Archive for September, 2007
by AGavin on September 24th, 2007
Source: IDEX Online
(September 24, ‘07, 13:56 IDEX Online Staff Reporter)
Independent diamond miners, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, are operating unregulated in Venezuela, according to an article published Sunday in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The miners are operating without mining permits, while violating environmental laws, selling diamonds to smugglers and not paying taxes. They are taking advantage of the government’s apparent failure to regulate the country’s diamond industry.
The article cited concern expressed by industry watchdogs that Venezuela’s noncompliance with Kimberley Process will encourage politically unstable African nations to default as well.
“You hear people from governments saying if Venezuela’s not going to crack down on this, then why should we crack down on ourselves,” said Ian Smillie, research coordinator for Partnership Africa Canada, a nongovernmental organization based in Ottawa.
The lack of regulation has forced diamond producers and buyers in Venezuela to ship the diamonds through Brazil to Guyana, where they can easily obtain certificates.
Although, as the Chronicle reports, Venezuela has not issued a single export certificate to its diamond producers in about two years, the South American nation in June reaffirmed its commitment to KP standards and is still a full-fledged member of the Process.
At the recent Amsterdam Presidents Meeting in June, World Diamond Council President Eli Izhakoff noted that, after months of ignoring repeated requests from the Kimberley Process, Venezuela responded after being warned that it faced expulsion from the scheme.
by AGavin on September 24th, 2007
Source: IDEX Magazine
For much of last year, the industry was focused on the issue of conflict diamonds, and with good reason. Despite the internal changes that were taking place in the diamond trade – the development of the Kimberley Process and the implementation of the System of Warranties – the public’s attention was drawn to the issue by the Hollywood drama Blood Diamond. A great deal was said about the movie both prior to and following its release, not only in the consumer press but also in the trade, which was no bad thing. After all, for a period of time in the 1990s, diamonds were complicit in fueling unspeakable tragedies throughout Africa, but especially in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Those countries are still paying the price for what happened to them. Liberia has only just been allowed to join the Kimberley Process after sanctions on its diamond trade were lifted by the United Nations and more recently by the European Union, while Sierra Leone is trying to get back on its feet.
Within the industry, the ongoing vigilance of the Kimberley Process is helping to make diamond exports more transparent and exporters more accountable. Throughout the pipeline, from mine to retail, systems are in place to ensurethat diamonds can no longer be responsible for bringing about pain, suffering, and misery.
Although none of these regulations are 100 percent ‘safe’ and although some conflict stones, mostly from a small pocket of the Ivory Coast, are still slipping through the net of regulations, there has been an improvement in the way that the trade is conducted. While it would be glib to say that the ‘problem’ has been ‘solved,’ it is under control and will hopefully improve even further; however, an extremely close eye needs to be kept on the issue.
It would seem that the time has come to look beyond this one subject that has been dominating industry gatherings and meetings for such a long time now. At the recent WDC conference in Jerusalem, De Beers Managing Director Gareth Penny did exactly that in his keynote address. Among the many topics addressed in his “Living up to Diamonds,” speech, Penny touched on the concepts of communities, especially with regard to artisanal and alluvial miners and the environment, with specific reference to ecosystem destruction and pollution. These are, he believes, issues that are going to hit the industry hard and issues that must be addressed.
With his words in mind, IDEX Magazine decided to take a look at some of these subjects to examine exactly what is taking place and to see just how the industry is countering some of the potentially harmful effects of its activities.
by AGavin on September 21st, 2007
HARARE (AFP) - Seventeen Zimbabwean police officers have been arrested on charges of corruption and trading in diamonds while guarding a mine in the country’s eastern district, police said Tuesday. Police spokesman Oliver Mandipaka said three of the suspects were found with 30 diamonds when they were arrested last Saturday. The other 14 had on them cash ranging from 144,000 Zimbabwe dollars dollars (4,800 US dollars) to 45.6 million Zimbabwe dollars which they could not account for.
dollars (4,800 US dollars) to 45.6 million Zimbabwe dollars which they could not account for. “The Zimbabwe Republic Police wishes to confirm the arrest of 17 police officers on suspicion of having illegally dealt in diamonds or alternatively engaging in corrupt activities at Chiadzwa diamond site in Manicaland,” Mandipaka told the state-run Herald.
“The offences were committed during their tour of duty and the members who chose the criminal path were arrested on September 15,” he said. As well as facing disciplinary hearings, the “errant members” would appear in court to answer criminal charges, said Mandipaka.
