22 March 2022

Francis Kéré/Pritzker prize: Kéré’s buildings use locally widely available resources – this includes materials and also unskilled labour. He has worked in Benin, Kenya, Mali and Mozambique and across the world.

Woody encroachment on savannas: Savannas offer open and sunny conditions. If they become bushland, they will be less suitable for wildlife and livestock and lose many of their former plant and animal species. The article’s authors’ research found that high “concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stimulate tree growth but healthy grasslands and regular browsing by animals cancels out this effect. When trees are browsed by animals and grass is burnt regularly, savannas can be kept in balance.” But grazing needs to be managed – overgrazing also leads to woody encroachment (because it removes grasses totally and leaves the bushes/trees without competitors).

Tanzania: A year ago, former Vice-President Samia Suluhu Hassan became president by accident, taking over when Magufuli died, but she is leaving her mark and has cemented her power. The article analyses four aspects where her impact has been felt in the 12 months that she has been head of state: “the about-turn on COVID-19 protocols, her expansion of the civic space, a focus on the informal sector and her efforts to build her own team”. The ruling party remains in total control and its dominance is not threatened. Authoritarian restrictions are still in place, e.g. restrictions on public rallies. Some “draconian laws” (the Cybercrime Act, Media Services Act, the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act) should be gotten rid of. More fundamentally, to make real change possible, a new constitution is needed. With the present parliament totally faithful to Magufuli’s approach, this is unlikely to happen soon. Hassan will be a candidate at the 2025 presidential elections.

South Africa: With the overall downward trend of the ANC, the local government elections of 1/11/2021 brought no outright winner in many cities, also in Johannesburg, and makes coalition governments necessary. Mpho Phalatse of the Democratic Alliance has become mayoress of Johannesburg. In this interview, she gives her views of what is important and show she will govern while presiding the coalition. She’s up against corruption, wants to restore the rule of law and to create safe communities (1,800 additional city police officers have been mobilised) and improve revenue collection. To get the basics right”, “(w)e have also accelerated maintenance projects. Our service delivery teams from City Parks and Zoo, the Johannesburg Roads Agency, Joburg Water and City Power are conducting region-by-region blitzes to fix potholes, clean open spaces and curbs and cut trees, paint lines on the roads, fix traffic signals, repair leaking pipes and taps, and so on.” This seems to aim at making progress visible fast. It all sounds good – will it work?

Kenya: Elections in Kenya tend to incite violence – presidential, legislative, and county-level elections will be held in August. Media narratives can be used to decipher early signs of the risk of such violence. According to the article’s authors, the 2007-08 elections (which proved very violent) saw three violence-enhancing narratives: 1. political marginalisation (emphasising economic deprivation and political alienation of some groups, e.g., the Luo); 2. Victimisation (exploiting land grievances, casting some communities, e.g., the Kikuyu, as primary beneficiaries of post-independence policies); 3. foreign occupation (capitalising on fragile inter-community relations, e.g., in the Rift Valley where Kikuyus are termed “foreign occupiers” of Maasai and Kalenjin ancestral lands).
In the run up to the August 2022 elections, social media – where it is chronically difficult to contain inflammatory and intolerant content – are already heating up. On top of the three identified past narratives, three new ones could prove equally violence-enhancing for the contest between Odinga (backed by present president Kenyatta) and Ruto (presently Vice-president, but fallen out of Kenyatta’s grace): 1. Ruto has presented the contest as being between well-established “dynasties versus hustlers” like himself who have to employ their intelligence to get by. 2. Ruto is calling Odinga a “state project” – while Odinga is calling Ruto “a thief who cannot be trusted with public coffers”. 3. The failed Building Bridges Initiative to change the constitution “has increased political intolerance between rival political elites and their potential voters”.
So let us hope for peaceful elections.

Tanzania: Because of Covid, revenue from wildlife has dropped from 48m in 2019 to 19m USD in 2021. Now the tourism ministry wants to make up for some of the losses by auctioning the killing of aged, “unproductive” lions, elephants and other big game, hoping to raise 30m USD that way. About half of the world’s wild lions live in Tanzania. However, “(a)ccording to a 2019 International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report, 72% of big hunting zones in Tanzania are now classified as depleted because big game had been hunted out of these areas.”
BBC Africa Live 22 March 2022. 10:11

Congo-Kinshasa: 14 – 7 children and 7 adults – were killed in a machete attack on a camp of displaced people in Ituri province. The armed group Codeco is being blamed for the attack. Amongst the children killed was one aged 2, another aged 4 and a third one aged 8.
BBC Africa Live 22 March 2022. 5:24

Uganda: A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report has condemned the government for failing “to hold security officials accountable for the alleged detention and torture of hundreds of government critics and protesters” especially before and after 2021 elections. Witnesses had told HRW about rape, forced disappearances, detention in non-designated places (so-called “safehouses”) and torture.
BBC Africa Live 22 March 2022. 15:03

Ghana: The rate at which commercial banks borrow from the Central Bank (the “main policy rate”) has been raised to 17%, higher than ever before under President Akufo Addo. Inflation has been rising and the currency has depreciated. The Ukraine war will mean further woes for Ghana which imports more than half of its iron ore from Ukraine while a quarter of its wheat comes from Russia.
BBC Africa Live 22 March 2022. 15:50

21 March 2022

Burkina Faso: An attack on a military patrol yesterday in Natiaboni in the country’s East region left 10 soldiers dead. Natiaboni, 45 km south of Fada N'Gourma, is Gourma province’s second biggest town.
BBC Africa Live 21 March 2022. 7:16

Mali: The military government and Ecowas envoy Goodluck Jonathan have not reached an agreement concerning the length of the transition period. Jonathan had been on mission in Bamako for two days. The government said “it regretted the lack of compromise at this stage.”
BBC Africa Live 21 March 2022. 4:39

African forest wonders: In this article, the Director General of the Centre for International Forestry Research takes us on a short trip from Morocco’s argan forests to the Congo Basin peat swamp forests, on to the Afromontane forests with the continent’s highest trees (reaching 81.5 meters), the Miombo woodlands between Angola and Tanzania and finally to Madagascar and its Spiny Forest. All of these forests are endangered.

Groundwater: The article’s author argues that for developing agriculture and improving food security in Africa, groundwater is a relatively under-developed resource: “less than 5% of the region’s renewable groundwater is being used”. But be careful: over-exploitation needs to be avoided; management needs to be sustainable.