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Henry K Otafiire

The Politics of Aid: How The West Has Undermined Our Development

by Henry K Otafiire, Operation Kindness Uganda

For over 50 years, the development question has been an obligation of the west towards Africa. This of course has been fuelled by what Paul Collier – the Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Oxford has called Development biz and buzz narratives. He defines development buzz as work generated by rock stars, celebrities and NGOs. They project Africa as a doomed and cursed continent that can only develop with the help of aid provided to it by outsiders. This is the narrative of Live Aid and Bono, the story told to us immediately after BBC and CNN news reports of famine and conflict in places that, we are made to believe, just can’t get by without western charity.

On the other hand, we have the development biz which he describes as donors who continue to pump more money to charities to help Africa. They include multinational corporations, and foundations aided by World Bank and IMF.

These present the most appealing understanding of Africa in the idea of “Africa Rising”, which is defined by images of young people on bustling streets speaking on smart phones. “Africa Rising” stories have largely focused on young entrepreneurs innovating apps around improving technology, agriculture, health and other strategic sectors of the economy. These are mostly concentrated in urban and peri- urban centres like Kampala Lagos, Nairobi or Cape Town. They have cut out an image of the continent that is predestined to enjoy a long period of mid-to-high double -digit economic growth, rising incomes and an emerging middle class . These stories are often, as the Kenyan journalist Parselelo Kantai once put it “insidious little fictions manufactured by global corporate finance”.

Given these two dominant narratives propagated by the western media propaganda machinery, it is hard to imagine that more money is taken out of Africa than is put back in. Yet, British and African campaign groups, including Global Justice Now, released a report which found that, in 2015, much more money was taken out of Africa in the form of illegal extraction of natural resources, tax avoidance and spiraling interest on debt repayments than was “given” to the continent in the form of aid and grants.
It is therefore deceptive and misleading to think that our continent is dependent on the rest of the world. The truth of the matter is that it is the exploited continent whose natural resources are enriching a local and global elite at the expense of the vast majority of its citizens, and whose governments can do little about the illegal siphoning of revenue into tax havens.

I also found out a very disturbing information on War on Want report which revealed that 101 (mostly British) companies listed on the London Stock Exchange control a staggering $1.05 trillion (£820 billion) worth of resources in Africa in just five commodities: oil, gold, diamonds, coal and platinum. Twenty-five of those companies are incorporated in tax havens.

While our continent receives around $19 billion (£14 billion) in aid in the form of grants, $68 billion (£53 billion) is taken out in capital flight. The main culprits being multinational corporations and corrupt government officials with their syndicate of lobbyists, lawyers and financial experts with indefatigable academic credentials skilled in tax dodging.

The multi-national companies deliberately misreport the value of their imports or exports in order to reduce the tax they have to pay on them. Furthermore, these same companies repatriate huge monies in profits made in Africa to their home countries every year. Proceeds of the profit made on the continent is then returned as aid.

The situation is further worsened by Illegal logging, fishing and the trade in wildlife and plants with an estimated $29 billion (£22.6 billion) a year being stolen from the continent through these practices. But such activities are overshadowed by ostensibly good will initiatives like Giants Club Conservation and Tourism Investment Forum which portrays an image that the West is deeply concerned about such grave malpractices and it is their responsibility to fix them through International Conferences like one on illegal Wildlife trade recently organised by the British government which was recently attended President Museveni.

Then comes the World Economic Forum with its deceptive motto ”Committed to improving the state of the world” where world leaders and CEOs of the largest multinationals meet over wine to discuss how to make poverty history year in year out through their flagship reports and declarations. Needless to mention grand blue prints, empty and hollow speeches made at the UN generally Assembly by Presidents and an army of Celebrity Ambassadors on everything from diseases, poverty and Climate change who are completely detached with their constituents they purportedly speak for.

As Nicolas Opio a celebrated lawyer aptly put it during 2016 Operation Kindness Social Forum ‘World Economic Forum is a club of politicians and business moguls conniving against their citizens”
So it is no longer a secret that Africa is haemorrhaging billions every year to extractive industries, western tax havens and illegal logging and fishing. There must radical structural changes to promote economic policies that enable African countries to best serve the needs of their people rather than simply being cash cows for western corporations and governments.

