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Equatorial Guinea – Persistent Poverty

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Despite high per captia income and oil wealth the country is performing poorly in wider social development.

Comparatively, across the African continent, Equatorial Guinea boasts some of the highest levels of per capita income, and with a largely oil dependent economy, it has often escaped mention in discussions of poverty. However, Foreign Minister Agapito Mba Mokuy said despite wealth the country was performing poorly at social development.

According to reports from 2015 still around half of the country’s population lacks access to clean water, and life expectancy and infant mortality are below the average for sub-Saharan Africa. Similarly, half of the children who start primary school never end up finishing.

The problems in part stem from the fact that much of the wealth has been accumulated by senior government officials and a lack of investment in the country, as many officials have turned to overseas investments, drawing allegations of money laundering.

There seems to be, following investigations, systemic corruption at the highest levels of government. Through infrastructure projects the government pours huge amounts of oil money into construction projects, with contracts awarded to companies often owned or closely associated with high-level government officials.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports and high-level interviews show that the conflicts of interest allegedly lead to inflated contract prices and dubious investments in “white elephant” projects. The government does not make public its budgets, or track health and education spending, so the only data available is that collected by the IMF and World Bank.

Between 2009 and 2013, Equatorial Guinea took in an average of US$4 billion annually in oil revenue, and spent $4.2bn on infrastructure such as roads, buildings, and airports. However in 2011 the country only spent $140m on education and $92m on health, while the only other year for which data is available, 2008, $60m was spent on education and $90m on health, reported All Africa.

In comparison Uganda and Tanzania spend around a third of their budgets on education each year, while Ghana spends around a quarter, according to the World Bank.

Despite efforts to eradicate poverty and promote inclusive growth, these principles of the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063, are fruitless without efforts to tackle corruption.

The oil reserves in Equatorial Guinea, which have supplied billions of dollars in revenue over the last three decades are expected to run out by 2035, which will only deepen the crisis in the country.

In a recent case the eldest son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema is facing an ongoing trial after accusations of plundering money from government funds to buy a mansion in Paris, France, allegedly embezzling around Euro 100m, according to Deutschewelle.

Teodorin Obiang is also a vice-president of the small oil-rich state on the African west coast. However his trial was recently postponed giving Obiang an additional six month to prepare his defence. According to Transparency International, this was a delay tactic.

Human rights groups have long bemoaned Equatorial Guinea for its record on civil liberties, unlawful killings and torture, alongside allegations of bribery and corruption.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

EQUATORIAL GUINEA – FRANCE: President’s Son on Trial
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 12, Pp. 21521C–21522B

EQUATORIAL GUINEA: Weak Performance
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 52, Issue. 7, Pp. 20926A–20926C

EQUATORIAL GUINEA: Co-Investment Fund
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 51, Issue. 1, Pp. 20278B–20278C

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today

Ethiopia – Oromia Violence Continues

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Without a fundamental change in development policy, rights groups claim that protests in the Oromia region will continue.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has deplored the lack of international coverage of protests in the Oromia region; the region has experienced widespread violence, with around 400 dead, many more injured and tens of thousands arrested, since November 2015.

The protests were originally triggered by the Addis-Ababa Master Plan, which proposed to extend the capital’s municipal boundaries outwards, forcing many Oromo farmers in the area to move. According to HRW there were at least 500 protests across all 17 regions of Oromia province, largely spurred by experiences of historic displacements and a lack of compensation.

HRW commented that Ethiopia has an ‘authoritarian development policy’, for example when large scale agricultural investments are made, local communities are rarely consulted about the decision and those who resist are often subject to heavy state repression.

Most of the protesters have been young students, particularly of primary, secondary and university age, many of the older generation have been more reserved due to past experiences of state crackdowns on dissent and protest.

The protesters have stated that it is a grassroots mobilisation organised mainly through social media and the independent Oromia Media Network. Despite the majority of protests being peaceful the Ethiopian security services have shot indiscriminately into crowds and made tens of thousands of arrests, with widespread allegations of violent methods and torture.

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Oromo Protest 2007 CC

In January 2016, the Ethiopian government did cancel the Master Plan in a rare concessionary move, but this did not stop the protesters, whose concerns had broadened to include the heavy-handed security response, arbitrary imprisonments and the discrimination of the ethnic Oromo.

One story, cited by HRW, said that a 17 year old student had gone to the protests not really understanding the issues, and after seeing his friend get shot he had ran to the Kenyan border, where he told a reporter that one minute he was worrying about school, the next he realised he may never see his family again. The story is familiar, with many thousands of student protestors forced to flee and seek asylum in neighbouring countries.

HRW commented that the United States (US) and other Ethiopian allies, particularly Britain, often highlight the regional counterterrorism initiatives the country is involved in, but turn a blind eye to the domestic violence; its position as the seat of the African Union (AU) and the fact that it hosts many thousands of refugees, makes public criticism of the security response more difficult.

Much of the limitations on the international coverage has been generated by the restrictions on reporting in the country, particularly for independent journalists. Similarly the ongoing food crisis – the worst famine since 1984-85 – has been the centre of global attention, which according to HRW has led “governments around the world to overlook or downplay the other very urgent crisis unfolding in Oromia.”

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Oromo Village CC – 2013

However, despite the cancellation of the master plan, the displacement of Oromo farmers is likely to continue, unless the government fundamentally alters its development trajectory by considering communities as meaningful partners.

The Addis Standard reported that despite the Ethiopian regime’s rhetoric of decentralisation to local governments, recent academic studies have shown that across different regions the service delivery from the local governments remained one of the most centralised, top down, hierarchical and government-controlled.

