Chinese companies and banks were once seen as bold and fearless as they invested in countries Western investors deemed too risky. But this may now be changing.
By Jacob Kushner
In 2007, when two Chinese state-owned companies struck a deal with the Congolese government to build the biggest mine the country had ever seen, all involved were riding high. In a mega-deal originally worth some $9 billion, Sinohydro and the China Railway Engineering Corporation (CREC) would gain access to 6.8 million metric tons of copper, the future profits of which were to underwrite the prior building of hospitals, roads and other infrastructure.
At the time, the China’s involvement in Africa was booming and the Sicomines deal embodied much that was symptomatic of Sino-African relations: it was massive-scale, involved vast infrastructural construction linked with similarly vast mineral resources, and was taking place in a country many other investors would have deemed too unstable.
It was not long, however, before confidence in the deal began to wane, especially amongst the deal’s financiers, China’s Export-Import Bank (Exim).
Read the full article at Think Africa Press.
A botched investment by Kenya’s social security agency may delay workers’ retirement benefits, make a Chinese construction firm richer and leave thousands of small landowners with nothing.
By Anthony Langat and Jacob Kushner
NAIROBI, Kenya—This, says Samuel Wambiri, is how corruption can disrupt a life in Kenya.
Ten years ago, the 54-year-old father of three purchased a small plot of land on the outskirts of Nairobi for a modest 315,000 shillings. That’s about $3,700, which Wambiri agreed to pay over 10-years. And upon that land, Wambiri built a home where he and his wife could retire.
But last month, just as Wambiri had finished paying it off, the agency that sold him the land announced some troubling news: Wambiri would have to pay 920,000 shillings, or $10,824 more — four times more than his original investment. That’s because the Nairobi County governor decided Kenya’s National Social Security Fund (NSSF), which sold the land, needed to build a sewage system and access roads through it at significant cost.
The NSSF announced it would transfer the cost of the utilities to the landowners themselves.
“I was happy that I had finally finished paying for my land,” Wambiri said. “I was looking for somewhere to settle, and I settled.”
But now, Wambiri and an estimated 5,500 fellow small-parcel landowners in Nairobi’s Tassia II neighborhood may be forced to vacate their new land altogether if they don’t find a way to pay the bill.
Read the full story at GlobalPost.
Tarnished: The True Cost of Gold tells the stories of those who mine gold—the lustrous, coveted symbol of wealth. Eleven journalists traveled to 10 countries to tell these stories. Their work combines first-rate reporting, vivid imagery and video, previously published by the Pulitzer Center, an innovative non-profit that supports international journalism.
In Chapter Four, Jacob Kushner investigates the future of mining in Haiti, a land ravaged by an earthquake in 2010. Gold remains its hidden treasure, one of the country’s few unexploited natural resources. Kushner asks where the wealth will go when—and if—tons of precious metals are unearthed. (A version of this chapter was originally published by Guernica Magazine).
Download the eBook for iPad and and iBooks for Mac.
An increasingly supportive church and other signs suggest Kenya may be departing from its neighbors in the region by accepting homosexuality.
NAIROBI, Kenya — For years, homosexuality was as unlawful in Kenya as it was in neighboring Uganda or in Nigeria — countries where anti-gay sentiment is growing.
Kenya’s penal code prescribes up to 14 years in prison for men who commit “acts of gross indecency” with other men or for any person who acts “against the order of nature.” It’s the same maximum sentence that existed in Nigeria, and seven years greater than what was until recently the maximum punishment in Uganda.
Uganda’s parliament passed a law making “aggravated homosexuality” a crime punishable by life imprisonment. The Ugandan president said on Friday that he plans to sign the bill. President Obama on Sunday condemned the move, and warned “such discrimination could harm its relationship with the United States.”
In January, Nigeria’s president signed a law that also orders that homosexuals be imprisoned for life and even makes gatherings of homosexuals illegal, including those held by advocacy or rights organizations. The law has already led to numerous arrests.
But in Kenya no such attempt has been made to reduce legal protections for gays, and many Kenyans seem increasingly willing to accept homosexuality as a fact of life, or to move beyond political posturing over the subject altogether.
Thousands sought refuge on the island of La Gonave four years ago. But little help ever arrived, something permanent residents know all too well.
ANSE-A-GALETS, Haiti — To traverse the 13-mile stretch of Caribbean Sea to the island of La Gonave, one must choose between three types of boats, none particularly safe.
First there are the “fly boats,” speed boats with outboard motors that race a dozen people from one side to the other. From time to time they flip over. Few records exist as to how many people survive.
Then there are the two large steel ferries that carry a few hundred passengers slowly across the sea each day. In 1997, one of those ferries sank, killing 200.
Last, there are the sailboats — wooden ships built from hand-carved lumber and pieced together with hammered nails. Their canvas masts are reminiscent of those in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie franchise. They carry everything from rice to dry cement, motorcycles, cars and trucks.
