McKinsey report data on Africa challenged by China-Africa experts By DOUG TSURUOKA   Ethiopian workers are seen at the Huajian shoe factory on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. Photo: AFP / Zacharias Abubeker   Where China’s engagement with Africa is concerned, there’s a persistent view among Western analysts that numbers tell the story. But what if the numbers don’t? Global consulting firm McKinsey & Co. published a report in June 2017called ‘Dance of the Lions and Dragons.’ The analysis was billed as the “closest look yet at Chinese economic engagement in Africa” and asserts that “there are more than 10,000 Chinese-owned firms operating in Africa today.” Thierry Pairault, a China-Africa expert, says there might be that many Chinese firms on the continent. But he writes in a recent critique of McKinsey’s report that it offers no precise definition of what a Chinese enterprise in Africa is, except to say that it’s “Chinese-owned,” implying that it’s owned by a Chinese citizen or legal entity. “I doubt that statistical services regard an enterprise as ‘Chinese’ solely on that ground,” Pairault writes in an article posted on the China Africa Research Initiative Blog, which is published by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington. Pairault is a research director at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France’s largest government research center. Statistical dustups of this type are usually academic. But in China’s case, a possibly inflated figure of Chinese firms in Africa reinforces a view held by many government officials and journalists in the West that Beijing is engaged in an economic takeover of the continent. Rex Tillerson warned earlier this month, shortly before his ouster by President Donald Trump as US Secretary of State, that African nations shouldn’t accept Chinese cash as part of agreements that could “forfeit their sovereignty.” An assertion by former New York Times reporter Howard French in a 2014 book that there are “over a million” Chinese migrants “building a new empire” for Beijing in Africa has been challenged by Africa experts. Pairault has also criticized as overblown an ‘Africa Investment Report’ published by the Financial Times Group last year that pegged Chinese investment in Africa at more than US$92 billion. What is a ‘Chinese’ business? Where the number of Chinese businesses in Africa is concerned, Pairault notes in his critique of McKinsey’s report that distinctions must be made across several categories. The analyst says McKinsey didn’t specify whether businesses count which are owned by someone with a Chinese face but holding a local passport. Neither is it explained whether the companies are registered locally in Africa and owned by a Chinese national or if they are local units of companies based in China. Nor, Pairault adds, has McKinsey said in what circumstances an entity would be labeled as “African” rather than “Chinese.”  The overwhelming majority of these enterprises, he says, are small and micro businesses that are locally incorporated. From a legal and statistical standpoint, this makes them local enterprises even if they are Chinese owned. And in most cases, they are not the tentacles of Chinese state interests. “Most often, these businesses are registered by Chinese migrants who invested the savings they earned locally as employees,” Pairault writes. “Not only is the capital built up small, but also it is not, strictly speaking, Chinese FDI (Foreign Direct Investment), as it does not result from any financial flow from China to some African country.” Real-life example Pairault gives the example of a small Chinese firm run by Qin Jianjun, a Chinese national. Qin is said to have created two companies, both incorporated in Algeria, from scratch. The first was in the construction industry, in 2006, the second in 2014, in real estate development. In a personal move to boost a business that employs about 1,500 local people on its construction sites, Pairault says Qin decided to “sinicize” both enterprises to make them look “more Chinese.” This involved making them subsidiaries of a company incorporated in China in 2015. Pairault explains this is how an “Algerian” company that had local roots became “Chinese.” At the opposite extreme, Pairault notes there are African subsidiaries of large companies that are incorporated in China. These are the ones that McKinsey’s researchers should be concerned with, he argues. “Strictly speaking, these overseas subsidiaries (of actual Chinese companies) are the only entities that deserve to be designated as ‘Chinese enterprises.'” By this, he means an overseas business unit that is legally controlled by a group incorporated in China. He further notes that many ‘Chinese’ companies are often created to last for the life of a development project. Some have ties to China’s government. But some cease to legally exist once the work is finished, according to the analyst. With respect to McKinsey’s conclusion that there are 10,000 Chinese-owned firms operating in Africa, he says such a statistic at best attests to a Chinese “economic presence.” But it fails to differentiate if they’re investors, contractors, small business people, or others. “Such bias can only be prejudicial to the implementation of any strategy, cooperation or opposition” to China’s engagement in Africa, Pairault says. At the same time, Pairault doesn’t assign any sinister motives to McKinsey’s report. It’s part of the consultant’s efforts sell its services. “To Africans, they say, many Chinese invest a lot in Africa, if you don’t know how to get them to your country, we can help you. To the Chinese, they say, many Chinese companies have found an El Dorado in Africa. If you want, we can help you,” Pairault told Asia Times in an email interview. McKinsey didn’t respond to an Asia Times request to answer Pairault’s criticism or explain how a “Chinese-owned” business is defined in its Africa report. Other analysts weigh in Pairault’s criticism of McKinsey’s data is backed by other analysts. “Dr. Pairault points out that we are often imprecise in our labeling of a business as ‘Chinese,'” Deborah Brautigam, a professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins University told Asia Times in an email interview. “He doesn’t say that there are NOT 10,000 Chinese-owned businesses, rather, he’s saying: we have to first define what we mean by ‘Chinese’ and then we can start to count.” Brautigam, who directs the China Africa Research Institute at SAIS, which posted Pairault’s piece, notes that misreporting on China’s engagement with Africa “is rife.” “But it’s generally not intentional. It’s mainly due to ignorance,” she said. Carlos Lopes, a former executive secretary of the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa, also noted “misinformation” about China’s investment in Africa at a major regional forum held at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt in December. Rather than being an unsolicited beachhead for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Pairault stresses that African countries don’t want to risk being left behind by BRI — which mainly focuses on European markets.  

