A Not So Sweet Situation - Cocoa and Cote d'Ivoire

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -  This past month Americans celebrated a holiday, originally of pagan origin, but which has been adopted by popular culture as a day for people to celebrate their love for each other. It is also a day when emotions run high. Men feel compelled to demonstrate their affection by purchasing flowers, chocolate, or other gifts. Women on the other hand, have become expectant of these affirmations, and are often upset if their partners do not deliver one of these market driven tokens of love.

While to some people a Valentine's Day without chocolate would be seen as undesirable, some cocoa producers in the Ivory Coast experienced the exact opposite problem. After an unrealized premonition by cocoa exporters in the Ivory Coast that led to them defaulting on their export contracts, cocoa growers have been left without paychecks while tons of beans have been left to rot or sit at ports along the coast awaiting shipment. Unfortunately for many, the implications of this could have a long-term effect as many producers have been left indebted and unable to prepare their next round of crops.

Perhaps ironically, the Ivory Coast's market system was designed to rely on forward sales in which a minimum market price was set for farmers in hopes of encouraging them to reinvest in their plantations. According to interviews conducted by Reuters, many farmers have not purchased fertilizer or other material for next seasons crops because of the uncertain future and their current state of financial insecurity due to the default. Additionally, this issue has surpassed cocoa farmers and reached shops selling fertilizer and pesticides, many of which have closed as a result of the excruciatingly minimal demand for their products.

While businesses have shut down and many farmers have truncated their plantation cycles, some individuals have refused to be disheartened and have decided to sell their crops for less than the government dictated market price of 1,100 CFA francs ($1.79). Still yet, others have gotten a little more crafty. Although the default has proved harrowing for many, some people have outsmarted the system and began smuggling cocoa across the border to neighboring Ghana and Guinea where they can sell it to make a larger profit than in their homeland.

Even though this has provided temporary relief for some, there does not exist a long term solution. As a result, many have taken to the streets in a cry for help for government assistance during this time of need. Likely fueling the protests is the fact that the Ivory Coast has not used either its stabilization fund or the Reserve Fund to support cocoa sales or otherwise mollify the situation.

Although the future remains uncertain for the cocoa industry in the Ivory Coast, it is almost certain that there will be global ramifications as a result of this situation. The Ivory Coast is the worlds largest cocoa producer, producing an average of 1.65 million tons a year and providing cocoa to companies to companies such as Cadbury, Hershey's, and Nestle. With this in mind, it is perhaps in more peoples best interest than just the cocoa growers that a solution is discovered for this issue, and fast.

A Vision for the Future - China to Construct Housing in Rwanda

President of the Senate Hon. Bernard Makuza receives Chairman of the Chinese Congress H.E Zhang Dejiang, Photo by Rwanda Ministry of Foreign Affairs    

President of the Senate Hon. Bernard Makuza receives Chairman of the Chinese Congress H.E Zhang Dejiang, Photo by Rwanda Ministry of Foreign Affairs    

KIGALI, Rwanda - It is not uncommon for cities in the developing world to experience an influx of rural-urban migration because of economic development, and thus heightened opportunities in urban areas. While at times this occurs on a scale so large that new buildings and infrastructure must be constructed to accommodate the newly enlarged population. In the case of Rwanda an entirely new microcosm of a city had to be built to mollify the citizens adversely impacted by the this issue. Befitting the optimistic prognostications for the future, the new development is called Vision City, and will eventually provide 4,500 new homes to Rwandans in 2024, its scheduled completion.

The problem; however, they plan to construct luxury, but pedestrian styled homes ranging in price from $172,00 to $560,000. At these prices the population that most requires housing is unable to afford it because the average per capita income is just $700 a year. A study in 2012 by the City of Kigali, the Ministry of Infrastructure, and the European Union revealed that by 2020 a housing deficit of upwards of 344,000 homes could prove to be problematic for Rwanda’s already populous and centrally located capital city. Just a year after the study came out, ground broke on Vision City, Rwanda’s largest housing project to date.

