Monthly Archives: December 2012

We take a break, but we leave you in good company

Afronline.org will take a break from Saturday, December 22, till Monday, January 7. We want to say thank you to all our readers and to our African media partners. A special mention to the journalists who took part in the conference which we organized i…

£5bn illegally taken out of Zambia over past decade, says report

Campaigners say most of the siphoned money ends up in tax havens and can be traced to mining multinationals

More than £5bn has been illegally siphoned out of Zambia over 10 years, with most of it ending it up in offshore banks and tax havens, according to a report by financial transparency campaigners.

Washington-based group Global Financial Integrity blamed “crime, corruption and tax evasion” for the loss of $8.8bn (£5.4bn) from the resource-rich country.

The lost money, most of which can be traced to multinational copper mining operations, is equivalent to almost half of Zambia’s GDP.

Dev Kar, an economist and co-author of the report, said: “They [big global mining companies] are robbing the opportunities for the countries to advance, it [the money] could have been used to build hospitals and schools, and lift the economy out of poverty.”

Kar said it was difficult to track where the money goes, but said most of it ends up in “offshore banks and tax havens”.

Sarah Freitas, the other author of the report, said $4.9bn of Zambia’s lost funds between 2000 and 2010 could be traced to trade misinvoicing, in which importers pretend to pay more to foreign companies than they actually do, with the remainder slipped into offshore bank accounts. “This is a very serious problem,” she said.

“Zambia’s GDP was $19.3bn in 2011. Its per capita GDP was $1,413. Its government collected a total of $4.3bn revenue. It can’t afford to be haemorrhaging illicit capital in such staggering amounts.”

Zambia’s deputy finance minister, Miles Sampa, said the report highlighted “what we have always been saying with regard to tax avoidance and income leakages in general”.

Sampa has accused multinational mining companies of using legal tax avoiding measures to escape $2bn a year in taxes. He said only one or two mining operations declare they are making profits from Zambian copper mines, which hold 6% of the world’s known copper reserves.

“The other mines for one reason or another, some genuine, some not, are always making losses,” he said. “Most of it is due to transfer pricing or tax avoidance. We’re looking at developing a law that will criminalise false reporting.”

He said closing the loopholes could generate Zambia at least an extra $1.5bn a year. “How many hospitals can that build? How many roads can that help us to develop?”

The UK government has investigated allegations surrounding Zambia’s lost tax revenues from foreign-owned mines, including claims that Glencore avoided paying up to £76m a year in tax on its Mopani mine in the countrty. Glencore denies the allegations.

Zambia is currently investigating its justice minister, Wynter Kabimba, over claims he took bribes from multinational trading company Trafigura. Both Kabima and Trafigura deny the claims.

The GFI report (pdf) said “illicit capital flight” has cost developing countries $859m in 2010, the last year for which IMF figures are available. “Astronomical sums of dirty money continue to flow out of the developing world and into offshore tax havens and developed country banks,” Raymond Baker, the GFI’s director, said. “Regardless of the methodology, it’s clear: developing economies are haemorrhaging more and more money at a time when rich and poor nations alike are struggling to spur economic growth. This report should be a wake-up call to world leaders that more must be done to address these harmful outflows.”

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Cervical cancer: striking women down at the peak of their lives | Sarah Boseley

Sub-Saharan African countries are queueing up to be considered for HPV vaccines and pilot screening schemes

Zena Mwamjengwa is a 40-year-old widow with four children, but she is totally alone in Dar es Salaam, more than 1,000km (620 miles) north of her home in Mbeya. She sold a mattress to get the money to travel to the only hospital in Tanzania that could help her, the Ocean Road Cancer Institute. Whether they can help her to live for several more years is uncertain.

Mwamjengwa has cervical cancer – a highly preventable and highly curable disease that few die from in Europe these days. But there is little screening in Tanzania and cervical cancer kills large numbers of women, many of whom are never diagnosed because local hospitals do not recognise the disease until it is too late.

For 18 months, Mwamjengwa was given pills and injections before, finally, she was sent 120km away to a regional hospital that confirmed a stage 3b cancer and referred her to Ocean Road. That is an advanced stage of disease, which only 20% of patients at the cancer hospital survive.

But the terrible toll of cervical cancer could be prevented. A very simple and cheap form of screening has begun to be introduced – and now there is the possibility of a vaccination programme against the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV) that causes most cervical cancers.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (Gavi), which held its partners forum in Dar es Salaam last week, has agreed to fund HPV vaccinations, and pilot projects are under way. Uganda and Rwanda have already been approved, although some “clarifications” are required from the governments on how their programmes will run.

Gavi expected interest, but not a queue of 15 countries asking to be considered: there is no doubting the need. “A woman dies every two minutes from cervical cancer,” said chief executive Seth Berkley at the forum. “There are about 275,000 deaths [every year]. If we don’t do better in preventing it, there will be 430,000 deaths by 2030, all of which are occurring in the developing world. It strikes women down at the absolute peak of their lives.”