by Jenni Marsh   It sounds like a Hollywood movie. A respected Hong Kong financial magnate allegedly plans a clandestine meeting with the president of Chad in the middle of the dusty Sahara Desert, and offers him a $2 million gift to secure oil rights for a Chinese conglomerate. In another scheme, Chi Ping Patrick Ho, according to United States prosecutors, sends the now foreign minister of Uganda, who was then the president of the UN General Assembly, a $500,000 bribe for business advantages, through the New York banking system. All this was allegedly planned under the noses of the world's top diplomats in the corridors of the United Nations in New York, where Ho ran an energy NGO. Chinese president Xi Jinping (right) shakes hands with the president of Chad, Idriss Deby, at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, in 2016. In November 2017, Ho and Cheikh Gadio -- the Senegalese failed presidential candidate and former foreign minister, who allegedly arranged the deals -- were arrested in New York on multiple bribery and money laundering charges. This week, the trial date was set for November 5, 2018. Aged 68 years old and in ailing health, Ho risks spending his remaining years behind bars. He has pleaded not guilty. This case, however, is about more than one man's spectacular fall from grace. It offers a rare window into Chinese corruption in Africa -- something academics, politicians and business people have long suspected existed but found difficult to prove. What's more, with the mountain of evidence seemingly against the defendant, legal experts are wondering whether Ho might be asked to expose other corrupt parties to reduce his sentence. China's 'competitive advantage' Western companies in Africa have "long spoken of the competitive advantage Chinese companies have on the continent," says Andrew Spalding, a professor at the University of Richmond and expert in anti-corruption law. "And the dramatic increase in China's commercial presence tends to confirm it." China's goods trade alone with Africa totaled $188 billion in 2015, compared with $53 billion for the US. As China has become the continent's biggest economic partner, Chinese companies have found themselves operating in countries with high corruption ratings without domestic legislation to answer to. Thirteen Sub-Saharan African nations ranked in the bottom 30 of the 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index. "If I am an American company and I want to do a deal, particularly in Africa and less developed areas, and I am approaching African officials but losing out because Chinese companies are bribing those officials, I am going to be irked," says Rob Precht, president of New York-based legal think tank Justice Labs. American and British companies have been living with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and the UK Bribery Act for years. Although China formally adopted a foreign bribery law to comply with the UN Convention Against Corruption in 2011, it has done "next to nothing to enforce it," says Spalding. He adds: "The hope is that if Western companies continue to pressure overseas governments to change, that competitive advantage will eventually disappear." For centuries, bribery has not even been considered a bad thing in China Rob Precht, president of Justice Labs Chinese president Xi Jinping's high-profile corruption crackdown at home virtually ignores foreign bribery, according to some observers. "For centuries, bribery has not even been considered a bad thing in China," says Precht. "But as China becomes a partner in the world community, these issues are going to become more important." Before he became President of the United States, Donald Trump had slammed the FCPA for turning America into "the policeman for the world." A foreigner in a different country who merely sends an email relating to corrupt practices through a US server can be prosecuted under the act. "Let them clean up their own act, we shouldn't be cleaning up their act for them," he told CNBC in 2012. The prosecution of Ho, among others, seems to signal a change of heart for the president. In November 2017, the US Department of Justice formalized a new anti-corruption policy prioritizing bringing cases against individuals rather than corporations. Heavy fines against companies, it said, only penalized shareholders. US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein cited the conviction of one of the richest men in China, real estate magnate Ng Lap Seng, of bribing UN officials, as an early example of this strategy's success. He thanked the governments of the United Kingdom, Brazil, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Turkey for helping the US to enforce this approach during a two-year trial period. China was notably absent from that list. How to bribe an African leader If the emails and reports obtained by the FBI and presented in a court affidavit are to be believed, Ho and Gadio took remarkably few steps to cover their tracks. The pair documented their alleged plan so clearly it reads like a how to guide for bribing an African official. Jackson Miller, a Washington-based China-Africa expert, says such flagrancy is often a response to the strength of local law enforcement mechanisms. "Most of the time, frankly, this much exists all over email because there are no established mechanisms working against that. No local compliance agency," he says. "It's crazy the information people leave on Facebook or Twitter even because they think that no one is looking." Ho first approached his "old friend" Gadio for a favor at the UN in late 2014, according to prosecutors. State-owned energy company China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) had been fined $1.2 billion by the Chad government for environmental violations, and its oil license there had been revoked. Ho allegedly asked Gadio -- "a close friend" of the president of Chad -- to help resolve the issue. Before the fall out, CEFC Energy Company, a global corporation based in Shanghai with ties to the Communist Party, had hoped to embark on a joint venture with CNPC to enter the oil market in Chad. CEFC funded the energy think tank Ho represented at the UN, the China Energy Fund Committee. Gadio allegedly immediately phoned "the big man," which the FBI has taken to mean the president of Chad, Idriss Deby. He then allegedly got on a plane to present Deby with Ho's offer of providing "secret or very confidential financial assistance for his political" support. Soon after, Chad commuted the CNPC's fine to $400 million, according to the complaint. The prospect of a joint venture with CNPC, however, was seemingly off the table, so Ho allegedly decided to meet Deby himself to strike an independent oil deal for CEFC. Ho and Gadio allegedly exchanged countless emails brainstorming the best way to discreetly enter Chad -- they rejected Deby's proposition of convening in the capital, N'Djamena, to avoid encountering "enemies and lobbyists," according to court documents. Gadio allegedly suggested meeting in a "village in the middle of the desert," and flying there directly from Ethiopia. The group eventually met for two hours in November, prosecutors claim. Photographs of Ho and Gadio with Deby and three other unidentified people were allegedly emailed around after the trip. After the meeting, Gadio wrote to Ho with astonishing honesty, according to court documents: "I have never heard a president, on the spot ... make such a bold move by offering you without pre-conditions or any bargaining a bloc of oil wells ... I strongly suggest ... [you] make a financial offer to the president for the allocation of this huge bloc." Li Zhaoxing, who was Chinese foreign minister between 2003 and 2007, with Cheikh Gadio in 2006 in Dakar. When Ho allegedly responded by requesting a second meeting with Deby, Gadio put his foot down: "He will ... think we are all talk and not actions ... reward him with a nice financial package." Ho took his friend's advice, and drafted a letter to Deby expressing the energy company's desire to make a $2 million "donation" that would be at his "personal disposal" to support "social and other programs as [he] see[s] fit]," according to the complaint. Gadio rejected Ho's initial draft ("this letter is not well written"), according to prosecutors, and finessed the language the alleged bribe should take. Gadio then allegedly delivered the offer to Deby via another Chad minister -- simultaneously, allegedly negotiating his own fee up from $100,000 to $400,000. The pair agreed afterwards, according to court documents: "[This is] only the beginning of our relationship." Ho and Gadio's lawyers declined to comment at this time. