13 January 2023

Frene Ginwala/South Africa: Anti-apartheid activist and speaker of the country’s first democratically elected parliament has passed away aged 90.
BBC Africa Live 13 January 2023. 14:38

Malawi/Pan-Africanism: A sculpture called “Antelope” has been chosen to occupy London’s Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth in 2022 – it will remain there for two years, the selection being equivalent to Britain’s most significant public sculpture award. The sculpture is by Malawian conceptual artist Samson Kambalu. It shows Malawian Baptist preacher and Pan-Africanist John Chilembwe, whose name means “antelope”, plus his friend, a British missionary named John Chorley. John Chilembwe “in 1915 led the first uprising against the British occupation and colonial rule of Malawi (then Nyasaland)”. “(T)he first Malawian to resist colonial rule beyond tribal lines”, he was killed in the uprising. He ”features on Malawi’s banknotes and he is remembered in a public holiday every year on 15 January”, but his importance is little recognized inside Malawi and he is almost unknown outside of Malawi – despite his having influenced pan-Africanists like Marcus Garvey while being “trained as a Baptist minister in the US before returning to Nyasaland in 1901”. The sculpture on Trafalgar Square is to change this.

Donkey skin trafficking: In China, “(g)elatine, also called donkey-hide glue or ejiao, is (…) used as an aphrodisiac, an ingredient in cosmetics, and for curing ailments such as anaemia, dry cough, chronic fatigue and symptoms of menopause.” Demand amounts to 4 million donkey skins per year and they partly come from West Africa where “organised criminal groups (…) profit from lax law enforcement” (e.g., of laws in Niger and Burkina Faso forbidding slaughter and export of the animals, their meat and skin), at the same time “wiping out the local (donkey) population” in some places.

Angola: Will “the country’s poor (…) benefit from attempts to recover Dos Santos’ enormous stolen loot”? The long-time ex-president “created Isabel’s wealth by awarding her companies, public contracts, tax breaks, telecom licences, diamond mining rights and preferential loans. And by making her chief executive of the state oil company Sonangol – a vital post in a country almost entirely dependent on oil revenue.” At least 2.1bn USD are estimated to be stashed in bank accounts and assets in Europe and also in the USA and Asia. Her accounts and assets have been frozen in Angola, Portugal and the USA. She is under criminal investigation in several countries and in late 2022, Interpol “issued a Red Notice calling on all governments to provisionally arrest her, pending local legal processes.” She is thought to be hiding in Dubai (alongside South Africa’s Gupta brothers). Whether the stolen money can be recovered and returned to Angola depends on the cooperation of several countries, but most of all on how determined the Angolan authorities are and how swiftly they act against Isabel dos Santos. Angolan President João Lourenço has so far shown “considerable caution in trying to erase (his predecessor’s) legacies”…

Succulent smuggling: The Succulent Karoo (Western & Northern Cape provinces and south-western Namibia) is one of South Africa’s three of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots and among arid regions, it is the world’s most biodiverse. While well-adapted to the harsh climate, it now “faces several human-related threats. These include climate change, habitat destruction through farming and mining, and the rise in illegal harvesting and trade of wild plants to supply international horticultural markets.” With illegal harvesting increasing since 2019, many succulents are now “endangered” or “critically endangered”. Ecosystems have been or will be changed, degraded, destroyed – what the effects of the absence of the succulents will be remains to be seen. A National Response Strategy and Action Plan to address the Illegal Trade in South African Succulent Flora was launched in February 2022. If it works, “it could safeguard threatened species and provide income potential through legal trade. It may also serve as a blueprint for preventive, holistic responses to transnational organised crimes that target natural resources”.

Penguin feathers-inspired de-icing: Ever seen a picture of a penguin with an ice crust on his or her plumage? So scientists have investigated their feathers. Existing de-icing methods are energy-intensive and costly. “Biomimetic mesh surfaces, which mimic penguin feathers with a woven stainless steel textile, showed about 95 per cent decreased ice adhesion strength compared to polished smooth monolithic stainless steel surfaces.” Application of such promising research is yet to be tested.

