•A version of this post ran on the blog Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.
Demand for rhino horn increased exponentially over the past few years. The market is heavily concentrated in Asia, particularly Vietnam. Rhino poaching has leapt to keep pace with demand, and South Africa’s rhinos are among the most affected.
According to the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA), between 2010 and 2012 the number of rhinos killed for their horns went from 333 to 668. So far in 2013, 216 rhinos have been poached in South Africa’s Kruger National Park alone. That is more death the past five months than in the years 2000-2008 combined. The rhino population in Mozambique, which was wiped out by large game hunters a century ago and later reintroduced to the national parks, has again been eradicated, this time with the connivance of some of Mozambique’s own rangers.
Convictions for poaching and trafficking in rhino horn are rare. But the US Attorney’s office in Los Angeles, California announced on May 16 the conviction of Vinh Chung “Jimmy” Kha, and Felix Khaon for, among other crimes, smuggling rhino horn into the United States with the intent of selling it to Vietnam.
In Vietnam, and other parts of Asia, powdered rhino horn is considered a cure for everything from a headache, hangover, or cold to cancer, and is also often advertised as an aphrodisiac. It holds no such properties. In fact, rhino horn is keratin, the same substance as human hair and fingernails. Despite this, rhino horn sells for between $25,000 and $40,000 per kilogram.
A Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) conference in March 2013, appears to have invigorated the international community to act to save these creatures. South Africa is threatening to re-erect the boundary fences between the South African and Mozambican halves of Kruger.
Some game parks in South Africa have taken the additional measure of poisoning their rhinos’ horns to deter consumer demand. The poison is combination of a parasiticide normally used against ticks on livestock and a pink dye that can be detected by airport scanners and is visible even when in powdered form. That means potential consumers will know what they are buying.
The parasiticide is not lethal, but it does make the consumer seriously ill. A logical next step is campaigns to raise awareness of rhino horn’s complete lack of medicinal properties and that the animals die, horribly, through the process. Similar campaigns are running in Asia against elephant poaching. They are spearheaded by celebrities such as China’s Li Bingbing, an actress, and United Nations Environmental Programme goodwill ambassador and retired NBA basketball player Yao Ming.
These initiatives are key because they focus on a crucial truth – anti-poaching and conservation efforts must be holistic to be effective. By addressing conservation efforts not just at halting the poachers, but also in decreasing the demand for rhino horn altogether, poisoning the horns and educating consumers is an important step forward.
•A version of this post ran on the blog Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.
Kenya, the International Criminal Court (ICC), and, by extension, the international community currently face the dilemma of dealing with a president and a deputy president, freely and fairly elected (more or less) that are charged with crimes against humanity associated with 2007 election bloodshed.
Africa Confidential has an excellent review of the current state of play.
On May 2, Kenya’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Kamau Macharia, sent a thirteen-page letter to the UN Security Council (UNSC) asking it to end the ICC cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto. He argued that Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto were duly and democratically elected and could not perform their duties in the face of “an offshore trial that has no popular resonance and serves no national or international purpose.”
A variation of this argument is echoing among Kenyatta’s supporters – “peace” is more important than “justice,” and the ICC process should somehow go away.
But Ruto promptly disavowed the letter on the basis that the UNSC lacks the legal authority to stop the ICC proceedings. Ruto’s lawyer reaffirmed his client’s cooperation with the ICC. The attorney general of Kenya, Githu Muigal also disavowed the letter saying Kenya is not a party to the cases and has reaffirmed Kenyan cooperation with the ICC.
On May 13, however, the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, rejected the Kenyan government’s claim that it is cooperating with the court. Specifically, she said that the government failed to provide certain financial records and has not facilitated interviews that could provide her with information about the role of the police in the aftermath of the 2007 elections. Earlier, she said that the government failed to provide adequate protection for potential witnesses and that bribery and intimidation played a role in the withdrawal of potential witnesses.
