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We Resigned Not to Kill the Nation, but to Save It

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As media freedoms take a beating around the world, and a culture of authoritarianism creeps across Africa, it was important, says NIC CHEESEMAN about resigning his column in the Sunday Nation, to demonstrate solidarity with those brave colleagues forced to endure threats from the State and censorship from the Board.  

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We Resigned Not to Kill the Nation, but to Save It
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Media freedom in Africa is under threat. Sadly, this is nothing new. The first attack on press freedom came during the late colonial era in the 1950s, against the new magazines and newspapers being produced by nationalist movements. The second came immediately after independence, when nationalist leaders themselves moved to mute dissent, claiming that unity was necessary for development.

Things became particularly bleak in the 1980s, when in many countries the only way a journalist could critique the president and his policies was through satire – and even that was dangerous. The exceptions to this trend, notably Botswana and Mauritius where media freedoms were respected to one degree or another, only confirmed the general rule: the media was an enemy of the State.

The 1990s brought great hope for democratic renewal. Opposition parties were legalised and governments began to speak the language of democratic reform. However, while constitutional reforms and transfers of power created moments of greater transparency and openness, as in Kenya where the defeat of the Kenya African National Unity led to a resurgence of journalistic activity, governments have very quickly moved to establish control over the flow of information.

This decline has taken different forms in different countries. In established authoritarian states such as Rwanda, there has been a further crackdown on the opposition and an entrenchment of the powers of the president. And even in more democratic states, such as Botswana, there has been a gradual process of democratic backsliding.

This has included the use of a wide range of strategies, including outright censorship, manipulating paid advertising to favour pliant outlets, and repression. The figures are shocking. In 2017 alone, five journalists were imprisoned in the Democratic Republic of Congo, five in Ethiopia, 15 in Eritrea, eight in Uganda and 20 in Egypt. The only other regions of the world where things look this bad are the Middle East and the more authoritarian parts of Asia.

Of course, the media is not the only target of these States. This ongoing trend needs to be placed in a broader context in which governments have sought to re-write the rules of the game, closing off space for dissent. According to Freedom House, the US think tank that ranks the quality of civil liberties and political rights of every country in the world, the average standard of democracy has fallen every year for a decade.

This decline has taken different forms in different countries. In established authoritarian states such as Rwanda, there has been a further crackdown on the opposition and an entrenchment of the powers of the president. And even in more democratic states, such as Botswana, there has been a gradual process of democratic backsliding, with a greater centralization of power in the hands of a small number of individuals.

In those states lying between these two extremes, such as Kenya, which hold relatively competitive elections but in the absence of fully democratic politics, the process has involved the greater use of repression to intimidate the opposition, and the re-assertion of political control over supposedly independent democratic institutions. This has made it harder for opposition parties to win power, especially in countries such as Zambia where sitting presidents have made it clear that they intend to retain power come what may.

But despite the very different trajectories of these states, they share one commonality: in almost all of them the freedom of the press has deliberately been undermined.

Nowhere is this harsh reality better demonstrated than in Eastern Africa. While Eritrea has one of the worst records in the region, the Democratic Republic of Congo is also one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. Since 1992, five have been killed, and many more intimidated and arrested. Things are also very tough in Burundi, where the media is regularly harassed and the Interior Ministry closed down the country’s journalists’ union in 2016.

A couple of years ago, Tanzania would not have been mentioned in the same breath as Burundi, Eritrea and the DRC where press freedom is concerned. But things have changed radically under President John Magufuli. Not only have journalists been arrested for criticising the president, the government has also moved to assert control over the blogosphere, announcing plans to charge social media users $930 for the right to air their views. As I write, government critics are living in fear of what repressive measures the ruling party will come up with next, and what will happen to them if they speak out.

