Commentary on AIDS 2010 Conference in Vienna

The AIDS 2010 conference took place in Vienna this month. Idasa was in Vienna to discuss the state of leadership, government budgets and the challenges people living with AIDS face when they take part in political, social and economic life. Listen to Marietjie Oelofsen (Programme Manager) about their time in Vienna here –  http://ipad.io/MOw.

Or listen here:

Paul Graham statement at Community of Democracies on 3rd July 2010

The Community of Democracies recently commemorated its 10th Anniversary in Krakow Poland, where over over 100 civil society leaders and democracy activists from every region of the world participated. Idasa’s Paul Graham spoke to State representatives – see his remarks here.

What are our priorities?

Lusaka: “Yes, 45 per cent of Zambian children are stunted! And yes, Zambia is among the ten most malnourished countries in the world! But how is that possible in a country that is experiencing a bumper harvest this year?” Well, that’s a question that kept coming in my head last week when I was attending the launch of a new JCTR study on school feeding programmes in Zambia. And I’m sure I’m not alone in asking just what in the world is going on in government policies, international aid strategies, NGO and church programmes and family practices that we could have so much food but so many hungry in Zambia today! Read more here.

Uganda’s agriculture spending below population growth

In April this year, Uganda signed the CAADP protocol to compel the government to increase agricultural spending by 10%. The aim of the protocol is to help Africa reach economic growth through agricultural-led development. Read more here.

Idasa opposed to Reserve Bank amendments

Idasa has expressed opposition to the South African Reserve Bank Amendment Bill — and its provisions to limit shareholder power. In submissions to Parliament during public hearings on the bill, Idasa and the University of Western Cape School of Business and Finance argued on principle, rather than from self- interest, that the amendments were ill-advised. Idasa’s head of research Nancy Dubosse said the proposed presidential nomination of directors would undermine the independence of the Bank. It was improper for the Bank to be managed by politicians, she said. Parliament’s oversight role should be strengthened and it should vet shareholder nominations, not a panel.  Read the Business day article here and the full submission on the Idasa site here.

Corruption fight comes under global spotlight

Corruption in Zambia was under the spotlight as the head of Idasa’s Economic Governance Programme, Richard Calland, recently spoke about corruption in the construction sector. Read full article here.

Call for papers – Governance and small scale agriculture in West Africa

African democracy institute Idasa will hold a “Governance and Small-scale Agriculture in West Africa” conference in Nairobi, Kenya from 8th to 10th November 2010 to focus discussions on addressing informational gaps in the sector and open avenues for dialogue and engagement in relevant national and international platforms with stakeholders who have an interest in smallholder agriculture.

The aim of the conference is to discuss governance and public investment processes and how these are shaping small-scale agriculture in the region. Specifically, the meeting will focus on three themes: priorities for public investment in agriculture; trends in public expenditure on small-scale agriculture; and policy processes and stakeholder participation.

Abstracts and final papers from West African participants from the region will be accorded preference. To submit an abstract for presentation, and for more information on the conference please contact Leslie Nyagah at lnyagah@idasa.org.za by May 31st. Click here for more info.

Oil and Governance in Africa

A Case Study of Chad, Angola, Gabon, and Sao Tome é Principe

This report describes the context in which political power is exercised in the four countries that are the subject of the study. It will show how policies are shaped and how one might engage with – and perhaps change – the political processes at work. It is hoped that by isolating these socio-political forces, avenues for public participation, effective advocacy and positive engagement may be found. The focus is on what can be done to change the political process. The audience for this report is not limited to civil society actors. Civil society on its own will not be able to confront and resolve the challenges faced in oil-rich countries. The main actors in this arena are governments, MNCs, international funding agencies, donors, local and international NGOs, and, of course, the people. All face constraints and challenges that are unique to their domain. It is hoped that this report will resonate with all these stakeholders.

Download the electronic copy here or contact Shahieda on shendricks@idasa.org.za to order a hardcopy of this book.

Governance and small holder farming in Southern Africa

Conference Report
By Viola Musiimenta, Poverty Eradication and Livelihood Improvement Programme – DENIVA
African small scale farmers and farming has been a subject of debate amongst several stakeholders-including politicians, professionals, private sector and civil society activists. Such debates, while recognising the current central roles of the small scale farmers have raised concerns about whether small scale farming is the answer to addressing issues of rural incomes, food security and other agricultural related activities including agricultural industries. The debates have also included suggestions that commercial farming might provide better options for improved rural livelihoods, thus reducing overall poverty in different countries.
The fortunes and misfortunes of the small scale farmers have also been part and parcel of Government policies and ideology in respect of the roles of the state and the private sector. As will be shown later, such roles have to be redefined, calling for the state to reclaim its responsibility towards its poor citizens.
It is within the above context that a conference was organised in November 2009 by Idasa for its partners and others working with small scale farmers to share and engage in deep reflection and discussions concerning the plight of small scale farmers- and the way forward. DENIVA being a partner for Idasa, participated in this conference. Idasa is an independent public interest organisation committed to promoting sustainable democracy based on active citizenship, democratic institutions and social justice. It was organised by its Economic Governance programme unit.
The aim of the conference was to facilitate interdisciplinary discussions on constraints and opportunities that surround governance and public investment processes and how they are shaping small-scale agriculture in the region.  The conference drew participants from African countries particularly South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, Liberia, Senegal and Mali. The conference concentrated on issues agricultural investments, budgets and budget priorities and how participation by small scale farmers, their organisations and CSOs can be enhanced.

