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Is Africa neglecting its farmers?

The Question: Is Africa neglecting ? its ? farmers?

 

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Anansi: Bouteflika, the secrets ?of a long political life

 

There was never any doubt that Abdelaziz Bouteflika would emerge as the winner of Algeria’s presidential election in April. And it was correctly predicted that few Algerians would bother to vote. The country’s so-called ‘décideurs’ in the intelligence service again showed that they had learnt the lesson of 1991, when elections almost produced a parliament dominated by Islamists. That poll had been stopped in mid-track, plunging the country into a civil war which is now almost, but not quite, over. Since those days, the same group of men have been adept at preparing elections that produce desired results.??

 

Having changed the constitution to abolish the two-term limit for presidents, Bouteflika looks likely to keep the top job until his death, barring incapacitation or a falling-out with his powerful allies in military intelligence. In similar vein, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Muammar Qadhafi of Libya have managed to avoid removal from office, the almost-inevitable consequences being the alienation of people from politics and the growth of corruption.??

 

Briefly, in the 1990s, Algeria looked like it might find its way towards representative politics. The murderous confrontation between the military-backed authorities and the Islamists shook the state to its foundations and, ironically, created the space in which political parties could mobilise and promote their visions of what a future political dispensation might look like. But critics say, with some justification, that the parties were short-sighted and often manipulated. Identity issues, big egos and the weakness of the democratic tradition all tended to trip up the movement towards representative politics, which in the event was not even tested. The military opted to put a lid on everything, consigning the parties and political institutions to the margins.

 

??Many Algerians credit Bouteflika with having restored peace through the amnesties he offered to those Islamic militants who surrendered. But security has never been Algeria’s only problem, being as it is a predominantly youthful country with poor-quality education and a severe shortage of jobs.??

 

For the young, hope is still in very short supply. The refrain that “Algeria is rich, but Algerians are poor” is repeated time and again. No one expects the leader to wave a magic wand and solve all problems, but some important work has not begun. True, the government is investing in much-needed infrastructure and the country’s hydrocarbons wealth has hugely bolstered state coffers, but this is not enough for a country of 32m people who desperately need a better-functioning economy. The urge to total control exhibited by Bouteflika and his backers leaves little space for independent initiative. The result is a country whose population has abandoned politics and whose the young die in their hundreds trying to reach Europe on rickety boats.

Is Africa's population growing too fast?

Ndirangu, Mwaura, Author of Kenya Today

 

“Populations are so dispersed that it’s very difficult for innovation to occur”

 

Most economic development comes from an increase in population. When you study nations like ancient Egypt and you ask yourself, why did these people develop so much while the rest were still living in the Stone Age, the first thing you discover is that the population congestion around places like the River Nile or the Euphrates, or the Indus River in India, forced them to come up with solutions to all the problems they created, because necessity is the mother of invention. It’s the same thing with Africa. In Africa you find the populations are so dispersed over a wide area that it’s very difficult for any kind of innovation to occur. We have a very rigid border system in Africa. My attitude is that people should be able to move from wherever to wherever without any complication, without any trouble, because immigrants help economies grow. 

Chris ?Ogedengbe?, Director of programme support and services, Population Council, Nigeria

 

“We cannot ?meet the nutritional needs of these people”

 

The current total fertility rate of Nigeria is 5.7 children per woman. At that rate, the population will double in 15-20 years, from 130m to 260m. In the northern region, girls get married at a tender age; at 15, 70% of them are married, many to older men, and so they become vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. If the population of Nigeria doubles, would it able to provide basic things for the people, especially vulnerable people aged under 15 and over 65? We cannot meet the nutritional needs of these people. Even to get the fertility rate down from 5.7% to 4.7% will take a lot of effort on the part of government, NGOs and international agencies. There will be a population explosion. There is no way we can disassociate politics from our way of life, and population is a factor. The issue is the quality of the population. If the quality is high, definitely we will have a more manageable democracy. 