The project is set to be completed in four phases with phase one offering an initial five hundred housing units sometime early this month to help alleviate the housing deficiency. In addition to offering accommodations, Vision City will also provide supermarkets, schools, and a new network of public transportation, thus making the housing project truly a city within a city. While Vision City has been funded by the Rwandan Social Security Board, construction is being led by China Civil Engineering, and is utilizing a prolific quantity of imported materials which may account for the steep price of the housing units. Due to this, it seems that many Rwandans will not be able to afford to live in Vision City which could prove to be problematic especially as its very construction is part of a plan to appease the housing deficit due to migrant workers pouring into the city in search of work.

Furthermore, the project may exacerbate Rwanda’s already prominent level of income inequality especially as its construction displaced approximately three thousand people who owned more moderately valued property on the land which Vision City is currently being erected. Vision City’s location on the periphery of Kigali is of paramount importance in understanding its role in explaining and perhaps heightening income inequality in Rwanda. When there is an inundation of people migrating into economically important cities it is frequently the case that many end up settling on the outskirts as that is where they can afford to live even if they must commute to jobs that are more centrally located.

This has proved to be the case in many Brazilian cities regarding the construction of favelas (shantytowns) on the periphery of city centers as well as Kibera in Nairobi, which has evolved into the largest slum in Africa. While Vision City seeks to provide housing for this eventual overflow of migrant workers, the prices of the units do not reflect its final goal and might merely expand the perimeter of the city while encouraging the construction of slums on its outskirts. The result of this is that it will become even more difficult for migrant workers to find affordable accommodations and have easy access to jobs.

Of course, this is assuming that Vision City achieves full occupancy. Apart from the obvious problem that they are too expensive for the average Rwandan, it is quite possible that people will not want to move there because everything is too cookie-cutter and planned, which was the case in Brazil’s construction of Brasilia in 1960 as well as a similar development in Angola that finished in 2012 but remains largely unoccupied.

Nevertheless, there is a potential certainty that population in Rwanda that wants and can afford to live in luxury style homes with imported granite, but it is unlikely that this is feasible and in some cases even appealing to the general population. Ultimately, it seems that while Rwanda has poured $110 million dollars into this project, its vision for the future might be a little too optimistic and may even exclude the very people it is trying to help.

Globalization Express: Ethiopia's Chinese Railway

Light Railway System Built by the Chinese, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Photo by Etsutaro Tanaka

Light Railway System Built by the Chinese, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Photo by Etsutaro Tanaka

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - Traveling through Ethiopia's capital city one may notice bustling sidewalks filled with young professionals, construction sites looming with delicately built scaffolding, and street signs written in a language that is not Amharic as one might expect, but Mandarin Chinese.

While it is not unusual for African countries to have a heavy influence of non-native cultures and languages due to colonialism, China has never been one of these. When one thinks of Africa and the historic problems which currently beset it, many of these problems are inextricably connected to 19th century European colonialism during which Britain, France, Portugal, Germany, and Belgium to name a few, used military aggression to implement imperial agendas.

Most African nations and governments resisted colonization, but were crushed in the ensuing effort due to a lack of military prowess or weaponry. Other liberation efforts were undermined by leaders who colluded with the imperialists for their personal aggrandizement and that of their cohorts. They became willing participants and puppet governments facilitating the theft of natural resources such as gold, diamonds, timber, oil and gas, etc. African countries with the most abundant and coveted resources continue to struggle against foreign influences and manipulation which foment continuous instability devised to advance neocolonialists agendas.

This is one of the things which makes Ethiopia unique. Starting in the 1880s Italy tried to annex Ethiopia, which was then known as Abyssinia, but was repeatedly thwarted. Then, on 3 October 1935, the fascist leader Benito Mussolini ‘ordered a new invasion and on 9 May of the following year [Ethiopia] was annexed.” But, unlike other African nations, Ethiopians never accepted the yoke of tyranny and on 5 May 1941, Ethiopian regained its sovereignty under Emperor Haile Selassie.

