Category Archives: Economy and Business

Pearson aims to establish for-profit schools for poorest in Africa

By Keith Somerville

In a series of interviews with media such as the BBC’s Hardtalk and the Independent  Sir Michael Barber, the chief education adviser for the Pearson  global publishing and education giant, has been pushing hard the idea of for-profit schools for the very poorest in Africa.  The idea is that, to quote his Hardtalk interview, the poorest will pay 3, 4 or five dollars a month to go to school at primary level and 10 to 12 a month at higher levels of education.

He says the aim is to help achieve the UN target of getting all children into at least primary education by 2015 – a goal which Africa is lagging behind in it attempts to attain.  Pearson would invest $15 million in the scheme and would hope to sell out its minority share in each enterprise at a profit in 7 to ten years. Barber said there is huge potential in the vast global education market and that there is an important role for profit in education.

Citing alleged successes in for-profit schooling by Pearson in  Delhi and Karachi, he said this showed that schools for the poorest in society that charged a fee could work to improve educational provision while making a profit for Pearson and local majority investors.  What he didn’t say was just how poor the families were that used the schools and how many of the poorest just simply couldn’t afford it.  The view was that if it worked in India and Pakistan it would work in Africa.

But there are huge questions to be asked and in his interviews he evaded them or wasn’t pressed hard on them (as far as one could see from what was published or broadcast).  These questions revolve both around the amount of income the very poor have available to pay for schooling, the problem of making very broad brush comparisons between South Asia and Africa and the likelihood of private investors in Africa being willing to put up sufficient funds over a long enough period to fund schools without endangering the far more extensive and important government-run education sector while having a level of sustainability.

Poverty and the lack of sufficient cash income is the key issue, though.  Delhi is India’s richest area – its per capita income exceeds that for anywhere else in India and vastly exceeds that of most of Africa – including Accra in Ghana (where Pearson has started a school).  The average per capita income (and yes, there are huge disparities between rich and poor in India) in Delhi is $3,020; in Accra (richer than other areas of Ghana and far richer than most of rural Africa) it is $1,519, with the lowest quartile on $195.  If you pay the lowest rate quoted by barber of $3 a month that is still more than a sixth of a poor family’s income to educate just one child at primary level. At higher level at his lower figure of $10 a day, it is nearly two thirds of an annual family income to educate a child. The Pearsonn executive said that the schools had been hugely successful in India and Pakistan making up 70% of provision in some areas – but he was not asked what happened to government schools in those areas and what proportion of the poorest in those areas could not afford to pay and could then lose out completely if government schools close.

Barber is right in saying that in much of Africa government education is not free because of costs of schoolbooks, uniforms etc, despite there being no basic fee for going to school. But it is still below $36 a year for primary education, as he admitted.  For-profit education, whether in Africa, Asia or Europe, is a system that has as its aim profit. Companies like Pearson are not in it for altruistic reasons but to make money – even Barber at his most circumlocutious couldn’t hide that.  Africa has been a source of profit for too many for too long and to start selling off education to global multinationals desperate to find new sources of profit seems a step too far even in our increasingly rapacious, profit-seeking capitalist-dominated world.

Diane Ravitch, a bestselling writer on US education reform,  was quoted by the Guardian as saying that in its dealings with education for-profit in the United States “Pearson is overstepping the bounds of the role of a profit-making business. The corporation is acting as a quasi-government agency in several instances, but it is not a quasi-government agency: it is a business that sells products and services….At what point do conflicts of interest arise? Is it acting in the best interests of students, of the nation, or of its own business? These are questions that must be raised and answered.”

If powerful states, with strong and well-established institutions (albeit run broadly in the interests of those making profits) cannot cope with Pearson and the way it becomes so closely involved in educational decision-making and has big, fat fingers in running education as well as exam systems (such as Edexcel in the UK) and a global educational textbook business, what hope does a weak, poor African government have?

Pearson, through executives like Sir Michael Barber, has been able to gain huge influence over educational policy, notably in Britain, where Barber was Tony Blair’s adviser but then wrote two key education reports for McKinsey, the management consultants, that are widely cited internationally. He then joined Pearson.  The potential for conflicts of interest and monpolising school management, textbook supply, exam systems and debate on education are staggering and potentially very dangerous in Europe and North America. The dangers of loss of control for people and governments are even more severe in Africa, where the power of international companies is magnified by the weakness and lack of accountability of governments.

