Ex Africa semper aliquid novi; buy an African farmer a chicken or a goat

There is always something new out of Africa. The latest being the website lastminute.com offering you, its customer, a chance to ‘buy a sheep, a goat or some chickens from FARM AFRICA.’ (I quote directly off their website) As you make last ditch vacation plans, you may also have a last minute change of heart about the dollar-a-day continent.

Imagine how good you will feel when you add a good deed to your vacation. ‘Not only will you be helping a worthy cause like poor African farmers or abandoned kitties (emphasis mine), but your lucky recipient will receive a gift pack with information about the charity and a unique gift to open on their special day.’

But lastminute.com does more than rouse your conscience, it desires to empower you. ‘So you’re not Gordon Brown and you can’t cancel the debt of the Third World. But with lastminute.com and FARM FRIENDS you have the chance to do something amazing, just by buying a gift for a friend (or even for yourself). You can choose a sheep, a goat or a brood of chickens. Of course, they won’t be delivered to you or the person you’re buying the gift for. Instead, they’ll get a really cute model of the chosen animal, while Farm Africa will give the real animal to a poor African farmer, who is struggling to feed his family. Just a few pounds buys the greatest gift of all – a happier, healthier future. A goat, for example, provides milk to fight-off malnutrition and any excess can be sold to pay for medicine or schoolbooks.’

Remember it is not just the right thing to do, it is also fun and educational. Or to let lastminute.com express it more accurately, ‘it’s a unique and fun present that also helps an African farmer feed his children. When you buy an animal, the recipient receives a FARM FRIENDS pack including a miniature sheep, goat or chicken, more information on how the real animals are helping poor farmers in Africa and most importantly, the knowledge that you are making a huge difference for someone in need.’

Out of Africa there is always something new and that never ages no matter how often it is repeated.

GROW (Get Rich Opportunity of the Week): Uganda’s Farmers Reaching for Global Markets.

Andrew Rugasira, CEO of Rwenzori Coffee Company, which exports coffee to Waitrose UK under the “Good African coffee” brand.

Says Mr Rugasira:

“As an African entrepreneur, I am not looking for handouts that I have not earned. I only want the same opportunities that British entrepreneurs coming to Africa have access to. We went to the same schools and universities, and in the global community we are all looking for the same things: markets and equal opportunities to exploit them.

Many Africans are condemned from birth to a future of poverty, disease and premature death. In addition to this, the prevailing perception of Africans and their capabilities never transcends the confines of their so-called limitations. You are poor because you are poor. While poverty is an undeniable part of the African reality, it is only part of it.

There is another side to the continent. For this we must go beyond the gloom and doom and see Africa as a land of opportunity and hope. I do not know of any Africans who wake up in the morning saying: “Today I am going to engage in ‘poverty reduction’!” This phrase, beloved by the international community, has no place in the vocabulary of the African citizen engaged in the everyday struggle to survive.

It is wealth creation that links the African struggle of yesterday, today and tomorrow. To understand this we must remove the blinkers and see an Africa beyond kleptocracy and Kalashnikovs.” More here and here. (A reporter visits the operation.)

England, the Country where Only Suckers Work

Africans, Woe unto you, ye shall hunger

I am in a sad mood today having just had an argument with someone very close to me and so have been seeing ill portents and darkness everywhere I look. And so this little story on Reuters caught my eye and seeing as I was already feeling kind of messed up, almost reduced me to hot little tears. Yes, I know, it is rather dramatic. It turns out that there is now food being made in factories just for starving Africans. Some of our societies have failed to the point that even food can no longer be taken for granted and charity has become a way of life. Plumpy’nut – made of peanut paste, sugar and a special vitamin – is not being made to feed people in hunger camps, it is being advertised as a charity intervention before starvation really strikes. In other words, preparations must be made for Africans even before they have started starving since it is reliably known that the need will be there sooner or later. “We wanted a product that doesn’t need to be mixed with water and fulfils all nutritional needs; we also believe food should taste good. Maybe that’s a French thing,” says Michel Lescanne, the creator of Plumpy’nut which is made in a ‘picturesque’ village in Northern France. Nutriset, the product’s maker, though formed as a non-profit, has few corporate rivals. With a staff of 50, its turnover is expected to be 15 million euros in 2005, a 50 percent increase on last year. It will produce some 2,500 tonnes of Plumpy’nut that will feed a quarter million children. So there you have it and good luck to them. If African entrepreneurs will not step in to create cheap food products then their countrymen shall either starve or shall provide opportunity for others. African misery is the greatest natural resource in that continent. While people argue about gold and oil, no one notices that there is far more money generated by the humanitarian industry on the basis of African misery than by mining or drilling corporates. It makes me wonder whether Niger has businesspeople at all. See more on Plumpy’nut.