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to multiple CNN emails asking it whether China intends to tighten foreign anti-corruption legislation. CEFC did not respond to CNN's emails, but last November it released a statementsaying "CEFC China does not have any investment activities in Uganda. CEFC China's investment project in Chad is only a financial investment in CPC Corporation, Taiwan. Therefore, it does not have any of the so-called 'interest relationship' with the Chadian government." CNN emails to the CNPC and the government of Chad also went unanswered. Last year, however, the government of Chad said in a statement: "Faced with this umpteenth false allegation, the government of Chad formally refutes this shameful fabrication." The government of Uganda said in a statement that it was "erroneous" to say its current foreign minister Sam Kutesa, while serving as president of the UN General Assembly, was involved with the alleged bribery. The elephant in the room Precht says he has spoken to multiple "lawyers, academics and business people" who all said they had reason to believe Chinese corruption in Africa "is common." CNN also had conversations with several China-Africa experts who agreed, but explained that most professionals will not go on record about this (including themselves), or report on it, for fear of repercussions such as being banned from China. Furthermore, obtaining hard evidence is incredibly difficult and, often, resource intensive. As one expert noted, bribery is by its nature invisible. A worker walks in a storage bay of a logging company in Mozambique. Last month, however, Bangladesh announced it had canceled a road construction contract with a major Chinese company, and blacklisted it from future projects, amid allegations one of its employees had tried to bribe government officials, according to the Voice of America. I'm not saying that Americans or Europeans don't commit corrupt acts ... The question is what are the norms? Rob Precht, president of Justice Labs The Environmental Investigation Agency claimed that in 2013, 76% of all global timber exports from Mozambique were illegally cut in excess of reported harvests -- and the vast majority of them went to China. The Mozambique government did not reply to a CNN email asking how it was combating this problem. "I'm not saying that Americans or Europeans don't commit corrupt acts, of course they do," says Precht. "The question is what the norms are and whether or not you have systems in place to impose a painful penalty when corruption is discovered." The future On December 18, 2017, the US government issued its indictment of Patrick Ho. Although he had been named on the complaint one month earlier, Gadio -- who has lived legally in America since 2000 -- was curiously no longer listed as a co-defendant. He remained under house arrest when CNN published this article. There are parts of the complaint prosecutors might ask Ho or Gadio to elaborate on. In one section, for example, Gadio allegedly wrote that Deby had spoken to him about his government's deal with CNPC, and "exposed me the real package." Ho several times allegedly wrote that he needed to speak with "SH" -- which the FBI has taken to stand for Shanghai -- before making a decision. Patrick Ho pleads not guilty to charges of corruption in a New York court on Monday, January 8, 2018. Today, Ho sits in a high-rise Manhattan jail cell preparing for trial. His bail application to be released on a $10 million bond was rejected, as was his request to be put under house arrest with electronic tagging. "His incentive to flee is massive," assistant US Attorney Daniel Richenthal told the judge. "His ability to flee is massive." In the end, according to the complaint, CEFC did not pursue the oil field that the alleged $2 million bribe gave it access to. Instead, according to court documents, it paid $110 million to a Taiwan oil company for a 35% share of its oil rights in Chad.   Source: CNN

People for sale Where lives are auctioned for $400 By Nima Elbagir, Raja Razek, Alex Platt and Bryony Jones   Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- "Eight hundred," says the auctioneer. "900 ... 1,000 ... 1,100 ..." Sold. For 1,200 Libyan dinars -- the equivalent of $800. Not a used car, a piece of land, or an item of furniture. Not "merchandise" at all, but two human beings. One of the unidentified men being sold in the grainy cell phone video obtained by CNN is Nigerian. He appears to be in his twenties and is wearing a pale shirt and sweatpants. He has been offered up for sale as one of a group of "big strong boys for farm work," according to the auctioneer, who remains off camera. Only his hand -- resting proprietorially on the man's shoulder -- is visible in the brief clip. fter seeing footage of this slave auction, CNN worked to verify its authenticity and traveled to Libya to investigate further. Carrying concealed cameras into a property outside the capital of Tripoli last month, we witness a dozen people go "under the hammer" in the space of six or seven minutes. "Does anybody need a digger? This is a digger, a big strong man, he'll dig," the salesman, dressed in camouflage gear, says. "What am I bid, what am I bid?" Buyers raise their hands as the price rises, "500, 550, 600, 650 ..." Within minutes it is all over and the men, utterly resigned to their fate, are being handed over to their new "masters." fter the auction, we met two of the men who had been sold. They were so traumatized by what they'd been through that they could not speak, and so scared that they were suspicious of everyone they met. Crackdown on smugglers Each year, tens of thousands of people pour across Libya's borders. They're refugees fleeing conflict or economic migrants in search of better opportunities in Europe. Most have sold everything they own to finance the journey through Libya to the coast and the gateway to the Mediterranean. But a recent clampdown by the Libyan coastguard means fewer boats are making it out to sea, leaving the smugglers with a backlog of would-be passengers on their hands. So the smugglers become masters, the migrants and refugees become slaves.   Migrants rescued from the Mediterranean arrive at a naval base in Tripoli in October.   The evidence filmed by CNN has now been handed over to the Libyan authorities, who have promised to launch an investigation. First Lieutenant Naser Hazam of the government's Anti-Illegal Immigration Agency in Tripoli told CNN that although he had not witnessed a slave auction, he acknowledged that organized gangs are operating smuggling rings in the country. "They fill a boat with 100 people, those people may or may not make it," Hazam says. "(The smuggler) does not care as long as he gets the money, and the migrant may get to Europe or die at sea." "The situation is dire," Mohammed Abdiker, the director of operation and emergencies for the International Organization for Migration, said in a statementafter returning from Tripoli in April. "Some reports are truly horrifying and the latest reports of 'slave markets' for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages." The auctions take place in a seemingly normal town in Libya filled with people leading regular lives. Children play in the street; people go to work, talk to friends and cook dinners for their families. But inside the slave auctions it's like we've stepped back in time. The only thing missing is the shackles around the migrants' wrists and ankles. Deportation 'back to square one' Anes Alazabi is a supervisor at a detention center in Tripoli for migrants that are due to be deported. He says he's heard "a lot of stories" about the abuse carried out by smugglers. The Treeq Alsika Migrant Detention Center in Tripoli, where some migrants are held by Libyan authorities before they are repatriated.   "I'm suffering for them. What I have seen here daily, believe me, it makes me feel pain for them," he says. "Every day I can hear a new story from people. You have to listen to all of them. It's their right to deliver their voices." One of the detained migrants, a young man named Victory, says he was sold at a slave auction. Tired of the rampant corruption in Nigeria's Edo state, the 21-year-old fled home and spent a year and four months -- and his life savings -- trying to reach Europe. He made it as far as Libya, where he says he and other would-be migrants were held in grim living conditions, deprived of food, abused and mistreated by their captors. "If you look at most of the people here, if you check your bodies, you see the marks. They are beaten, mutilated." When his funds ran out, Victory was sold as a day laborer by his smugglers, who told him that the profit made from the transactions would serve to reduce his debt. But after weeks of being forced to work, Victory was told the money he'd been bought for wasn't enough. He was returned to his smugglers, only to be re-sold several more times. he smugglers also demanded ransom payments from Victory's family before eventually releasing him.   "I spent a million-plus [Nigerian naira, or $2,780]," he tells CNN from the detention center, where he is waiting to be sent back to Nigeria. "My mother even went to a couple villages, borrowing money from different couriers to save my life." As the route through north Africa becomes increasingly fraught, many migrants have relinquished their dreams of ever reaching European shores. This year, more than 8,800 individuals have opted to voluntarily return home on repatriation flights organized by the IOM. While many of his friends from Nigeria have made it to Europe, Victory is resigned to returning home empty-handed. "I could not make it, but I thank God for the life of those that make it," he says. "I'm not happy," he adds. "I go back and start back from square one. It's very painful. Very painful."   Source: CNN  