During all of this, China had yet to expand its imperialistic aspirations beyond the Asia, however, in the latter part of the 20th century this changed when the government initiated a long-term strategy to increase its business and land holdings in Africa. China's influence in Ethiopia can be attributed in part to globalization, though it is also possible that this term is just a euphemistic cover for more nefarious motives. No matter the intention, China's influence in Ethiopia has led to several developments, most recently the construction of a 460-mile railway connecting Ethiopia to the Republic of Djibouti.

The train terminates in the capital, Djibouti City which is on the coast of the Gulf of Tadjoura, strategically located and which provides access to both the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. While the primary purpose of this railway is to decrease the amount of time required to transport products and people to and from this important port, when viewed within the larger context, it is yet another mechanism by in program by China and other nations to engage in 'land grabs.' Unlike the overt appropriation of land by European colonialists, China and other neocolonialists are subtler in their acquisition strategies by promising equitable compensation.

Instead of force, they bring gifts, or rather the promise of economic prosperity, which the government benefits from, but the local and indigenous people who are most affected are the least rewarded. China is Ethiopia's largest importer and the African continent's biggest trade partner. While this is great for China, as it has formed amicable relationships with many countries that have abundant natural resources, these benefits are not reciprocal. In Ethiopia, China benefits by being able to purchase large swaths of land, however, forcing the relocation of the Oromo and Amara among others.

Additionally, the displaced citizens are not trained for non-agrarian or non-rural job opportunities, leaving many of them to retreat to Addis Ababa where they live on the absolute fringes of society. Also, the Ethiopian government has failed to enforce any types of quotas on the Chinese which would cause them to hire local people. Thus, many jobs related to China’ expansion into the country are being worked by Chinese immigrants, which further exacerbates the issue of high-employment.

Furthermore, many of local goods such as clothing, housewares, shoes, etc. are now being imported from China at such an inexpensive cost that it has all but decimated the local economy. For example, if you go to an Ethiopian market and look at the tags on traditional Ethiopian dresses, many will read 'Made in China.' This is extraordinarily strange as the clothing is "traditional" to Ethiopia and thus one would assume would or could only be made locally, using age old techniques, and customary fabrics.

Thus, the railway to all outward appearances is a good thing, a progressive indicator which signals Ethiopia’s ascendancy in the global arena. And, were the Ethiopian government in complete control or even the majority shareholder in these economic endeavors, this could portend the possibility of remaining independent. But, this is not the case, and regarding the railway which is a vital tool in an economic arsenal, this is most evident by the fact only Chinese workers are employed to work back-end as technicians, and in forward facing positions such as conductors, with the vague promise that Ethiopians will be trained in the future to take over these roles.

Furthermore, the railway, which cost upwards of $475 million, was constructed and funded in full by China. Meng Fengchao, the board chairman of China Railway Construction Corp, the company that built the railway, stated that the train system is the first railway built outside of China, which was constructed in accordance with the strict rules, guidelines, and standards for railway construction in China. This successful completion and launch of this railway is a big deal for China especially because it accomplished this feat in Ethiopia, a country in the Horn of Africa which many in the West have only known historically as a place of famine and war.

China’s willingness to negotiate with governments which do not view Communism with the same abhorrence as Western nations, provides it with additional opportunities to expand its geopolitical footprint while simultaneously, but quietly annexing more land. Some speculate that China is becoming increasingly smitten with African countries because it plans to move large numbers of its citizenry to the Continent as part of a long-term effort to reduce its current overpopulation. However, empirically it could also be surmised by the number of Chinese workers who still live in Ethiopia post-construction, as well as the estimated 20,000 who live and work in other capital cities like Lusaka, Zambia, that the unchecked immigration of Chinese laborers is a calculated program in their neocolonialist push.