But as Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Things have also taken a turn for the worse in Kenya, where the government has employed a number of different strategies to reign in one of the continent’s more dynamic medias. On the one hand, representatives of senior politicians have taken to calling editors and threatening journalists, demanding that they kill negative stories and publish more positive analysis. On the other, the ruling party has manipulated its control of the government advertising budget – the single biggest source of income for most newspapers – to punish those who refuse to play ball.

For those who care about democracy and press freedom, this raises the question of whether there is anything that can be done. In the face of such broad continental, indeed global, trends it is easy to feel powerless. But as Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” The challenge is for us all to do what we can, and have faith that it will build up into something that is more than the sum of its parts.

With that in mind, a few weeks ago I resigned my position with the Daily Nation newspaper, along with seven other columnists. Since then, there has been a fair amount of speculation about why we went, and what our motives were. The Daily Nation was understandably upset, and a number of pieces have emerged that have criticised our decision, going to great pains to point out that those who resigned had been well treated by the paper. This is largely true, but it misses the point.

We did not leave because we felt that we were being censored ourselves. Rather, we left because we wanted to make a point about the injustice done to other Daily Nation colleagues. Our concern was not that we were being bullied or silenced, but that the newspaper was being hollowed out around us. If we did nothing, we thought, we would soon find that we were marooned – our voices drowned out as the default mode of the newspaper became increasingly pro-government or, perhaps more accurately, afraid of the government.

You might put it like this: first they failed to renew Gado’s contract, and we did not resign, because it didn’t affect us. Then they sacked Denis Galava, and we did not resign, because it didn’t affect us. Then they pushed out David Ndii, and we realised that, if they someday decided to get rid of us, there would be no one left to speak out. So we decided to take a stand while we still could.

If that trend had gone unchecked, we would have been left as the fig leaf legitimising the internal decay of a once great newspaper.

You might put it like this: first they failed to renew Gado’s contract, and we did not resign, because it didn’t affect us. Then they sacked Denis Galava, and we did not resign, because it didn’t affect us. Then they pushed out David Ndii, and we realised that, if they someday decided to get rid of us, there would be no one left to speak out. So we decided to take a stand while we still could.

In doing so, we were not motivated by partisan concerns. Despite what some of our detractors would have you believe, we all came to this decision through very different thought processes and personal journeys. Indeed, there are many issues on which we simply don’t agree. But one area of common ground was that we wanted to strengthen the position of the many brilliant and dedicated journalists working for the Nation Media Group who are fighting for its independence from the inside. Our hope was that our actions would highlight just how much the current approach is hurting the Nation in terms of credibility and sales, empowering its many brave editors and reporters whose hearts are in the right place to win out.

In other words, we resigned not to kill the Daily Nation, but to try and save it.

 

*Much of the data used in this piece was collected by the Committee to Protect Journalists. You can support their work by donating here

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Nic Cheeseman (@fromagehomme) is Professor of Democracy and the editor of www.democracyinafrica.org

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Another False Start: The Green Revolution Myths that Africa Bought

The flaws and dire consequences of India’s Green Revolution should have warned policymakers of the likely disappointing results of GR in Africa.

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Since the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) was launched in 2006, crop yields have barely risen, while rural poverty remains endemic, and would have increased more if not for out-migration. With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, AGRA was started with the objective of raising yields and incomes for 30 million smallholder farm households while halving food insecurity by 2020. There are no signs of significant productivity and income boosts from promoted commercial seeds and agrochemicals in AGRA’s 13 focus countries. Meanwhile, the number of undernourished in these nations increased by 30 per cent.

When will we ever learn?

What went wrong? The continuing protests by Indian farmers — despite the COVID-19 resurgence — highlight the problematic legacy of its Green Revolution (GR) in frustrating progress to sustainable food security. Many studies have already punctured some myths of India’s GR. Looking back, its flaws and their dire consequences should have warned policymakers of the likely disappointing results of the GR in Africa. Hagiographic accounts of the GR cite “high‐yielding” and “fast-growing” dwarf wheat and rice spreading through Asia, particularly India, saving lives, modernising agriculture, and “freeing” labour for better off-farm employment.