The ICC charges against Kenyatta and Ruto were an issue in the 2013 Kenyan elections and popular backlash against the court probably helped them. Many Kenyans seemed to think the charges would be dropped in the aftermath of an election victory, probably at the instigation of the United States and the United Kingdom because of the importance of their ties with Kenya and Nairobi’s crucial role in Somalia.
In fact, UK Prime Minister David Cameron hosted Kenyatta in London at the May 7 Somalia conference. The UK argued Kenyatta’s presence was “essential,” and, in effect, trumped British policy to have only “essential contact” with Kenyatta and Ruto.
However, Africa Confidential credibly speculates that President Obama will skip Kenya during his next Africa trip and suggests, also credibly, that there will be a cooling of relations between Kenya and the UK and the US.
The ICC has agreed to postpone Ruto’s trial until October. Many observers think that the ICC case against him is stronger than that against Kenyatta. If the ICC were to convict one and acquit the other, there could be serious political consequences in Kenya.
Kenyatta is a leader of the Kikuyu, Ruto of the Kalenjin. The two ethnic groups have long been rivals, and fighting among them was an important element in the 2007 violence. Then, Kenyatta and Ruto were on opposite sides. For 2013, they made a political alliance, and there was little fighting between Kikuyu and Kalenjin, a factor in the largely peaceful elections.
A Ruto conviction and a Kenyatta acquittal might put at risk the current truce between the Kalenjin and the Kikuyu.
A version of this post first appeared on the author's personal blog. The views expressed are his own.
Despite Africa’s exponential economic growth and development over the past decade and additional support from the international donor community, progress towards many of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has been slow.
Greater gains have been made over the past 15 years, however Africa’s performance overall continues to lag on health indicators and with the result, the continent is off-track to meet all of the MDGs.
In addition, a number of challenges still face the vast majority of the continent, including insufficient internal and external resources allocated to achieving the MDGs, inadequate human resources, weak institutional capacity, persistent inequities in access to proven interventions, inadequate statistical health data, and weak monitoring and evaluation capacity.
Looking closer at the specific goals that have an impact on health-related issues on the continent, the following challenges still exist:
* Childhood mortality: Although the majority of African countries have made steady progress in reducing child and under-five mortality, only six countries are on track to reduce the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015.
More African countries need to scale up preventative healthcare in the fight against the main diseases that cause child mortality, namely measles, pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria, and AIDS. Targeted interventions for newborn babies need to be accelerated, as newborns are more likely to succumb than older children.
A potential solution to this challenge is empowering more women and removing social barriers to their accessing basic services, introducing measures to give poorer families better access to critical services, and increasing the local accountability of health systems.
* Maternal health: The maternal mortality rate for the African region as a whole stands at 460 deaths per 100,000 live births. Indeed, only two countries, Eritrea and Equatorial Guinea, are on track to reduce maternal mortality by 3/4 between 1990 and 2015. Most countries in southern Africa have made no progress at all on this target.
In addition, one in four women on the African continent who wish to space or delay their next pregnancy cannot do so because of lack of contraceptives. The rates of delivery attended by a skilled health practitioner are very low, especially in West Africa. Lack of access to maternal health services tends to be especially acute in rural areas and urban slum communities.
The cost of accessing prenatal care services (including transportation and user fees), geographical access, and cultural barriers are major impediments to women seeking care during their pregnancies.
Maternal mortality also remains the leading cause of death in adolescent girls. Poor quality of service for pregnant women is another major concern. In Malawi, for example, a recent study found that only 13 percent of clinics had 24-hour midwifery care, which represents a major hazard for maternal emergencies.
* Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases: Africa is starting to win the battle against HIV/AIDS in most countries, partly due to the significant vertical funding from external aid agencies.
There has been a fall in the prevalence rate, particularly among women, a steep decline in the regional rate of new infections, a reduction in the number of AIDS-related deaths, and a drop in mother-to-child transmission of the disease. Greater access to antiretroviral therapy, in combination with behavioural changes such as the increased condom usage, have underpinned HIV/AIDS progress in Africa. Sustaining access to critical antiretroviral medicines in an uncertain funding environment will however present a major challenge to the countries worst affected by the disease.