By: LADISLAS NGENDAHIMANA PUBLISHED: September 28, 2017 LADISLAS NGENDAHIMANA The story of Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh and the Community Health Workers’ Cooperative commercial complex in Karongi in Rwanda are clear indicators of how economic transformation is possible in societies, especially where people come and stay together. When the RPF Inkotanyi stopped the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, they immediately put in place the Government of National Unity. Many questioned the essence of that type of government especially with the conditions that prevailed at the time. The country was considered a failed state, and there were neither operational institutions nor human capital to run them. The Government had the prime responsibility to restore unity amongst Rwandans, and to ensure the unity of the nation. It was not an easy task; it required vision and resilience of the leaders. All great social, political anomic transformations are preceded by brilliant ideas by visionaries who dared to dream big. But only one thing prevailed, the Rwandan spirit which had three major pillars: unity, accountability and thinking big. Philosophically; something important is that of great value but which is not substantial. You can live with or without it; but you need it. Something essential is that; which is vital, completely necessary or extremely important in a particular situation or for a particular activity; you can’t live without it. Thus, staying together is essential for Rwanda’s prosperity. Government officials have been rallying different districts, luring local business communities and opinion leaders to come together for investments. The objective is to ensure local economic development, urban development and investment promotion. That is essential for the prosperity of the country. It allows for deeper penetration of wealth and widens the tax base thus fueling national development. There are successful stories that can be shared. The City of Kigali has an attractive view, modern markets and ultramodern commercial complexes whose shareholding can be estimated in dozens if not hundreds of members each. Detractors shall always be there to claim, rather erroneously, that the development in Rwanda is only visible in the capital city. Should I repeat that; such claims are false? I am compelled to say it again. They are not only false, but also those who spread them are wrong. Nevertheless, facts on the ground shall speak by themselves, and I will always invite every Rwandan to visit his country in the “Tembera u Rwanda” program to see and to enjoy the beauties of the country. I shall always encourage those from outside to come and see, so that they can go and tell others. Let’s mention few examples. Private operators came together and built modern commercial complexes in different parts of the country. They built multi billion commercial complexes in Huye, Rusizi, Muhanga, Musanze and most recently, a Community Health Workers’ cooperative in Karongi built a commercial complex worth 350 million francs. These business related success stories attest to the importance of coming together. It enables resource mobilization and it allows everyone to have a voice in doing business. Prosperity does not come over night; it is a result of hardships. It has been established that; some of the aging persons are hesitating to invest, because they can hardly earn the trust of commercial banks to get access to loans. It is better to think about our children and to associate them in our today’s investments. The future belongs to them and banks can easily trust them. As Rwandans, we should draw lessons from the above big investments. Their unity gave them more strength and gained them trust from all stakeholders, especially financial and public institutions. However, the profitability and sustainability of those businesses shall largely depend on how united and accountable the shareholders will be. As the saying goes; coming together is a beginning, keeping together is a progress, working together is a success. In their roadmap for economic transformation, Alexander Schieffer and Ronnie Lessem in their book; Integral Development: Realizing the transformative potential of individuals, noted the need to reinvent an economic system that works for all. They said that; we could not address organizational transformation in isolation of an economic transformation. Thus, we are collectively called upon to seek a more viable alternative, an economic system that works for all Rwandans and, such a system is a crucial prerequisite for their collective prosperity. These local business operators who put together their capital to make big investments are the real engine for socioeconomic transformation. Not only do they transform their own lives, but also their communities. In addition to the prevailing conducive environment for doing business, the sustainability of the local investments shall depend on the unity of the shareholders, level of accountability to themselves, shared vision, profitable business plans and affordability of credits. The writer is a political analyst and member of the PanAfrican Movement, Rwanda Chapter Source: The New Times

September 22, 2017 in Analysis, Comment, Opinion There has been increasing consensus in the public domain that women carry a significant role in society yet their involvement in public life and politics has steadily declined. This is contrary to the positive reporting that campaigns have had a positive impact on a global scale and have resulted in increased women’s political participation across Africa. Research and Advocacy Unit Local research group Since the Beijing Declaration of 1995 for example, the number of women in the National Assembly has hovered between 18 to 28% in Zimbabwe. It is only after the inclusion of a constitutional provision, S124, which guarantees 60 reserved seats for women for at least two terms that the percentage rose to an “impressive” 35%. This is huge given the global averages in developed countries is around 22% and pits Zimbabwe as progressive in addressing the issue of gender parity. Celebrating the impact of the women’s quota in terms of numbers is however tantamount to premature celebrations as Section 124 is a sunset clause that will come to an end in 2023. There is agreement that though efforts continue to be made in improving the plight of women and availing better opportunities which include access to education and the laws that seek to end early child marriages, government continues to pay lip service towards meeting its international obligations in ensuring gender parity and participation of women especially in decision-making bodies. The consensus about the need to increase women in decision-making and in politics goes as far as that. However, there is no agreement on how this should be done and as a result there are multiple campaigns and sometimes even contradictory campaigns being pushed around as possible options. This paper seeks to highlight the current debate around increasing women participation in Zimbabwe and give an opinion about how the campaign should go. There are those that believe that the quota system is the only way that will guarantee increased women participation. This is evidenced by the fact that the current quota which guarantees 60 reserved seats for women increased the percentage of women in parliament from 17% to 35 % in 2013. This percentage puts Zimbabwe amongst the top countries in the region with a high number of female representation. Unfortunately, the female quota that guarantees 60 women is a provisional clause and comes to an end in 2023. This poses the question: What next for female representation beyond the expiry of the provision in 2023? There are those who think that the quota system is the route to take because it is enforceable. One of those suggesting this is the Minister of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Nyasha Chikwinya. She is proposing the amendment of the constitution for the extension of the quota beyond its expiry date in 2023. Understandably, given the deep-rooted socio-cultural hindrances women face, affirmative action policies need to be strengthened. The same