The money given to Africa to help its “development” should instead be seen as a form of reparations for a history of colonization and ongoing domination that has left the African people almost as far from economic and social justice as they were when the colonial empires were around .
Recognizing the troubling role western governments and companies play in the impoverishment of Africa could serve as a starting point to reverse and confront an age old lazy media narrative that moralizes,scorns and insults Africans while keeping everyone in a state of ignorance.

Operation Kindness Uganda

25th June 2016: Community Action in Bwaise, Kampala

AntonettaA Girls Dream Deferred: Remembering Abducted Chibok Girls
by OK Zimbabwe member Antonetta Lovejoy Hamandishe

I am grateful to my parents and all other parents who have the courage to send daughters to school. I remember myself during those school going years, so innocent and full of positive aspirations and dreams. I am sure my dreams and hopes resonates well with some if not all of the kidnapped Chibok girls- to go to school and fulfill untamed and exciting teenage dreams. Today, I feel for these abducted innocent girls who are undoubtedly made to be wives of Bokoharam dissidents and dehumanized into suicide bombers. Today, 14 April 2016 marks exactly two years since the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls from their school in Chibok, Nigeria. While some of the girls managed to escape in the hours following that dreadful night of April 14, 2014, the fate of 219 remains unknown today. The kidnapping of these young women symbolizes this terrorist group’s wickedness. But the puzzle still remains; Did Nigeria and the rest of the world do enough to rescue these innocent girls? Are these girls suffering in captivity because they are girls? Would Boko Haram been keeping them if they were boys or even abducted them in the first place? Is this a sexuality fate for these girls? Come on world, today I call upon the Nigerian government, the regional and international community to do much more to ensure a safe rescue of these innocent African future leaders, scientists, innovators, mothers, leaders and beloved daughters. A current video showing some abducted girls should give everyone more courage not to give up and believe that hope endures. With their extremely brutal and homicidal doctrine of hate, these poor girls might be all that’s left for Boko Haram. In this light, I urge the powers that be to do much more decisively. My dream is that one day they will come home, finish their education and choose their futures for themselves.

Henry K Otafiire

Uganda’s emerging fossil-fuel industry at cross-roads

by OK Uganda Programmes Coordinator Henry K Otafiire

Uganda doesn’t spring to mind for most people when coming up with a list of the world’s oil-producing nations. But, in fact, 10 years ago more than two billions of barrels worth of oil were discovered in the landlocked nation, where nearly 40% of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day.

Since the oil discovery, many Ugandans have made the connection between oil, government revenues and how it has the potential to improve their lives, and that of the poor service delivery in much of rural Uganda. To them, oil is seen as a cash cow to save Uganda from its worst demons.

But it’s a connection that is over rated. Reports on ground indicate complete absence of corporate social responsibility on the part of contracted oil companies drilling the resource. The locals, and in particular those whose existence depends on local lakes and rivers, have suffered a lot.

Many local residents have been displaced from their land with little or no compensation. Most of them have been deriving their livelihood from fishing and farming. They are poor, but rather than benefitting from the discovery of oil near their homes, their source of survival hangs in balance. Where others see business opportunities, these locals see themselves as losers.

With countries like Tanzania and Mozambique home to major new oil and gas reserves, the prospect of massive new investments in Uganda’s energy sector has sparked debate between those who say the country has a right to use whatever resources it has and those who are pushing it to avoid high emissions growth for the sake of the planet.

Climate change should caution us about the dangers of the conventional economic idea that any kind of economic growth is good. It is ironic that, as the developed world rings in the end of fossil fuel era, Uganda is poised to begin it. It is, of course, about economic growth, development and money.

Uganda, like many African oil producing countries has been given a pass when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. In international climate talks, the ‘politically correct’ stance has been that, first developing countries did not cause this mess; second, they need to focus on building out energy access to their populations; and third, their poor are most vulnerable to the vagaries of climate change. So, as the ‘victim’, Uganda just like other African countries should be given free rein to grow carbon use.