Speculation aside, China's influence in Ethiopia and its subsequent construction of the railway is monumental for Ethiopia. The country's nascent connection to the sea through this railway is a historic milestone as Ethiopia has been landlocked since Eritrea’s succession in 1991. As with all advances, there are winners and losers, and in the immediate, Ethiopia’s infrastructure is being improved, and in the long-term -- perhaps one day these railways may cut across the Continent transporting goods and services, reuniting people and cultures torn asunder by European colonialism, and connect African countries each to the other in a way that can prognosticate a fully realized African Union.

Until then, Ethiopians and immigrants are happy to be able to have access to a safe, modern, and well-constructed railway system which now expands their living space and horizons. Though train stops and other announcements are now spoken in English, Amharic, and Chinese, in its purity it is wondrous evidence that people from every nation are becoming less isolated and participating more fully as global citizens.

How an Olympic Race Became Political: Feyisa Lilesa's Homage to the Oromo Nationalist Movement

Feyisa Lilesa, Ethiopian Olympian, Oromo Activist, Rio 2016 Olympics, Photo by Jeso Carneiro

Feyisa Lilesa, Ethiopian Olympian, Oromo Activist, Rio 2016 Olympics, Photo by Jeso Carneiro

ETHIOPIA -  While many Olympic runners raise their arms as they approach the finish line, few do so as a demonstration of political protest. Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa joined this elite group of politically charged Olympic athletes such as Tommie Smith and John Carlos when he crossed his arms at the end of the Men’s Marathon during the Rio Olympics. While Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute during the awards ceremony, Feyisa Lilesa crossed his arms at the end of the race to demonstrate his allegiance with the Oromo people as they continue a centuries long clash with the Ethiopian government. What looked like a stretch to many Olympic observers was really a powerful demonstration that resulted from many years of unrest and political strife.

Thousands of miles from where Lilesa made his protest in August, Oromo dissenters had been actively demonstrating against the Ethiopian government since 2014 when a plan was unveiled for the expansion of Addis Ababa. The plan, arguably excellent for the capitals image and perhaps even reminiscent of the rapid improvements made under Haile Selassie in the mid 20th century, also proved reminiscent to the Oromo of how they were kicked off their land when the capital was moved from the north of the country to Addis Ababa in the first place. The new plan involved permeating the capital city into the Oromo occupied outskirts of its current blueprint, displacing members of the already marginalized group in the process. Without previous knowledge of the maltreatment of the Oromo, one might think that protests involving more than one hundred thousand people across Oromia might be drastic, but the government’s plan to expand the city into heavily Oromo occupied territory was perhaps the last straw after centuries of government action taken to improve Ethiopia at the expense of the Oromo.

In 1941 at the end of the Italian occupation the imperial system made strides towards assimilating the Oromo in order to build Ethiopian nationalism at a time when the country was lacking a strong national identity. This assimilation process entailed making Amharic the national language and banning the use of the Oromo language in schools, churches, and public offices. While some Oromo’s ‘Amharised’ in order to achieve upward mobility, it was not long before campaigns such as Macha Tulama and Ethiopian Student Movement formed in opposition to the current political environment and poor treatment of the Oromo identity. While some of the more extreme followers of these movements wanted independence from Ethiopia all together, they at the very least desired equal treatment of the Oromo language, culture, and religion to that of the Amhara. [1]

Unfortunately, not all that much has changed since Oromo nationalist movements began. The Oromo remain the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia (and the Horn of Africa for that matter), yet groups such as the Amhara and the Tigray are favored in government just like they have been for decades. Interestingly though, Ethiopia is a country in which a strong sense of fraternity is felt amongst its citizens, which can perhaps be attributed to the historical bond that it is the only country to have fought off colonization. However, it must be noted that fraternity and national identity cannot be confused here because if you ask an Oromo about their national identity it is likely that they will respond “I am Oromo,” not, “I am Ethiopian

With this in mind, it is not surprising that when Oromo athlete Feyisa Lilesa ran for the Ethiopian Olympic team he also took a stand that demonstrated his allegiance to his Oromo identity during a crucial time in their history and relationship with the Ethiopian government. Even though Lilesa won silver in the race, he won gold in the hearts of many Oromo nationalists through his bold demonstration of solidarity and civil disobedience towards a government that has historically mistreated his people.