With regard to malaria, the acceleration of preventative and control strategies such as the distribution of free or heavily subsidized insecticide-treated bed-nets has reduced its incidence. Malaria mortality rates have consequently declined by more than 1/3 since 2000. But access to the most effective drugs, namely Artemisinin-based combination therapy, is still limited. Furthermore, the targeting of substantial amounts of donor funding to individual diseases has reduced amounts available for broader health needs.
Tuberculosis remains a major problem in the African region with 500,000 deaths annually, accounting for over 26 percent of notified TB cases in the world. Southern Africa is the worst affected sub-region. While 19 countries have been able to treat over 85 percent of those affected, the co-infection of TB and HIV as well as drug-resistant TB and multidrug-resistant TB continue to complicate treatment of the disease.
As we enter the last two years of the UN mandate for the Millennium Development Goals, time is running out for Africa to reach the finish line. But strides have been made in improving the lives of millions on the continent, including the most vulnerable in society.
Greater policy focus and efforts will need to be developed and effectively implemented in the future to ensure that more is done in relation to development and progress on the continent to have a real impact for the generations to come.
•A version of this post ran on the blog Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.
The May 8 New York Times carried above the fold an Adam Nossiter story, “Bodies Pour in as Nigeria Rounds Up Islamists.” The story mostly consists of horrific reports of Nigerian security service – Army and police – abuses of northern Nigerian citizens who are alleged members of or connected to Boko Haram, a radical Islamic insurgency.
Mr. Nossiter notes that Boko Haram is “thoroughly enmeshed” in the local population, making it difficult to root out the insurgents. He observes that security service brutality “has turned many residents against the military, driving some toward the insurgency.” The security services and the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja continue to flatly deny that any abuses are happening, much less that they are being systematically carried out – this despite the testimony of a wide range of credible northern observers.
Many of us have heard reports similar to Nossiter’s from Nigerian contacts for some time. Human Rights Watch also issued a report late last year that, in effect, argued that the International Criminal Court should investigate both Boko Haram and the security services for crimes against humanity.
RECOMMENDED: What is Nigeria's Boko Haram? 5 things to know
For a long time I have heard that the security services round up large numbers of young men who simply disappear. They are never formally arrested, prosecuted, tried or, if convicted, punished. They simply disappear, outside the justice system altogether. I had assumed that most so detained were quietly released after a time, in part because there were few reports of mass graves. To some extent, that may be true. But Nossiter’s grim report confirms what many local people say – that in fact, many are murdered.
The Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) has long followed security service abuses in northern Nigeria. NST data – current through April 30 – confirms that violence involving Boko Haram and the security services continues to escalate in northern Nigeria. April 2013 had the highest death toll since the NST started, in May 2011. The numbers of dead that Nossiter saw are a reflection of the escalating carnage.
Among the security services, training is often poor or non-existent and pay is also poor. As a matter of policy, soldiers and police are deployed outside their region of origin. Hence, security service personnel often have little understanding or sympathy for the populations they are supposed to protect.
Literally, many don’t even speak the same language. But such factors are no excuse: the security services, an arm of a state with democratic aspirations, must be held to a higher standard than vicious insurgents. Boko Haram terror is no justification for what Nossiter and others report the security services are doing. And the government’s stonewalling is counterproductive.
Times coverage will raise the profile of Nigeria’s dirty war in the United States. Hopefully there will be more American political pressure on the Jonathan administration to take concrete steps to control its security services.
John Campbell served as the US ambassador to Nigeria between 2004 and 2007.
RECOMMENDED: What is Nigeria's Boko Haram? 5 things to know
•A version of this post ran on the blog A View From the Cave. The views expressed are the author's own.