Barber made no secret of the fact, in his interviews, that Pearson would be interested in contracting out entire education systems to the for-profit sector.  The dangers for education in Africa are huge and very, very obvious. In Britain,  Alasdair Smith, national secretary of the Anti Academies Alliance, which is critical of corporate influence in education, was cited by the Guardian as warning, “This stuff frightens the life out of me. My concern is that business dictates the nature of education, and especially the aims of education”.  The danger is all the more extreme for Africa, where business interests can really reign supreme.

Africa 2012: A year of opportunities and threats

Keith Somerville

A week into 2012 is a good point at which to stop and consider what the year is likely to hold for Africa, with of course the caveat that what holds for one state or region does not automatically hold for another state or region.

The continuing political evolution in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia may encourage popular movements in other north or sub-Saharan states, as people bereft of control over their futures and with detatched, distant, unresponsive and often rapacious governments decide that they too can bring about change.  Though as is developing in Egypt, that change may not be what protestors thought they had brought about or is more long-drawn out and violent than they hoped at the start of their “spring”.

In 1989 and the early 1990s, there was, to steal from Harold Macmillan, a new wind of change blowing through Africa – brought about b y many factors including the end of the cold war, the withdrawal of aid from socialist or western countries or the loss of strategic salience for some areas, and also a result of a slow build-up of anger among populations at the excesses and inadequacies of their leaders.

The results of that wave of change in Africa were patchy.  The USA and EU, often using aid or the threat of its withdrawal as a lever, sought above all else to encourage free market economic reforms and the holding of Western-style elections on timetables that were unrealistic and favoured incumbents who still had their hands on the levers of power.  President Omar Bongo of Gabon said in 1990 that the ‘wind from the east is shaking the coconut trees’.  He bent with the wind a little and survived with his auocratic rule intact – it is is still intact following his detah with his son in power and able to ensure victory in elections through his entrenched power, control of key media and immense powers of patronage.

But in other areas of Africa more change continues – Ghana holds regular, fiercely contested but generally fair and trusted elections.  Senegal is approaching elections with the prospect of a serious and popular challenge to President Wade.  Zambia saw elections in which a fierce critic of corruption, Michael Sata, came to power and set about rotting out corruption and challenging some of the excesses of Africa’s new best friend, China, in its unbalanced relations with African partners.

Effective political processes like those are needed rather than what we’ve seen in recent months in DR Congo, Cameroon and other states, where the popular will is not seriously reflected through votes – either through outright fraud or use of state power, wealth and political clientism to ensure the victory of the sitting leader.

There will be crucial elections, though, this year elsewhere in Africa.  Kenya‘s, due in December, could be key to the country’s ability to escape from political corruption, cronyism and the use of communal violence for political ends.  The last vote there, in 2007, was not fair and EU and other observers found that Kibaki’s victory was not a true reflection of the voting.  Violence on a huge scale followed the annoucement of the “results” and the indecently fast swearing-in of Kibaki.

Much of the evidence available from commissions of inquiry (Wako and Krielger) and from human rights groups shows that elements on the governing PNU side and in the opposition ODM, had no great faith in elections to ensure their access to power and had planned violence prior to the announcement of the result.  groups within the ODM had plans in place to make areas of Kenya ungovernable if Raila Odinga did not win.  PNU leaders had co-opted the Mungiki gang/sect on to their side and were ready for violence.  The police and security forces were used initially to crush with extreme violence the first demonstrations by ODM supporters.

What followed was political gangsterism that took on the appearance of ethnic violence, as pro-ODM Kalenjin in the Rift attacked Kikuyu and Kisii, and Kikuyu attacked Luo and carried out revenge raids against Kalenjin.  This was violence led by politicians greedy for power and the wealth that flows from it at all costs – it was not, as it was too often depicted in the Western media, an ethnic war fueled by long-held, primeval “tribal” hatred.