In better times, Haitians travel to and from the 300-square-mile island as a matter of routine, however risky. In times of emergency, like the massive earthquake of four years ago, they come to La Gonave in droves.
In the first 19 days after the earthquake, 630,000 people fled Port-au-Prince, 7,500 of them to La Gonave, according to a 2011 study. Untold thousands more fled there from other earthquake-affected areas. Some NGOs put the total at 20,000, which would mean the island’s normal population of approximately 100,000 increased by between 15 and 20 percent almost overnight.
To feed and house them all would have required a substantial amount of the $9 billion pledged by international governments for Haiti’s recovery. But little of that aid — or the aid allocated by private donors — reached the people of La Gonave, GlobalPost found. Most of the migrants returned to the mainland in the months after the earthquake, leaving permanent residents in a dire state.
Read the full story at GlobalPost.
US Congress is on the verge of rejecting a money-saving proposal that would deliver US food aid to more people and boost foreign farmers in the process.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The idea that the delivery of American food aid needs an overhaul goes almost without question here in the capital of a nation still recovering from the devastating earthquake of four years ago.
Farmers in Haiti and many of their counterparts in the United States are joining foreign aid organizations calling on the United States to stop sending American crops to Haiti through what many critics say is the deeply flawed and wasteful strategy of the current, multi-billion-dollar US Department of Agriculture Food for Peace program.
“Unfortunately US policy doesn’t consider first the political interests of farmers abroad, but of its own,” said Camille Chalmers, director of a Haitian farmers’ association.
“But now there is a chance to change that,” he added.
Read the full article at GlobalPost.
MIREBALAIS, Haiti — When Roosler Billy Telcide completed medical school in Port-au-Prince, his hopes for finding a residency to prepare him for a career as a pediatrician were modest.
“I had a dream when I was a medical student to do my residency where I can find a scanner, an MRI, and all those things Partners in Health has,” said Telcide, 27, in reference to Boston non-profit whose state-of-the-art teaching hospital opened last year in the town of Mirebalais, north of Port-au-Prince.
Funded by private donors and grants, and using equipment donated from the Boston area, the $25-million, 300-bed University Hospital of Mirebalais (HUM) already handles some 800 outpatient visits a day, offers chemotherapy to cancer patients, delivers 200 to 300 babies per month and operates a 24-hour emergency ward. Its mission: provide free, first-rate health care to Haitians who could otherwise not afford it.
By Jacob Kushner
When Xi Jinping pondered which foreign region to visit first as China’s newly appointed President, he wasn’t swayed to a mineral-rich Australia, a thriving Singapore or steadfast North Korea. Instead, his careful calculations took him to Africa. After a brief, almost obligatory stop in Moscow, he flew to Tanzania, South Africa and Congo-Brazzaville, where he promised $20 billion in new credit to finance infrastructure and agriculture in Africa over the next three years.
Some two months after that visit, President Barack Obama followed in the Chinese leader’s footsteps. It was only the American President’s first extended trip to Africa since taking office some four and a half years earlier. The sign of America’s lagging commitment to Africa was not lost upon Africans. That China has moved 600 million people out of extreme poverty over the past 35 years is a source of wonder for many Africans who remain trapped in cycles of poverty. As the American President spoke of a “Pivot to Asia,” China was intently channeling its attention here: In 2009 China supplanted the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner and never looked back. China’s government estimates that it conducted $200 billion worth of trade with the continent in 2012.
Perhaps no African people is more optimistic about the potential of Chinese investment than that of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a nation rich in natural resources but poor in nearly every other respect.
In this article for The American Interest magazine, Jacob Kushner argues the United States should re-think its approach to diplomacy—a sphere in which China is uncharacteristically out-maneuvering the United States in Africa in several important ways.
One group of workers who earn a high wage and unusual benefits is helping others earn the same.
By Jacob Kushner
Founded in 2010 by the collegiate clothing supplier Knights Apparel Inc., Altagracia Apparel pays its workers a so-called living wage, calculated to be about three times the country’s minimum wage for factories in its free trade zones. Altagracia workers earn at least $500 US per month, well above the minimum wage of about $150.
Four years since Altagracia opened its doors, the factory has become a model of what workers in the Dominican Republic dream to achieve.
Like their colleagues in many other countries, public school teachers here lead huge classes for shrinking pay. Some warn they won’t put up with it much longer.
ARUSHA, Tanzania — Five days a week, Caroline Benedict Kessy stands before a class of 77 third-grade students and struggles to devise a way to teach all of them how to read and write.
The other two days she spends at home baking wedding cakes to sell. Each cake earns her an average of 300,000 shillings (about $187 US). That’s equivalent to half her monthly teaching salary for just one day of baking.
She isn’t alone. Kessy, 46, is among the tens of thousands of public school teachers in Tanzania who face monumental class sizes for meager pay. Many work two or three jobs to supplement their income, and some quit education altogether.
“Someone was working here for three years and then she (gave) up to sell stationary and phones,” said Kessy. Now, “she’s making more money than we do.”