school of thought is of the view that this provision must be extended to local government too where women are very active in voluntary associations and exhibit their leadership skills. However these leadership qualities have not been translated into leadership opportunities in local governance because of factors such as patriarchy, poverty, lack of access to financial resources, and illiteracy. This option is enforceable at law and will guarantee that women are always represented at both local and national level. Though we have gone four of the 10 years into the current provision, they argue that 10 years is not sufficient in promoting the participation of women who still face many challenges in entering the public space which include lack of capacity, lack of resources for campaigning, negative or no media coverage. There is also still largely a negative perception and opposition to women being in the public space due to the ingrained system of patriarchy which still believes that politics is a male domain. While this is true, there is a serious problem in that the current quota was a token to appease the women’s movement. It is no wonder it has received so much criticism from both male and female legislators from the main political parties, others even labelling it a waste of state resources. They insultingly accuse that there is no value for money in it. Contrary to this assertion of value for money, the current quota was in fact useful in so far as exposing how not to take a tokenism approach in addressing the issues of women participation. The mere fact that a quota outside the 210 constituencies was created is testament to the art of politricking, gamesmanship and lip-service played by the dominant power brokers in political parties. There are those that are of the view that the quota system should run its course until 2023 and beyond that women should be able to challenge male counterparts in contesting seats. They argue that the purpose of the two terms under which the current quota is running was to give women the opportunity to build capacity by their exposure in the National Assembly. The quota was meant to be a training ground for women, ensure that their presence was felt and help change the perception that representation was mainly for men. One of the key challenges facing the current female MPs under the quota system has been the difficulty to exist in the context of having to deal with elected MPs in the same geographical locations. Simply put, these female MPs have not been accepted and have earned a “Baccossi” tag that is weighing down heavily on them which needs to be addressed. The suggestion here is to get rid of the additional seats and incorporate them within the 210 constituency seats. That way those who put in an economic argument are appeased, and the women are also treated on the same footing as other MPs. Another suggestion being fronted is for the implementation and adherence to constitutional provisions which guarantee gender parity. Section 17 for example compels the state to: “… take all measures, including legislative measures needed to ensure that (i) both genders are equally represented in all institutions and agencies of government at every level; and (ii) women constitute at least half the membership of all Commissions and other elective and appointed governmental bodies established by or under this Constitution or any Act of Parliament. This provision is informing the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development’s campaign and many other organisations, that representation should be achieved in a manner directed in the constitution. The current gender campaigns are calling for the alignment of the Electoral Act to Section 17 to ensure that 50% of electoral candidates will be male and 50% candidates will be female. Some have gone a step further on the dimension of the 50/50 representation by suggesting sub-dividing constituencies into two — male and female which will be contested separately over a period of time. After a defined period the constituencies could then be swapped on gender lines. This system will involve women contesting each other thereby eliminating the challenges of an uneven playing field that women face when contesting with men. A glaring problem with this school of thought … There are young women who are of the view that the female quotas should be done away with and that they should also be afforded equal opportunity to contest for seats through the first past the post. Perhaps with a few professional young women coming on the political scene as “activists” young people feel they can challenge the status quo and get a seat at the table. Whether this is an option or they will be co-opted is a story for another day. Conclusion It is important to understand the Zimbabwean society and the direction it takes. Radical approaches are sometimes necessary, but there is a danger of just having people whose worth is questionable. Achieving a 50/50 representation in public institutions for example is good for statistics and portrays a picture of progress. Agreed, women participation and representation are key features in building a strong democracy. However, there is always the danger in assuming that the mere presence of women in representative positions guarantees female participation. There is also the risk of putting a ceiling on the number of women in public spaces whereas this can actually be more. Having highlighted the current debate, quotas should be considered strongly as a means to an end but they are not a solution for every situation, nor are they guaranteed to increase women’s meaningful and effective participation in governance. What is good for Rwanda or any other country may not necessarily work for Zimbabwe. Society must embrace change, and recognise women and their role and what should be acceptable is evidence and commitment that sees a gradual increase in their involvement. Prescribing a 50/50 while very attractive, and seemingly the trend, sounds like an emotional decision because we never live in a utopian world. What if at some point men disconnect and get disinterested should we still force them to be a part of the 50/50? Source: Zimbabwe Independent 

By Mawuna Koutoni  Thursday 21 September 2017 16.28 BST   When young people started mobilising online against Togo’s president, the state switched off the internet. In the week that followed, people talked more, worked harder and had less sex – all of which proved bad news for the government    A masked anti-government protester is seen during clashes with police in Lomé in 2013. Long-running antagonism between the people of Togo and the Gnassingbé regime has since moved online. Photograph: Daniel Hayduk/AFP/Getty Image   On 5 September, at about 10am, the government of Togo cut off the internet. The plan was to limit the threat from a growing number of young people around the country who were mobilising online and talking of toppling the government.    Togo’s president, Faure Gnassingbé, at the presidential palace in Lomé following confirmation of his third term in office, in 2015. Photograph: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images   Throughout August, opposition parties in Togo had been organising protests as frustration grew over the reluctance of the ruling Gnassingbé family to relinquish the power they have held for 50 years. With more protests planned for the beginning of September, Gnassingbé’s government – which his political opponents have long sought to oust – took action. The internet was closed for business. Text messages were blocked and international calls filtered. Leaving aside politics, it was a unique opportunity to observe the effect of internet deprivation on a country. During the week-long shutdown, I talked to friends. I interviewed strangers. For many, especially the young, it was a first taste of how state power could affect their personal life. Initially, people were confused. Some tried restarting their phones or computers. Internet subscriptions were renewed and mobile data plans topped up. Telecom company employees were accused of the usual appropriation of credits, while engineers were branded incompetent. After a few hours, though, the penny dropped: we realised the government had shut down the internet. For many people in Togo, the internet is WhatsApp. People went online or bought a smartphone just for WhatsApp. In many encounters, I’d say, “They cut off the internet,” and people would respond, “Yes, WhatsApp is not working.” So the local lexicon had to be enriched with this new word, “the internet”, as radio and TV reports talked about the situation. On that first evening, bars and restaurants were deserted. People were afraid. They talked of keeping money in case things went wrong, in case the the banks closed or the government was unable to pay wages. Many among the upper middle class rushed to the bank to stockpile cash. But nothing