Friday, April 07, 2006

Africa insecurity

Africa, a continent endowed with immense natural and human resources as well as great cultural, ecological and economic diversity, remains underdeveloped. Most African nations suffer from military dictatorships, corruption, civil unrest and war, underdevelopment and deep poverty. The majority of the countries classified by the UN as least developed are in Africa. Numerous development strategies have failed to yield the expected results. Although some believe that the continent is doomed to perpetual poverty and economic slavery, Africa has immense potential.
Africa insecurity, HIV/AIDS and a reduced capacity to govern and provide basic services today suffers from a "deadly triad" of interrelated burdens -- food As the momentum for Live gathers pace and the pressure on international leaders to deal with Africa's problems mounts in the case for doubling aid. They are the people who have lost everything and endured suffering on a scale that is hard to imagine. In Sudan, for example, two million people have fled their homes in Darfur and are struggling to survive in one of the world's bleakest, most inhospitable places. The aid they receive - water, medicines, shelter, food - is provided by Western governments, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations such as Oxfam. This kind of aid keeps people alive and tries to maintain their dignity as human beings. It is a life support system - and everyone knows what happens when a life support machine is switched off. But short-term emergency aid - while more often on our television screens - is far from the whole picture. Long-term development aid to Africa is less visible, but it counts for a much bigger chunk of global aid spending. The bulk of it is given by Western governments. At its best, this kind of aid can play a vital role in helping poor countries to work their way out of poverty. And education, it is widely agreed, is one of the most powerful weapons against poverty. In Ethiopia, farmers are now using roads built with foreign aid to reach local and international markets to sell their crops more easily. Children in rural areas can,t go to school, and not all people can make it to a clinic or hospital - often the difference between life and death. International aid has been essential in rebuilding countries shattered by war. In Mozambique, it supported a process of national reconciliation, peacefully repatriating nearly two million refugees, disarming almost 100,000 former soldiers, and clearing landmines. Empowering Of course aid is not the only answer to Africa's development. The continent's farmers also need fairer terms of trade for their produce, whether it is cotton, sugar, rice or coffee. For every dollar they receive in aid they still lose two because of unfair trade. But it is not an "either or" situation with aid and trade. In order for people in Africa to trade effectively and play a full part in the global economy, they need to be educated and healthy, and have access to markets via roads and ports. That is where aid comes in. There are those who blame Africa's poverty on a failure of aid. Certainly the way aid has been given in the past has been flawed. Too often it has served the interests of those giving it rather than Africa's poorest, propping up "friendly" African governments during the Cold War for example
I am thinking of a six-year-old girl called Lucy, neatly dressed in a green school uniform, picking her way through the litter and sewage-strewn allways of Mathare, one of Kenya's most notorious slums. Thanks to British aid, Lucy and hundreds of children like her have escaped the violent streets of Nairobi where children as young as six are known to have contracted HIV and Aids. Thanks to British aid, Lucy is in primary school and has the chance of a life. Even today it could be much improved, to focus more on the Africa's very poorest, but it is moving in the right direction. And of course, for aid to work properly, African governments receiving it must be committed to improving life for their poorest citizens. Aid can play its part here too, in strengthening African government institutions, funding the fight against corruption, empowering African civil society groups to call their own governments to account. Democracy is steadily spreading in sub-Saharan Africa, with elections in 44 out of 50 countries in the past decade. Independent television and radio stations are being established across the continent. Aid can play a major role in strengthening this trend. It can also - by funding small loan schemes as Oxfam does in countries as far apart as Rwanda and Mauritania - foster the incredible entrepreneurial drive in Africa. If aid to Africa were cut, all this would be dead in the water. Aid now needs to be doubled if Africa is to tackle poverty head-on. Its debts need to be cancelled and the rules of world trade made fair. Only then will Africa have a fair chance to compete. Only then will Africa's outstanding human potential and natural riches really come into their own. More than 200 first graders, many of them barefoot, clothed in rags and dizzy with hunger, stream into there classroom each day. Squeezed together on the concrete floor, they sit hip to hip, jostling for space, wildly waving their hands to get her to call on them. Their laps and the floor are their only desks. What hangs in the balance is the future of a generation of African children desperately reaching out for learning as a lifeline from poverty, even as poverty itself presents a fearsome obstacle. Near the end of a school year that runs from January to November,
In large measure, the idea of free education has gained powerful momentum because politicians in democratizing African nations have found it a great vote-getter. Deepening poverty had meant even small annual school fees - less than an American family would spend on a single fast-food meal - had put education beyond reach for millions. The abolition of school fees is also owed to the changing politics of international aid. In the 1990's, the World Bank, the largest financier of antipoverty programs in developing countries, encouraged the collection of textbook fees. Its experts had reasoned that poor African countries often paid teacher salaries but allotted little or nothing for books. If parents did not buy them, there often were none. Some experts worry that the drive to expand enrollment rapidly has overshadowed the push for quality. "Just herding kids into classes and counting that as education hasn't worked," but keeping them there and making them learn involves a whole lot more than we've understood." But the government is still struggling to turn around an economy plagued by high unemployment and low growth so it can begin producing jobs for the children it is educating. And it has only begun to change an education system where teachers too often face classrooms filled with too many children.