Dr Christine Kaseba, first lady of Zambia and an obstetrician by training, is passionate in her determination to tackle cervical cancer. “I have seen so much hopelessness, so much despair in the eyes of families and friends of women with cervical cancer when we tell them that nothing can be done,” she said. “It is so unfortunate because cervical cancer is one cancer that is preventable and that could be cured if detected in the early stages.”

In Zambia, cervical cancer accounts for around 33% of all cancers, one of the highest rates in the world. “The women tend to come in very late,” Kaseba said. “There has been a veil of secrecy surrounding sexuality. Women are bleeding but they do not seek help until they start pouring [blood] and there is very little you can do beyond saying, ‘you have got cancer – just wait and die.’

“If you have a cancer patient and someone else on the ward has anemia [for instance], the preference is to go right to the woman with something else because the woman with cancer is going to die … It was very difficult to tell people that cancer patients have to be treated with dignity – they have the same right to healthcare as everyone,” said Kaseba.

Just 3.1% of women were screened in 2008 in Zambia, although “we are improving”, she said. Screening has been transformed by a simple and cheap new technique called VIA – visual inspection with acetic acid, such as vinegar. A nurse swabs the cervix with vinegar and can see the pre-cancerous cells by the light of a lamp, because they turn white. The policy then is “see and treat” – no woman leaves without treatment for lower-risk lesions the same day.

Vaccinating against cancer

The prospects for vaccination are even more exciting for Kaseba. “Women form the backbone of countries’ economies. For once, we have a technology that is really going to save women’s lives,” she said. It is a disaster for the family and the economy when women die.”

But this is not a routine jab that can be added to the infant vaccination schedule, when women bring their babies for a check-up. As in the UK, it is schoolgirls between the age of nine and 13 who are the target. Sub-Saharan African countries have never run schools-based vaccination programmes – and unlike the UK, not all girls of that age will be in school.

The Zambian government wants to target places where they can spread the word to girls to come to a clinic. “Often, when girls come out of school, they go into the markets and into the streets to sell things,” she said. “We’re also looking at churches – Zambia is predominantly a Christian nation.” The government will engage the traditional leadership and community mobilisation, and at school they will vaccinate in year four, because the biggest exit of girls always takes place from year five.

In Europe and the US, there has been some resistance to HPV vaccination from those who think it could increase promiscuity, and the same argument is heard in Zambia. “There are a lot of myths and rumours. The reaction from religious groups has been that talking about sexuality is encouraging them to be sexually active. We have had to start to refine our message,” said Kaseba. The government is now talking about cancer prevention, rather than blocking sexual transmission of a virus.

No one believes it will be easy to introduce the HPV vaccination in Africa, and there may be problems. There are signs, for instance, that the vaccine designed for Europe and the US may not work so well in west Africa, and although the manufacturers agreed a price that was 64% lower than in wealthier countries, $5 a dose – and three doses are needed – is unsustainably high.

But the wagon is rolling and women like Vanessa Mdee, the Tanzanian MTV presenter and personality whose aunt died of cervical cancer, are delighted. “She found out too late to be cured of it. I saw her health deteriorate in front of my eyes. I couldn’t understand what was going on,” said Mdee. She is looking forward to a “cervical cancer-free generation”, she said. “Our little sisters are going to go on to become great leaders.”

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ZAMBIA: Housing the DRC refugees

JOHANNESBURG 13 December 2012 (IRIN) – Over the past five weeks, almost 1,000 people have fled into Zambia to escape fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), forcing the Zambian government to consider re-opening a refugee camp it closed two …

Two HIV-positive men take on Zambia government over prison conditions

George Mwanza and Melvin Beene accuse officials of violating human rights, claiming they were deprived of food and drugs

Two HIV-positive men are taking on the Zambian government in a legal test case that could force a major overhaul of the country’s jails.

George Mwanza accused officials of violating his human rights, and those of other inmates with HIV, by failing to provide adequate care in prison. “I have been prevented from accessing the antiretroviral [ARV] drugs and therapy from the clinic,” Mwanza told a court on Monday, watched by Aids activists wearing white T-shirts in the public gallery.

Mwanza and Melvin Beene, a co-plaintiff who is also HIV positive, argue that, while incarcerated at Lusaka central prison, they did not receive the quantity and quality of food needed to ensure that ARVs are fully effective. Mwanza said his diet consisted of a maize meal for breakfast, and porridge with beans or anchovies for lunch. He did not receive dinner. Often the food was uncooked or rotten, he added.

People who are HIV positive are advised to eat a varied diet of eggs, meat, fruit and vegetables. ARVs can have side-effects if taken on an empty stomach. “The last time I had an egg was in June,” said Mwanza, who is awaiting trial for statutory rape.

The pair allege that poor prison conditions – including lack of ventilation, unsanitary toilets and overcrowding, causing them to have to sleep sitting or standing – had a negative effect on their health. Mwanza and Beene also claim that they were denied access to their ARV treatment on numerous occasions. Prison staff shortages mean the government is unable to provide enough wardens to escort them to clinics.

More than one in 10 Zambians is HIV positive. The case is being watched closely because of its potential ramifications for the way Zambia treats its prisoners.