South Africa is one of the world’s "emerging" BRICS nations. The decision follows in the footsteps of Britain’s decision to wean India off UK aid in favor of promoting domestic development to take hold. The British government says it would rather refocus its energy toward investments in these nations.
South African officials, as well as some aid organizations, appear none too happy with this turn of events.
“I have agreed with my South African counterparts that South Africa is now in a position to fund its own development. It is right that our relationship changes to one of mutual cooperation and trade, one that is focused on delivering benefits for the people of Britain and South Africa as well as for Africa as a whole,” she said.
Some people were surprised and disappointed by the move, but the real shock is that the most important partner says it did not agree. That would be South Africa. Greening’s remarks made it appear that the two countries arrived at the agreement together, a sort of mutual divorce.
But it turns out that South Africa and the UK were not on the same page. South Africa’s Department for International Relations and Cooperation followed up the Greening announcement with their own statement.
The South African government has noted with regret the unilateral announcement by the government of the United Kingdom regarding the termination of the Official Development Aid to South Africa as from the year 2015.
This is such a major decision with far reaching implications on the projects that are currently running and it is tantamount to redefining our relationship.
According to the UK, the problem is a bureaucratic one rather than a disagreement between the two countries.
Mr. Hague resisted stronger accusations, but said that it must have been some confusion on the side of South Africa. Opposition members seized on the gaffe by calling into question the relationship between the UK government and the government of South Africa.
“This looks like a serious breach of trust with one of our most important strategic partners. Justine Greening must explain why she is saying one thing about her conduct while the South African government is saying another,” said shadow international development secretary Ivan Lewis.
Miscommunication aside, the writing was on the wall, writes Lawrence Haddad of the Institute for Development studies. A 2011 UK Department For International Development bilateral aid review pegged official development assistance at £19 million ($30 million) a year through 2015. That should have been plenty indication that the UK was on track to make the cut.
The decision has also reignited a conversation about the appropriateness of ending aid to South Africa. People hashed out many of the same arguments when it came do determining the future of UK aid in India.
Jeremy Kuper of Gateway to Africa Magazine makes the case in the Guardian that the UK should continue giving aid to South Africa. He argues that the history of the two countries, the strategic interest of South Africa, and the work that remains all mean that aid flows should continue.
“There is just not enough money available to fix South Africa overnight. Britain is definitely partly responsible – had it applied sanctions as the Americans did, apartheid may have ended earlier. The inequality this aid is intended to address would have been less pronounced. And this is not something that happened centuries ago, but in the 1980s,” writes Mr. Kuper.
The strategic gains in the partnership are echoed by Labour Party minister of parliament Peter Hain in his own opinion piece in the Guardian. He too makes mention of a "historic obligation" to South Africa, citing apartheid support, but focuses on the interests of the UK. South Africa is the gateway to the continent, Mr. Hain argues. A fractured relationship with South Africa and a country that is not growing is a detriment to the UK.
"[T]his threatens the gateway the country provides to vast African markets – where it has close ties of friendship and mutually beneficial trade and investment agreements. It offers a solid base from which companies, including Britain’s, can develop their operations across Africa.
Mr. Haddad of the Institute for Development Studies argues that the level of aid is already so low that the cuts may not really cause any harm.
“Given that ODA is relatively small ($138bn) it has to be prioritised. So I think DFID has gotten this one right on substance, whatever the rights and wrongs of the process,” he writes.
Problems of inequality persist in South Africa and the country – despite earlier comparisons – is not on the same track as India. Finally, there is the political angle of the move. Haddad and others on Twitter noted that the upcoming local council elections that take place today may be a part of the motive for the announcement by the coalition government.
South Africa is much more developed than its neighbors in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Economically, it dominates the entire region. Apartheid South Africa regularly intervened militarily outside its borders during the struggle against the African National Congress (ANC) and other liberation movements, thereby highlighting their neighbors’ weaknesses.
A consequence of South Africa’s disproportionate power and influence is that today it is often resented by other Southern African nations. Occasionally this breaks out into the open.
