questions that MON810 produces a much higher yield. Africa really needs a lot of corn, fast.

But I take my lead from South Africa, the most rational and developed of African countries.

Shortly after MON810 came to market about 15 years ago, the South Africans banned it. But that didn’t last long, and many anti-GMO activists in South Africa claim their government’s reversal was as a result of U.S. trade pressure.

During its use in the last decade, South African farmers recognized a need for increased pesticides and fertilizers to keep the crop going. Yes, it needed less water and from a business standpoint with the yields it was producing, it was still a good business decision.

Activists argued that the reason MON810 requires more pesticide and fertilizer is because it produces super insects and bacteria.

Late this summer, MON810 created corn was withdrawn from the South African market. It was a combination of public outcry and government regulation.

Moreover, pressured by the South African government, Monsanto agreed to compensate farmers for their unusual pesticide and fertilizer costs needed to bring MON810 corn to harvest.

It’s not clear whether this ban will be sustained nor if alternative Monsanto GM seeds will not just be used, instead. But what is clear is that the leading African country has decided MON810 is bad.

So what now?

Immediately the battle shifted north to less developed countries like Tanzania and Kenya where the seed is still allowed. But it was anything but certain Monsanto would prevail there, either.

In steps charitable giving.

Monsanto, in its ever creative marketing plans, decides to give the Bill Gates foundation free use of MON810.

And it’s an NGO coup for a foundation deeply involved in helping Africa. The cost of MON810 could be absorbed by South Africans, not by Kenyans. Now, Kenyans get it for … free.

And true to form, Kenya is now in the midst of another Shakespearean government scandal in which a quasi government agency banned MON810 before the Gates Foundation announcement, then summarily reversed itself after the announcement and, of course … nobody can say why.

Of course Monsanto dare not publicize its generosity too directly, so it’s being done through a partnership program created by an African foundation that gets most of its money from Gates.

That’s sufficient enough distance to keep Gates out of the maelstrom.

At least for now. Until we think we see a Dreamliner above the Mara cornfields, when it’s actually a monster locust coming in for the kill.

Black Holes Widening

Black Holes Widening

blackHoleEight-year olds – lots of them – are dying agonizing deaths in Tanzania as the government and world turn a blind eye to child gold-mining.

This morning Human Rights Watch issued its long anticipated report on child mining in Tanzania.

Not that we didn’t know there were “thousands” of children involved, that the Tanzanian government has consistently denied a problem, or that unacceptable levels of toxic wastes equal to biochemical weaponry cause the most grief.

I wrote myself about this less than two weeks ago.

I guess we just needed this respectable report to figure out what to do. So what do we do, now, we who are not Tanzanians but love Tanzania no less than children anywhere … what can we do?

Start a petition? Contact your tone-deaf congressmen? Divest yourself of multinationals in Tanzanian mining (see below)? Increase your black-hole tithing? Support NGOs working for better alternatives?

Or own up to the reality that nothing will stop this defamation of humanity except serious redistribution of wealth.

My reading of the 96-page report is a horrifying recognition that the increasing gap between rich and poor is the real cause of this calamity.

How the hell can you stop a child who is almost always sick with a cold and diarrhea who knows that a pill she can buy for a quarter will make her feel better, from sticking her hands into a plate of liquid mercury, when she knows that there’s a chance of 1 in 6 of pulling out $10?

She knows the mercury is bad. She knows that doing this enough times will make her unendingly sick. But she’s sick, now! She wants to get better!

What on earth will you tell a kid who has no father, whose mother is a prostitute for wealthier miners, who at best eats one meal of porridge a day?

Most of the child laborers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they used their earnings “for basic necessities such as food, rent, clothes, and school supplies such as exercise books, pens, and uniforms.”

The incredible horror stories in the report of children getting sick from chemicals and hard labor were compounded by many documented cases of sexual abuse, blackmailing and outright physical abuse including murder.

Tanzania has laws on the books against all of this. But … few Tanzanian laws of any kind are regularly enforced: Tanzania is a lawless land where social order is sewn together by bribes and sometimes the goodness of local officials.

Tanzania is now the 4th largest gold producer in the world. The $2.1 billion dollars earned annually contributes 3-5% to the entire GDP of the country.

Ninety percent of this is from large-scale, big-machine, high-tech commercial mining. Roughly three-quarters of the commercial mining in Tanzania is controlled by African Barrick Gold (ABG), a UK held multinational; and AngloGold Ashanti, a South African company. The remaining quarter to a third is held by smaller multinationals, the largest of which are the Australian mining company, Resolute Mining Limited, and the German Currie Rose Resources Inc.

Ten percent, though, comes from this off-the-books, theoretically illegal artisanal mining involving the children.