How many of you go to school?" I asked the group of children gathered round. Behind us was an open drain then shanty huts which crept back along the grey rocky landscape. There was a mild aroma of rotting rubbish The Restavec children are sent to relatives or other families who live in the cities and it is the hope of the child’s family that they will have a better future in life by receiving an education and better job opportunities when they become adults. The reality is very different. The children are physically, mentally and often sexually abused by their owners, they are not allowed to speak, denied an education and the time to play. They work long hours and their beds are a few rags on the floor. The programme reminded me of a similar practice in Nigeria of using children as domestic labour. The child could be the son or daughter of a poor relative or simply a child brought through an intermediary from a village anywhere. Like in Haiti often there is an assumption on the part of the child’s parents that she/he will be given a better chance in life and sent to school or trained in some skill. I have seen children as young as 5 being abused in the household of a relative of mine and in other households I have visited. Women who act as “agents” buy and sell children as young as 5 years old. The children are bought from poor families and sold to middle class Nigerians. In one instance about 3 months ago, I paid a visit to this woman and uncle, out of a sense of duty I might add rather than any wish to actually visit with them, who always have one child or the other working for them. In this particularly disgusting case the child was a little girl who I was told was 6 but actually looked about 4. She was dressed in rags, could only speak Igbo and very poorly at that, so she could hardly communicate with anyone. She was fearful and it was clear she was being beaten and verbally abused. The woman shouted at her and complained how useless she was as she couldn’t do anything or learn anything. I tried to tell my aunt that the child was so young and afraid and no doubt missing her family and that shouting and beating her was wrong. The reply I got was I didn’t understand and that the only way to treat these kind of people was to beat them. The whole thing was shocking. Rather than do something constructive like insist that using children as child labour was wrong, I became angry and left and haven’t been back since. What I should have done was find out if there was any organisation where I could report the mistreatment of the child such as the African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect. This has stayed with me and I always wonder what happened to the young girl and all the other child slaves that passed through that household. A large number of children are also trafficked into Britain for use as domestic slaves. The children arrive at London airports accompanied by adults claiming to be their aunts or uncles or even sometimes alone and then are met by adults who claim to be relatives. But here they don't go to school, they have to work all day and they are then at risk from abuse." I would go further than this and state that for large sections of Nigerian society, the exploitation of children as domestic slaves is part and parcel of every day life, acceptable and condoned even by those who do not practice it. Similar reports of child slavery can be found throughout the continent. In West Africa children trafficked from Mali and Burkina Faso are used as slaves in the harvesting of cocoa beans in Cote d’Ivoire. Girls are trafficked from Togo to Gabon to be used as domestics or to work in markets. Many of the children hawking the streets of African cities selling oranges, Kleenex tissues and cheap trinkets are slaves who have either been kidnapped, are orphans, or have HIV. One thing they do have in common is that they are all extremely poor, the most vulnerable in our communities. In Nigeria 120 boys and then later another 116 all from Benin were rescued from labour camps in the South Western states of Oyo, Osun and Ogun. The boys some as young as 4 years old were found working in granite quarries, sleeping out in the open and malnourished. Young boys from Togo were recruited to work as agricultural workers in Nigeria in return for their school fees. The boys ended up working 13 hours a day and were beaten if they complained or did not work hard enough. After 1 to 2 years they were given bicycles and told to peddle home. Many never made it whilst others were robbed. Sexual exploitation - in particular, prostitution - is the most widely documented form of exploitation for women and children trafficked within and from Africa," said the report. In certain instances it has been "exacerbated also by a demand from foreigners", such as in holiday resorts in Malawi, where children are reported to be sexually exploited by European tourists, or sent to Europe as sex slaves. South Africa is a major trafficking center as it is a country of origin, a destination and a transit center for trafficked children and women some from as far away as Thailand, China and Pakistan as well as from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet block. At the same time South African children and women are being trafficked to Macau, Hong Kong and the Middle East as well as internally within South Africa to work as domestic slaves, in labour camps and as prostitutes. The Network Against Child Labour (based in South Africa) “estimates that of the 400 000 child labourers in the country, more than 247 900 children were involved in exploitative labour, including prostitution. However the numbers were increasing dramatically because more parents were dying from HIV/Aids, leaving more children living in poverty.” Children as young as 8 working as prostitutes on the streets of Cape Town as part of the local tourist trade. “A pimp in Cape Town, South Africa's tourism capital, who supplies eight- to 11-year-olds to sex tourists mainly from the US, Britain and Japan, commented in the film that children are sometimes tied with barbed wire and told to perform sexual acts on adults.” This is just Africa. Trafficking and slavery is taking place across the globe from South and Central America to the Far East. From Europe to America to the Middle East. All across the world mostly women and children are being bought and sold, abused sexually and physically. Not a single country in Africa has as yet made any serious attempt to deal with trafficking and slavery. On the contrary in many cases the authorities, police, immigration, security forces, government officials and even families are complicit in the trade of human beings. Authoritarian regimes, dictatorships, HIV/AIDS, Western capital’s low price for raw materials, disease, extreme poverty and wars zones all facilitate child slavery and trafficking of human beings in Africa. ·


Lionel said...

Very interesting article about Africa, with eyes embbeding in the African Continent. Thanks for your cultural preocupation.

Anonymous said...

hey Uche i really like your article keep it up.

Lynda said...

hi my friend

I thought this was great....Here in the USA we do not know how things are there...and truely sorry about what is happening over there...I hope someday it will change for u and your people

CoolDigest said...

Very deep my friend... Very deep... The future is dependent on how we rise to meet our fears... lets not be positive only to HIV, but be positive in the belief of a better Africa... God bless Africa!