Many recent historical studies challenge key claims of this supposed success, including allegedly widespread yield improvements and even the number of lives actually saved by increased food production. Environmental degradation and other public health threats due to the toxic chemicals used are now widely recognised. Meanwhile, water management has become increasingly challenging and unreliable due to global warming and other factors.

Ersatz GR2.0 for Africa

Half a century later, the technology-fetishizing, even deifying AGRA initiative seemed oblivious of Asian lessons as if there is nothing to learn from actual experiences, research and analyses. Worse, AGRA has ignored many crucial features of India’s GR. Importantly, the post-colonial Indian government had quickly developed capacities to promote economic development. Few African countries have such “developmental” capacities, let alone comparable capabilities. Their already modest government capacities were decimated from the 1980s by structural adjustment programmes demanded by international financial institutions and bilateral “donors”.

Ignoring lessons of history

India’s ten-point Intensive Agricultural Development Programme was more than just about seed, fertiliser and pesticide inputs. Its GR also provided credit, assured prices, improved marketing, extension services, village-level planning, analysis and evaluation. These and other crucial elements are missing or not developed appropriately in recent AGRA initiatives. Sponsors of the ersatz GR in Africa have largely ignored such requirements. Instead, the technophile AGRA initiative has been enamoured with novel technical innovations while not sufficiently appreciating indigenous and other “old” knowledge, science and technology, or even basic infrastructure. The Asian GR relied crucially on improving cultivation conditions, including better water management. There has been little such investment by AGRA or others, even when the crop promoted requires such improvements.

From tragedy to farce

Unsurprisingly, Africa’s GR has reproduced many of India’s problems. As in India, overall staple crop productivity has not grown significantly faster despite costly investments in GR technologies. These poor productivity growth rates have remained well below population growth rates. Moderate success in one priority crop (e.g., wheat in Punjab, India, or maize in Africa) has typically been at the expense of sustained productivity growth for other crops. Crop and dietary diversity has been reduced, adversely affecting cultivation sustainability, nutrition, health and wellbeing. Subsidies and other incentives have meant more land devoted to priority crops, not just intensification, with adverse land use and nutrition impacts. Soil health and fertility have suffered from “nutrient-mining” due to priority crop monocropping, requiring more inorganic fertilizer purchases. Higher input costs often exceed additional earnings from modest yield increases using new seeds and agrochemicals, increasing farmer debt.

Paths not taken 

AGRA and other African GR proponents have had 14 years, and billions of dollars, to show that input-intensive agriculture can raise productivity, net incomes and food security. They have clearly failed. Africans —  farmers, consumers and governments —  have many good reasons to be wary, especially considering AGRA’s track record after a decade and a half. India’s experience and the ongoing farmer protests there should make them more so. Selling Africa’s GR as innovation requiring unavoidable “creative destruction” is grossly misleading. On the other hand, many agro-ecology initiatives, which technophiles decry as backward, are bringing cutting-edge science and technology to farmers, with impressive results. A 2006 University of Essex survey, of nearly 300 large ecological agriculture projects in more than fifty poor countries, documented an average 79 per cent productivity increase, with declining costs and rising incomes. Published when AGRA was launched, these results far surpass those of GRs thus far. Sadly, they remind us of the high opportunity costs of paths not taken due to well-financed technophile dogma.

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SAPs – Season Two: Why Kenyans Fear Another IMF Loan

The Jubilee government would have us believe that the country is economically healthy but the reality is that the IMF has come in precisely because Kenya is in a financial crisis.