Six key figures accused of fomenting that violence (three from the PNU headed by Uhuru Kenyatta) and three from the old ODM alliance (chief among them William Ruto) will hear within three weeks whether they are to be tried.  The six are charged with a number of crimes including murder, forcible transfer (effectively ethnic cleansing), persecution and rape.  None are personally acussed of committing these crimes but of planning and implementing violent political cmpaigns using these crimes as instruments. They all deny the charges.

The ICC cases will have a huge effect on Kenyan politics.  Ruto and Kenyatta both intend to run for the presidency in 2012.  If they are on trial in the Hague they can hardly campaign strenuously or hold together coalitions of diverse groups and interests.  Their influence over Kenyan politics will be considerably reduced during the key election year and they may be taken out of the equation altogether.  Some feel this will lay the field open for Raila Odinga to beat whoever becomes the candidate for the Kibaki camp – as Kibaki cannot stand for another term.

Much will depend on whether Kenyatta and Ruto can exert influence and patronage from afar, what sort of alliances among individuals and communities emerge.  Manoeuvring is already underway, with the key Masaai leader William Ole Ntimama, throwing his weight (initially and possibly for tactical/bargaining reasons), behind a leading Masaai figure, Education Permanent Secretary James ole Kiyiapi.  He has standing among his community but hardly the stature of an Odinga, Musyoka or Kenyatta.

Personalities and the ability of rich and powerful individuals to put together strong but short-term coalitions have been at the heart of Kenyan election politics.  The ICC trials could break this mould or at least change the balance of power to weaken the power of individuals who have dominated the political scene for decades.  It is unrealistic to hope that the light the ICC could shed on the role power, wealth, corruption and violence in Kenyan politics will lead to permanent change on its own, but it is an opportunity for Kenyans to seize the initiative from the rich and powerful few who have used government as their personal playground since independence.

In South Africa, there is not a national election but there will be conferences and internal ANC elections that are just as important. The ANC holds a major policy conference in June, followed by its five-yearly elective congress in December.  The latter conference will choose the ANC’s leadership for the next five years and decide who runs for president on behalf of the movement in April 2014.

This year will see an intensification of the battle for the leadership and the soul of the ANC.  President Jacob Zuma – himself gaining power after a bitter fight with incumbent Thabo Mbeki in which dirty tactics and party factionalism were used by each to undermine the other – is fighting for his political life.  Always on the backfoot as a president personally because of the rape trial and corruption investigations, he rapidly came into conflict with his important support base in the Youth League as the league’s loose cannon, Julius Malema, tried to carve out  his own power base.  When Zuma tried to keep him in order they became bitter enemies with Malema repteadly embarrassing the government domestically and internationally and mocking Zuma personally.

Malema is still fighting to overturn his suspension from thr party and showed there is residual support for him, when he was elected to the ANC  provincial executive committee in Limpopo province.  He is unlikely to lie down and be quiet in such a key year for the ANC.  The question  is whether he can still command populist support and win g blocks of votes in the leadership contest, as his stature and credibility have been damaged.

Malema and his supporters in the Youth League are likely to fight Zuma tooth and nail and appear to favour the candidacy of  Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula.  Motlanthe is a likely alternative to Zuma but doesn’t seem to want at this stage an open fight with Zuma, mirroring the one at the ANC Polokwane leadership election conference at which Zuma outflanked Mbeki with support from the Youth League.

An interesting political figure in the leadership struggle is Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale.  He is an  astute politician with a history of leadership in the Johannesburg townships, authority and respect within the ANC, and  experience as a successful businessman.  He was critical of the ANC over the Malema affair and called on the movement not to use disciplinary measures to settle political scores.  He could use his position to act as a peacemaker and kingmaker or could even emerge as an acceptable alternative to Zuma and Motlanthe.

However the factionalism and personality struggle pan out, it will be a fascinating but vital year from South Africa and the ANC.

Somalia is facing a tough year with the conflict between the transitional government and al Shabab now involving not just an AU force but also the Kenyan incursion (seemingly bogged down in the south and lacking a clear objective) and Ethiopian forces in the Ogaden.  As Mary Harper makes clear in her forthcoming book, foreign intervention and foreign-spawned peace conferences and artificial government have not solved but have usually exacerbated and prolonged conflict in Somalia.  It is time to leave Somalia to Somalis.  Developments in Somaliland suggest this can lead to innovative and positive progress.