Super Mum: The London Years

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Read on for more on the ‘brain drain’ and the peerless mama mbugua…and then go to this link for another story on her.

Nursing a problem

Salil Tripathi

Tuesday August 9, 2005

Guardian Unlimited

Charity Kirigo worked long hours as a nurse at the national hospital in Kenya, finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet.
A mother of three, she did not see a bright future for her children if she stayed in Kenya – so she applied to the NHS, which was looking for nurses.

“Salaries in Kenya were very little,” she said. “Everyone had to have some side business – selling cotton wool, cooking, doing some other work at home – and it was very difficult to make a living. I had to take action.”

Ms Kirigo came to England in 1995, just as staff shortages were beginning to hit the NHS. Between 1990 and 1997, the number of people coming into the nursing profession in Britain fell from 18,980 to just over 12,000.

Nurses recruited from abroad accounted for 26% of the 16,000 nurses registered in 1997, and five years later that figure had grown to 43% of the registered total of 37,000.

Many came from the Philippines, South Africa and India. Even though the number of African nurses was relatively small, it nevertheless represented a large proportion of the health workers in their countries.

Life wasn’t easy for Ms Kirigo when she came to Britain, but she had access to a superior infrastructure and modern techniques.

She had to endure some humiliation from patients, who questioned her competence because she had come from Africa, but she saved enough money to send her children to university and to buy property in both the UK and Kenya.

Last year, Ms Kirigo moved back to Kenya. “I had a target to help my children get a good education,” she said. “Once I knew they could stand on their own, I decided to go back.”

Now in Nairobi, she is working to raise £437,000 to set up a telephone-based counselling service, HIV Helpline, to offer advice to families living with HIV, and plans to recruit 20 workers.

Her story humanises the debate about healthcare professionals in Britain. It shows what is happening at the micro level at a time when the macro outlook appears so dismal.

Nevertheless, organisations such as Save the Children are critical of the influx of nurses from developing countries.

“Many African countries have limited funds available for health,” Mike Aaronson, the charity’s director general, said. “Vulnerable children suffer disproportionately when these services are failing. It is shameful that many poor countries are spending millions of pounds training nurses and doctors to prop up the NHS.”

The crisis is acute – around 36 African countries do not meet targets of one doctor per 5,000 people, according to the World Health Organisation.

Even in non-conflict affected countries such as Zambia and Ghana, there is only one doctor per more than 10,000 people, while disparities are evident within a country such as Kenya. In Nairobi, there is one doctor for 500 people, but in Turkana district the ratio is 1:160,000.

Aware of the criticism, the NHS has adapted a code of practice that bans it from actively recruiting staff from developing countries. But it needs workers – and thousands of people living in poor countries want to work in a better environment.

It is true that Africa’s health sector needs more resources, but those resources will not become available by preventing skilled workers such as Ms Kirigo from coming to Britain.

What’s often left unsaid in this debate is the role of emigrating British nurses. That poses the moral dilemma that if a UK-trained nurse is free to leave for the US, Canada, or Ireland (the three most desired destinations) – and even beyond, to the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand – why shouldn’t Ms Kirigo and her compatriots come to Britain?

There has been a remarkable increase in the number of British nurses moving overseas. More than 2,000 left for the US last year, a quarter of the 8,000 who left the country overall. In 1997, the number of nurses who went overseas was half that.

Overseas recruitment is not the only reason African health workers leave their home countries. For many, there are simply no available jobs.