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SAPs – Season Two: Why Kenyans Fear Another IMF Loan
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Never did I imagine that opposing an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan to Kenya would be viewed by the Kenyan authorities as a criminal act. But that is exactly what transpired last week when activist Mutemi Kiama was arrested and charged with “abuse of digital gadgets”, “hurting the presidency”, “creating public disorder” and other vaguely-worded offences. Mutemi’s arrest was prompted by his Twitter post of an image of President Uhuru Kenyatta with the following caption: “This is to notify the world . . . that the person whose photograph and names appear above is not authorised to act or transact on behalf of the citizens of the Republic of Kenya and that the nation and future generations shall not be held liable for any penalties of bad loans negotiated and/or borrowed by him.” He was released on a cash bail of KSh.500,000 with an order prohibiting him from using his social media accounts or speaking about COVID-19-related loans.

Mutemi is one among more than 200,000 Kenyans who have signed a petition to the IMF to halt a KSh257 billion (US$2.3 billion) loan to Kenya, which was ostensibly obtained to cushion the country against the negative economic impact of COVID-19.  Kenya is not the only country whose citizens have opposed an IMF loan. Protests against IMF loans have been taking place in many countries, including Argentina, where people took to the streets in 2018 when the country took a US$50 billion loan from the IMF. In 2016, Eqyptian authorities were forced to lower fuel prices following demonstrations against an IMF-backed decision to eliminate fuel subsidies. Similar protests have also taken place in Jordan, Lebanon and Ecuador in recent years.

Why would a country’s citizens be against a loan given by an international financial institution such as the IMF? Well, for those Kenyans who survived (or barely survived) the IMF-World Bank Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) of the 1980s and 90s, the answer is obvious. SAPs came with stringent conditions attached, which led to many layoffs in the civil service and removal of subsidies for essential services, such as health and education, which led to increasing levels of hardship and precarity, especially among middle- and low-income groups. African countries undergoing SAPs experienced what is often referred to as “a lost development decade” as belt-tightening measures stalled development programmes and stunted economic opportunities.

In addition, borrowing African countries lost their independence in matters related to economic policy. Since lenders, such as the World Bank and the IMF, decide national economic policy – for instance, by determining things like budget management, exchange rates and public sector involvement in the economy – they became the de facto policy and decision-making authorities in the countries that took their loans. This is why, in much of the 1980s and 1990s, the arrival of a World Bank or IMF delegation to Nairobi often got Kenyans very worried.

In those days (in the aftermath of a hike in oil prices in 1979 that saw most African countries experience a rise in import bills and a decline in export earnings), leaders of these international financial institutions were feared as much as the authoritarian Kenyan president, Daniel arap Moi, because with the stroke of a pen they could devalue the Kenyan currency overnight and get large chunks of the civil service fired. As Kenyan economist David Ndii pointed out recently at a press conference organised by the Linda Katiba campaign, when the IMF comes knocking, it essentially means the country is “under receivership”. It can no longer claim to determine its own economic policies. Countries essentially lose their sovereignty, a fact that seems to have eluded the technocrats who rushed to get this particular loan.

When he took office in 2002, President Mwai Kibaki kept the World Bank and the IMF at arm’s length, preferring to take no-strings-attached infrastructure loans from China. Kibaki’s “Look East” economic policy alarmed the Bretton Woods institutions and Western donors who had until then had a huge say in the country’s development trajectory, but it instilled a sense of pride and autonomy in Kenyans, which sadly, has been eroded by Uhuru and his inept cronies who have gone on loan fishing expeditions, including massive Eurobonds worth Sh692 billion (nearly $7 billion), which means that every Kenyan today has a debt of Sh137,000, more than three times what it was eight years ago when the Jubilee government came to power. By the end of last year, Kenya’s debt stood at nearly 70 per cent of GDP, up from 50 per cent at the end of 2015. This high level of debt can prove deadly for a country like Kenya that borrows in foreign currencies.

When the IMF comes knocking, it essentially means the country is “under receivership”.