 

Jean-Pierre Guengant?, Resident representative, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, Burkina Faso  

 

“Economic development will be very difficult to realise”

 

The population in Sub-Saharan Africa increased from 100m in 1900 to 770m in 2000 and may reach 2bn by 2050. Such unprecedented growth, driven by high fertility, has been a strong handicap to having the human capital of good quality needed for development. The poorest have on average six children or more. The urban classes, better educated, about three. The problem is that nobody seems ready to say: “Look, having too many children will put all of us back.” At the present pace of very slow fertility decline, it will take 100 years or more to achieve what Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia have achieved over the past 50 years: demographic transition and women’s reproductive rights. Continued high population growth in a global context of recession definitely makes economic development, education and health for all very difficult to realise.

Should there be a United States of Africa?

 

Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem?, Deputy director for Africa, UN Millennium Campaign

 

??“The freedom ?of people to move, work and trade”

 

In the age of globalisation, the bigger the better, and the idea of African unity is not new. I am interested in the basic infrastructure that reclaims Africa for Africans, in terms of the freedom of our people to move, settle, work and trade amongst ourselves. Africa can begin to take the firm steps that will lead eventually to an AU government or a federation of African states in the future. Part of the reform necessary is to elect a pan-African parliament on universal adult suffrage of all Africans, the way European elections are held. That way, pan-Africanism ceases to be a conference matter and becomes part of the domestic agenda. President Muammar el Qadhafi has not invented pan-Africanism, he is only lending his political support and financial resources to say, ‘let us put our money where our mouth is and move this process forward’.

 

Nkosana Moyo?, Partner, Actis

 

??“The fundamental rationale has to be an economic one”

 

I think there’s got to be a two-speed approach. States that are ready up front can begin the process and allow a mechanism which clearly articulates the internal self-governance disciplines required by a state before it is admitted to such a club. The fundamental rationale has to be an economic one. Quite a lot of African states could be considered unviable entities. When you start looking at the economics of viability in a globalised world, you cannot help but be driven to an economic amalgamation of one sort or another. I think the problem at the moment is the steam and the emotion that come from personalising it and asking the question of whether Muammar el Qadhafi is the appropriate party at this time to be motivating such an initiative. As long as there is clarity about what countries need to do before they can be admitted to such an arrangement, Qadhafi could be the catalyst.

 

Yao Graham?, Coordinator, Third World Network??

 

“The difference is about how to achieve it”

 

Africa’s people predominantly support a United States of Africa. Among Africa’s politicians the difference is about how to achieve it. The reality is that even a ‘Now!’ stance requires steps that the gradualists will accept. Even as African leaders are fiddling, particular forms of unity and fragmentation are being imposed by external influences, for example by the EU through the its Economic Partnership Agreements, which are completely undermining the logic and fabric of Africa’s home-grown conceptions and approaches to unity. Place alongside this the histrionics and impractical stances of Muammar el Qadhafi, the unpredictable champion of ‘Unity Now!’, and it becomes clear that the issue is not whether a United States of Africa is needed, but rather the absence of the critical mass of the type of political leadership needed to achieve it.

Aid in Crisis: Who is helping whom?

International aid agencies are under attack – rich countries are cutting their budgets and African governments are questioning their motives 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 February 2012 15:42

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Absolute monarchs and ?the freedom of the press

 

Bouba DialloMy children, it is with great sadness that I explain to you why I can no longer carry on with my work.?

 

It is with a heavy heart that I sit at this table, not to write news stories as is normally the case, but to tell you something in confidence: it is no longer feasible for me to carry on working in journalism, no matter how honourable people around the world think this profession is.

 

?In Niger, as in most parts of Africa, this job is hard, very hard. Working for the press is tantamount to being a prisoner. We are viewed by governments and lobby groups alike as pestilential spoilsports. This could be because we try to influence the expenditures of our officials in the public interest and that this is simply not acceptable to African leaders. Even when they reach power through the ballot box, our leaders are impervious to good governance and to any criticism by a journalist. Once in power, they become absolute monarchs. They believe themselves to be above the law and claim power over life and death.

 

So-called democrats can send a journalist to jail or have him beaten up for a misplaced comma. Pius Ndjawé has been arrested 126 times by President Paul Biya’s regime in Cameroon. Others less fortunate have been killed, as was the case in Burkina Faso with Norbert Zongo or in The Gambia with Haidara Daida. In some countries in the continent, reporters have simply gone missing, notably in Eritrea and Ethiopia.??

