Saturday, July 14, 2012

Updates on Mali, Guinea, surveillance in Africa and others


President Condé of Guinea has promised that legislative elections will be held before the end of the year. I've heard mostly skepticism regarding the announcement since elections have been scheduled and rescheduled so many times before.

The UN Security Council continues to reject direct military intervention by ECOWAS, while continuing to allow the destruction of cultural heritage. Following up on this reluctance to intervene and its implications, the New York Times has a thought-provoking article which pushes the supporters of the intervention in Libya to reckon with the results we are now seeing in Mali. In Gao, two people were killed while protesting the occupation of the north by the rebels, a small sign of growing discontent but also the inability of the population in the north to stage a mass uprising.

Back to Guinea, mining companies continue to make large investments in the country, most recently Alufer Mining Limited, who is planning a new $400 million bauxite mine. Bauxite is the core component of aluminum. Alufer itself is registered in Guernsey, and will be adding Boffa to its portfolio of mines in Guinea which also includes Kindia and Labé. Even if the large flow of revenue from mines does not trickle down proportionately to Guineans, these investments are significant for Guinea. As Reuters writes of Guinea,
"The country, which also has significant iron ore and gold reserves, relies on minerals for more than 70 percent of its exports."
Mining companies sometimes support malaria prevention activities in the communities around their work zones because doing so has been shown to reduce the malaria burden among their workers. One of the reasons this works is because the malaria transmission cycle requires that there be a regular source of humans to bite, and in addition the fewer infected humans mosquitoes find, the fewer mosquitoes are infected. In a recent Reuters article some of the results of efforts by AngloGold Ashanti were noted,
"Faced with endemic malaria in the 240,000 population town around its Obuasi gold mine in Ghana, AngloGold Ashanti, the world's third largest bullion producer, launched a multi-pronged campaign of bed-nets, indoor insecticide spraying and drugs that cut infections from 79,237 in 2005 to fewer than 16,000 in 2008. The program cost the Johannesburg-based firm $1.3 million a year, but over that time the malaria drug bill at the mine's hospital dropped from $55,000 to $9,800 a month, while work days lost each month fell from 6,983 to just 282."
So far no sign of Alufer undertaking these kinds of activities, but one can hope that they will follow the trend of private sector engagement in malaria prevention! Speaking of malaria, the Economist just published a short but sweet article on the importance and benefits of malaria prevention.

Taking a broader look at Africa, on June 14th the Washington Post published a fascinating article about the increasing emphasis the United States military is placing on surveillance on the continent:
"The previously unreported practice of hiring private companies to spy on huge expanses of African territory — in this region and in North Africa, where a similar surveillance program is aimed at an al-Qaeda affiliate — has been a cornerstone of the U.S. military’s secret activities on the continent."
I'm not sure how I missed this article when it came out, since it is a rare look into the security apparatus that the US is building in Africa and the far-reaching implications of this secret and increasing involvement. Peace Corps Volunteers are constantly dealing with locals who believe that they are spies or soldiers, since this is often the image that they get from TV, film, and sometime firsthand experience. This kind of clandestine activity by the military, when it becomes visible or known, certainly doesn't help us when we are trying to convince our host communities that we have no connection to the military. The article also focuses in particular on the ever-relevant topic of the use of private contractors for sensitive information gathering missions. Slate Afrique just came out with a solid summary and analysis of the Washington Post article. French speakers can read the article here.

And back to the topic of general development, over on the buildOn website there is a new post about buildOn College Chapters, which raise money to build schools in developing countries. Myself and my friend Antonia are both mentioned for our work starting (and in her case leading), our respective chapters at Lewis and Clark College and the University of Oregon which have both just successfully built schools.