Mary Chisanga, acting projects officer of the Legal Resources Foundation, which is representing the men, said: “They argue they are not being served with a balanced diet as advised by medical officials to ensure the full efficacy of their treatment. They also argue they are in a congested prison cell with poor ventilation and that is an infringement of their right to health. The issues of congestion, poor ventilation and food portions affect all inmates. This will set a precedent.”

Mwanza spent some time in a holding cell containing 1,967 people but built for 400, she said. He has suffered continuous diarrhoea and contracted tuberculosis twice, he told the court. Chisanga added: “At the time George Mwanza brought the case he was looking much better than now. We are trying to get a doctor to look at him.”

Priti Patel, deputy director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, which is following the case, said: “Prisons in Zambia are incredibly overcrowded. As far as we know there hasn’t been a case like this before. It could have repercussions for what the prison has to provide to HIV-positive prisoners and indeed all prisoners.”

The Zambian government argues that additional food is supplied by charities and NGOs, but Mwanza contends this is irregular and cannot be relied upon. The government denies the allegations of poor prison conditions and claims that there is a clinic on the premises to provide treatment to all HIV-positive inmates.

In 2010, Zambia’s jails were branded “death traps” by Human Rights Watch. Its investigation found that prisoners routinely live in overcrowded cells where there is no room to lie down at night, forcing them to sleep in shifts, pressed against one another. Medical care was almost non-existent.

Common punishments include being stripped naked and held in solitary confinement in small, windowless cells, in water up to their ankles or calves contaminated with the prisoner’s own excrement, sometimes for days on end.

“Zambian prisoners are starved, packed into cells unfit for human habitation and face beatings at the hands of certain guards or fellow inmates,” Human Rights Watch said at the time. “Children, pregnant women, pre-trial detainees and convicted criminals are condemned to brutal treatment and are at serious risk of drug-resistant TB and HIV infection.”

At the end of Monday’s hearing, the judge adjourned proceedings until 11 March.

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IDPs: African IDP Convention comes into force

NAIROBI 06 December 2012 (IRIN) – The African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) 2009, also known as the Kampala Convention, came into force on 6 December; it is the world’s first legally binding instrument to cater specifically to people displaced within their own countries.

Zambian minister under investigation over Trafigura contract

Zambian justice minister denies allegations multinational commodities trader paid his firm to secure $500m fuel contract

Trafigura, the multinational commodities trading company, is embroiled in an investigation into a Zambian government minister who is accused of taking bribes over a $500m fuel contract.

Zambia’s justice minister, Wynter Kabimba, was on Monday called in front of the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission to respond to allegations that Trafigura paid his company, Midland Energy Zambia, to secure a petrol and diesel supply deal.

The hearing was suspended amid chaotic scenes and protests from the minister’s supporters. A spokesman for the ACC said: “[Kabimba] came with sympathisers. The atmosphere was not conducive. We will need to reschedule.”

Kabimba, who is also secretary-general of the ruling PF party, has consistently denied the allegations and says he will resign as minister if the ACC finds evidence proving he influenced the deal or received any kickbacks from Trafigura.

He has urged the ACC to pursue its investigations vigorously and tell Zambians the truth about “any wrongdoing”. He did not respond to efforts by the Guardian to contact him.

Trafigura said: “In August 2012 Trafigura was awarded a tender by the republic of Zambia’s ministry of mines, energy and water development for the supply and delivery of 216,920,000 litres of diesel and 21,230,000 litres of leaded petrol over a two year period. The tender process was run on behalf of the ministry of energy by ZPPA, an independent regulatory body which follows World Bank procurement guidelines and procedures to evaluate bids on both a technical and a financial basis. Trafigura categorically refutes any allegation of corruption at any stage before, during or after the award of this tender and welcomes the investigation by the Zambian Anti-Corruption Commission.”

The company added that it had never made any payments to Midland Energy.

Kabimba is a director of Midland Energy and the Guardian has seen copies of the company’s incorporation documents which list the minister as a board member and shareholder. The company was registered on 10 January 2012, four months after the current government came into power.

Local reports have suggested that the allegations against Kabimba have been made by sources close to Zambia’s defence minister, Geoffrey Mwamba. Among the claims are that he recently travelled to Lebanon to collect the payment on behalf of Midlands Energy.

Mwamba is himself fending off accusations of corruption and the ACC is examining claims he influenced the award of a contract to a firm owned by him and his relatives. He denies the allegations and that his supporters had anything to do with claims concerning Kabimba’s business affairs. He said: “I’ve no idea [where the Kabimba allegations came from]. The stories emerged when I was being accused of soliciting business for one of my companies, which was not the case.”

Commodity trading firms such as Trafigura and Glencore have attracted increasing attention from campaign groups which have attempted to unpick their sometimes opaque dealings.

In 2009 the Guardian fought a landmark legal battle to reveal how Trafigura was linked to the dumping of tonnes of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast three years earlier, causing a public health crisis that affected more than 100,000 people. Effects included breathing difficulties, nausea, stinging eyes and burning skin.

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