According to central bank governor Gideon Gono, Zimbabwe is losing 40-50 million US dollars every week through the smuggling of precious minerals.
by AGavin on September 19th, 2007
Source: Africa News
Despite considerable natural resources and business opportunities on the African continent, millions of Africans still live under the poverty line. Microfinancing is perceived as an efficient weapon against poverty. Its aim is to empower the poor and enable them to have a starting capital from which they can develop their own business.AfricaNews interviewed Guillermo Salcedo, Oikocredit Microfinance Manager on the subject. Oikocredit is a worldwide organisation operating in the development and microfinancing sectors with office in Africa, Latin American, Central and Eastern Europe and Asia. Here are excerpts from the interview with Guillermo
AfricaNews: What is the role of micro finance in the development of Africa? How does it make a difference?
Guillermo Salcedo (GS): Similar to other developing countries and regions worldwide, micro finance in Africa is contributing to greater access, inclusion and opportunities for the largely marginalised poor.
Access to credit and financial services in general, such as savings, money transfers and micro insurance is of great importance to everyday economic life. Micro finance makes possible such access tailored to meet the needs and capacity of low–income families and micro–entrepreneurs. With increasing access and outreach of financial services, the progressive inclusion of traditionally marginalized people and sectors into the mainstream economy and society can be achieved, as well as the empowerment of such disadvantaged groups, including women. Through access to financial services for the poor, opportunities for a better life can be created:
-Opportunities of self–employment by starting a small business or of creating jobs for the unemployed with the growing of small and micro businesses; -Opportunities to improve family income and help cover essential or emergency needs such as health and education for the children.
Despite such potential and desired results of microfinance, it must be recognized that African reality has proved in many ways to be more challenging than in other continents as poverty seems to be deeper and more difficult to eradicate and diseases such as AIDS and malaria continue to have significant impact on families, children, institutions and organisations posing greater challenges to the potential contributions of micro finance initiatives. It is also clear that there are other perhaps greater needs (health, education, basic services and infrastructure) other than small credits or financial services, for which micro finance does not have an answer or solution. More
by AGavin on September 17th, 2007
Source: All Africa
Sierra Leone’s opposition All People’s Congress (APC) has taken power by winning both presidential and parliamentary elections. National Electoral Commission officials have confirmed that the APC’s candidate, Ernest Bai Koroma, has prevailed in the country’s presidential election, agencies reported today. Reports from the BBC and Reuters quoted the commission as saying Koroma had won 54.6 percent of the vote, against Vice-President Solomon Berewa’s 45.4 percent.
The APC won the parliamentary election last month. Koroma received the highest number of votes in the first round of presidential balloting, but not enough to secure election in one round. He and Berewa, the candidate of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party, faced off in a second round on September 8. Berewa was the chosen successor of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, who is stepping down after serving the maximum two terms as head of state. He went into the race the favourite. Koroma has never held elective office. He was resoundingly beaten by Kabbah in the last election in 2002. However, he is seen by observers as having benefited from the government’s failure to deliver social services. The APC made substantial gains in local government elections in 2004
by AGavin on September 15th, 2007
FREETOWN, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Sierra Leone’s ruling party said on Saturday it would seek a court injunction to prevent any more results from a tense presidential run-off being published because it said those announced so far were not credible.
With over three-quarters of votes counted from last week’s run-off poll, opposition candidate Ernest Bai Koroma of the All People’s Congress (APC) has a commanding lead with 60 percent.
His rival, Vice-President Solomon Berewa of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), trails by some 20 points.
“We are filing an injunction … at the high court,” SLPP spokesman Victor Reider told Reuters, adding he wanted the court to stop the National Electoral Commission (NEC) from publishing any more results.
“We are doing this over discrepancies in the figures which have been announced regarding the results of the run-off elections,” he said.
An NEC spokeswoman denied the SLPP claims and said it would continue to publish results as it got them.
The polls are seen as a test of the former British colony’s recovery from a 1991-2002 civil war, one of modern Africa’s most brutal in which 50,000 people were killed and children were kidnapped, drugged and forced to fight.
They were the first since United Nations peacekeepers left two years ago.
President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who is standing down under the constitution after two terms, is backing Berewa. Were Koroma to win it would mark the first peaceful transfer of power to an opposition party since independence.
Some SLPP supporters say the NEC is deliberately withholding results from the ruling party’s southern and eastern strongholds. Armed police had to disperse protesters who gathered outside the NEC offices on Saturday holding up placards demanding “fair results”.
Clashes during the campaign period raised tensions in the West African country but election observers have so far commended the NEC’s efforts as broadly transparent and credible.
They have, however, expressed concern over localised reports of ballot stuffing, fraud and intimidation and the NEC has vowed to invalidate results from all polling stations where turnout is higher than 100 percent.