“When I was studying in Kenya, we were absorbed automatically,” Ms Kirigo said. “Now there are more nurses than the country needs or can pay for. If all the Kenyan nurses who work in the UK were to return to Kenya, there won’t be enough jobs for them … I am not betraying my country.”

Forcing people to stay at home will not work. As Kwadwo Mensah, Maureen Mackintosh and Leroi Henry write in The Skills Drain of Health Professionals from the Developing World, a paper published by the UK charity Med-Act: “Coercive measures to prevent departure work poorly; worse, they can intensify pressures to leave.”

There are inequities in this dilemma, but remittances partly mitigate the situation. According to the World Bank, migrant workers send more than $90bn (£44.7bn) to their home countries, the second-largest source of funds for poor countries after foreign direct investment. It is a significantly higher amount of money than that provided by development aid.

Health charities acknowledge the power of remittances, but remain critical because such flows go direct to families and do not replenish the loss suffered by the state in providing the subsidy in the first place.

With that in mind, the economist Jagdish Bhagwati, of Columbia University in the US, says states should tax their citizens who work and live abroad – something the US already does.

Several charities have argued that the UK should provide financial restitution and fresh development aid to Africa so that it can bolster its health sector. However, developing a grand plan would take time.

That is why individuals such as Ms Kirigo are so important. Granted, all emigrant health workers may not return home, but their remittances lift their families out of poverty.

What can be done about the skills gap? “Skilled Africans are going to emigrate. I would propose a Grey Peace Corps, where our ageing and early-retired skilled professionals can be tapped for two and three-year stints to work in Africa,” Dr Bhagwati said.

“While Africans, whom we must train in vastly increased numbers at our universities, will work here, our people must work in Africa until the need for skills can be met meaningfully.”

• Salil Tripathi is a London-based writer who specialises in Asian and international economic affairs. The article can be found here.

SocietyGuardian.co.uk © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

Nairobi Woman Made a Slave, Police Investigator Says

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By Jim Mbugua
For the Daily Nation

(See end of post for more information)

A Nairobi doctor and her husband are under investigation for making a woman a domestic slave in their household, the police said in court papers.

The victim worked 15-hour days six days a week, was locked in the Golf Course residence performed nearly all the domestic chores and was only allowed limited contact with guests to the home.

No charges have been filed.

Both the police and the prosecutor’s office in Nairobi declined to comment beyond what was in the public affidavit for a search warrant filed earlier this month in Kibera District Court.

The couple could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

According to police constable John Twende, the victim’s story started in Ogembo, Kisii where she supported her three daughters by working as a caregiver for the doctor’s mother.

In early 2003, she was asked if she would consider moving to Nairobi to work for the Osogo family.

The woman agreed, hoping to raise enough money to send her daughters to school and provide better housing for them, according to the court documents.

The Osogos agreed to pay her Kshs 2500 ($33) a month, take care of all basic living expenses and buy uniforms and books for her three daughters who attend a government school in Ogembo town.

They also said they expected her to care for the couple’s young son during daytime hours, the court papers said.

The Osogos arranged for the victim to accompany the doctor’s mother on a trip to Nairobi. The mother stayed for six weeks while receiving medical treatment.

Soon after the victim’s arrival, she told police investigators, she learned that the doctor did not intend to fulfil promises made as terms of employment. The doctor was pregnant, and the victim said she was told she would also have to care for the baby after it was born.

She told investigators she was expected to do all the domestic housework and cooking, and was given explicit directions on how to perform each task.

Her workday began at 6 a.m. and ended about 9 p.m., she said, according to court papers.

Although she had Sundays off, she was still expected to prepare meals ahead of time for the family. The salary was inconsistent, ranging between Kshs 500 and Kshs 1200 a month, she said.

The couple told her that if she refused to comply, she would be forced to leave their residence, arrested by local policemen friendly to the Osogos and returned to Ogembo without a job, documents said. “None of the terms of the employment … (was) honoured.”

She was socially isolated, the papers said, and told not to socialize, and that she could be fired for visiting friends.