That happened in the aftermath of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral in London when, upon returning to Lusaka, Zambian Vice President Guy Scott publicly compared South African president Jacob Zuma to F.W. de Klerk, the last apartheid South African head of state, according to The Guardian.
But he did not stop there. He also said South Africans are “arrogant.” Further warming to his subject, he continued: “The South Africans are very backward in terms of historical development.… I hate South Africans. That’s not a fair thing to say because I like a lot of South Africans but they really think they’re the bees’ knees and actually they’ve been the cause of so much trouble in this part of the world.”
He went on to say that South Africa’s blacks model themselves on white behavior now that they are in power. Saying out loud what many Africans say only after a few drinks, he continued, “I dislike South Africa for the same reason that Latin Americans dislike the United States, I think. It’s just too big and too unsubtle.”
He also denounced South African membership in the BRICS, a major policy initiative of President Jacob Zuma.
“Nobody would want to go in for a partnership with Brazil, China, India, and South Africa for Christ’s sake.” He concluded with a bouquet for Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, telling the Guardian, “I’m sure any good African nationalist admires Mugabe.” He also said that Mugabe would like to retire from the presidency.
The South African government says it is demanding an explanation for the remarks from the Zambian high commissioner in Pretoria. In contrast, Zimbabwe is playing down the incident, commenting publicly that Mugabe is “close” to Scott and Zambian president Michael Sata. Zimbabwe insists that it will not allow “the media” to shape the Zambia/Zimbabwe bilateral relationship.
The immediate cause of Scott’s ire appears to have been Mr. Zuma’s maneuvering over Zimbabwe’s upcoming elections in his capacity as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) designated mediator. While Zuma is ostensibly operating with the mandate of SADC, of which Zambia is a part, in Mr. Scott’s view the South African president is trying to keep the other SADC states out.
Scott is hardly a typical southern African politician. Born in 1944, he is of Anglo-Scottish origin with a degree from Cambridge. However, his father was involved in anti-colonial journalism and Scott has liberation credentials. He is a fierce critic of white racism in southern Africa. He compared fellow students at a school he attended as a youth in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) as having the attitudes of the Hitler Youth. Scott, also a journalist like his father, established an important agribusiness and later served as the Zambian Minister of Agriculture. He became vice president in 2011.
Dozens died in the collapse of an unlicensed gold mine in the Sudanese region of Darfur this week, underlining the vast infrastructural challenges that face the country as it attempts to transform itself into one of the world’s leading gold producers.
The collapse apparently occurred Monday, though reports of the disaster did not reach the capital city of Khartoum – 500 miles to the east – until Thursday. As of Friday morning close to 100 miners remain unaccounted for, along with nine first responders sent in to rescue them, according to SkyNews. Local officials have estimated at least 60 deaths.
Gold has taken on particular importance in Sudan over the past two years as the country scrambles to replace the massive oil revenues it lost when the southern region of the country became independent in 2011. When Sudan lost its oil fields, most of its export earnings disappeared overnight, Agence France-Presse reports. This forced the government to quickly negotiate new sources of cash.
That year, Sudan exported 22.5 tons of gold. In 2012, that figure nearly doubled, to 41 tons, catapulting the country into the ranks of the top 20 gold producers worldwide. It is on track to become Africa’s third-leading gold exporter this year, Mining.com reports.
But the demand for gold has also fueled dangerous working conditions in the remote, deeply impoverished regions where it is mined. Most of the country’s gold comes from so-called “artisanal mines,” informal, unregulated operations that are often little more than an open pit in the ground.
Miners climb down the holes and chip away at the rock below, often using their bare hands to mix mercury and ore together to separate the gold.
The mine disaster Monday was reportedly triggered when one of these small operations collapsed, setting off a chain reaction through other mines nearby. In 2011, the Sudanese government estimated there were 200,000 unlicensed gold producers in the country. Worldwide, they account for a quarter of global gold production, reports The Financial Times.