was working during the first hours, because the internet had been cut. Virtual business, it turned out, might not be suitable for dictatorship-prone countries In all likelihood, sexual activity also dropped off. WhatsApp is the country’s biggest dating app and casual sex is commonplace. Togo has high youth unemployment and the economic situation is harsh, but there is a culture of sexual freedom. Marriage is as rare as diamonds nowadays, while sexual vagabondage is well tolerated and well spread. One friend said the internet shutdown had moved the dating market upscale. With WhatsApp, penniless guys would send women virtual flowers and rings. Now, they had to find money to buy real ones. Men who previously sought to impress ladies by copying and pasting cute quotes and images on social media now had to go out, bring friends together in a bar, pay the bill and prove their real verbal and intellectual skills. Another surprising effect was that productivity rocketed. Togolese people, from civil servants to police officers, often need to be dragged away from WhatsApp; now, they could get on with their work. Outside the workplace, without smartphones as a distraction, and with free time forcibly laid before them, people started talking to one another more; they walked in parks, enjoyed the outdoors. A couple of days in, I was conducting a technical workshop. The attention level in the room was close to that within a Buddhist temple. At the end, an attendee came to me and said she had never felt so engaged during a seminar. She wondered whether it was because of my performance or because there was no internet to distract her.    Anti-government protesters sit on a street in Lomé as they keep an all-night vigil to press for constitutional reform. Photograph: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Image   Interest in reading surged. It was heartwarming to see restless kids and adults embracing dusty books and magazines . Spontaneous conversation with strangers surged; asking about the status of the internet became the equivalent of “Have you got a light?” – a conversation starter. Social gatherings improved dramatically. Conversations were lively, as they had been in the days before social media. That old thing called family dinner lasted longer. Without interruptions, it felt as though people were more caring, more available to each other. Was this just nostalgia? After a week, the government abruptly switched the internet back on. For thousands of businesses and professionals who depended on the web for work, it had been a highly stressful period. The shutdown had undermined their faith in the fragile digital transition. Companies that had moved their core business applications into the cloud could neither access their tools nor retrieve their data. Virtual business, it turned out, might not be suitable for dictatorship-prone countries. . We have yet to get a broad sense of the impact of unanswered urgent emails and lost opportunities.     Families who depend on remittances through Western Union or MoneyGram all suffered too; they could not get the codes to retrieve their money and the banks couldn’t serve them. The government could have been smarter. The best way to divert our youth from politics would have been to give them free, unlimited internet access a few days before the protests, and drop the price of beer and condoms – all the while playing “Be safe, live long” songs on the radios. The youngies would have been watching porn, WhatsApping and YouTubing, and would have been too distracted to think about politics. Shutting down the internet achieved the opposite. Far from limiting youth mobilisation, it galvanised word of mouth and turned many neutrals against the regime. To young people for whom the internet had become so much part of the daily routine, the shutdown felt like an intrusion, a burglary of their personal life. Previously preoccupied mostly by sex and alcohol during the long two months of the school vacation, our youth were bloated with testosterone and boosted by a huge surge in political consciousness. They started gathering, talking to each other, commenting on the moves and motives of political leaders. The shutdown brought more people into the political stream. It was also a lightning rod for discontent among foreign business people living in Togo. They were suddenly denied their preferred channel of communication, making it impossible for them to reach out to families and friends back home. Naturally, most joined the chorus of opposition to a regime whose largesse they had previously enjoyed.    Anti-government protesters in Lomé gather around a scrawled message saying: ‘Faure should leave’. Photograph: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images   I now have an experience to boast about; I’m a member of an exclusive club of countries that shut down the internet without going back to the stone age. Tell me, how many people in the world have lived under a dictator who could shut down the internet on a whim? My country just entered the Guinness World Records book as one of the top dictatorships. Any fame is better than no fame. In the end, the shutdown was overwhelming stressful and negative. It was like living in a open prison: you could not reach out to your loved ones and they could not reach out to you, because someone had decided so, and was actively enforcing it against your will. Our lives have moved online to the point where an internet blackout is like a high security prison. It’s not because one could have more time to read books when in prison that we should hail prisons.    Source: The Guardian

Media sensationalism reinforces the populist 'there's no partner for peace' attitude. Have a closer look at what Yahya Sinwar actually said Ronit Marzan Sep 15, 2017 10:38 AM “If Israel does something stupid we’ll crush it,” “If Israel starts a war we’ll crush it” — these were the top headlines in most Israeli newspapers and news sites, quoting the Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, at a media briefing a month ago. Why did Israeli editors choose these headlines, noting only in the subhead or body of the item that Sinwar also said Hamas doesn’t want a confrontation with Israel? The answer is clear. The headlines matched the populist “there’s no partner for peace” attitude, that reassures the Israelis and obviates the need for them to think. Did any journalist mention that Israel has made the same warning — “attrition will be met with a pounding” (as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in 2014)? For Israel, such belligerence is part of the heroic talk that makes us stand tall, puff out our chests and remind everyone in the regional neighborhood of our power. But when the Palestinians take the same tack, it’s a threat that reminds us once again of “the nature of our adversary,” and that there’s no possibility of change. And so, instead of settling for the interpretations in the Hebrew media, I offer an annotated summary of Sinwar’s remarks in Arabic. 1. “Hamas is not at all interested in war with Israel. The longer the war is postponed, by an hour, a year or years, it serves the Palestinian interest, and it’s better to put it off as long as possible. If the occupation government dares to attack militarily, the resistance forces will regain what they lost in the last war, and they’re willing to conduct the next confrontation over a long period and even to crush the Israelis. Hamas has weapons of deterrence that make Israel think 1,000 times before attacking Gaza, and if it behaves foolishly, it is liable to regret it.” 2. “Hamas coordinates closely with the Jerusalem Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and is ready to cooperate with all factions of the armed resistance.” Sinwar needs his political rivals in Fatah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to prevent the erosion of his political legitimacy and his patriotic image in light of the security coordination with Egypt, but also to warn the Hamas leadership on the West Bank and abroad against getting close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas behind his back. 3. “Hamas is considering creating a national liberation army of all Palestinian resistance factions, each of which can preserve its organizational structure, ethos and ideology.” Sinwar judges that Israel will likely see this as an escalation. In fact, it would actually enable Hamas and the other factions to disband the existing military structure gradually, without humiliation, in favor of a single one, subordinate to a single government entity. 