The artisanal mining is usually pursued on the periphery of the commercial mining in areas the big machines just haven’t gotten to yet, or in areas that the multinationals have determined isn’t rich enough for their interest.

Most of it is surface or near-surface mining, and that’s what lends itself to individual prospectors.

Like mining throughout the ages, there is little guarantee of striking it rich by anybody, but the allure is what keeps the miners going. But in Tanzania, “striking it rich” is phenomenally greater than it is for an Alaskan miner, today; or even those involved in the great western gold rush a century ago.

In Tanzania, a child who finds a gram of gold will be able to sell it, once processed through the toxic mercury process in his pan, for more than $40. In many of the regions in Tanzania where this now occurs, that’s enough to keep a family of five alive, well fed for a month, with some left over for used clothing.

When a child strikes out in the mines, there’s other horrific work. HRW documented children as young as ten earning up to $3 for crushing a pile of rocks, $1.23 for mixing the mercury and gold for another prospector, all of which compounded could earn a kid more than $12/day.

That is roughly what a well groomed doorman, janitor or telephone operator in a safari lodge in Tanzania makes.

The story created here is of a society struggling to be simply clean, healthy and not hungry, putting their lives on the line starting as children, day after day, to reach a goal – a level of existence – in economic terms that is around one one-hundred-thousandth (.001%) of the average earnings ($90,000 annually) of workers for African Barrick Gold living the U.K.

Or one-ten-thousandth (.01%) of the average cost of a gold bracelot. Or should I go down a bit? Do you have any gold earrings? OK. Maybe one-tenth percent of the average cost of your gold earrings? So a thousand chilren work-days in Tanzania equals your gold earrings?

That gap is the problem. Tanzania should be getting a much larger proportion of its gold wealth, and the citizens and children of Tanzanian should be getting a much, much larger proportion of the money its own government earns.

But we know that gap is not getting smaller; it’s getting bigger and bigger as the years drip by. And the children get less and less and sicker and sicker.

Was slavery better?


Still Stuck in the Mud

Still Stuck in the Mud

Tremendous new natural resources have been discovered in Tanzania; some say that’s why Obama visited there recently. Isn’t this good news?

Many including myself have lamented African development over the last half century, flipping from feeling totally pessimistic to totally optimistic in the course of a few elections or natural catastrophes.

But always the bugaboo has been the culture of dependency presumed intrinsic to any society deft of natural resources and not yet matured of any of its own technology or innovations.

That has changed dramatically in the last decade with the discovery of so many now extractable resources that were either not known or too deep or complicated to collect in the past.

Almost 20 years ago the world’s second largest gold reserve was discovered in Tanzania near Lake Victoria. And for twenty years we’ve watched the Tanzanians botch one mining deal after another, screw up every national taxing proposal that’s reached the legislature, and kill and main hundreds if not thousands of mine workers.

And now, enormous new natural resources are being discovered in Tanzania almost daily.

The most impressive are new uranium deposits. In fact, such huge reserves have been found that the Tanzanian government quickly created a “Tanzania Atomic Energy Commission.”

(Sad that its website, thrown up in a few days, is better than for the national parks.)

In Arusha recently, President Jakaya Kikwete said, “If all the reserves we have are fully exploited, Tanzania can become the seventh leading uranium producers in the world,” said Kikwete.

Already Mantra Resources and a Russian firm ARMZ have entered into a joint venture to mine uranium. Tanzania has so far confirmed the presence of multiple thick zones of sandstone-hosted uranium mineralization at shallow depths at the “Nyota Prospect” where it is presumed there are 35.9 million pounds of extractable uranium.

That’s a lot.

But there’s more. Coal, and (good grief!), diamonds.

But even more, still:

Unimaginable numbers of deaths and disabilities from the local Tanzanians so far employed to extract these resources. The latest was only several weeks ago. I don’t understand why progressives are livid with the sweat shops supplying Walmart and Nike, but shrug at the horrific deaths and disabilities Tanzanians suffer every single day.

Last week the estates of numerous gold miners who died at the horrendous Barrick Gold mine near Mwanza filed suit for shameful work practices.

Yet there was more support in the media for the mining company than for the miners. Well, I guess it can make sense: After all, gold has declined in value, and the owner of the mines just took a $700 million writeoff on the quarter’s earnings.

Tanzania isn’t handling all of this very well.

I suppose that’s understandable, since the government of Tanzanian doesn’t handle anything very well. But this is, literally, a “gold mine” for the population, if the government can get its act together.

So far, it hasn’t, and it’s incredibly depressing.

Mining licenses are being given out willy nilly at the entire discretion of President Kikwete; there is no vetting process, and currently, there is no national policy regarding taxing or royalties.

Current Tanzanian law, which enshrined local control of local lands (sometimes to a ridiculous extent, see my blogs on WMAs and other big game related lands), is being completely ignored.