1. Bulcha, Mekuria. "African Sociological Review/Revue Africaine De Sociologie."African Studies Companion Online 1.1 (1997): 30-65. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.

Sexual Abuse in Peacekeeping: A Not So Simple Answer

37-Year-Old Rape Victim, Mali, IDPS Bamako, Photo by Voice Nature World Plus

37-Year-Old Rape Victim, Mali, IDPS Bamako, Photo by Voice Nature World Plus

CENTRAL AFRICA - Since late March, the United Nations (UN) has come under fire on allegations that peacekeepers committed acts of sexual violence against civilian populations. The advocacy group, AIDS-free-world, made several leaked documents public in March of 2016 which implicated French soldiers and UN peacekeepers in acts of sexual abuse against the populations they were sent to protect. A large portion of these claims come from the Central African Republic, where French soldiers were deployed to help quell internal violence that began in 2013. The first allegations pre-date the establishment of the UN sanctioned peacekeeping mission, known as the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), which was authorized by the UN Security Council in April of 2014. Most of these were directed against French military personnel who were assisting African Union regional stabilization forces. Accusations of sexual abuse against peacekeepers from France, Gabon and Burundi were, however, reported after the establishment of MINUSCA and implicated the UN and its administration. Though many of these accusations are still under investigation, this information highlights the structural flaws within the UN that would allow such heinous acts to happen in the first place.

The current reports of sexual abuse are not the first the international organization has had to address. Sexual abuse on peacekeeping missions has been an ongoing problem within the UN system dating back to stabilization efforts in Cambodia during 1992. Most subsequent missions have also had at least some reports of misconduct, rape or abuse. With few exceptions, most accused perpetrators receive little to no punishment. This is because the UN itself, being an international organization, lacks any sort of power to legally prosecute individuals. Prosecution of criminal acts must be done by individual countries, and peacekeepers on a mission cannot be prosecuted by the host country in which they serve due to diplomatic immunity. Peacekeepers can only be prosecuted by their home country from which they originate. Most troop contributing countries for peacekeeping operations have, however, been reluctant to investigate and prosecute accused soldiers.

This leaves two questions regarding the widespread misconduct and sexual abuse. First, why has the UN been ineffective in addressing the structural challenges that allow such acts to manifest? Second, why are troop contributing countries reluctant to punish their own soldiers, especially in instances where misconduct is clear? The answers to these questions can come from current UN officials themselves. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, UN Special Representative to the Central African Republic, said in an interview with Foreign Policy Magazine that “countries aren’t exactly queuing to contribute troops to peacekeeping missions.” This means that any measures that the UN might put forth, such as expelling contingents of troops with multiple allegations, would cause a backlash from those who provide troops and cut off a much needed resource. Thus politics often comes into play when addressing these types of allegations at the New York Headquarters.

In terms of holding soldiers accountable in their home country, we often see a lack of political will and capacity. Less than five percent of allegations end up with the home country of the soldiers legally prosecuting them. There has been a long held observation that those countries that do contribute soldiers often prioritize domestic legal matters as opposed to those that happen in a different country. Likewise, most troop contributing countries are unwilling to admit any wrong-doing or are unable pursue trial because the evidence collected by the UN does not meet national standards needed to prosecute. Thus, we are left with a situation where soldiers know they practically have immunity in certain cases of rape and other human rights abuses. Lewis Mudge of Human Rights Watch himself said: “They know very well that, legally, the hands of national authorities and the United Nations are tied.”