4. “Hamas institutions are examining the personal opinions (ijtihadat) of members of the Al-Qassam Brigades who proposed creating a political and security vacuum in the Strip, but any decision on the matter will be subject to a ‘national consensus’ of all nationalist and Islamic factions.” It is not by chance that Sinwar said “ijtihadat” — “opinion” or “independent religious ruling.” His message is that when political and military views disagree, “national consensus” wins out. 5. “Hamas sees the break between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as suicide for the Palestinian national liberation project. Thus it does not discount the possibility of reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority and Fatah. ... Hamas created its executive committee due to the vacuum left by the national consensus government, and is ready to disband it if the national consensus government performs its duties in Gaza.” 6. “Hamas believes its relations with Egypt are developing and improving, and opening the Rafah crossing and the understandings reached in Cairo will lead to a decline in unemployment and poverty.” Sinwar chose security coordination with Egypt (the creation of a security strip on the Gaza-Egypt border and the arrest of infiltrators), at the expense of distancing itself to some extent from Qatar and Turkey, because the key to Gaza’s economic crisis is held by the state that borders it. 7. It’s important to preserve the general freedoms, including the freedom of speech and thought, as a condition for development and change,” he said, promising “to fight corruption and to study incidents of exaggerated force.” This can be seen as an acknowledgement of the growing discontent of Gazan intellectuals, journalists, lawyers and businessmen against the Hamas government and his fear that Hamas will go the way of the Islamic State. Sinwar is no Zionist and won’t recognize Israel, but he wants to take advantage of the one-time opportunity to become a legitimate son in the eyes of the PA, Arab leaders and the international community. The motif of “national consensus,” which the Hamas leadership once used to explain its retreat from the maximalist vision of a Palestinian state from the river to the sea, and its acceptance of the goal of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, is also repeated: not in the context of Hamas’s goal (the borders of the future state), but regarding the nature of the government in the Strip and the type of anti-Israel struggle it will dictate. While Hamas’s military wing wants the political wing to cede responsibility for governing the Strip, in order to create a political and security vacuum that will lead to chaos, Sinwar explains that Hamas and the Al-Qassam Brigades will take no action without the consensus of all factions. Thus Sinwar’s remarks can be understood as a message of restraining the military wing and a willingness to continue to act responsibly — contingent on Israel’s willingness to lift its blockade and on an end to the PA’s punitive measures against the Strip. In that case, a more accurate headline about the briefing to Palestinian pundits is: “Yahya Sinwar: Hasten national consensus, put off war with Israel.” Ronit Marzan is a research fellow at the University of Haifa and the Forum for Regional Thinking, focusing on Palestinian society and politics. An earlier (Hebrew) version of this op-ed was published on the forum’s website.  

Laureates have grave concerns about Trump's anti-science agenda as well as his recent rhetoric on nuclear war by Julia Conley   Trump's brand of populism was named as a major threat to scientific advances in a survey of 50 Nobel Laureates. (Photo: Michael Vadon/Flickr/cc)   Along with nuclear war and climate change, President Donald Trump has made the list of what Nobel Laureates consider to be major risks to the world population. In a survey of 50 Nobel Prize winners in the sciences, medicine, and economics, more than a third of the respondents said damage to the environment brought about by issues like over-population and climate change, was the biggest threat to mankind. Twenty-three percent said nuclear war was their top concern, while six percent said theirs was "the ignorance of political leaders"—with two of the winners naming Trump specifically. Peter Agre, winner of the chemistry Prize in 2003, told the Times Higher Education, which conducted the poll and released the results Thursday, that "Trump could play a villain in a Batman movie—everything he does is wicked or selfish." He also called the president "extraordinarily uninformed." The survey also found serious concerns among the respondents about the brand of populism pushed by Trump as well as right-wing European leaders. Forty percent of the Nobel winners called Trump-style populism, characterized by his distrust of climate science and the media, and political polarization "a grave threat to scientific progress, while 30 percent say that they are a serious threat." "Today, facts seem to be questioned by many people who prefer to believe rumors rather than well-established scientific facts," said Jean-Pierre Sauvage, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year. Another laureate added, "it is a disaster when people start believing things that are false and, even worse, when governments induce them to believe facts that are evidently wrong and ignore all evidence-based, scientifically proven data." The Times Higher Education noted that "Agre is particularly worried by how Trump 'flaunts his ignorance' to appeal to a group of Americans who are happy to dismiss the opinions of scientists." It's not the first time some of the world's top scientists and doctors have publicly expressed disapproval of the president. Earlier this year, 62 Nobel Laureates signed a petition denouncing Trump's executive order directing U.S. agencies to ban travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.     Source: Common Dream

  Photographer Ana Palacios documents the work to rescue and rehabilitate trafficked and abandoned children in Togo and Benin.   It’s a trick that is played upon the most desperate in some of the poorest regions of the world. Families struggling to make ends meet are approached by an intermediary to give up a child. There is a vague promise of a better life for the child than the parents could themselves provide, and some cash is offered. In West Africa the sums can be as little as $35. The child is then relocated far away from their home region and enters a life of slavery, forced into long days of exploitative unpaid work and abuse. But governments, local and international NGOs and UNICEF are all involved in the push to try and bust this racket – both by developing strategies to stop trafficking and by coming to the rescue of these vulnerable children. The latter involves finding them a place of safety, providing counselling and medical assistance, addressing their lack of education, and then thinking of ways either to reintegrate the children in their communities or build the skills required for future independence. All names are pseudonyms chosen by the children themselves. Le Ciel and L’Amour can rest easy at last. Before they came to Foyer Jean Paul II, a recovery centre for girls who have undergone trafficking or forced marriage in Kara, Togo, they had to sleep rough, at risk of assault, robbery and sexual abuse. L’Amour and Pagne claim to be 13 years old, because that’s what their papers say. Their birth certificates, processed at the Foyer Jean Paul II run by Salesian missionaries, assign them a younger age than their likely real one, as that would have made them too old to be able to access primary education. L’Amour, a sex worker’s daughter, was neglected, and Pagne was accused of witchcraft and banished from her village. She had never been to school. Rouge was born in Nigeria, the result of his mother’s on-off relationship with a Chinese man. His father never acknowledged him and his mother died when he was one. After a spell with his grandmother, who was destitute and could not feed him, he ran away to live on the streets. Half-starved and naked, he was rescued by a primary school head teacher who took him to the Foyer Inmmaculee in Kara, Togo, run by Missiones Salesianas. He is now being educated, but nobody has come forward to claim him, so it is unlikely he will go back to his family.  It is 1 o’ clock, time for a nap, but these boys would rather play at super heroes than sleep. They are among 30 child residents of the Centro de la Alegría Infantil in Cotonú, Benin, run by the NGO Mensajeros de la Paz. All have escaped situations of vulnerability – whether orphaned, abandoned or exploited by human traffickers. Many suffer from night terrors, or scream and cry during the day for no apparent reason, because of the dreadful experiences they have had.  Grenat’s return Grenat’s arrival in Gbeko, Benin, is a major event as evident from the curiosity of the village’s children. He was sold to work in Nigeria and is returning a hero. After a spell at the Centro de la Alegría Infantil, his family was located and today is the big reunion.  