Uganda is looking to build an oil refinery and huge oil pipeline from albertine region to Mombasa coast. This appetite to extract oil is driven by deeply entrenched local and international business entities with little regard for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), global carbon budgets and most importantly recently adopted COP 21 Paris agreement which calls for transition from fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy. Of course one has to wonder as this seems to be a dangerous energy path for the country.

So like many developing countries, Uganda faces two possible development pathways: one driven principally by renewable energy, or one pulled by the temptation of fossil fuels: oil and gas. The idea of infinite economic growth, which proves so attractive to economists, investors and financiers. It is premised on the assumption that there is an infinite supply of earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being exploited beyond the point it can replenish itself.

On the other hand, the shift to renewable energy resonates with a sustainable mode of economic thinking. It should teach Uganda a lesson that oil and gas reserves will create short-term booms, but these can collapse as many oil-producing countries are discovering in the face of plummeting oil prices.
Of course, if we consider how developed countries have attained their development through the use of fossil fuels, oil and gas development may seem an automatic path to go for Uganda too. However, this assumption teaches a simple lesson which is fundamental. We need to debunk the myth Ugandans are holding that becoming an oil producing nation guarantees a rocket ride to a modern future.

Our country must commit itself to international legally binding Paris accord which calls for real action to drastically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and transition to clean and renewable energy by 2050.

JumaSupport Small and Medium Scale Local Enterprises, Not Multinational Corporations
by OK South Sudan member Juma Keneth

Just two weeks ago, South Sudanese activists allied to Operation Kindness sat down to lay out their work plan for 2016/2017. The issue of unemployment emerged as one the major challenge as a result of neoliberal globalization on the country. It is easy to see why. Of the approximately 10 Million South Sudanese population, nearly 70% are unemployed. Nearly 78% of the total population is illiterate. Of the 20,000 graduates annually, less than half are absorbed into the formal job sector. These situation is dangerous and troublesome and therefore requires collective approach to overcome it.

These statistics are worrying especially at this time when the country is facing serious economic crisis which have seen the South Sudanese Pound struggling against the US dollar and the ever increasing volatile security situation throughout the country. It is therefore imperative for the policy makers to diversify and find a way of creating employment opportunities for the youth and women in the country.

The coming of First Vice President Dr. Riak Machar to Juba on the 26th/April/2016 and the subsequent swearing in and the formation of the transitional government of national unity (TGNU) is a serious step towards implementation of the August, IGAD brokered peace, Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCISS). The agreement chapter IV (7) provides for an Enterprise Development Fund. Including development of Micro, Small and Medium scale enterprises (MSMEs) among the rural farmers and the establishment of a Youth Enterprise Development Fund.

This is quite impressive given the fact that over 60% of South Sudanese working population are in the informal sector. The majority of these operate Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) employing less than 250 people. Globally the life span of these enterprises are rather short, with less than one-half of the start-ups surviving for more than five years and only a fractions developing into high-growth firms which makes important contribution to job creations. In South Sudan, the death rate is even higher, with over 70% of start-ups not surviving to celebrate their first birthdays.

SMEs have the potential to facilitate rapid economic growth and be sources of jobs. They are quicker in responding to new opportunities than large firms thereby pioneering and developing new markets. Besides, small scale local businesses benefit the population directly as opposed to large multinational corporations draining resources out of the country.

They require less capital to set up, yet their labor- intensive and expansive nature means that they create millions of jobs. SMEs are responsible for the economic boom in the Asian tiger countries of Malaysia, China, Singapore, Japan and Sri-Lanka. In Japan SMEs are considered the backbone of the economy.

SMEs have the potential of rising to 90% of the total enterprise in the country employing over 5 million people. But, they need to be supported. This can be through setting up Micro-Finance Credit facilities at lower levels and if need be specialized Development Banks, to provide low interest rates to those seeking to set up such enterprises.

Fortunately, the Agreement on Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCIS) Specifically in chapter IV set up for this function, establishment of Micro Financial Institutions, establishment of Women Enterprise Development Fund, Youth Enterprise Development Fund and the provision of subsidized credit and capacity building of the more marginalized members of society.