Near the capital, Dodoma, a mining company several months ago began digging giant wells without even advising the local community at Bahi Makulo what they were digging for and who they were. An expert has surmised it was Mantra Tanzania, a subsidiary of a Russian mining group.

When confronted by local officials, the management offered a handful of jobs instead of explanations, which were readily accepted. These jobs included handling chemicals that weren’t identified, and without any training.

It’s likely that at least one of the chemicals was mercury. Human Rights Watch has consistently bashed Tanzania for being one of the lone countries that has refused to sign a mercury chemical standard treaty.

Numerous human rights violations by multiple mining companies in Tanzania, and the refusal of the Tanzanian government to enforce its even poor but existing laws, has left the population completely unprotected.

Feeling totally marginalized, many Tanzanians are now desperately trying to mine gold on their own, like the original gold rushers of the 1850s. It’s dangerous and mostly unproductive, and the government is doing nothing to either regulate or discourage it.

It’s a crying shame Tanzania’s been unable to get its act together over the last two decades since Lake Victoria gold was discovered. Now with uranium, diamonds and more, that sadness has turned to desperation.

NPR Rhino Preview

NPR Rhino Preview

NPR’s series this week on rhino poaching is probably worth paying attention to. Here’s some background before listening today to All Things Considered:

Be cautious. John Burnett’s terrible reporting for NPR on elephant poaching not too long ago set me ablaze. He fouled up the numbers completely, came from the wrong perspectives and reduced a complicated issue to hardly a cartoon.

PBS was just as bad, but had redeeming parts. The February production that included Aiden Hartley going undercover in Dar-es-Salaam to document that trade in illegal ivory was brilliant, but their numbers and back stories that introduced the stealth section were poor if not patently untrue.

So why am I directing you to another American public media production about animal poaching?

Because the synopsis presented over the weekend by reporters Frank Langfitt and Gregory Warner sounds good. Both reporters are more experienced than the reporters assigned to the elephant story.

Because many, many bloggers and experts – not just me – were highly critical of the elephant reporting by NPR and PBS earlier. Some of that noise had to get through.

Because basic facts, which have been buried in scandalization for years, are already out in the story and look good: In the whole summary, I did not hear once any reference to rhino horn being used as an aphrodisiac. It isn’t, but this reference has peppered stories of rhino poaching since time immemorial, a racist and horrible injustice to the bigger story.

Rhino horn is in demand — as with ivory — in Asia but for medicinal, holistic beliefs in its curative powers. Used for centuries as a fever reducer, newly rich Asians (mostly Vietnamese) buy tiny erasure-size blocks of compressed horn to cure everything from diabetes to hangovers.

For the poacher in East Africa, though, the main market is Yemen, Djibouti, Eritrea and thereabouts, where rich businessmen buy the horn to polish it as a dagger handle.

In the ATC story summary we heard this weekend, Langfitt and Warner conceded that even after poaching there are still enough rhino births annually to continue increasing the population.

(Media that they are, however, they’re unable to avoid teasing us with scandal, claiming that at current rates this will not be the case by 2017. I doubt that.)

And they have drilled into the attempts at real solutions, including horn cutting and controlled rhino farming and harvesting.

So unlike the huge bulk of elephant reporting these last several years which has been terribly incorrect, and of which NPR and PBS have contributed to messing up, this one might be different.

Stay tuned.

In-Depth Tourism

In-Depth Tourism

Death, destruction, despair and poverty … all for an attractive price! For less than $30 per person you can be guided into Kenya’s most famous slum! Kibera Tours dot com. “Experience a part of Kenya unseen by most tourists: KIBERA The friendliest slum in the world!”

The half-day sightseeing trip in Nairobi promises to visit an orphanage and school, a bead factor and a typical Kibera house before the piece de resistance: the biogas center: “a fantastic view over Kibera and picture-point. You can see that also human waste is not wasted here.”

This is disgusting. Tourism at its worst and most exploitive, revealing the basest inclinations of ourselves and reenforcing ridiculous notions that poverty doesn’t exist at home.

Kibera is the largest of Nairobi’s 7 or 8 slums, which slip around the city in endless tin and fumes. Not even the Kenyan government census can estimate the size, but the best guesses I’ve seen put the slums at several million people compared to the residents in the city at around 3½ million. The slums are a dissimulating fraction of greater Nairobi and would be an incessant inferno in the developed world.

But in Africa they maintain an unusual tranquility. To be sure crime is endemic (see the film, Nairobi Half Life) and ethnic feuds that plague Kenya from top to bottom can produce particularly vicious moments here, but unlike slums in the developed world there is no boiling cauldron of the poor ready to murder the rich.

Nairobi slums are often stepping stones from poverty, completely unlike the imprisonment of slums in the developed world. Emigrants from impoverished rural areas without proper education or training live for a few years in the slums and develop the minimal skills needed to work in the modern world.