Download full conference report here.

How did Haiti get here?

– By Nancy Dubosse –

I appreciate Pat Robertson’s historical analysis on the causes of the earthquake in Haiti.   By all accounts, the Haitian Revolution has everything a great story should have.  It starts off with the search for and struggle over gold, then sugar, then coffee.  There are fascinating military manoeuvres, which occurred in and around the country’s exceptionally mountainous terrain. It has more than enough drama (e.g. the rage demonstrated by Jean Jacques Dessalines, the Commander in Chief, when he ripped out the white part of the French flag to form the Haitian flag).  It has memorable speeches.  It has vodou ceremonies, sex, and yellow fever.  It has revenge, incidents of both black and white genocide; it even has some instances of mercy.

But that is the story up to 1804, and Robertson forgot to point out what has transpired in the country since then.  So, in order to remind everyone of what Haitians have experienced, I’ll be writing a series of blog entries on how Haiti arrived at this point (and it wasn’t because of a vodou ceremony).

In case you were wondering why a city with a capacity to accommodate only about 400,000 had a population of an estimated 4,000,000 people, a short story of the rice industry might help in understanding why there was a mass migration to the capital of Port-au-Prince.

Rice is the Haitian staple food.  Rice has been grown in Haiti for centuries, and until thirty years ago, Haitian farmers produced about 170,000 tonnes of rice a year, enough to cover 95% of domestic consumption. Rice farmers received no government subsidies, but, as in every other rice-producing country at the time, their local markets were protected by import tariffs.

The number of families engaged in rice production in the early 1990s was 93,000 (cultivation and processing).  Other groups included supplemental agricultural workers (22,000), local traders (8,000), and millers (400). But that all disappeared and two culprits are trade liberalization and bad governance.

Under pressure from donors, import tariffs were cut from 35% to 3%.  In comparison, the CARICOM, the Caribbean economic community, tariff is around 25%.  Haiti eventually became the fourth largest market for US rice in the world.  Rice imports increased by more than 150% between 1992 and 2003, with 95% of imports coming from the USA.  According to Oxfam, the price of rice in urban areas fell by 25%, which raised the perpetual conflict between urban and rural populations.  The lowering of tariffs made rice more affordable in urban areas and caused the decline of rural incomes, as rice farmers were now unable to compete.  This is one of the reasons that they migrated to the city.

In 2002, a scandal was unveiled concerning senators and deputies from Fanmi Lavalas, who imported 70,000 metric tons of rice, duty-free, under a cooperative arrangement associated with the Aristide Foundation for Democracy.  It has been estimated that the duty exemption translated into a 117 million gourdes loss ($4.68 million) for the Haitian treasury.

Here is where governance plays a key role in assuring the livelihoods of its citizens, ensuring compliance with customs laws, and stemming corruption.

Parliamentarians were each given a card by the Aristide Foundation to claim 400 sacks of rice to be distributed among their constituencies.  The rice, which normally sold for $32 per 110lb sack, was not freely distributed but sold by the parliamentarians for 250 gourdes ($10) a sack.

Aside from the scandalous arbitrage, there are systemic issues fueling the decline of the rice industry.  It has been reported that it was the de facto Prime Minister Marc Bazin, who granted the U.S.-based Rice Corporation the monopoly for importing rice, which continues to destroy national production. In short, Haiti was forced to abandon government protection of domestic agriculture – and the U.S. then used its government protection schemes to take over the market.

If you were thinking that the US is just a more efficient rice producer, you would be wrong.  The global rice regime notwithstanding, the dumping of rice by the US has been tolerated by Haitian authorities.  The marginal cost of producing one tonne of milled rice in the US was $415 between 2000-2003.  However, with government subsidies it was able to dump rice on international markets at $274 per tonne, a margin of 34%.  Now having put the Haitian rice industry out of business and that of other developing countries, global food price began to rise, with a bag of rice in Haiti going for $51 for 110lb bag just before the riots against food prices in April 2008.

Why hadn’t the Haitian government banned US rice imports?  Why hadn’t it filed a case at the WTO against the US for dumping?  Dumping is defined as a situation of international price discrimination, where the price of a product when sold in the importing country is less than the price of that product in the market of the exporting country.  Why hadn’t it created other opportunities in the countryside to sustain rural livelihoods?