NEC chief Christiana Thorpe said on Thursday the authorities were investigating reports of irregularities and complaints from both political parties and that no new results would be announced before Monday.
by AGavin on September 10th, 2007
WHEN fighting erupted at the end of August between the Congolese army and a renegade general, Laurent Nkunda, who proclaims himself the saviour of Congo’s Tutsi minority, alarm bells began to ring all over the region: not least because neighbouring Rwanda, which is comparatively tiny but has become confident, muscular and assertive, was once again implicated. Unless governments of all the region’s countries co-operate to dampen the flames—with help from the UN, whose 17,000 troops in Congo are the body’s biggest peacekeeping force in the world—the conflict could reignite, and spread.
Congolese history has had a tragic way of repeating itself. In the east of that huge and ramshackle country, the continuing presence of Hutu rebels—originally from across the border in Rwanda—has twice served as a justification for Rwandan government troops to invade north-eastern Congo. They accuse the rebels of masterminding the genocide of 1994, when some 800,000 Rwandans, mainly Tutsis, were killed in a few months by their Hutu compatriots. Three years after that horror, it was Rwandan government soldiers who brought a Congolese guerrilla leader, Laurent Kabila, to power in Congo, toppling Mobutu Sese Seko, who had pillaged the country for more than 30 years, and massacring tens of thousands of fleeing Hutus along the way. A second similar intervention a year later helped ignite another even worse bout of war that lasted another five years, drawing in forces from eight countries and leaving some 4m people dead.
Last year things seemed at last to be improving. After Laurent Kabila’s son Joseph won an election, Congo’s first proper one for more than 40 years, he promised as a priority to bring peace to Congo’s troubled east. In January this year, in an apparent breakthrough in regional diplomacy, Rwanda’s government helped him broker a deal to make everyone happy.
Thousands of fighters loyal to General Nkunda were inducted into special mixed brigades as a first step towards ending the rogue general’s three-year insurgency. The special force was to pursue the Rwandan Hutu rebels who still remained in Congo and whose disarmament and repatriation were a previous condition for Rwanda’s troops to withdraw. But Mr Kabila’s government in Kinshasa, far away to the west, has failed to meet it.
“When they struck this deal, the insurgency was only in a little corner of the province,” says Léon Barienga, head of North Kivu’s provincial assembly. “But then Nkunda was able to enlarge his territory, and the killings and rapes, this whole nightmare, started.” Mixed-brigade operations against Hutu rebels deteriorated into a campaign of terror against civilians that has so far forced more than 200,000 Congolese in the area to flee from their homes.
A few weeks ago the Congolese army suspended operations by the hybrid force and said it would be replaced by regular army brigades. But it was already too late. General Nkunda has emerged stronger than before. He has used government money for salaries to replenish his supplies. He has deployed his forces throughout the province in strategic places that he had not controlled before, including supply routes on the border with Rwanda. The UN has promised to help Congo’s pretty ineffective army with logistics, but will not fight on its side.
In an effort to stem the slide towards war, Rwanda’s foreign minister, Charles Murigande, flew to Kinshasa, the first such visit in three years. But the two countries are still far from seeing eye to eye on security along their common border. Their governments agreed to ask the UN to increase its peacekeepers’ patrols there. But the Congolese did so for fear that Rwandan troops are already crossing over into Congo. And as a quid pro quo, the Rwandans once more got the Congolese to promise to hunt down and round up the Rwandan Hutu rebels.
The talks failed to address General Nkunda at all. At present there is no framework for negotiating with him. Congo’s government evidently wants to bludgeon him into submission. Will the Rwandans let that happen? “He has friends in Rwanda,” says Pastor Mwendapole, his chief ideologue. “If things blow up here, do you really believe that Rwanda is going to stand there with its arms crossed? They’ll come.” If he is right, it is grim news for Congo—and for all its eastern peoples.
by AGavin on September 7th, 2007
Source: All Africa
If the voters had produced a clear winner in Sierra Leone’s national elections on August 11, there probably wouldn’t be many editorials and commentaries quite like this one.
Then, millions voted for a new president and national assembly in only the second elections since a 10-year civil war devastated the West African country. It was only the audacious intervention of the British military in 2001 that helped rout and disarm perhaps the most vicious militia to ever roam the continent; but not before they had committed some of the most macabre crimes imaginable, including hacking off people’s hands, apparently to stop them from voting.