Then they move up and out. Not yet has Kibera fashioned a whole class of people forever imprisoned like the old Harlem or Cabrini Green in the U.S., or the Cape Verde barreos of Lisbon. Kibera will indeed become another Cabrini Green if something isn’t done this generation. But for the moment, the slums are relatively too young to have become a blighted institution.

Nevertheless, they look the same. And the nuance I argue above is not something that can be seen on a short visit. But slum tourists don’t come looking for hope.

What do they come looking for? Why does a tourist pay to come here?

I’ve asked myself the same question time and again. It’s identical with the wish to “see a village.” That quoted remark, of course, is an euphemism for seeing dirty bomas with mud huts and animal excrement. Fortunately, by the way, such villages are rare to find, anymore, at least along East Africa’s normal tourist circuit. What has replaced them are sedentary replications intended to make money from tourists.

Why do tourists pay to see them, even though they are clearly not authentic?

Even though outstanding African economic growth and potential is in fact a topic often found on the pages of the Wall Street Journal, I still hear from parents, “I want my children to see the way the other side lives.” Or “I think it’s important we see how fortunate we are.”

You don’t have to come to Africa to “see how the other side lives.” In some places like southwest Wisconsin near where I live, or the Ozarks or Appalachia, or the residual slums of our urban cities, real poverty and its resultant despair and destruction is no less than Kibera’s.

America’s “Kiberas” are not as widespread or large as Kenya’s, that’s true. But this is not a fortune of chance. It’s the result of a human civilization that wants to give everyone a modicum of happiness, that cherishes human rights.

That’s what America was mostly about, and it’s now what the world is mostly about. Kibera’s existence is our failing, just as Cabrini Green was and Appalachia still is.

Poverty is so complicated that it easily befuddles, and I think that’s part of the tourists’ desire to see Kibera or “a village.” They want to simplify the complicated. They don’t want to see poverty as something relative, but clearly defined and for sure, Kibera is.

But there is the same, absolutely identical misery, disease and angst in the unemployed, castaway homeless veteran on the streets of New York as any child walking the mud paths of Kibera.

Kibera, or the imagined dirty African village, or the homeless veteran need not exist. In a world where you and I assumed our basic human responsibility to our neighbor, there would be no Kibera.

So I believe the single-most important reason tourists want to “experience poverty” in Africa is to believe the same identical thing doesn’t exist at home. Or isn’t as bad. Or isn’t as extensive.

If one child is poor; if one veteran is homeless, it’s wrong.

And finally — possibly even worse — the delusional tourist wants to find a smiling child who is dying, so that they can believe that poor is OK, that homeless can also be happy, that death smiles.

It’s OK to live in a multi-million dollar mansion and it’s OK to dab yourself with Chanel. But it’s not OK to live a world that allows Kiberas to exist. Kibera’s existence is our fault; the collective fault of an unjust world order. The children of Kibera can just as easily be the children of Trenton.

It’s not OK to go through life with the fantasy that Africa is besmirched and cursed and that Kiberas exist only in Nairobi and Shaker Heights exist only in Cleveland.

And it’s not OK to think that poor is OK, anywhere. There is no happiness in being poor or homeless, whether in Kibera or 49th Street.

Don’t come to Africa to validate your own fantasies.

Poopooing Philanthropy

Poopooing Philanthropy

Bill Gates’ “Reinvent the Toilet Fair” in Seattle next week illustrates perfectly the limits of philanthropy and why real generosity must come from governments not individual rich people.

The Gates’ Foundation work to prevent and cure malaria is outstanding. The battle against the disease is perfect for individual philanthropy for two reasons. But most philanthropy, if not the vast majority promulgated by private foundations and individuals is wasteful and destructive.

The first reason the Gates’ Foundation work in malaria is valuable is that global agencies and governments from the developed world dare not tread on the mechanisms of global capitalism. Developing a vaccine, or a super small X-ray machine, or the Mars’ Curiosity, takes enormous capital. It’s the reason cancer drugs are so expensive. The drug company must recover not only the huge initial investment for a successful drug but it must also cover the huge losses of failed drugs.

Governments are capable of making these investments to be sure as are multinational corporations, but developed world interest in eradicating malaria in Africa doesn’t reach the threshold of importance developed world society does place, for example, in Mars’ Curiosity. Whether this is right or wrong isn’t my point. It’s just the case that developed world priorities do not extend to malaria eradication in the developing world.

Last year U.S. aid for developing world disease control and prevention – concentrated principally to fight tuberculosis, AIDS and malaria – was $503 million (from an HHS agency budget of $30.5 billion.) Gates alone has spent nearly four times this amount just on malaria research and prevention.