Mozambique/GB: According to Friends of the Earth the UK government’s 1bn USD funding of the Total-led gas project “contravene(s) the UK's climate change commitments under the Paris accords.” Unfortunately, the case was dismissed first by a lower court and now by the Court of Appeal.
BBC Africa Live 13 January 2023. 17:02

Ethiopia: The Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) is thought to have been behind an attack on the prison of Bule Hora (several hundred km south of Addis) several days ago killed five police officers and set all prisoners – around 480 – free, some of them OLA members. The search is on for the escaped prisoners.
BBC Africa Live 13 January 2023. 15:52

Ethiopia/Tigray/Amhara: As Tigrayan fighters have started handing over their weapons, members of the Amhara special forces have started to withdraw from Shire (one of the biggest Tigrayan cities) and surroundings. Will Eritrean troops also start withdrawing? Meanwhile, the French and German foreign ministers, on visit in Addis, “called for the establishment of a transitional justice mechanism to punish abuses committed during the conflict” or else there could be no reconciliation.
BBC Africa Live 13 January 2023. 8:43

12 January 2023

Women’s workload: The two authors’ research – they think it is applicable globally – compared farming and herding groups in Tibet that follow different rules as to a married couple’s residence (patri-, neo-, matri-, duolocality). While women generally seem to have less bargaining power and thus shoulder more of the workload (12,000 steps per day compared to 9,000 for men), moving away from home to their husbands’ homes weakens their position further. Only (rare) matrilocality makes men work as much as women.

Mountain ecosystems: They are of great importance beyond their own limits, yet they receive little attention. Several times, the article takes Mount Kilimanjaro as an example for the sensitivity of mountain ecosystems to climate change.

Blue carbon/South Africa: Marine ecosystems, and tidal ecosystems like mangroves and salt marshes in particular as well as seagrasses, are important COâ‚‚ sinks. The author was part of a team who recently established “the first national blue carbon sink assessment for South Africa”, offering “a comprehensive estimate of blue carbon storage across the country”, indicating also which “of the degraded blue carbon ecosystems could be restored”.
For purchasing the study:
For a graphical resumé of the study: https://ars.els-cdn.com/content/image/1-s2.0-S0048969722072424-ga1_lrg.jpg

Chagos Archipelago/Rats and coral reef life: Some of the islands are infested by the invasive black rat that came on ships in the 18th century. The rats prey on small seabirds and their eggs and have decimated seabird populations on these islands, thereby reducing the flow of nutrients from bird droppings into the sea where the small jewel damselfish “defends patches of edible algae it cultivates through a process known as ‘farming’.” The nutritional quality of the algae suffers substantially from this, forcing the jewel damselfish to ‘farm’ bigger ‘fields’ and at the same time reducing their aggressivity in defending their territories (they have become less valuable and defending them is energy-intensive). This can have follow-on effects on other varieties of fish and even on the corals themselves.

Ousmane Sembène: The author and filmmaker who died in 2007 was born 100 years ago in Casamance, southern Senegal. The article tells a bit about his life, a bit about his books, and mostly about his films.

Elephant poaching: Poaching has reduced the number of African elephants by 30% since 2006. But poaching rates vary widely between countries. According to the article’s authors’ statistical research, they “are lower where there is strong national governance and where local levels of human development – especially wealth and health – are relatively high. Strong site-level law enforcement and reduced global ivory prices also keep poaching levels down.”

Bias in photography: Systematically looking at how people are represented in global health publications, the article’s authors find evidence for anti-people of colour bias. “Overall, (…) representations of people of colour and women and children from the global south (were) more likely to be represented in ways that were inequitable and unethical. The persistent use of intrusive images was of particular concern.” Aware of how powerful photographs are, the authors have developed a framework for “a more ethical and equitable representation of health and illness that does not discriminate against people according to race, gender, geographic, cultural identity and age.”

Tanzania: Poor storage – first and foremost lack of cold storage facilities – for vegetables and fruits means that almost 30% of the country’s fresh produce and 50% of fresh tomatoes perish before they can get to consumers. Solar-powered cold storage would be a solution. High investment costs are maybe the most important, but not the only constraint for using it more widely. Among those analysed, an unexpected one was that customers do not want to buy chilled or refrigerated tomatoes.