The experience of such a development apparatus has been a primary factor in catalysing protests. It contributed to a rising political consciousness for the Oromo people, through encounters with development and governmental administration, while also fostering a sense of invasion into their everyday lives and exclusion from consultation, reported the independent Addis Standard.

Earlier in April the Deputy Chairman of the largest Oromia political party, the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), Bekele Gerba, along with 21 others, were charged under a counter terrorism law; Bekele was accused of having links to the banned Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Bekele described horrible conditions in detention at Maekalawi prison, including torture and widespread ill-treatment.

The security authorities also charged 20 young university students for protesting in front of the US Embassy in Addis Ababa in March this year, reported HRW.

The Oromo unrest marks the most serious domestic political crisis in Ethiopia in over a decade, with land becoming an increasingly prominent issue. Since 2009 the Ethiopian government has leased around 2.5m hectares to more than 50 investors from countries such as India, Turkey, Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia.

While the government has accused outside factions, particularly the diaspora, over stirring the protests, Executive Director of the Oromia Media Network, Jawar Mohammed said, “the diaspora magnifies news of what is happening, yes, but no matter how much it agitates it cannot direct at the village level in Ethiopia – this is about dissatisfaction,” reported the Inter Press Service.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

ETHIOPIA: Oromia Region Crackdown
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.3, Pp.20934C–20935C

ETHIOPIA: Addis Master Plan Scrapped
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.1, Pp.20861B–20862B

ETHIOPIA: Violent Repression of Oromo Protests (Free to Read)
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.12, Pp.20828C–20829B

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today.

Africa – Agricultural Policies Harm the Poorest

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Research suggests that small-holder farmers are often negatively impacted by agricultural modernisation policies.

According to research by University of East Anglia (UEA) scholars Dr Neil Dawson, Dr Adrian Martin and Professor Thomas Sikor, published in the World Development Journal, ‘green revolution policies’ promoted by the organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), are adversely impacting the poorest.

As much as 90% of the population in Africa are smallholder farmers and are reliant on some form of agriculture; new agricultural innovation poses possible benefits but also great risk.

According to the research, only a minority of wealthy people have been able to keep up agricultural modernisation, as poorer farmers are not able to afford to risk of taking out credit to purchase expensive seeds and fertilisers. Instead, due to pressure from the government, farmers often choose to sell their land.

Specifically the study examined Rwandan agricultural policies and changes to rural inhabitants in eight villages in the west of the country. In this area, high population density and modernising agricultural policies have forced farmers to adopt single crops, in comparison to as many as 60 different types cultivated previously.

Policies in Rwanda posit that agriculture should be focused on specialisation and land management in an efficient and uniform manner, said Dr Dawson, cited by UK-based the Guardian. One farmer commented that ““We have no ability to oppose decisions made by the government. They tell us to plant crops in the wrong season. They’ll say, ‘Grow beans now’ and everyone here knows it’s the wrong time to grow them.”

“The result we saw was that the long-standing knowledge of soils, ecological gradients and associated social as well as economic interactions have, in a flash, been replaced with rules and administrative boundaries”, said Dr Dawson.

“Similar results are emerging from other experiments in Africa. Agricultural development certainly has the potential to help these people, but instead these policies appear to be exacerbating landlessness and inequality for poorer rural inhabitants,” he continued.

The authors of the study recommended green revolution policies be subject to much broader and more rigorous impact assessments, and that poverty mitigating efforts should be incorporated, such as encouraging land access for the poorest and supporting traditional practices in a “gradual and voluntary modernisation”.

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Uganda: CC- 2011

Agriculture is of crucial importance to the well-being and economic stability of many African countries; Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari recently stated that agriculture is the country’s only hope for an economic resurgence, as profits from oil exports continue to decline, reported Ventures Africa.

In South Africa, agriculture is in a precarious position due to an ongoing drought, which has seen five out of nine regions declared disaster zones. Mpumalanga, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and North West provinces have been declared disaster zones. Cattle, sheep and goat farmers have been urged to cut the sizes of their herds, as land has been scorched and the maize harvest is expected to fall by 25%. Food prices are also expected to rise by 20% or more in 2016, reported the Africa Report.

On February 17-18th development leaders, African heads of state and other representatives gathered for the 39th Session of the Governing Council of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

President of Italy Sergio Mattarella said, as has been witnessed in South Africa, one of the greatest threats to food production is climate change. He highlighted the IFAD Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme – which now assists farmers in developing countries around the world adapt to changing climatic conditions.

Investing in smallholder agriculture helps to stabilise communities and countries and reduce conflict. “You achieve the means to feed families, support forms of social organisation, preserve land and biodiversity, fight against climate change, create jobs and prosperity, contribute to stable and just societies and, most importantly, eradicate the root causes that push more people to emigrate, ” Mattarella said in an IFAD Press Release.

The African Transformation Forum (ATF), which is to take place on March 14-15th, in Kigali, Rwanda, is to see wide-ranging discussions on the possibilities of agriculture as the basis for economic transformation across the country.

However with the polarised debates around agricultural modernisation, the evident impacts of climate change, and resurgence of an economic emphasis on agriculture, it is crucial to consider carefully the role of agricultural policies and practices in creating greater inequalities and deepening poverty among the poorest and most agriculture-dependant populations.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

Southern Africa’s Food Crisis – from Bad to Worse
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue. 12, Pp.21097B–21097C

ETHIOPIA: Drought Aid
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.12, Pp.21094C–21095B

Food Security
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.10, Pp.21025A–21025C

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today.