Over the past six years, Sierra Leone has been mostly out of the news as it went on the mend. Kimberly Process
Neighbours like Liberia also found peace (electing Africa’s first woman head of state); a semblance of normality returned to national discourse; efforts have been made to hunt down and prosecute ringleaders of the civil war, including former President Charles Taylor; international human rights activists bullied diamond merchants into signing the Kimberly Process, which criminalises the so-called conflict diamonds, while Hollywood has also weighed in, with a blockbuster movie, Blood Diamond that highlighted the hand of Western businessmen in fuelling the conflict. Last month’s election was supposed to be the culmination of a process of reconciliation that was both unprecedented and surprising.
The poll was conducted by the Sierra Leoneans. Many observers were surprised at both the high turn-out, as well as the civility of the campaigns. Vice-President Solomon Berewa and opposition leader Ernest Bai Koroma garnered the most votes in the first round of balloting to succeed Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who is constitutionally barred from re-election, but because no one passed the 55 per cent test, the two will tussle it out in a second round today.
However, it appears as if the optimism about Sierra Leone - and what it can teach Africa - came a month too early. In the days since the first round of balloting, there has been rising tension, fist-fights between rival supporters from the two largest parties, and accusations that the vice president was re-arming one of the country’s most feared militias. All this is in stark contrast to the almost festive atmosphere before the first round of voting.
The setbacks have been so jarring that President Tejan Kabbah threatened to take drastic measures, including banning political rallies. The rival supporters have maintained an uneasy truce, although the words between them are still virulent. While Sierra Leone’s latest chapter is disturbing, it is not really surprising. Too often, ‘democracy architects’ are quick to equate regular elections to democracy, which only makes a bad situation worse in many African countries.
These democracy projects make the holding of an election the be-all and end-all of nation building. Unfortunately, the main sponsors, the United Nations and especially the US, often fail to appreciate the fragile nature of states that have just emerged from traumas like genocide or civil war. Voters will probably be euphoric for a short while, but quickly revert to form, as the pressures that spawned the original conflicts manifest in different forms.
The sectarian violence in Iraq and the flare-up of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo are just two examples of countries with democratically elected parliaments, and barely functional governments. Part of the problem is that the players in any new post-conflict dispensation are often hewn from the conflict-fabric.
In Sierra Leone for example, Mr Koroma is fronted by the old guard of the All People’s Congress (APC), which is implicated in the country’s mismanagement. Indeed, most leading candidates for elections to the national assembly are the same old faces accused of corruption and nepotism. Mineral-rich Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world, and people are more desperate to get jobs and electricity than to get their man into State House.
The irony is even if today ends peacefully, Sierra Leone might get more of the same old treatment.
by AGavin on September 5th, 2007
Source: Council on Foreign Relations
“We’re not happy,” exhorts a popular song in Sierra Leone, the Baw Waw Society’s “Man Dem No Gladi.” Those are “the most popular words of dissent” in Sierra Leone, writes a young blogger there. Other songs label politicians “Tu Fut Arata,” or two-legged rats (Reuters). In a country with a young, largely illiterate population, music was one of the most potent campaign tools ahead of the August 12 presidential and parliamentary elections (ElectionGuide). The public responded with a heavy turnout under mostly peaceful conditions (UN News Service) as vote counting continues. The considerable work of elevating a war-ravaged society remains for newly elected leaders.
Sierra Leone, which ranks second to last on the UN Human Development Index, still suffers from the aftermath of an eleven-year civil war that ended in 2002. Child soldiers were the engine that drove the conflict. Now that it’s over, their opportunities—and those of the rest of the youth population—are limited. A 2006 paper from the UN Office on West Africa calls youth unemployment in West Africa a “ticking time bomb (PDF) for the region,” cautioning that “ever-rising joblessness among youths and the desperation that accompanies it undermines the possibility of progress” in post-conflict countries. A “youth bulge” makes Sierra Leone susceptible to violence and civil conflict, but as this Backgrounder explains, policies to educate youth and create jobs could also drive strong economic gains, or a “demographic dividend.” Most presidential candidates promised a youth employment campaign, writes Sierra Leonean journalist Alpha B. Koroma.
Yet such pledges appear unlikely to make the leap from rhetoric to action. The corruption and poor governance that provoked civil war in the early 1990s remain, and many experts say prospects for substantive reform look slim. “There is little danger of new brooms sweeping through Freetown’s shabby corridors of power,” argues the Economist. Others say despite its faults, the current government—led by the Sierra Leone People’s Party—has produced small positive changes. Lansana Gberie, a Sierra Leonean academic, writes that the SLPP government has managed to triple school enrollment, construct hundreds of miles of road, and refurbish hospitals and police stations.
