Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Report on the 'Africa Trade and Investment Conference' in Cape Town

For those of you interested in trade-led development and ways to deal with the global 'credit crunch' in Africa:

SOUTH-SOUTH TRADE TO COMBAT CREDIT CRUNCH

Bankers from across Africa gathered in Cape Town last week to call for an increase in South-South trade as a means to combat the effects of the global financial crisis on the continent. Trade between "South" economies currently makes up only 6% of global trade flows, although growth has been rapid. Since 1985 Africa's trade with other "South" economies is up 1170%.

The call comes as the financial crisis hits the continent in the form of reduced remittances, a drop in Foreign Direct Investment and an expected cut back in aid monies. Similarly as international banks scale back their credit lines to Africa a liquidity crisis has been growing, with businesses unable to find sources of trade finance for import-export deals. This is threatening the high levels of economic growth in many African countries, with Uganda’s growth estimates recently downgraded from 9% to 6% for the 2008/09 cycle. It was estimated at the Africa Progress Panel in Geneva that total GDP for the continent would fall by $40 billion in 2009.

Opening the high level trade and investment meeting Jean-Louis Ekra, President of Afreximbank, argued that “there is a strong argument that the potential benefits from freer South-South trade may indeed be as large as the gains that developing countries can obtain from better access to rich countries’ markets”. Ekra also called for a “de-commoditising” of African exports, with value-addition seen as essential to development. In Uganda areas suggested for investment in this area included beef products, aquaculture and forestry.

Due to the global nature of the crisis, unilateral action was labelled as futile by Kenyan Trade Minister Omingo Magara. He slammed “mutual mistrust” and an unnecessary focus on “sovereignty” as holding back regional integration. Delegates suggested that cooperation between governments could result in an estimated $460 billion in foreign exchange reserves being freed up to support African banks to lend more freely. The money is currently sitting in non-African banks earning low levels of interest as Western countries continue to cut rates in an attempt to stimulate their economies. The need to be involved in global financial decision-making led South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel to recently call for the African Union to be given a permanent seat at the G20 meetings.

Poor infrastructure, however, continues to hold back economic development across the continent, prompting Magara to suggest 30% of African budgets should be directed at the problem. This, he believed, would have the duel effect of stimulating economies during the downturn and improving the investment environment. As an indication of the lack of reliable power supply, MTN estimates it spent $130 million on diesel for generators at its transmitting towers in Africa in 2008.

Despite the economic challenges facing Africa the conference did, however, remain upbeat at the prospect for continued growth. The telecoms sector is particularly robust, with Uganda experiencing 95% growth in 2008, second only to Uzbekistan globally. With penetration rates still low this is expected to continue in 2009. Similarly the substantial comparative advantage Sub-Saharan Africa enjoys in agriculture makes the sector ripe for further investment once credit becomes more easily available.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

China, the Dalai Lama and the ANC: Lessons For Africa?


The refusal of a visa for the Dalai Lama to attend a Peace Conference has dominated headlines in South Africa this week (see cartoon in Mail & Guardian). It has attracted widespread criticism from newspaper columnists, and from the deafening silence emanating from most top members of the ANC it is not hard to imagine what they are thinking. It was, after all, not long ago that Nelson Mandela himself was labelled a terrorist by many countries and denied visiting rights.

Perhaps more interestingly, however, is what implications this may have for China's relationship with Africa. It is an oft-repeated mantra that China is only in Africa for profit, that they don't impose even the most basic of conditionalities and that African governments prefer doing business with them as a result. However, it is clear that China applied considerable pressure on the ANC to refuse entry to the spiritual leader. This comes on the back of a South African spell on the UN Security Council in which they refused to support resolutions on Burma and Darfur, presumably again due to Chinese influence.

This raises several questions. The first, and most important, is whether or not China would seriously have curtailed its investments in South Africa if the Dalai Lama had attended the conference? The answer, I'm sure, is not. The Dalai Lama visits many countries around the world with which China do far greater business than South Africa. The fact remains that China are primarily in Africa for economic, rather than political, reasons. Why, then, was the visa denied? I think this has far more to do with the large amounts of direct funding the ANC party receive from China. Like any political party beholden to one or two major donors they have adapted their policies to ensure that the money continues to flow. Bernie Ecclestone and tobacco advertising immediately springs to mind.