Juma can be contacted on +211955887207 or jkeneth57@gmail.com

Henry K Otafiire

The health benefits of breaking free from fossil fuels

by OK Uganda Programmes Coordinator Henry K Otafiire

Statistics can impose a bracing clarity on the usually murky world of politics. It can make things simple. Not easy, but simple.

Globally, an estimated 400,000 deaths are caused each year by climate change, while air pollution from coal, oil and gas accounts for another seven million premature deaths annually. This is according to Inter-governmental panel on climate change synthesis report.

Imagine you wake up one morning to catch up with the hustle and bustle of the city. Streets ordinarily chocked with traffic are strangely quite. The usual crowds of office workers, vendors, peddlers congregating outside building entrances are missing, and the sidewalks are almost empty-empty save for a few pedestrians briskly walking through the street most with faces half-covered in masks.

This looks like a script from a Hollywood movie issuing ‘a red alert’, but unlike the phrase suggests, this isn’t a city under siege. This is a city under smog- dangerous levels of it. To many, this sounds like an imaginary script from a fiction novel. It’s far from the truth. But in China it’s already happening. With an air quality index (AQI) of over 250, more than twenty times the level recommended by the world health Organization, the city has been shrouded in thick sepia-toned air. From street level the tops of skyscraper seemed to disappear, blurring into the dull grey sky. In some areas visibility reportedly dropped to only 200 meters. But while this was the capital’s first declared Red alert, it wasn’t the worst smog it had seen. Just days before the AQI levels soared to more than 1,000, and the city had seemed to disappear entirely.

Situations like these are projected and likely to happen in countries like Uganda that have large stranded assets of fossil-fuels, if we do not divest. Fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—are world’s primary source of energy, accounting for 85% of current fuel use. Some of the costs of using these fuels are obvious, such as the cost of labor to mine for coal or drill for oil, of labor and materials to build energy-generating plants, and of transportation of coal and oil to the plants. These costs are included in our electricity bills or in the purchase price of petrol and diesel for cars.

However, the market price of fossil-fuels doesn’t reflect the true cost. They only seem like the cheapest option because the price we pay doesn’t account for all of the cost of burning fossil fuels. Your electricity bill doesn’t reflect the cost of your asthmatic father’s visit to the emergency room. Your price at the pump doesn’t reflect the cost the financial and emotional cost of your mother’s heart attack. These costs are beyond our balance sheets and they extend to missed work days, hospital visits, and deaths not only cause suffering, but they handicap our economy, increase insurance premiums, and contribute to an unsustainable growth in health care costs.

Clean and quality air is essential to life and good health. 30 years ago, health professionals called for an end to tobacco funding on the grounds that it contradicted their commitment to ‘do no harm’. It is against this background that health organizations are warning that unhealthy investments in dirty energy are incompatible with their moral and professional responsibilities.

Leading physicians and medical scientists are warning that it’s time to divest from fossil fuel industry-an industry whose very business model threatens to completely undermine human and planetary health. They warn that our inaction on climate change will undermine the last half century of health gains, but also highlight that adaptation and mitigation actions will produce unprecedented health benefits.

Divesting will send an important message to the world that climate change is real and calls for immediate preventative action through drastic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and rapid transition to a zero carbon world.

Such changes may be viewed as disruptive and difficult, but are necessary and can bring enormous benefits to human health and well-being both in the short-term and in the coming years and decades.
So the question is divesting completely from fossil fuels good for health? Obviously, the answer is yes. It is true that other fossil fuels will be needed, for the short term and medium term, to meet basic current human needs and promote health, in many parts of the world. But there is a bigger picture to consider. After all, there is no place to move should we degrade our planet to the point where it can no longer meet our needs and sustain our economies. It is this bigger picture, the most important thing to do is to promote clean, safe and affordable sources of energy that are available to everyone.

If the fossil-fuel industry is not advancing this particular goal, then there is good reason, on public health grounds, for divestment by public organizations and indeed all investors.