International donors have spearheaded some reform efforts in Sierra Leone. British intervention helped end the civil war, and the British also retrained the army and police (BBC). A group of international donors worked to expand the legal diamond industry. Yet as Brian Thomson notes in a report for Chatham House, a UK-based think tank, little progress has been made on fighting corruption, reforming the courts, and strengthening civil society. Public-service corruption “remains the elephant in the room,” contends the International Crisis Group. Both reports agree that powerful local chiefs and their attachments to central government officials have stymied efforts to build stronger state structures.
by AGavin on September 3rd, 2007
I AM NOT A FLAME-THROWING nationalist, and my pan-African credentials are generally suspect. Therefore, I am not one to rush into blaming Africa’s problems on “imperialists” and evil schemes by the West - until I see the evidence, that is.
Well, compelling evidence came recently via an article (which we recommend that everyone interested in African affairs must read) that you can find on the Slate website, or the Washington Post/Newsweek interactive site.
The title; “Diamonds are a Guerilla’s Best Friend; Why War Was Good for Angola’s Big Miners” sums up what it is about perfectly.
Angola is one of the poorest countries in the world, but it also has one of its richest deposits of diamonds. After years of a liberation war against Portuguese rule, the country remained in the throes of a brutal and ruinous rebellion led by Jonas Savimbi.
After decades of war, the Angolans were poorer than they had been 30 years earlier upon independence.
Then on February 22, 2002, Savimbi was killed. The citizens of Angola poured into the streets of the capital Luanda to celebrate his demise, for Savimbi’s death promised a new era of prosperity and peace.
However, something unusual happened. When news of Savimbi’s death hit, investors dumped their shares in mining companies all over the world that had operations in Angola. Stock prices of these companies fell by an average 12 per cent within a matter of days. Unusual peace is supposed to be good for business.
Well, that might be so except if you are in the diamond (and arms) business.
The authors of a forthcoming study that the articles are based on argue that the share price of the mining companies who had extracted Angola’s diamonds amid the chaos of war plunged because the fortunes they’d made from its diamond mines relied on the treacherous conditions created by civil war.
Wartime Angola was a very expensive place for diamond miners to operate because of the bombed-out roads, kidnappings, and other hazards of operating in a conflict zone.
Companies employed guns-for-hire to keep their operations safe from rebel attacks. The cost of protecting a mine alone could run as high as $500,000 (Sh34m) a month. And to keep mines safe from government meddling, paying bribes was reportedly the norm.
Very few companies want to do business in such conditions, but the ones that do make massive fortunes.
The death of Savimbi signalled that now the mining industry could be run normally - open the sector to competition. The end of conflict hurt the dominant diamond companies by knocking down barriers to entry.
Indeed, the article reports, the mere presence of potential competitors helped the government to renegotiate its contracts from a position of strength. Previously, Israeli diamantaire Lev Leviev had a monopoly on the marketing of Angolan diamonds. With peace at hand, as many as six other companies reportedly also vied for his contract.
A peacetime Angolan government could afford newfound patience in its negotiations. Before, the government had faced a constant budget crunch, and in its desperation to obtain hard currency to purchase arms, was forced to accept unfavourable terms.
Royalty payments to the government for mining concessions jumped from $37.5 million (Sh2.5 billion) in 2002 to nearly $110 million (Sh7.4 billion) just a year later, despite only a modest increase in the value of the diamonds extracted!
Overall, the Angolan economy has taken off since the war’s end, with income per capita rising by more than 20 per cent between 2003 and 2005.
Because Angola’s wartime diamond miners didn’t have any business incentive to have peace, it would have been in their best interests to prolong the war.
Incentives, incentives. In the northern Italy town of Varallo, the mayor recently came with a novel idea - to literally bribe people who are overweight to cut down.
Participants in the initiative get $67 (Sh4,500) when they reach their ideal weight. If they don’t gain any weight back after five months, they will receive $268 (Sh18,000). If they maintain their ideal weight for a year, they will get $670 (Sh 45,000) more. There has been no shortage of takers. Is City Hall listening?
One man who is famed for being a good listener is former US President Bill Clinton. Sex scandals and all, Clinton is still the most popular former US president of recent decades at home and abroad.
One reason he is popular is that he makes everyone feel that he cares about, and is interested in him or her. Now the formula of his magic is out.
An article in The Times reports that Clinton keeps an information card for every person he has met since university! Remarkable, considering that he graduated in 1968.
Since we started on a high note, we shall end on a very low note with the case of a Thai man who was found dead last week from a heart attack. He was wearing a couple of his wife’s miniskirts and all 15 of her bras. He took the secret of his strange behaviour to the grave.