Over the last few days, a video posted on YouTube that aims to raise the profile — and potential for arrest — of the infamous African warlord Joseph Kony has been hugely popular and, in the eyes of many, so simplistic and inaccurate it is likely to do much more harm than good.
The non-profit organization has been accused of spending the vast majority of its donations on film production, staff salaries and transport.
You can judge for yourself. Here’s the video, a powerful and well-done short (half hour) film calling for a groundswell, grassroots movement to push for the arrest of Kony and stop the decades of terror fomented by his Lord’s Resistance Army in east and central Africa:
It’s very compelling, but it has also prompted a major backlash from many experts on Africa, conflict resolution, development and foreign policy. Continue reading →
Aid organizations are trying to call attention to a little-noticed but massive plague spreading across Africa that is destroying communities, throwing many deeper into poverty and perhaps causing the deaths of many thousands.
Now, due in part to Oxfam’s criticism and the resulting loss of World Bank support for the development project, the London-based New Forests Company has decided — after displacing the 20,000 farmers and employing some 500 other Ugandans as foresters — to close up the operation and leave.
This is a serious problem. But Oxfam knows you get tired of big, serious problems. So here’s a funny (and somewhat pointed) video on the African land grab from Oxfam, which is one of the leading humanitarian organizations trying to draw attention to this disturbing trend:
For a more serious and focused video report showing Oxfam’s critique of the reforestation project in Uganda, go to this link.
Another organization working to help smallholder farmers and poor communities hold on to their land is Seattle-based Landesa. I’ve written before about Landesa, which tends to take a more low-profile and diplomatic tack to solving this problem.
Landesa has done an excellent overview here describing what’s driving this land rush in poor countries and how we can work to both protect the poor without discouraging commercial investment.
The first step, as always, is to recognize we have a problem. Here’s hoping this issue rises up on the media radar screen. It’s big and it’s not getting the attention it deserves.
The ongoing trend of foreign investors purchasing massive tracts of land in poor countries isn’t getting much media attention in the U.S., but one case in Uganda may change that.
Oxfam International reported a few weeks ago that the Ugandan government, on behalf of a British company and with financial support from the World Bank, had forcibly removed some 22,000 people in rural communities from their farms in order to transform the land into a massive tree farm.
The project is intended to provide Uganda with carbon credits in the global fight against climate change.
Voice of America, the New York Times and mostly British media have reported on it. The Guardian, which reported on it earlier as well, issued this new video report today. I think Oxfam’s video makes pretty much the same points and it’s half as long.
The Guardian video does mention the death of a child that took place when the mother claims her hut was being burned down by officials. It’s not clear if the death was related to the displacement or not.
The British company, New Forests Company, says it had believed the displacements of the farming communities were legal and voluntary. The firms says it is “puzzled” by the discrepancy between Oxfam’s claims and the official story.
The World Bank has also said it will investigate the allegations. World Bank watchdog Bill Easterly, who I recently interviewed, has started an online clock to track how much time it will take the WB to go from launching its investigation to reaching a determination. (The displacements began two years ago.)
It isn’t that tree farming is, by itself, a bad idea or has to displace locals. Here’s a story about a reforestation project in Burkina Faso that’s being done by the locals — as opposed to foreign investors.
NOTE: A Seattle organization, Landesa (formerly the Rural Development Institute) has been working for decades on improving the land rights of poor people. Read this essay by Landesa’s Zoey Chenitz on how the global land rush has effected women especially.
Oh, and the founder of Landesa, former UW law prof Roy Prosterman, has been named by Global Washington as the recipient of its inaugural Global Hero Award. Here’s an earlier post about Prosterman and his organization. He receives the award officially Nov. 1.
Nigeria is not a poor country, yet it is full of a lot of very poor people.
Nigeria has lots of oil, and oil money, but little of this money ever makes it to regular Nigerians. As this entry in Wikipedia about Nigeria’s economy says:
Economists refer to the coexistence of vast wealth in natural resources and extreme personal poverty in developing countries like Nigeria as the “resource curse”…. the World Bank has estimated that as a result of corruption 80 percent of energy revenues benefit only 1 percent of the population.
It’s not just homegrown corruption around oil that causes problems, as evidenced by this (little-known, at least in the U.S.) episode involving former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Now, it appears that Uganda is becoming a major oil-producing nation. This could be a good thing, or not so good.
Todd Moss at the Center for Global Development asks Could Uganda be the Next Niger Delta? What Moss is really asking by comparing Uganda to the southern oil-rich part of Nigeria is if Uganda will also see massive corruption, human-rights abuses, murder, terrorism and institutionalized kleptocracy.
A wall of new oil money—coupled with new projections that Uganda’s oil reserves might actually be double previous estimates— could very well accelerate the country’s disappointing decline in governance. Oil revenues that could in theory build up the sorely needed infrastructure and social services could instead end up fueling conflict, wasted on white elephant projects, or used to further consolidate President Museveni’s grip on power.
The potential damage of the “oil curse” is not limited to aspects of money and power. As The Guardian’s John Vidal writes today, in Shell oil spills in the Niger Delta, the reaping of oil profits at the expense of the local community has had broad environmental impacts that adversely affect all Nigerians living there:
“We live in this amazing community where so many people are trying to make a difference,” said Maurico Vivero, executive director at the Seattle International Foundation (aka SIF).
But most of these people, and their organizations, Vivero says, have tended to work in relative isolation on their causes. The goal of SIF, he says, is to encourage collaboration among the literally hundreds of local organizations working globally to fight poverty and improve the welfare of the world’s poorest. Continue reading →
Part of the reason many farming communities in Africa are poor is because they lack ready access to valuable information — about market price fluctuations, improved seed types or planting techniques and opportunities for farmers to collaborate with each other to sell in bulk.
So lots of folks are looking at the revolution in information technology (e.g., cell phones) to solve this problem, and other problems. Using cell phones to augment health services in poor communities is perhaps the biggest boom area right now, often dubbed mHealth.
(NOTE: I will for this report ignore recent goofiness about cell phones and cancer. See my post yesterday and this NPR backgrounder if you’re still interested in that story.)
Most of these cell-phones-for-the-poor projects are based on using cheap, low-end cell phones, for obvious reasons. These people are poor.
So the idea that a farmer in Uganda who makes $1-2 a day could benefit from an Android smart phone just sounded ridiculous – like another one of those pet projects a Western donor forces on some poor community whether it really fits their needs or not.
“We didn’t start out planning to use them,” said Heather Thorne Matthews of Seattle’s Grameen Foundation Technology Center.
Because, yeah, it sounded absurd. But as it turned out, Thorne said, the smart phone proved to be more financially self-sustaining than a dumb phone. Continue reading →
A week ago, the UW’s Amy Hagopian, Peter House and Bert Stover headed to Uganda to coordinate a study aimed at resolving a fierce debate in global health.
Since arriving in Uganda, the UW researchers and their co-workers have had to deal with escalating violence which most observers blame on the government’s attempt to quell public protests and calls for political reform.