Because that is how much it takes to develop a malaria vaccine. The disease is among the most complex diseases on earth, a legendary evolutionary battle between man and his greatest nemesis, disease.

Neither will the developed world’s capitalist markets undertake a project to eradicate malaria. A malaria vaccine would not generate enough financial return to warrant the investment. Once malaria was controlled in the developed world — just as with polio more recently — the developed world will not provide the additional capital investment from either governments or markets for control in the less affluent developing world.

So it’s a perfect project for a rich man.

The second important reason malaria control is perfect for western philanthropy is because it’s so political. Malaria was eradicated in the developed world by DDT. The developed world now believes that DDT poses too great an environmental hazard to be used, now.

Whether this is rank fiscal hypocrisy or a cold prioritization of self-interest I’m not certain, but the door to quick eradication of malaria in the developing world, using the only historical method we know, has been slammed shut. DDT manufacturing is mostly controlled by the developed world, but more importantly, the threat of sanctions against developing countries that would dare to use it is real.

But most philanthropy cannot be justified by these two reasons. The vast majority of philanthropy funds projects that societies are fully capable of funding themselves. By that I mean not just through government services supported by taxes but more so by the albeit much smaller capitalist markets in the developing world.

They include almost everything from education to sanitation to energy development. When a philanthropist steps into areas like these it’s usually because of a failing in society’s planning or an oversight by market developers. To that extent pointing these out becomes the greatest justification for philanthropy.

But once pointed out philanthropists should move on and the implementation should be left to society. Society, of course, can’t do everything so it picks and chooses its priorities and that process of choosing is the very essence of a society. It should not be usurped by individuals. The best example is education. There’s no doubt that education is fundamental to almost all other development. Everyone agrees with this.

The components of successful education may be innumerable. There will always be a myriad of ways to better society’s educational efforts. Philanthropy has a major role in discovering society’s failings and to discovering innovative components otherwise overlooked by society.

But once discovered it should be left to that society to implement. Implementing it outside of normal societal mechanisms (such as through individual philanthropy) distorts any social plan and usurps the right of the majority.

Community sewage disposal is as fundamental to organized communities as education is to a workable society as a whole. A multitude of techniques are known, the engineering is fully developed, none of the essential technology is protected by copyright, and it’s fair even for a laymen to conclude there aren’t many alternatives to waste disposal except disposing waste.

So the Gates Foundation’s $42 million grants to “reinvent the toilet” are absurd. Like our own current infatuation with ethanol from corn in gasoline, more energy is being used by the so-called innovation than if we just didn’t do it at all.

The reason Nairobi’s sanitation is so underdeveloped is not because Kenya lacks either the resources or technology to lay appropriate sewers in the city’s ground, but because in part the country’s resources are being used instead to fund a war in Somalia.

I’m not arguing whether the war in Somalia is right or wrong, I’m arguing that Kenya should not assume its expense. The turmoil in Somalia was not caused by Kenya. It was caused by the developed world.

So the problem in poor sanitation in Nairobi is that the world as a whole — including Kenya itself — hasn’t owned up to its social obligations even though it’s fully capable of doing so. And this dynamic is propped up by western philanthropy.

If the Gates’ Foundation is successful in creating a “better toilet” for the developing world it could not possibly be more efficient than community sewage works. But it might indeed discover a device that can produce sanitation for a given few who have the wealth to enjoy it, and then delay even further extending sanitation services to the greater society at large.

In a nutshell it divides the rich from the poor, and it accelerates the dividing.

Frankly, I think even Gates’ officials and associates realize this. A blog widely disseminated in the developed world yesterday by Gates associate Diane Scott was rife with self-deprecation and embarrassment and proves what foolishness is going on. I can just imagine my friends in Nairobi reading this and chuckling madly.

Utopia is not in the cards, I know. But philanthropy in the main delays most utopian visions. Gates should be commended for so much of his work, but this – and most philanthropy in general – is just not right.

Rich Kids Can’t Run

Rich Kids Can’t Run

Kenyan runners are set to win 9-10 Olympic medals but their path to victory is ridiculously different from their competitors.

Any child athlete anywhere in the world who aspires to the Olympics has to first demonstrate winning.

And in many countries like Kenya, being chosen for the Olympic Team is not by winning a formulated try-out as it is in America. Rather, a professional committee makes the decision based mostly on recent victories achieved outside Kenya.

In large part this is because the country doesn’t have the high-tech equipment or venue good enough to actually measure global performance. They’re unable to produce a try-out with global standards.

So global excellence has to be measured by the contests abroad that the individual applicants enter. The Kenyan stars on the team this year include the marathon winners of Chicago, London, New York, Berlin, Boston and a number of other cities around the world.

(I remember introducing a softball league to western Kenya in the early 1970s. You can’t imagine what we did for bats and balls, and I’m sure that my star hitter might have performed differently if he was using a regulation bat.)