On Sundays, she sometimes went to church with the couple, and was introduced to a man at church who agreed to act as a mediator to negotiate for better working conditions.

In September 2004, the negotiator wrote the couple a letter, saying he was concerned about the victim’s employment status.

The couple told the victim “to pack her belongings and directed her to leave their residence immediately,” court papers said. She was given an envelope with $3500 cash and a one-way bus ticket to Ogembo.

The woman called the mediator, worried that the Osogos might try and get her arrested by their friends and not knowing where to turn for the remainder of the money they owed her…

The story above is actually about a Kenyan woman who was cruelly and illegally exploited by her middle class employers in Washington State (United States). The Herald reported on the FBI’s investigations into her ‘enslavement’ and I was struck by how exactly the circumstances matched those of my recent post on the Nairobi housemaid. The post and the story are exactly alike except that I have replaced American references with Kenyan ones. Though housemaids are often treated much worse than this in Kenya, there are no investigations into the problem by the police or the media.

The Slavery in Our Midst: The Nairobi House Maid

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There is much I could say about modern-day slavery in Mauritania, Niger and Sudan. But let me instead turn to the dirty little secret that so many of us Kenyans know but maintain a studied silence about. Yes, I am talking about the lot of the ‘mboch’, the housie, the maid, in good old Nairobi. It is common knowledge that many housemaids in genteel middle class Nairobi are never paid a wage; it is their parents, or ‘auntie’ who receives the pittance that they are owed every month. Anyone who has lived or visited the city for any length of time also knows that it is not uncommon to have ten-year olds doing the washing, cleaning and cooking for an entire family while enduring a steady diet of slaps and kicks. And I do not exaggerate when I point to the high frequency of maid rape in many households. If you ask your typical Nairobi ‘babi’ or middle class boy what his first sexual encounter was, he will spin a tall tale about the ‘older girl who lived just up the road’. Wrong. The first encounter, and the second and the third, is more often than not with the maid. She is shared among the boys in the house, their friends in the neighbourhood sometimes and very often the man of the house who after dropping off the kids and wife to school in the mornings, will sneak back for a quick one. This sexual access is usually procured forcefully with the implicit threat that for the maid to resist will result in instant dismissal. Here’s a little clue for HIV/AIDS health workers who decry the transmission of the disease from philandering husband to wife: it is the maid who is at the centre of a domestic sexual web that runs through the sons and their father, not to mention any other lovers she may take. This is of course not to blame her, it is to recognise that the helplessness that attends many maids – relentlessly mistreated, isolated from friends and family, and economically disempowered – exposes them to the malign actions of a class of people whose upward aspiration is often marked with a immense contempt for their ‘inferiors’. What dirty little secrets I am airing, and it is the most delicious post I have written in a while. When I have levelled contempt at the babi – a category that I unfortunately fall into though in traitorous fashion – I have only spoken about the public arena. But it is in the home that the moral contracts that underlie Kenyan life can be seen most clearly. Observe and recognise the pervasive violence, the disregard for the rights of the individual and the abiding conviction that might makes right. It is the oppressions in our homes that have made it impossible for us to consistently and successfully fight the oppressions of the dictators who have sat at State House or the injustices of the state. We moan and groan about the burdens of colonialism when right in our homes, or those of our friends, we have a cosy little ‘memsahib and bwana mkubwa’ system on the go.

To extend this washing of Kenya’s dirty laundry in public where it belongs, here is a chat room exchange on this issue. I will share just a few of the disgusting entries:

“nani hapa ashaimanga mboch wao cause it was so sweet mpaka even though i lost my uvirgo to her.” (who here has eaten (had sex with) a maid cause it was so sweet even though I lost my virginity to her)

“Am sure the rest of the people who did what you did aren’t as proud…how did u even start…yaani how did u even get hard in the first place….mboch….have integrity bana.Ama u can’t vibe a gal? Sweetie hebu mweleze huyu ndugu asiwe kama dude…”

“Lets cut to the chase people…how many here have done their mboches? (pop, is that ur hand i see raising?)”

“hehehehe…i think it is sweety! i think it is!”