The gold supply chain is complicated and opaque, with plenty of weak points where illegal metal can leak into the system. Local dealers pick up scraps of gold from artisanal mines, sell them to other dealers until they end up in the nearest big city. From there, the gold makes its way to a smelter, then a refiner and then into Europe or Asia. All the Asian and European refiners get their gold from the same sources, so dirty gold reaches all markets equally.
In Sudan, as elsewhere in the region, illegal gold mining is also a prime source of funding for militia groups.
For a decade, Darfur has been the site of intense sectarian fighting between local rebel groups and government-sponsored militias. More than two million Darfuris are still in internal refugee or displacement camps, and for those who have returned home, economic prospects are often grim.
Close to 70,000 people allegedly work in artisanal mines in the Jebel Amir district, where the accident occurred.
"Nobody takes the names of those who go inside,” one miner told AFP. “Only their colleagues or their relatives know where they are.”
Brazil is negotiating an agreement with Mozambique to finance the construction of a dam to provide drinking water for the city of Maputo, according to local news sources. It is expected to cost $500 million and the Bank of Brazil has funded an environmental impact study for the project.
With a population approaching two million and growing rapidly, Maputo needs an assured water supply. A successful agreement between Brazil and Mozambique means that construction on the dam could start as early as 2014.
The dam – known as Moamba Major – highlights Brazil’s expanded engagement in Africa. In November 2012, British think tank Chatham House published a highly useful briefing paper on Brazil’s growing role on the continent. It highlights Brazil’s African economic interests – notably, its trade with Africa has increased from $4.2 billion to $27.6 billion over the past decade. Africa is potentially an important export market for Brazilian manufactured goods.
But as the Chatham House briefer highlights, Brazil sees African engagement as more than economic. It is a key to Brazil’s recognition as a major world power, and close south-south relations focused on Africa could help build international support for a permanent UN Security Council seat for Brazil. Brazil seeks a partnership for development with an important political dimension rather than solely an economic relationship.
But Brazil’s expanding role in Africa is overshadowed in the international media by China and India’s larger role. (So, too, is the role of South Africa.) But, Brazil’s approach to Africa appears to be the more broadly based, with important political and developmental aspects, as well as economic. And there are important cultural ties between Brazil and the Lusophone Africa states such as Angola and Mozambique.
Brazil also has the diaspora’s largest population of African origin. Thus far, the Brazilians appear to have avoided the cultural and other mistakes of the Chinese. The Brazilian relationship with Africa may prove deeper and longer lasting than that of its higher-profile rivals among the BRICS.
In March, the United Nations approved a so-called "intervention brigade," the first of its kind, to carry out offensives against militant groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo's conflict-ridden eastern regions. Now the brigade has been formally organized, and as Congo analyst Jason Stearns explains, its impact is likely to be felt across the continent.
• A version of this post originally appeared on the blog Congo Siasa. The views expressed are the author's own.
The intervention brigade is on its way, and it has inspired Cassandras and Pollyannas alike.
Most of the talk has focused on the military efficacy of the brigade, which will consist of 3,069 troops from southern African countries and will be led by a Tanzanian general. This focus is not surprising, given the robust mandate the UN Security Council provided in Resolution 2098 to "carry out targeted offensive operations ... to neutralize [armed] groups."
The brigade is expected to deploy by June or July, with its base in the town of Sake and operations probably beginning in the following months. But, despite the aggressive media campaign waged by Congolese militant group M23 against the brigade, its political importance is likely to be as hefty as its (few) helicopter gunships and armed personnel carriers.
As one Rwandan official put it to me: "Imagine the M23 kills ten South Africans. It doesn't matter whether we support the M23 or not, [South African President Jacob] Zuma will blame us." The brigade forms a sort of political firewall – if the M23 puts it to shame, it will draw some of the most powerful countries in the region into the conflict.