So how do you get that first win?

According to Forbes magazine, an aspiring Olympian starts spending $15-20,000 per year before even becoming a teenager.

That’s impossible in a country where the average annual wage is less than a tenth of that. And consider that two current Kenyan Olympians, a Maasai brother and sister, Moses and Linet Masai, come from such a poor village that without birth certificates they simply chose for their surname their tribe.

Forbes reports that early money for an aspiring Olympian goes primarily for coaching. The bulk of the twenty grand may actually be the coach’s salary, but there’s also living, schooling and travel expenses since you go to the coach, the coach doesn’t come to you.

In Kenya the coach works for free. For the world’s greatest runners he’s an Irish priest and the story about Father O’Connell is one of the most wonderful stories of the Olympics this year.

And the training area as you’ve already guessed is a high mountain village above the Great Rift Valley. Getting there from nearly anywhere in Kenya is expensive by Kenyan standards. Once there, the kid needs food and schooling, and all of this is provided by Father O’Connell and his mission.

The contrast is stark with an American child glamorously walking into a famous Denver gym with parents in toe.

Now Father O’Connell has no stage-of-the-art timing devices; he still uses a stopwatch. There are no perfect surface running tracks; kids run on dirt. The first day at his mission they aren’t fitted with $800 training shoes; usually they start barefoot.

And when they finally achieve his blessing to go compete on the world stage, his order has no money to buy them bus tickets to Nairobi. So who does?

The other successful Kenyan athletes. There is an unwritten code among Kenyan winners that they must fund the up-and-coming, even those who might ultimately beat them at the Olympics. Can you imagine Roger Federer doing that for Andy Murray? Yet that’s exactly what happens in Kenya.

Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich vowed recently he will smash the marathon world record at the Olympics currently held by Kenyan Noah Ngeny, who paid for Kiprotich’s first trip outside Kenya.

The three fastest men in the world, Kipsang Kiprotich, Silas Kiplagat and Nixon Chepseba – as professionally clocked in marathons the last two years — are all competing for Kenya in the Olympics. Together.

Father O’Connell’s village travels straight out of the Great Rift Valley to the London arena. It’s a sense of community worth all the gold in the world.

“Rich kids can’t run,” Moses Masai recently told the BBC.

May I add there’s a lot of other things they can’t (or won’t) do, either?

Top Ten 2011 Africa Stories

Top Ten 2011 Africa Stories

Twevolution, the Arab Spring [by Twitter] is universally considered the most important story of the year, much less just in Africa. But I believe the Kenyan invasion of Somalia will have as lasting an effect on Africa, so I’ve considered them both Number One.

On October 18 Kenya invaded Somalia, where 4-5,000 of its troops remain today. Provoked by several kidnapings and other fighting in and around the rapidly growing refugee camp of Dadaab, the impression given at the time was that Kenyans had “just had enough” of al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliated terrorism group in The Horn which at the time controlled approximately the southern third of Somalia. Later on, however, it became apparent that the invasion had been in the works for some time.

At the beginning of the invasion the Kenyan command announced its objective was the port city of Kismayo. To date that hasn’t happened. Aided by American drones and intelligence, and by French intelligence and naval warships, an assessment was made early on that the battle for Kismayo would be much harder than the Kenyans first assumed, and the strategy was reduced to laying siege.

That continues and remarkably, might be working. Call it what you will, but the Kenyan restraint managed to gain the support of a number of other African nations, and Kenya is now theoretically but a part of the larger African Union peacekeeping force which has been in Somali for 8 years. Moreover, the capital of Mogadishu has been pretty much secured, a task the previous peace keepers had been unable to do for 8 years.

The invasion costs Kenya dearly. The Kenyan shilling has lost about a third of its value, there are food shortages nationwide, about a half dozen terrorist attacks in retribution have occurred killing and wounding scores of people (2 in Nairobi city) and tourism – its principal source of foreign reserves – lingers around a third of what it would otherwise be had there be no invasion.

At first I considered this was just another failed “war against terrorism” albeit in this case the avowed terrorists controlled the country right next door. Moreover, I saw it as basically a proxy war by France and the U.S., which it may indeed be. But the Kenyan military restraint and the near unanimous support for the war at home, as well as the accumulation of individually marginal battle successes and outside support now coming to Kenya in assistance, all makes me wonder if once again Africans have shown us how to do it right.

That’s what makes this such an important story. The possibility that conventional military reaction to guerilla terrorism has learned a way to succeed, essentially displacing the great powers – the U.S. primarily – as the world’s best military strategists. There is as much hope in this statement as evidence, but both exist, and that alone raises this story to the top.

You may also wish to review Top al-Shabaab Leader Killed and Somali Professionals Flee as Refugees.