However, in this case China are manipulating an entire country's foreign policy, effectively creating a client state to support their positions on the world stage. Few other African countries have the international clout that South Africa do, making them such an attractive target for the Chinese. I feel, though, that they may have just gone too far this time and I am hopeful the backlash will raise awareness of this new form of neo-colonialism in Africa. Regardless, South Africa must start showing stronger leadership if they truly aspire to join the BRIC countries in creating a new world order.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Chris McGreal Will Be Missed

Chris McGreal is moving to Washington D.C. after reporting on Africa for nearly two decades in The Guardian. He has been one of the best Africa correspondents for that period and his final dispatch shows that it is possible to write about Africa without resorting to tedious clichés, even when the subject is as brutal as the Rwandan genocide (although his does appear to have attracted some - I think unfair - flak in the comments).

Monday, 23 March 2009

Why do Western Journalists Continually Fall Into This Trap?

Mary Riddell is one of Britain's better columnists. She generally manages to produce original material, rather than resorting to the lazy rehashing of tired arguments and opinions that make up a lot of comment pieces. However, her article today reads like a checklist of what not to do when writing about Africa, ruining a potentially interesting analysis of the thawing in relations between Presidents Kabila and Kagame. Instead the piece is relegated to the overflowing dustbin of nauseating Western writing about the continent. An attempted fisking follows:

"A glimmer of hope in the dark heart of Africa?"
Phew! Don't keep your readers in suspense that you might be one of the first Western writers not to make reference to Conrad's racist book when writing about Congo, get it straight in the headline instead.

Photo (see above) of mother and scared looking baby.
Check.

"Mr Kabila had not been eager for this meeting. "Maybe I will see you," he had told me earlier. "I underline the maybe." "
Is that the same President Kabila who we learn later is in charge of a country the size of Western Europe with one million Internally Displaced Persons? How dare he have the temerity to keep a columnist from The Daily Telegraph waiting in suspense.

"This is the heart of darkness and the ultimate failed state"
It's been at least 200 words since the last Conrad reference after all.

"The latest handbrake turn in Congo's history began late last year when an internal insurgency threatened not only Mr Kabila but also his neighbour, Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda"
An interesting way to describe Kagame's arming and support for Laurent Nkunda, only to succumb to international pressure to reign him in. Perhaps placed by the President's press office?

"Such pragmatism [working with Bosco Ntaganda] will cause shivers in an outside world alarmed by Congo's long implosion"
Because the 'outside world's' distaste for pragmatism has worked so well in Darfur, where a complex relief operation has been torn apart by idealistic, but probably unenforceable, ICC warrants.

"If Congo, with every natural blessing, cannot survive, then the future of all Africa hangs in doubt"
Eh? I don't remember the future of all of Europe being in doubt when Yugoslavia broke up. Does Riddell really believe that continued unrest in DRC will mean that Botswana, South Africa or Egypt will collapse?

"Now the UK's closeness to Rwanda and France's ties with Congo at last give the West some diplomatic leverage in a crisis whose ripples spread across the planet."
And we finally get to the heart of the problem - not enough Western leverage.

"For decades, the world has averted its gaze from a country drowning in blood and debt. This time it cannot afford to look away."
Is this the same world that happily lent Mobutu huge sums during the height of the Cold War? The same world that is addicted to mobile phones stuffed full of Congolese coltan? The same world that voted in the largest ever (albeit highly ineffective) UN peacekeeping force to the East of the country? And of course by 'the world' sub-Saharan Africa is implicitly excluded given that at one point six national armies were present in the country. I would surmise that the world has often had its gaze on Congo, but for entirely the wrong reasons.

Am I being too harsh?

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Umony Mania

Brian Umony is fast becoming the poster boy for the 'Cranes', the national football team of Uganda. Yesterday at Namboole stadium he scored a terrific goal against Malawi, lashing the ball in from 20 yards to equalise in a match they went on to win 2-1. Last month he scored both goals in an away game against Sudan and he has been prolific for his club this season, including a crucial goal against South African giants SuperSport FC in the African Champions League. Umony is also a great role model for young footballers in the country. A university graduate, he possesses none of the petulance or arrogance associated with Premiership stars in the UK. No doubt the continent's scouts will be paying close attention to his form in the coming months. He certainly deserves a chance at a higher level.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Is This the Worst Interview Answer Ever?

Margaret Mbeiza is a rare breed of politician in Uganda for all the wrong reasons. She was the only new Presidential appointee who failed to pass the Parliamentary vetting process, after the committee in charge expressed grave concerns over her ability to handle the Economic Monitoring portfolio to which she had been assigned. After reading her interview in this week's Independent (during which Steven Kibuuka implies her 'special' friendship with the President is the reason behind her appointment) it is easy to see why Parliament rejected her. My favourite response is this one:

Independent: How does it feel like being appointed a minister?

Margaret Mbeiza MP: It's very good; in fact very good because everyone will fear you and you will be called titles like honourable minister which is fantastic.