Nigeria enters the year saddened and split by the growing violence in the north-east and repercussions at Christmas represented by the bloody attacks on churches in Abuja.  President Goodwill Jonathan declared a state of emergency, put tanks and troops in the street in areas of north-east Nigeria and threatened to crush to  the Islamist Boko Haram movement.

Amid what appears on the surface to be a Christian-Muslim split threatening a virtual civil war, there are complex social, communal and economic factors at play – as demonstrated by the widespread protests against the withdrawal of fuel subsidies, which threatened to get rolled into the whole Boko Haram conflict when protests took place in early January 2012 in Kano.

Boko Haram is a militant Islamist group formed in 2002.  It has carried out a series of attacks against both Muslim and Christian targets (as well as the military and police) in north-east Nigeria; starting in the town of Maiduguri, which has a history of violence by Muslim splinter groups dating back to the Maitatsine riots in the mid-1980s.  The attacks and bombings of churches have caused havoc and widespread fear in Nigeria, leading to Christians pledging to defend their churches and fellow-believers.

Boko Haram says its aim is to  overthrow the government and set up an Islamic state.  It is critical of what could be termed moderate Islamic leaders and politicians from the mainly-Muslim north, who it sees as too willing to compromise and to cexist with Nigeria’s Christians and secular system.  It has fed on poverty, resentment at the failure of successive governments to deliver basic services and it has used northern  and Muslim resentment or alienation at being ruled by a Christian southerner to generate support.  Some analysts have suggested that major Muslim politicians in the north, including former military officers, publicly condemn the group but have contacts with it and are not unhappy to see it undermine the current government.  It is not clear from where the movement gets its weapons and explosives.

Boko Haram proclaims an interpretation of Islam which makes it haram, or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society or Christianity.  Prohibitions include voting in elections, receiving secular education and dressing in a Western style.  According to the BBC’s Farouk Chothia, Boko Haram regards the Nigerian state as being run by non-believers, even when the country had a Muslim president.

The movement’s full name is is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, meaning “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”.  It was formed by charismatic Islamic cleric, Mohammed Yusuf, formed in Maiduguri in 2002.  Coming into conflict with successive governments, the movement carried out a major attack on Maiduguri’s main police station in 2009 – hundreds were killed in the clash.  Mohammed Yusuf was captured and died while in police custody – giving him martyr status among his followers.  Attacks by the movement had esclated since then in Maiduguri, Damaturu and then most sensationally in the Christmas Day bombings in Abuja.

President Jonathan and the security forces are committed to destroying the movement, though whether the army is totally unified in this remains to be seen.  The government has to tread a very careful line in its fight – avoiding a crusading Christian approach and ensuring that this does not become a war against the north-east or against Muslims.  He may not be helped by a US congressional report identifying Boko Haram as a potential threat to US interests. The last thing Nigeria needs is to be dragged into the American war on terror in a US election year.

Overall, Africa as a whole and not just Nigeria needs a year where it is allowed to deal with its own problems in its ways rather than by being roped into US or other external campaigns or plans.    External intervention – of whatever kind short of humanitarian aid in emergencies – in Egypt’s political evolution, the conflict in Nigeria or muddled, uninformed and ill-intentioned interference in Somalia will not be in the interests of those states, Africa or international relations.  The only exception I would make is the ICC process relating to the Kenyan post-election violence.  The inability of the Kenyan political or judicial system to seriously undermine the impunity of leading politicians means that the ICC could help bring about change in this vital area.

Africa’s Odious debts – review of a valuable guide to capital flight

Africa’s Odious Debts: How Foreign Loans and Capital Flight Bled a Continent by  Leonce Ndikumana and James K. Boyce

Zed Books/International African Institute/Royal African Society/Social Science Research Council

London, 2011 – ISBN 978 1 84813 459 1 pb

It is a perennial question – why is Africa so poor?  Followed, in Europe and the Americas by – where did our aid money go?  This book tries to answer that and particularly highlights the issue of odious debt – debt incurred by African states without the consent of their people; loans that were not then used for public benefit but for private enrichment; and, debt that was accumulated with the creditors aware (or should have been aware) of the uses to which the funds would be put (p.85).