The Egyptian uprising, unlike its Tunisian predecessor, ensured that no African government was immune to revolution, perhaps no government in the world. I called it Twevolution because especially in Egypt the moment-by-moment activities of the mass was definitely managed by Twitter.

And the particular connection to Kenya was fabulous, because the software that powered the Twitter, Facebook and other similar revolution managing tools came originally from Kenya.

Similar of course to Tunisia was the platform for any “software instructions” – the power of the people! And this in the face of the most unimaginable odds if you’re rating the brute physical force of the regime in power.

Egypt fell rather quickly and the aftermath was remarkably peaceful. Compared to the original demonstrations, later civil disobedience whether it was against the Coptics or the military, was actually quite small. So I found it particularly fascinating how world travelers reacted. Whereas tourist murders, kidnapings and muggings were common for the many years that Egypt experienced millions of visitors annually, tourists balked at coming now that such political acts against tourists no longer occurred, because the instigators were now a part of the political process! This despite incredible deals.

We wait with baited breath for the outcome in Syria, but less visible countries like Botswana and Malawi also experienced their own Twevolution. And I listed 11 dictators that I expected would ultimately fall because of the Egyptian revolution.

Like any major revolution, the path has been bumpy, the future not easily predicted. But I’m certain, for example, that the hard and often brutal tactics of the military who currently assumes the reins of state will ultimately be vindicated. And certainly this tumultuous African revolution if not the outright cause was an important factor in our own protests, like Occupy Wall Street.

The free election and emergence of South Sudan as Africa’s 54th country would have been the year’s top story if all that revolution hadn’t started further north! In the making for more than ten years, a remarkably successful diplomatic coup for the United States, this new western ally rich with natural resources was gingerly excised from of the west’s most notorious foes, The Sudan.

Even as Sudan’s president was being indicted for war crimes in Darfur, he ostensibly participated in the creation of this new entity. But because of the drama up north, the final act of the ultimate referendum in the South which set up the new republic produced no more news noise than a snap of the fingers.

Regrettably, with so much of the world’s attention focused elsewhere, the new country was hassled violently by its former parent to the north. We can only hope that this new country will forge a more humane path than its parent, and my greatest concern for Africa right now is that global attention to reigning in the brutal regime of the north will be directed elsewhere.

Twevolution essentially effected every country in Africa in some way. Uganda’s strongman, Yoweri Museveni, looked in the early part of the last decade like he was in for life. Much was made about his attachment to American politicians on the right, and this right after he was Bill Clinton’s Africa doll child.

But even before Twevolution – or perhaps because of the same dynamics that first erupted in Tunisia and Egypt – Museveni’s opponents grew bold and his vicious suppression of their attempts to legitimately oust him from power ended with the most flawed election seen in East Africa since Independence.

But unlike in neighboring Kenya where a similar 2007 election caused nationwide turmoil and an ultimate power sharing agreement, Museveni simply jailed anyone who opposed him. At first this seemed to work but several months later the opposition resurfaced and it became apparent that the country was at a crossroads. Submit to the strongman or fight him.

Meanwhile, tourism sunk into near oblivion. And by mid-May I was predicting that Museveni was the new Mugabe and had successfully oppressed his country to his regime. But as it turned out it was a hiatus not a surrender and a month later demonstrations began, twice as strong as before. And it was sad, because they went on and on and on, and hundreds if not thousands of people were injured and jailed.

Finally towards the end of August a major demonstration seemed to alter the balance. And if it did so it was because Museveni simply wouldn’t believe what was happening.

I wish I could tell you the story continued to a happy ending, but it hasn’t, at least not yet. There is an uneasy calm in Ugandan society, one buoyed to some extent by a new voice in legislators that dares to criticize Museveni, that has begun a number of inquiries and with media that has even dared to suggest Museveni will be impeached. The U.S. deployment of 100 green berets in the country enroute the Central African Republic in October essentially seems to have actually raised Museveni’s popularity. So Uganda falters, and how it falls – either way – will dramatically alter the East African landscape for decades.

This is a global phenomena, of course, but it is the developing world like so much of Africa which suffers the most and is least capable of dealing with it. The year began with incessant reporting by western media of droughts, then floods, in a confused misunderstanding of what global warming means.

It means both, just as in temperate climates it means colder and hotter. With statistics that questions the very name “Developed World,” America is reported to still have a third of its citizens disputing that global warming is even happening, and an even greater percentage who accept it is happening but believe man is not responsible either for it occurring or trying to change it. Even as clear and obvious events happen all around them.

Global warming is pretty simple to understand, so doubters’ only recourse is to make it much more confusing than it really is. And the most important reason that we must get everyone to understand and accept global warming, is we then must accept global responsibilities for doing something about it. I was incensed, for example, about how so much of the media described the droughts in Africa as fate when in fact they are a direct result of the developed world’s high carbon emissions.