No further comment needed.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Oil Roundtable Tomorrow

Tomorrow the US Embassy and Fanaka Kwa Wote are hosting an oil roundtable debate at the Protea from 9.30am. It will be chaired by Andrew Mwenda of The Independent. Looks like it should be interesting. More details here.

Election Fallout: Was 2008 Rigged?

The final tallies for Monday's election make for interesting reading. The DP's Robert Okware won with 6,129 votes, over 3,000 clear of the NRM's Kisuule in second place. Natukunda in third received 1,090. Overall turnout was up by nearly 300%, from 3,500 last year, and the winning margin increased tenfold.

Student politicians I've spoken to on campus attribute this this to one thing: the determination of the opposition parties not to be the victim of what they saw as 'blatant rigging' in 2008. They suggest that ballot boxes were 'pre-stuffed' before polling opened and that the postgraduate vote was a target for ringers, due to the fact that the majority live off campus and don't tend to vote. Indeed security around the ballot boxes was significantly beefed up this year, with four police officers assigned to each polling station for the entire day.

Even after his huge victory, Okware (right) acknowledged the common perception of Makerere politics as corrupt:

"It is the students who decide whether you bribe or not. This is about brain power not money as many think. I thank the students for the support and I promise them the best"

Let's hope he can deliver.

Monday, 16 March 2009

DP Take Back Campus

In what is likely to be seen as a return to normality at Makerere, Democratic Party candidate Robert Okware won the Students' Guild Presidency by a comfortable margin today. The NRM's wonderfully named Castro Robertson Kisuule finished in second place, while Independent Husnah Natukunda came in a better than expected third. Natukunda also managed to carry the postgraduate constituency, who are perhaps less easily seduced by the type of money which was thrown around by the DP and NRM campaigns. Regardless, though, all students should now be hoping that Okware can deliver real change in staff-student relations at Makerere.

Democracy In Action

Results to follow here. We should know the winner this evening.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Makerere Election Looms

Tomorrow is Election Day on campus, with eight candidates vying to replace Robert Rutaro as the Guild President. Rutaro's term has been largely uneventful, notable mainly for the fact that he was the first NRM candidate in a decade to capture the position. The campaigns this time around have been the standard mix of pointless noise-making, wasted money and terrible political slogans. This year we get to choose from such gems as 'Celebrating Diversity in Leadership', 'East African Community Oyee', 'One for All, All for One' and 'Struggle is Our Life'. Depressingly it appears as though the contest will likely once again come down to a battle between the candidates representing the NRM and Democratic Party, although I am hopeful that spirited Independent Husnah Natukunda will run them closer than expected. An improvement on last year's dismal turnout would also be a bonus.

Ivory Post, the (regrettably rarely updated) Makerere students' online magazine, has a good rundown of the campaign here.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

BBC Goes Crazy for Uganda

Uganda has been all over the BBC for the past few days, with four stories of varying importance. The rush has in part been sparked by the President's visit to the UK, during which he managed to meet his old friend the Queen, as well as Gordon Brown.
Does anyone want to guess which story will have had the most hits? I know where my money is...

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Should MONUC be Advertising in the Monitor for Combat Equipment?

MONUC, the United Nations mission in Eastern D.R.C, is a regular target for those that believe the UN is incapable of providing robust peacekeeping forces in conflict areas. Perhaps the most damming criticism came last month from Médecins Sans Frontières:

Shocked by the extreme violence of the LRA, MSF teams do not comprehend the inaction of MONUC forces regarding the protection of civilians. During a November 1, 2008 attack on Dungu, the “Blue Helmets” remained holed up in their base. Furthermore, the MONUC contingent has never intervened to protect people in towns under attack, even as attacks multiplied. The number of UN troops has remained virtually unchanged since their deployment in July 2008, despite the dramatic deterioration of the situation.

Attacks on their professionalism also include allegations of corruption and supplying arms to local militias. In their defence the 17,000 troops are expected to cover a vast area of Eastern DRC with few roads and multiple armed rebel groups. However, it did strike me that a truly professional force would not be advertising for combat equipment in the Daily Monitor.

LRA Chic

The excellent Chris Blattman blog had this last week. It is possibly the worst taste item of clothing I have ever seen on sale (yes, yours for only $20 here). The most generous I can be is to hope that Invisible Children are employing the age-old cliché that 'all publicity is good publicity'. In this case, though, they are certainly pushing the limits of acceptability.