The authors explain the problem clearly and with sufficient detail and a pleasing lack of jargon,and conclude that ‘the people of Africa will benefit from measures to stop the bleeding of the continent through capital flight and odious debt service.  The taxpayers of creditor countries will also benefit, as their money is no longer dissipated in poorly managed official loans and bailouts for private creditors’ (p. 100).

This conclusion  is backed up by an examination of the contracting, misuse and then the debt burden resulting from the looting of capital and loans.  They give the truly shocking figures that between 1970 and 2008, $700 billion in capital fled Africa.  If this had been invested, the capital sent abroad would have totalled $944 billion – the GDP for the whole of sub-Saharan Africa for the same period was $997 billion.  None of the capital sent out of the continent benefited Africans (other than the rich and powerful who looted it) in any way.  Rather, it bled the continent dry and prevented development, poverty reduction and the building of infrastructure.

It should be noted that Africa’s capital flight is smaller than that of Asia and Latin America in total monetary terms but is far higher in relation to the size of African economies.

The focus of the book is not just on corruption in Africa, but also on the guilt of creditors in this process of capital flight – that creditors could not have been unaware (apart of course from turning a Nelsonian blind  eye) of the misuse of loans and other capital flows to Africa.  These loans were negotiated with major international banks, with the IMF and the World Bank. These are not naive institutions – yet they permitted the provision of funds that would go back out through the revolving door of capital flight and impoverish rather enrich Africa.  They were aware of the mounting debt and debt service burden on African economies resulting from this process of personal and institutional greed – the latter because banks saw it in their interest to continue this process.

Read this book – it is not comfortable reading but it is very, very necessary to understand why Africa has failed to develop.

Keith Somerville

Zambia: Sata demands and gives apologies to Malawi and Angola

Keith Somerville

In keeping with his reputation for speaking his mind, in his first weeks in office President Michael Sata has issued a trenchant demand for an apology from Malawi for his deportation from there in 2007 and, now, has fulsomely apologised to Angola for Zambian support in the past for the UNITA rebel movement.

Sata is so angry over the deportation and Malawi’s failure to go beyond revocation of the order to a proper apology that he refused to attend last week’s Comesa (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) summit in Malawi.  But so keen is he to mend fences with Angola that he has apologised to the Dos Santos government and sent former President and frontline states doyen Kenneth Kaunda to Luanda as a sign of his desire for better relations.

Sata v Mutharika

Soon after winning the presidential election, Michael Sata called on Malawi to revoke the deporation order against  him AND to apologise for deporting him in the first place.   He was kicked out of Malawi unceremoniously in 2007, when as Patriotic front opposition leader in Zambia he went to Malawi for talk with opposition parties there.

The new Zambian leader has described how he was stopped by immigration officers when he arrived by air, “bundled into a Land Cruiser” and driven 300 miles back to the Zambian border.

Following his complaint, he was expecting a swift Malawian response and an apology or explanation.  What he got was a revocation with no other comment. This has angered him even more, thus his refusal to visit his neighbour to attend the Comesa summit.

Prior to the summit, the Malawian High Commissioner in Lusaka, David Bandawe, had audience with Sata to hand him and official invitation to the summit from president Bingu wa Mutharika.  The diplomat said the deporation order had been revoked but stopped short of giving an apology.

Angered by this, Sata has told Bandawe, “Your government has not apologised to me or my lawyer in Malawi and therefore I find it extremely difficult to go to Malawi,” Sata told the Malawian high commissioner to Zambia David Bandawe.

He went on to make abundantly clear his exasperation, saying,”You are fully aware of the dilemma in which I am in with your government. Your government for no apparent reason declared me a prohibited immigrant when I went to visit an opposition leader”.  he said to the Malawian high commissioner that he thought he would be bringing not just the invitation but an apology.

The Nyasa Times in Malawi has reported a stonewalling response by Mutharika – his spokesman, the saturnine former Foreign Minister under Kamuzu Banda, Hetherwick Ntaba said that President Mutharika had not apologised – making clear the Malawian intention not to give in even at the expense of prolonging the dispute.