The Jubilee government would have us believe that the fact that the IMF agreed to this loan is a sign that the country is economically healthy, but as Ndii noted, quite often the opposite is true: the IMF comes in precisely because a country is in a financial crisis. In Kenya’s case, this crisis has been precipitated by reckless borrowing by the Jubilee administration that has seen Kenya’s debt rise from KSh630 billion (about $6 billion at today’s exchange rate) when Kibaki took office in 2002, to a staggering KSh7.2 trillion (about US$70 billion) today, with not much to show for it, except a standard gauge railway (SGR) funded by Chinese loans that appears unable to pay for itself. As an article in a local daily pointed out, this is enough money to build 17 SGRs from Mombasa to Nairobi or 154 superhighways like the one from Nairobi to Thika. The tragedy is that many of these loans are unaccounted for; in fact, many Kenyans believe they are taken to line individual pockets. Uhuru Kenyatta has himself admitted that Kenya loses KSh2 billion a day to corruption in government. Some of these lost billions could actually be loans.

IMF loans with stringent conditions attached have often been presented as being the solution to a country’s economic woes – a belt-tightening measure that will instil fiscal discipline in a country’s economy by increasing revenue and decreasing expenditure. However, the real purpose of these loans, some argue, is to bring about major and fundamental policy changes at the national level – changes that reflect the neoliberal ethos of our time, complete with privatisation, free markets and deregulation.

The first ominous sign that the Kenyan government was about to embark on a perilous economic path was when the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, made an official visit to Kenya shortly after President Uhuru was elected in 2013. At that time, I remember tweeting that this was not a good omen; it indicated that the IMF was preparing to bring Kenya back into the IMF fold.

Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine, shows how what she calls “disaster capitalism” has allowed the IMF, in particular, to administer “shock therapy” on nations reeling from natural or man-made disasters or high levels of external debt. This has led to unnecessary privatisation of state assets, government deregulation, massive layoffs of civil servants and reduction or elimination of subsidies, all of which can and do lead to increasing poverty and inequality. Klein is particularly critical of what is known as the Chicago School of Economics that she claims justifies greed, corruption, theft of public resources and personal enrichment as long as they advance the cause of free markets and neoliberalism. She shows how in nearly every country where the IMF “medicine” has been administered, inequality levels have escalated and poverty has become systemic.

Sometimes the IMF will create a pseudo-crisis in a country to force it to obtain an IMF bailout loan. Or, through carefully manipulated data, it will make the country look economically healthy so that it feels secure about applying for more loans. When that country can’t pay back the loans, which often happens, the IMF inflicts even more austerity measures (also known as “conditionalities”) on it, which lead to even more poverty and inequality.

IMF and World Bank loans for infrastructure projects also benefit Western corporations. Private companies hire experts to ensure that these companies secure government contracts for big infrastructure projects funded by these international financial institutions. Companies in rich countries like the United States often hire people who will do the bidding on their behalf. In his international “word-of-mouth bestseller”, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, John Perkins explains how in the 1970s when he worked for an international consulting firm, he was told that his job was to “funnel money from the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development and other foreign aid organisations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s resources”.

Sometimes the IMF will create a pseudo-crisis in a country to force it to obtain an IMF bailout loan.

The tools to carry out this goal, his employer admitted unashamedly, could include “fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex and murder”. Perkins showed how in the 1970s, he became instrumental in brokering deals with countries ranging from Panama to Saudi Arabia where he convinced leaders to accept projects that were detrimental to their own people but which enormously benefitted US corporate interests.

“In the end, those leaders become ensnared in a web of debt that ensures their loyalty. We can draw on them whenever we desire – to satisfy our political, economic or military needs. In turn, they bolster their political positions by bringing industrial parks, power plants, and airports to their people. The owners of US engineering/construction companies become fabulously wealthy,” a colleague told him when he asked why his job was so important.