This points to a larger dynamic, the regionalization of the conflict. Between 1998 and 2003 the Congolese war drew in eight countries and effectively split the region between enemies (Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi) and allies (Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe) of Kinshasa. We are obviously not back to that sort of escalation, but the intervention brigade makes this conflict more regional than at any point in the past decade.
The big, muscular newcomer to the Kinshasa camp is South Africa. Two reasons can be made out.
First, relations between Pretoria and Kigali have soured since the assassination attempt against Rwandan General Kayumba Nyamwasa in South Africa in the middle of the FIFA World Cup in 2010, the country's most important international event in a generation.
Secondly, South Africa's government has become increasingly financially invested in the Congo – the energy-strapped country is particular intent on cornering access to Inga Dam hydroelectric projects (and Mr. Zuma is alleged to have personal interests in the oil sector in the Congo).
Just last month, both countries put final touches to a draft agreement that would give South Africa around 2,600 megawatts of power from the Inga II dam, around 6 percent of that country's current power supply.
At full capacity, Grand Inga could produce up to 39,000 megawatts. South African involvement was particularly on show during the 2011 elections, which took place just weeks after Congolese President Joseph Kabila granted the South African government a contract for Inga III. Zuma was then one of the first presidents to congratulate Mr. Kabila for his victory, despite rampant irregularities in the voting process.
Then, when Uganda began facilitating peace talks with the M23 rebels as chair of the ICGLR – a regional organization dedicated to stability in the Congo and its surrounds – South Africa and Angola, worried about Uganda and Rwanda's influence in the ICGLR, offered to send troops to Kinshasa's aid through the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Kabila reportedly believes that the brigade will help bring an end to the nettlesome M23 rebellion.
Tanzania is more of a cipher – while relations between the country's president, Jakaya Kikwete, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame have been strained in the past, Tanzania, where Kabila grew up, has been much less politically and economically involved in the Congo than South Africa.
The arrival of the brigade will therefore introduce new political as well as military dynamics to the conflict. The M23 may well try to use another military offensive, either before or after the brigade's arrival, to gain political leverage.
But while it is unclear whether the brigade will be able to live up to its ambitious military mandate, it comes with hefty political clout to back it up.
A version of this post originally appeared on Think Africa Press. The views expressed are the author's own.
A tiny landlocked kingdom with a largely impoverished population scattered in often inaccessible villages dotted around a stark mountain landscape, Lesotho appears to have little to offer the prospective Chinese migrant.
And yet, this country of just over two million inhabitants boasts a Chinese population of several thousand. This community is overwhelmingly made up of shopkeepers from China’s Fujian province who have established a trading network that extends deep into Lesotho’s mountainous hinterland, selling everything from basic groceries to clothing and manufactured goods.
But as in many other countries across the continent, the presence and success of Chinese traders has been a double-edged sword. Some Basotho – the local ethnic group – hail the availability of cheap goods from the Chinese, while others decry the squeezing out of local businesses and accuse the Chinese of shoddy practices. And like many observers, most also wonder how they have managed to become so successful.
Keeping to themselves
Despite the best efforts of the Lesotho government, no one knows exactly how many Chinese currently live in the country. Official census takers in mountain villages often encounter bolted doors or truckloads of tipped-off Chinese residents speeding down the road in the opposite direction, suggesting many of Chinese who reside in Lesotho do so illegally. Most estimates, however, put the figure of the Chinese population in Lesotho somewhere between four and twenty thousand. (To learn more about Chinese immigrants in Lesotho, read this piece on how one shopkeeper has found a niche for himself.)
Interestingly, Lesotho’s Chinese migrants also seem to be as wary of their own government as they are of national authorities. Despite their inescapable presence in the country’s retail sector, the Chinese tend to keep themselves to themselves and the Chinese embassy does not typically facilitate the entry of economic migrants to Lesotho.
Instead, it prefers to distance itself from the migrants. When discontent over the presence of foreigners in Lesotho’s retail sector boiled over into xenophobic violence in 1991, for example, the Chinese embassy in the capital Maseru shut its gates in the face of distressed shopkeepers who sought help.