We are left with a sensitive political situation that may threaten the efficacy of current and future peacekeeping operations. While certain solutions, such as the suggestion to collect DNA from all soldiers for paternity testing might have some impact, the international community is still faced with the lack of political will, mostly on the part of troop contributing countries. Pressing or coercing such countries to prosecute their soldiers might backfire, and peacekeeping missions could end up understaffed. Again, this result could actually do more harm than good and might potentially destabilize the country in which justice is sought. The international community might be better served to address these problems by better connecting troop contributing countries to potential solutions. One such example is Hervé Ladsous’s proposal for a specialized military court in countries hosting peacekeeping operations. It was not said who should staff these theoretical courts, but perhaps allocating spots for those who contribute the most soldiers to the host country might create political will to hold peacekeepers who commit heinous acts of abuse accountable.

Contributing Journalist: @AdamWolf
LinkedIn: Adam Wolf

Timbuktu Rebuilt After Radical Islamist Destroyed

timbuktu, mali, photo by xavier bartaburu

timbuktu, mali, photo by xavier bartaburu

TIMBUKTU, Mali - In 2012 we reported on the modern trend of the destruction of ancient artifacts by radicals, and in Mali the destruction of Timbuktu was an equally notable travesty. It is incomprehensible that any Muslim would try to destroy this legendary center of Islamic academia, but that they employed a strict interpretation of the law to justify their acts of barbarism seems antithetical to the Qur'an in which they espouse to believe.

Ansar Dine Islamist militia which had ties to Al-Qaeda fought with the Tuareg to capture the key towns of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. They remained in control of these cities from 2012 through 2013 until they were defeated and driven out by the French forces.

When the extremists initiated the destruction of Timbuktu, a city that is recognized as an important cultural icon, they did so with the same vehemence with which they bombed the 6th century giant statues of Buddha in Afghanistan Bamiyan in March 2001.

The Taliban extremist Mullah Mohammed Omar in Afghanistan, and a spokesman for Ansar Dine lauded the destruction of these irreplaceable monuments.

“Muslims should be proud of smashing idols. It has given praise to God that we have destroyed them.”

The Islamist militants in Mali destroyed mosques, desecrated mausoleums, and burnt tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts. The mausoleums were particularly targeted because they were “shrines to Timbuktu's founding fathers, who had been venerated as saints by most of the city's inhabitants.” The act of men, dead or alive, being revered was viewed as idolatrous and thus blasphemous according to the tenets of Islam.

Once a great Islamic learning center between the 13th to the 17th centuries, Timbuktu attracted thousands of Muslim students from sub-Sahara and Northern Africa. Even my father visited the famed city while making Hajj when I was a child. Though not as important a pilgrimage as the Hajj, nonetheless many Muslims undertook the journey to study in or visit the famed city. At its height there were nearly 200 schools and universities housed here.

On 20 July 2015 news outlets announced the restoration of fourteen mausoleums. It took local stone masons using traditional techniques just over a year to complete. According to UNESCO, "extremists inflicted significant damage to 14 out of the 16 mausoleums that had been given World Heritage status,” and the restoration of these historical monuments was news worthy and an important step toward achieving tolerance and peaceful coexistence.

Though there is much to be done, the restoration of Timbuktu through the collective efforts and financial support by Muslims, Christians, and Jews, demonstrates that we have the capacity to establish peaceful coalitions in furtherance of the well-being of all. Thus, we have taken these first steps in recognizing the importance of our commonalities over our differences. Despite what is portrayed in the media, there are more good and peace loving people in the world than those who twist religious dogma to justify personal agendas.

So, when radical fundamentalist band together to foment hatred and fear, it is our duty to remember that we too have power. As Edmund Burke said, “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

Follow Nahmias Cipher Report on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor: @ayannanahmias Facebook: Ayanna Nahmias

Related articles