In recent months, Mutharika has become increasingly argumentative with friends and neighbours – cntinuing the row with Zambia, refusing to apologise for his expulsion of the British High Commissioner and ignoring domestic and international criticism of his promotion within the cabinet of close relatives.

Former diplomats and opposition  figures have criticised the president for his intransigence. Malawi’s former ambassador to Japan, Dr John Chikago, criticised Mutharika on the way he handled the row with Sata, saying he should have sent an envoy to explain the country’s position.

Sata, for his part, is adamant that he won’t visit Malawi unless he gets an apology.

Apology to Angola to oil wheels of relations

Sata has accused his Malawian counterpart of lacking the courage to apologise.  The Zambian leader couldn’t be accused of that when it comes to relations with Angola.

Aware of the importance of his economically more powerful neighbour to the Zambian economy, Sata has issued a very fulsome apology to the government of President Jose Euardo dos Santos for Zambia’s backing for the UNITA rebel movement during Angola’s three decade civil war.  He has sent former President Kenneth Kaunda to Luanda to deliver the apology as a sign of his country’s contrition.

This is an important shift in Zam,bian regioal policy and one that Sata hopes will bring economic as well as diplomatic benefits.

Under President Fred Chiluba, Zambia had been closer to the UNITA movement and Jonass Savimbi than to the government in Luanda – as late as 1999 (three years before Savimbi’s death and UNITA’s defeat) Angola accused Zambia of support for UNITA and allowing arms to get to the rebels via Zambia.  Chiluba denied this, but was clearly closer to Savimbi than Dos Santos. Levy Mwanawasa, Chiluba’s successr, did little to change relations despite the death of Savimbi in 2002.

Even Kenneth Kaunda had far from easy relations with the Angolan government. During the liberation war against the Portuguese in the 1960s and early 1970s, Kaunda had supprted UNITA, only dropping that support when the movement attacked the Benguela Railway and cut one route for Zambia copper exports.  Kaunda  then swapped to supporting Dos Santos’s MPLA and was a co-leader of the Frontline States with  him.  But relations were never close or warm.

Sata, as part of his reorientation of Zambian domestic and foreign policies wants to change that.  He is aware that oil revenues, Western and Chinese investment, the construction of refineries, rebuilding of Angola’s shattered transport infrastructure (including the Lobit Corridor and the Benguela Railway) could all transform Angola into a powerful and infuential regional economy, good relations with which would be great benefit to landlocked and energy-poor Zambia.

Sata said on 19th October to Angola’s new ambassador, Balbina Malheiros Dias da Silva, at a meeting in Lusaka that, “As I am talking, our first president, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, is in Angola. I have sent him as my envoy to go and personally apologise to the president”.

Zambia is heavily reliant on importing oil from the Middle East and would like to cut this dependency and reduce import costs by benefiting from the building of an $8bn refinery in Angola.  Sata would like a deal to import oil more cheaply from Angola.  The new government would also like to benefit from the improvement in Angola’s road and rail infrastructure t provide an alternative route to the far from dependable TanZam railway for copper and other mineral exports.

It is easier for Sata to apologise to Angola and Mutharika to Zambia, as Zambia’s support for UNITA was under Sata’s political opponent Chiluba and the MMD rather than under his own Patriotic Front.  This has enabled him to go as far as to say that the MMD “was very treacherous during your struggle”.

Earlier this year, it was announced that the Lobito rail line project which could connect Zambia to the port at Lobito in Angola was to receive an US$18 million in funding from the African Development Bank (ADB) to facilitate regional and international trade for bulk cargo such as copper. Access to this route would open up new and cheaper transport options for Zambia.

The project would rehabilitate the Benguela Rwailway, which runs from Lobito, though Angola and Zambia’s Copperbelt to Dr Congo’s copper and mineral-rich Shaba province.

China angle

Better relations with Angola could also help smooth over Zambia’s relations with China. Sata has been very critical of China’s business, trade and labour practices in Zambia and relations are cool as a result. he has talked of tenogotiating investment and mining deals.
Angola is China’s most important supplier of oil and China has invested heavily in the Angolan economy.  Good relations with Angola could not only help Zambia’s biletral relations with Luanda but enable Zambia to benefit from Chin ese funded and built infrastructure and perhaps piggyback on transport projects, while mending fences with Beijing.