Setting up shop
Rather than being in some way tied to Chinese state assistance to Lesotho then, migrants come to Lesotho under their own steam, lured by rumors of easy profits.
But they do not arrive as hostages to fortune, without a plan and alone. Rather, given that kinship networks are the main pull factor behind Fujianese migration to Lesotho, new arrivals usually have links to one of the local Fujianese business associations before they even land.
These commercial networks link Fujianese traders across Lesotho with wholesalers in neighboring South Africa and suppliers in mainland China, and help new arrivals in number of ways. The presence of Fujianese merchants in villages that, at first glance, seem too small or remote to support a retail business, is testament to the success these associations have had.
To begin with, these networks direct new migrants towards niches in the market and away from areas already saturated by Fujianese businesses. In this way, they create a centrifugal force, pushing new arrivals into remote corners of the country.
Fujianese commercial associations also give advice and provide start-up loans and insurance for new ventures. In fact, Fujianese traders typically spend their first couple of years in Lesotho paying off debts to these associations and to the migratory agents who facilitated their entry into the country.
This is part of the reason Fujianese businesses have a reputation for being open 24 hours a day, seven days a week – their owners must work extremely hard and live very frugally simply in order to pay their initial debts.
Start-up capital, hard work and frugality are central to Chinese traders’ success. Also crucial, however, is the ability of Chinese businesspeople to undercut their local competitors. This is made possible by using local Chinese business associations to buy and ship goods in bulk. This helps lower wholesale costs and, additionally, given that the many of the goods sold by Chinese businesses are non-perishable, they can also be stored on site for long periods of time to save on transport costs.
All these factors help make the Chinese community in Lesotho commercially successful. However, all is not perfect. Despite – or perhaps because of – their success, strong anti-Chinese sentiment prevails in popular opinion in Lesotho.
Rather than distinguishing between different East Asian groups, local Basotho often designate all Asians as “Chinese,” sometimes calling them “the dog eaters.” Local frustration with the perceived Chinese takeover of the small-scale retail industry in Lesotho frequently manifests itself in stories of Chinese managers abusing local staff or of forbidding their Basotho employees from ever working at the till or handling cash.
Furthermore, Fujianese shopkeepers have been accused of every imaginable malpractice, from removing pieces of chicken from barbecue packs and selling the underweight packs at full price, to vending poisonous baby formula and rotten vegetables, to relabeling and selling goods well beyond their sell-by date.
Chinese businesses are also often accused of operating under fake licenses and avoiding tax. And Chinese migrants are widely believed to eschew the national banking system, preferring instead to keep their earnings under their mattresses or on their person. A combination of xenophobia and opportunism has made East Asians the most frequent victims of violent crime in Lesotho – though since 1991 there has been no popular violence against the immigrant community as a whole.
The prevalence of anti-Chinese rhetoric at all levels in Lesotho society, however, does not change the fact that the Basotho are increasingly reliant on the retail services provided by the immigrant Fujianese population. As one local told Think Africa Press, “if there was no Chinese in Teyateyaneng, where would I buy?”
As well as sometimes obscuring the benefits locals gain from cheap Chinese imports, anti-Chinese sentiments also sometimes obscure the realities of Fujianese immigration. While popular belief has it that Chinese immigration to Lesotho is increasing exponentially with the help of the Chinese government, for example, there is evidence to suggest that there are actually more Fujianese leaving the country today than entering.
In fact, as economic prospects in Fujian continue to improve and China transforms itself into a country of net immigration, we can expect to see a shift in Fujianese migratory flows in Africa away from the poorest countries such as Lesotho, and towards wealthier African countries and China itself.
Unless the Basotho take advantage of the Fujianese presence in the country and learn from their highly effective business model quickly, it may be too late, as we can expect Fujianese traders to be replaced by another wave of foreign merchants – if not from China, then from West Africa or elsewhere in the global South.