 

The situation may not be quite as alarming in Niger, but last year, eight of our journalists were in prison and one was in exile. This year we have already seen four journalists jailed in Niamey, one of whom is being detained for two months. In addition, on 21 February two Nigerien citizens were arrested and held in custody for having drawn a caricature of our president. Charged with having insulted the head of state, after seven days in detention they were eventually released. Niger’s Higher Communication Council – a supposedly independent administrative authority meant to “guarantee and assure the freedom and the protection of the press” – has become an instrument of repression. Getting access to information from the public administration is next to impossible.?

 

Another factor is the sheer difficulty of survival for our newspapers. As the papers have no financial support, they have no economic independence.

 

?Part of the blame, too, can be placed on us journalists. Many entered the job as fortune hunters and so the basic rules of the job are blithely ignored, leaving real journalists ashamed to be associated with the business. We are faced with a choice between mediocre content or empty newspapers.?

 

After so many years of hard work, my hopes have been dashed. I wanted to bring about change, to eradicate the growing ignorance in our society and to encourage the exchange of ideas to achieve development. But I have reached the end of the road, which is why I ask you to understand. Please reassure yourselves, my dear children, writing has become a drug for me, so I can write something else…??

 

Your loving father. 

Are biofuels good for Africa?

Richard Morgan?, Chief Executive Officer, ?Sun Biofuels, United Kingdom??

 

"Biofuels can help Africa to meet its energy needs"

 

The continent of Africa probably has more arable land available than anywhere other than Brazil and Argentina. There are large parts of the middle of the continent that are so dry that jatropha probably won’t grow there but, potentially, Africa has a lot of land that could in theory produce a lot more food, a lot more intensively, and with the potential to produce significant amounts of biofuels. Provided the balance between those two needs is met, then there’s a big opportunity for Africa to contribute not only to its own energy needs, but also as a net exporter of energy. ?We believe there will be a very positive soil stabilisation effect, improvements to watercourse sustainability, and positive contributions to greenhouse gas balances from jatropha. The trees will have a lifespan of 20 or 30 years and, over that period, the use of water and chemicals, fertiliser and fossil fuels (in terms of machinery) will be quite low. ?There are issues with access to land, and this is the same for biofuels as it is for large-scale agriculture operations. It’s a political process. It’s not something that should be bulldozed through simply because there’s a demand for energy and investors out there with money, it doesn’t work like that. Land is acquired by legal processes that involve consultation with the communities that live on the land. Unless they want that land allocated, it’s extremely unlikely that I or anybody else will be allowed to operate. Land title and land law are massively complicated and bureaucratic, and that is one of the barriers I see to investment, expansion and intensification of agriculture in many African countries.

 

Bakari Nyari, ?Vice-chairman of the Regional Advisory and Information Network Systems (RAINS), Ghana??

 

"We need a much stronger voice for local communities"

 

The impact of biofuels on Africa depends on the approach. If the focus is export-oriented, biofuel projects can have negative fallouts, but if it fulfils the energy needs of the local community, then production does have its place. ?The general perception is that agrofuel crops do well on marginal lands, but what we are seeing in Ghana is that these so-called marginal lands are in use by local communities. Some may be used for grazing, others may be lying fallow to allow for regeneration and subsequent use, but often local communities are dispersed from these lands in favour of large-scale agrofuel projects. Much of the value of the investment, and the resulting exports, end up with the local elite who negotiated the land deal, seeding dispute and division in villages. ?Agrofuel farmers get greater support from local government agricultural officers, diverting their attention away from other more traditional crops. Jatropha, which has traditionally been used in Africa as a hedge, is now being planted en masse for agro-fuels. But farmers find there is no alternative use for jatropha seeds and in addition, some are now getting half the price for their seeds that they expected when they planted them. ?In Africa, we need to internalise our sources of energy. We should be cautious of situations where the market element, rather than self-sufficiency, is the driving force behind the choice of agricultural investment. When it comes to new agrofuel projects in Africa, we need to build a stronger voice for local communities, who need to have the opportunity to carefully measure the impact of potential biofuel production and understand the realities

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