Decolonisation Watch: The African Union is introducing a single passport to make travel on the continent easier for Africans

While the UK loudly decries… debates and decides to divide Europe.

Quietly, on another continent…countries unfurl into unity.

Decolonisation continues…

When heads of state from across Africa arrive in Kigali, Rwanda next month for the African Union (AU) Summit, they will be among the first Africans issued the new electronic African Union passport. The passport is meant to make travel on the continent much easier for Africans.

“The scene seems to be set to realize the dream of visa-free travel for African citizens within their own continent by 2020,” the AU said in a statement announcing the launch.

Travel in Africa is difficult for most Africans. They are required to have visas for over half of the countries on the continent. Only 13 African countries (pdf) allow other Africans to enter without a visa or give visas on arrival. In contrast, Americans can travel to 20 African countrieswithout visas or with visas on arrival.

African travelers say they feel the same suspicion at immigration counters within the continent as they do outside of it. Aliko Dangote, a Nigerian businessman and Africa’s wealthiest man, was himself onceturned away by South African immigration officials as he struggled to locate his passport. Meanwhile his American staff sailed through border control.

Reposted from this Quartz article. Read the full thing here.


The refugee who took on the British government, or why ‘aid’ doesn’t work in an international system of oppression and inequality

“For British politicians, foreign aid to Africa has become a cherished emblem of our idealism and generosity.” But this is a powerful story we’ve been told.

The following article details yet another tale of foreign ‘aid’ and corrupt governance (on all sides) doing irreversible damage to the lives and livelihoods of the supposedly intended recipients.

I’d strongly recommend you reading the full article, but it’s a long read, so I’ve pulled out a few of the paragraphs I found most interesting and poignant.

“Ethiopia is in a race to develop. In a similar fashion to Rwanda, the authoritarian government, lacking a democratic mandate, has staked its claims to legitimacy on its ability to deliver economic growth, and it is in a terrible hurry. During the past decade, Ethiopia has pursued a Chinese-style rush to develop its economy: locking up dissenters, crushing the opposition with a succession of 99% electoral victories, and building massive road, rail, agribusiness and hydropower schemes without pausing to conduct the necessary social and environmental impact assessments.

Nonetheless, despite still knocking along the bottom of every poverty index, Ethiopia has earned a reputation as a development success story, and donors, including the UK, are very keen to help, praising Ethiopia’s apparent strong progress towards the UN’s millennium development goals: increasing primary school enrolment and improving statistics on access to healthcare, water and so on. But donors are steadfastly silent on human rights abuses. Ethiopia receives more aid than any other African country – close to $3bn per year, or about half the national government budget. For the donors, Ethiopia is a priority, a linchpin of their development efforts, research and policy; especially so for the UK, where rising aid budgets have propelled Ethiopia into second place, behind Pakistan, as the recipient of the most British aid.”

“In Gambella, the government’s plans for delivering these things took the form of villagisation. The inhabitants of Opik’s village, though, were mistrustful of the government’s intentions. There had been no dialogue, no consultation. If the government had done little for them before, why would they suddenly start caring now? They suspected a plot to steal their land. They had heard of investors coming to test soil in certain areas.

Their suspicions were well founded. In Opik’s district, the allocation of land for agribusiness was well under way. Information was patchy, but a study by the Oakland Institute, a US-based thinktank, estimated that in Gambella, at that time, the government had leased or marketed 42% of the region to investors. Speaking to investors in India, government officials referred to the land on offer as “unused,” “under-utilised” or “completely uninhabited”.”

“The Anuak had to wait 10 months for a clue. In October 2012, after questions were asked in the British parliament, the findings of the DfiD visits were quietlydeposited in the House of Commons library. They described massive flaws in the villagisation programme, inadequate services and insufficient food, possibly requiring an emergency response.

The first report, which has since disappeared from the parliament website, noted that more than half of respondents had said they did not want to move. The report warned of a “potential humanitarian crisis” due to the people’s “limited livelihood options”. It also warned of “reputational risks” to donors’ aid programmes. This, then, was the heart of the matter.”

“For first Tony Blair and now David Cameron, the essentialising of Africa has been a useful political arena for the exercise of idealism untainted by politics. It was a deft move, following the Iraq war, to establish the Blair Commission for Africaand the Make Poverty History campaign. For Cameron, ring-fencing aid spending “was a key part of the compassionate Conservative makeover,” a senior former No 10 adviser told me.”

“A former chief economist of DfID, who did not want to be named, told me, “If you’re asking, ‘Am I prepared to tolerate a certain level of human rights abuses in exchange for progress on development?’, the answer is yes.” The question, then, is who decides what constitutes a “tolerable” level of repression in the absence of a democratic system?”