Kenyans, who are already suffering financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic which saw nearly 2 million jobs in the formal sector disappear last year, will now be confronted with austerity measures at precisely the time when they need government subsidies and social safety nets. Season Two of SAPs is likely to make life for Kenyans even more miserable in the short and medium term.

We will have to wait and see whether overall dissatisfaction with the government will influence the outcome of the 2022 elections. However, whoever wins that election will still have to contend with rising debt and unsustainable repayments that have become President Uhuru Kenyatta’s most enduring legacy.

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Haiti: The Struggle for Democracy, Justice, Reparations and the Black Soul

Only the Haitian people can decide their own future. The dictatorship imposed by former president Jovenel Moïse and its imperialist enablers need to go – and make space for a people’s transition government.

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Haiti: The Struggle for Democracy, Justice, Reparations and the Black Soul
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Haiti is once again going through a profound crisis. Central to this is the struggle against the dictatorship imposed by former president Jovenel Moïse. Since last year Mr. Moise, after decreeing the dismissal of Parliament, has been ruling through decrees, permanently violating Haiti’s constitution. He has refused to leave power after his mandate ended on February 7, 2021, claiming that it ends on February 7 of next year, without any legal basis.

This disregard of the constitution is taking place despite multiple statements by the country’s main judicial bodies, such as the CSPJ (Superior Council of Judicial Power) and the Association of Haitian Lawyers. Numerous religious groups and numerous institutions that are representative of society have also spoken. At this time, there is a strike by the judiciary, which leaves the country without any public body of political power.

At the same time, this institutional crisis is framed in the insecurity that affects practically all sectors of Haitian society. An insecurity expressed through savage repressions of popular mobilizations by the PNH (Haitian National Police), which at the service of the executive power. They have attacked journalists and committed various massacres in poor neighborhoods. Throughout the country, there have been assassinations and arbitrary arrests of opponents.

Most recently, a judge of the High Court was detained under the pretext of promoting an alleged plot against the security of the State and to assassinate the president leading to the illegal and arbitrary revocation of three judges of this Court. This last period has also seen the creation of hundreds of armed groups that spread terror over the entire country and that respond to power, transforming kidnapping into a fairly prosperous industry for these criminals.

The 13 years of military occupation by United Nations troops through MINUSTAH and the operations of prolongation of guardianship through MINUJUSTH and BINUH have aggravated the Haitian crisis. They supported retrograde and undemocratic sectors who, along with gangsters, committed serious crimes against the Haitian people and their fundamental rights.

For this, the people of Haiti deserve a process of justice and reparations. They have paid dearly for the intervention of MINUSTAH: 30 THOUSAND DEAD from cholera transmitted by the soldiers, thousands of women raped, who now raise orphaned children. Nothing has changed in 13 years, more social inequality, poverty, more difficulties for the people. The absence of democracy stays the same.

The poor’s living conditions have worsened dramatically as a result of more than 30 years of neoliberal policies imposed by the International Financial Institutions (IFIs), a severe exchange rate crisis, the freezing of the minimum wage, and inflation above 20% during the last three years.

It should be emphasized that, despite this dramatic situation, the Haitian people remain firm and are constantly mobilizing to prevent the consolidation of a dictatorship by demanding the immediate leave of office by former President Jovenel Moïse.

Taking into account the importance of this struggle and that this dictatorial regime still has the support of imperialist governments such as the United States of America, Canada, France, and international organizations such as the UN, the OAS, and the EU, the IPA calls its members to contribute their full and active solidarity to the struggle of the Haitian people, and to sign this Petition that demands the end of the dictatorship as well as respect for the sovereignty and self-determination of the Haitian people, the establishment of a transition government led by Haitians to launch a process of authentic national reconstruction.

In addition to expressing our solidarity with the Haitian people’s resistance, we call for our organisations to demonstrate in front of the embassies of the imperialist countries and before the United Nations. Only the Haitian people can decide their future. Down with Moise and yes to a people’s transition government, until a constituent is democratically elected.

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