The ICC and Bashir

There is something deeply troubling about the ICC decision to indict President Bashir of Sudan. The aftermath suggests that there had been no real planning for what would happen next. NGOs have been forced into an ugly retreat over a warrant that is highly unlikely to be acted upon, at least while Bashir remains in office. The fact ignored by many is that most parts of Darfur have been relatively stable over the past three years and that agreements with Khartoum have allowed the UN and NGOs to construct effective systems for delivery of humanitarian aid. That is now threatened with destruction. As Julie Frint and Alex De Waal put it:

International justice is a virtuous enterprise, but not risk-free. Sudanese people are already paying a high price for the abandonment of the diplomatic approach that has yielded such benefits over the last four years. We fear there is more to come. There will be no justice in Sudan without peace. When peace and justice clash, peace must prevail.

The lack of forward-planning and cooperation reminded me of the fallout from the recent UPDF-led attacks on the LRA in the Garamba Forest of the DRC. In this case American intelligence and logistical support was provided in order to try and capture or kill LRA leader Joseph Kony (also ICC indicted). However, the operation failed in its primary aim and as a result the civilians of the DRC/South Sudan border area have felt the full brunt of the LRA's terror tactics over the past few weeks. It appears no thought was given by either Ugandan or American planners as to what might happen if the mission was unsuccessful.

As with the Bashir arrest warrants, it is ultimately the most vulnerable civilians who suffer due to the unacceptable lack of foresight of others.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Kagimu Calls for Privatisation of Makerere

Hajji Habib Kagimu has a colourful history as a link man between Libya and Uganda, and has become incredibly wealthy in the process. Today he was invited to speak to the Makerere University Private Sector Forum in the prestigious Main Hall and was to be introduced by Vice-Chancellor Lubobi. After the audience had waited for nearly an hour his son arrived to deliver the speech on his father's behalf, Kagimu having apparently been called to an urgent meeting with the Big Man at State House.

It was, however, worth the wait. Kagimu effectively called for the complete privatisation of the university, with lecturers renamed 'service providers', students 'primary customers' and sweeping market reforms to be rolled out across campus. He told the crowd that supply and demand should dictate what courses they take, as when they graduate they will become mere 'products' that could prove useless. Given the incendiary content of the speech it was perhaps lucky for the VC, who is facing numerous challengers as his term draws to an end, that he didn't have to respond to Kagimu directly. I wonder if any of the eight Guild President candidates will have something to say on the issue?

Thursday, 5 March 2009

The Deadly Flash Drive

Before training with Kamwokya FC last week (in an under-reported January transfer I made the switch from the University team), we (the players) participated in a drill designed to raise awareness of STDs. We lined up in two groups of ten facing each other and passed the ball behind our backs until the coach blew his whistle. A member of the other group then had to guess where the ball was, and inevitably chose wrongly on most occasions. The lesson? You cannot tell who has, or doesn't have, an STD just by looking at them.

This seemed to me a simple and effective way of spreading an important message. And it could easily be adapted for campus students. Under my plan 100 USB flash drives would be distributed to students of University Hall. They would then be told to go and print their work in one of the many duka computer shops in Wandegeya, before bringing their sticks back for testing. The horrified look on the students' faces as they see that every single flash drive is infested with viruses would surely be enough to solve the sugar daddy problem once and for all...

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Strike Threat Returns (As If It Ever Went Away...)

It seems like the Makerere lecturers have come up with a new plan to scare the university's administration into paying decent salaries on time. The move? To threaten a crippling July strike which will shut down campus when, erm, there are no students around. Perhaps the new leader of the Staff Association, Dr Tanga Odoi, has decided that students should no longer be the proverbial trampled grass in their long running dispute, however I doubt his campaign will get very far if he has.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Makerere Jumps in Web Rankings

I'm a couple of weeks late on this story as we had been hoping to get a letter in one of the daily newspapers giving our opinion on Makerere's rise from 47th to 32nd in the Webometrics rankings of African universities. The letter below is self-explanatory, although it is perhaps a tad disappointing it failed to make it into print ahead of important missives such as 'Caution Those Rollar Skaters' and 'What Happened to Bundesliga?'

EDITOR -

The Council of Graduate Students at Makerere would like to congratulate the University on its recent rise in the Webometrics rankings from 47th to 32nd position in Africa. However, we believe that it is unfortunate that the only system in place to rank African universities has such a narrow criteria. To rise in the Webometrics table you are required to increase Internet presence through making academic papers available online, being linked by other institutions, and improving visibility on 'Google Scholar'.

While we accept the Internet has become a key part of university success, it is still only one aspect. Teaching quality, research output, student satisfaction, faculty resources, student to teacher ratios, graduation rate performance, academic awards and the achievements of alumni are just some of the other ingredients needed in a thriving educational institution. A more comprehensive ranking system based on both qualitative and quantitative criteria is therefore urgently needed for Africa. The universities, and their students, deserve no less.

Regards,

Abdul Muhiire, James Taylor and Joe Powell (COGS Representatives)