“A former head of DfID Ethiopia said to me, in relation to the relocation of the Omo peoples, “but if they’re being relocated anyway, aren’t we making their lives better?” She could not see that there was a problem with underwriting the transaction. It is almost impossible for those who make a living dispensing aid to imagine how easily it can become a tool of repression. She evinced a kind of helplessness, whereas a report by the Oakland Institute into alleged cover-ups of human rights abuses noted that DfID and USAid are, “wilful accomplices and supporters of a development strategy that will have irreversible devastating impacts on the environment and natural resources and will destroy the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people.””

“Of all the academic economists working on Ethiopia, I could not find one who was willing to speak on the record for this article. Much of the professional field of development studies is dependent on DfID research grants, with many academics serving on multimillion-pound study teams.

“If you challenge the consensus and make headlines, it is going to make your life harder,” said one economist at a London university, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Career progression is not just about where you publish, it is also about the amount of money you can raise and, in that regard, DfID is the biggest donor by miles,” he said. The two main centres of development studies research in the UK, the Overseas Development Institute in London and theInstitute of Development Studies at Sussex University, have depended heavily on DfID contracts over many years: “If that dependence is not a kind of institutional capture, then I am not sure what is,” said Warwick’s Prof David Anderson, a rare critic.”

Thoughts and feelings welcomed as always…


Aid: a sticking plaster approach to a gaping wound

Thank you Health Poverty Action (HPA), for your genuinely groundbreaking report pointing out something that is painfully obvious, but that a lot of ‘us’ won’t see or admit. That $192 billion every year is lost from Africa to the rest of the world – almost six and a half times the amount of aid given to the continent.

On Tuesday the charity, alongside a number of UK and African NGOs, released the report, Honest Accounts? The true story of Africa’s billion dollar losses, as a first attempt to calculate Africa’s losses across a wide range of areas. The calculations included illicit financial flows; profits taken out of the continent by multinational companies; debt repayments; brain drain of skilled workers; illegal logging and fishing and the costs incurred as a result of climate change.

The huge disparity between aid and resources leaving Africa is an issue that I’ve been wanting to tackle ever since I started this blog. The fact that we continue to fight in the UK to get the government to keep its commitment to allocate 0.7% of the budget to aid when we take so much from developing countries is shocking; the fact that ‘we’ consider that generous is abhorrent; and when you couple that with the fact that ‘aid’ is often spent to better our own national interest it’s another galling matter entirely (and definitely another blog post on the long list of topics and issues I’d like to explore).

HPA and its partners are calling on the UK government to reassess its focus on ‘aid’, which:

“paints a misleading picture of the UK’s ‘generosity’ towards Africa, and take urgent action to address Britain’s contribution to Africa’s poverty.”

HPA Director Martin Drewry calls it ‘sustained looting’ – the opposite of generous giving, and argues that the City of London is at the heart of the global financial system that facilitates this (NB: The HUGELY unfair global economic, social and political system that was built and is run by and for the West on things like greenhouse gases, tax haven networks, valuing money and power above all else, trampling all over the rest of the world, Western ideology, patriarchy and corporate greed etc etc etc). Agreeably he calls for change from NGOs too and asks them to move beyond their focus on aid levels to “communicate the bigger truth – exposing the real relationship between rich and poor and holding leaders to account”.

This is a start but I want to take things further. I want governments across the world to take notice of this report. All those governments who give a pinch with one hand while taking a fistful with another. We don’t need to ‘save’ ‘developing’ countries and we certainly can’t use aid to do so. We need transparency and honesty, we need equality and a level playing field and we need countries to stop pretending that they’re ‘helping’ others when it’s really a smokescreen for actions taken in their own self interest.  Not asking a lot huh?

Another key element to our aid issues is looking at how Africa (and other developing continents) are portrayed as a continent in need of help. There are a lot of harmful stereotypes and misconceptions about Africa and Africans in particular that need to be challenged and banished as they undermine the continent’s truth, dignity and ability and contribute to the dominant Western narrative that portrays Africa as the grateful beneficiary of the rich world’s generosity. I’m currently working on a little something with some pretty inspiring people that might go someway to kickstarting this, so watch this space. Let me know if you’re interested in finding out more!

I’d love to hear of/from others who have thoughts on this subject and of any articles/posts/books on this topic. Recommendations and comments welcome as always.

If you have time, I’d recommend reading this pretty cool comment piece from Martin Drewry on the Guardian Development Professionals Network about the report. His criticisms of a narrative that focuses on the importance of aid are particularly poignant and again something I’d like to address at a later date.

If you want to discuss this post on Twitter, please use @devtruths and the Health Poverty Action report hashtag #honestaccounts.

NB: Very excited to have discovered The Progressive Development Forum as a result of this article. Am looking forward to some interesting reading!