And the news continued in a depressing way with the very bad (proponents call it “compromised”) outcome of the Durban climate talks. My take was that even the countries most effected, the developed world, were basically bought off from making a bigger stink.

Environmentalists will argue, understandably, that this is really the biggest story and will remain so until we all fry. The problem is that our lives are measured in the nano seconds of video games, and until we can embrace a long view of humanity and that our most fundamental role is to keep the world alive for those who come after us, it won’t even make the top ten for too much longer.

This is a remarkable story that so little attention has been given. An obscure part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act essentially halved if not ultimately will end the wars in the eastern Congo which have been going on for decades.

These wars are very much like the fractional wars in Somalia before al-Shabaab began to consolidate its power, there. Numerous militias, certain ones predominant, but a series of fiefdoms up and down the eastern Congo. You can’t survive in this deepest jungle of interior Africa without money, and that money came from the sale of this area’s rich rare earth metals.

Tantalum, coltran more commonly said, is needed by virtually every cell phone, computer and communication device used today. And there are mines in the U.S. and Australia and elsewhere, but the deal came from the warlords in the eastern Congo. And Playbox masters, Sony, and computer wizards, Intel, bought illegally from these warlords because the price was right.

And that price funded guns, rape, pillaging and the destruction of the jungle. The Consumer Protection Agency, set up by the Dodd-Frank Act, now forbids these giants of technology from doing business in the U.S. unless they can prove they aren’t buying Coltran from the warlords. Done. War if not right now, soon over.

The semi-decade meeting of CITES occurred this March in Doha, Qatar, and the big fight of interest to me was over elephants. The two basic opposing positions on whether to downlist elephants from an endangered species hasn’t changed: those opposed to taking elephants off the list so that their body parts (ivory) could be traded believed that poaching was at bay, and that at least it was at bay in their country. South Africa has led this flank for years and has a compelling argument, since poaching of elephants is controlled in the south and the stockpiling of ivory, incapable of being sold, lessens the funds that might otherwise be available for wider conservation.

The east and most western countries like the U.S. and U.K. argue that while this may be true in the south, it isn’t at all true elsewhere on the continent, and that once a market is legal no matter from where, poaching will increase geometrically especially in the east where it is more difficult to control. I concur with this argument, although it is weakened by the fact that elephants are overpopulated in the east, now, and that there are no good strategic plans to do something about the increasing human/elephant conflicts, there.

But while the arguments didn’t change, the proponents themselves did. In a dramatic retreat from its East African colleagues, Tanzania sided with the south, and that put enormous strain on the negotiations. When evidence emerged that Tanzania was about the worst country in all of Africa to manage its poaching and that officials there were likely involved, the tide returned to normal and the convention voted to continue keeping elephants listed as an endangered species.

For the first time in history, an animal product (ground rhino horn) became more expensive on illicit markets than gold.

Rhino, unlike elephant, is not doing well in the wild. It’s doing wonderfully in captivity and right next to the wild in many private reserves, but in the wild it’s too easy a take. This year’s elevation of the value of rhino horn resulted in unexpectedly high poaching, and some of it very high profile.

This story isn’t all good, but mostly, because the Serengeti Highway project was shelved and that’s the important part. And to be sure, the success of stopping this untenable project was aided by a group called Serengeti Watch.

But after some extremely good and aggressive work, Serengeti Watch started to behave like Congress, more interested in keeping itself in place than doing the work it was intended to do. The first indication of this came when a Tanzanian government report in February, which on careful reading suggested the government was having second thoughts about the project, was identified but for some reason not carefully analyzed by Watch.

So while the highway is at least for the time being dead, Serengeti Watch which based on its original genesis should be as well, isn’t.

The ongoing and now seemingly endless transformation of Kenyan society and politics provoked by the widespread election violence of 2007, and which has led to a marvelous new constitution, is an ongoing top ten story for this year for sure. But more specifically, the acceptance of this new Kenyan society of the validity of the World Court has elevated the power of that controversial institution well beyond anyone’s expectations here in the west.

Following last year’s publication by the court of the principal accused of the crimes against humanity that fired the 2007 violence, it was widely expected that Kenya would simply ignore it. Not so. Politicians and current government officials of the highest profile, including the son of the founder of Kenya, dutifully traveled to The Hague to voluntarily participate in the global judicial process that ultimately has the power to incarcerate them.

The outcome, of course, remains to be seen and no telling what they’ll do if actually convicted. It’s very hard to imagine them all getting on an airplane in Nairobi to walk into a cell in Rotterdam.

But in a real switcheroo this travel to The Hague has even been spun by those accused as something positive and in fact might have boosted their political standing at home. And however it effects the specific accused, or Kenya society’s orientation to them, the main story is how it has validated a global institution’s political authority.