With a thumb impression Grenat’s father signs the agreement which sets out conditions for the reintegration of his son back to the family. It’s witnessed by the villagers, the village chief and the NGO social worker. This will act as a social check should his father consider selling Grenat again. Grenat’s first school day begins. The NGO Mensajeros de la Paz will monitor his progress for the next two years to make sure he is unharmed, by paying surprise visits to his family, talking with him, his parents, the teacher and the village chief. The NGO also organizes summer camps for children who have returned home and others who still live at the shelter – this way children like Grenat can talk freely about their situation.  Model student: Dulce, from Ghana, was sold aged seven by her father to a Togolese family to work as a maid. One of her regular chores was to make soap and she has scarred hands from caustic soda burns. The Salesian missionaries learned of her plight, asked the government for custody and offered her a place in their shelter. Now a second year university student majoring in Philosophy and Arts, she works part-time at a pesticide factory, which gives her enough money to rent a room.  Expectant smiles as Lavande and Marron return to their township, Sedje Denou in Benin, for the first time since they were sold into slavery in Nigeria. She worked as a housemaid and he in a biscuit shop. Both were exploited and abused. Marron ran away after he was beaten about the head with a metal bar until he was almost dead. Both spent several months at the Centro de la Alegría Infantil where they received physical and psychological care. Educators at the centre have had several conversations with their families who have promised not to sell them again.  The call of fashion beckons Chantal who is training as a tailor. Originally from Ghana, she was sold by her family to a cocoa plantation owner. She spent some time receiving vocational training at a shelter run by Carmelite missionaries in Lome, Togo’s capital, and has no desire to return to her family. Independence is her goal. The individuals in our story were supported by the following NGOs who have so far successfully reintegrated over 1,500 children:   Ana Palacios is a photojournalist who focuses on African issues. Her work has been published in Stern, Der Spiegel, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, El País and Tiempo among others.   Source: The Internationlist

By Vivien Cumming   The Sun scorches the cracked earth, a wavering mirage confuses the eye, and dry air and dust suck the moisture from your mouth and eyes. Ethiopia's Danakil Depression is one of the hottest, driest and lowest places on the planet.   Salt pans stretch out across the region, as all moisture evaporates leaving salt behind (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   The area is located in the Afar Region of north-east Ethiopia near the border with Eritrea. The climate here can only be described as cruel. But against all odds, people do live here. The Afar people call it their home.   Sunrise behind an Afar village, with salt lakes and volcanoes in the distance (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   The Danakil Depression is a contender for the hottest place on Earth, at least if you measure the average year-round temperature (reportedly 34.4C) rather than focusing on isolated bursts of extreme heat. Worse, it only receives 100 to 200mm of rainfall per year and it is also one of the lowest places on the planet, at 410ft (125m) below sea level. Combined, these factors make it one of the most inhospitable environments in the world.   Water quickly evaporates, leaving sun-baked earth behind (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   If the climate was not enough, the region's energetic geology makes it look like an alien land. It was the strange geological phenomena that I was there to see.   The lava lake in the active volcano Erta Ale, one of only six lava lakes on Earth (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   Walking around the area you feel like you are on another planet. There are volcanoes with bubbling lava lakes, multi-coloured hydrothermal fields, and great salt pans that dazzle the eyes.    The Dallol volcano's hydrothermal fields make a spectacular multi-coloured scene made up of salt deposits, hot springs and miniature geysers (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   The Danakil Depression is the northern part of the Afar Triangle, a geological depression caused by the Afar Triple Junction: a place where three tectonic plates join. The Depression overlaps the borders of Eritrea, Djibouti and the entire Afar Region of Ethiopia. It is part of the great East African Rift Valley.   The rough surface of a cooled basaltic lava flow, in front of a nearby volcanic cone (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   A rift valley is where the Earth's tectonic plates move apart, creating new crust. Here the plates are moving apart along three deep rifts at a rate of 1-2cm per year.   A rift valley is dominated by chains of small volcanoes. A lava lake lights up the inside of Erta Ale's crater (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   This is why you see lava lakes lighting up the night sky, faults and fissures scarring the landscape, and steaming hot springs and geysers.   Many of Dallol's hot springs sit on a mound that was formed by rising magma that lifted the thick salt deposits (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   One day millions of years into the future, the plates will have moved apart so much that the salty waters of the Red Sea will spill over, creating a new ocean and drowning this strange landscape forever. Then, the Danakil Depression will be the birthplace of a new ocean.   The area is dotted with boiling, chemical-filled lakes (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   In 1974, Donald Johanson and colleagues found the celebrated Australopithecus fossil known as "Lucy" in the region.   Inside Erta Ale volcano, fresh lava scatters the floor. You can see the layers of lava that have built up in the crater wall (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   Many other fossils of ancient hominins have been uncovered here, prompting some palaeontologists to propose that this area is where our species first evolved. As a result, it is often referred to as the "cradle of humanity".   Groundwater heated by molten rock carries dissolved salts to the surface. The heat then dries away the moisture, leaving these multi-coloured deposits (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   The area is also used to investigate how life might evolve on other planets. The hot springs in the Danakil Depression are home to microorganisms called extremophiles, which as the name suggests live in extreme conditions.   The many colours are caused by sulphur and potassium salts (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   Microbes like this are of special interest to astrobiologists, as they could help to explain how extraterrestrial life could arise.       This hot saline environment is an ideal place to study "extremophile" microbes that can live in extreme environments (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   Exploring this strange region means driving for hours on bumpy, dusty dirt roads, starting from a town called Mekele. You drive down through Ethiopia's highlands into this low-lying desert.    The salt crystals create extraordinary sculptures of varying shapes and sizes. It is like wandering through an alien landscape (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   You would not think anyone could live here, but the Afar people have made it their home. While we sweltered in the hot sun longing for water, they looked remarkably cool and relaxed. This is evolution at work. Their bodies are adapted to the heat and dryness, so they need far less food and water than most other people.   An Afar man leads his camels, laden with salt, to market (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   When we stopped for a much-needed refreshment break, a lonely figure could be seen walking towards us through the heat mirage. It was a young Afar man, and as he got closer it became clear that he was not alone. The mirage had hidden a long line of camels behind him, all carrying salt to market.   Camel trains cross the desert in the shadow of the highlands (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   Salt is like money to the Afar. They cut slabs of salt from the vast salt pans and take them to market in Mekele on the backs of camels and donkeys. It is about a week's walk, often only with a small loaf of bread and bottle of water.   The salt deposits were created when water from the Red Sea flooded the area and then evaporated. The most recent flood was roughly 30,000 years ago (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   One day I was watching an Afar man cut salt from a lakebed. He noticed how hot I was and offered me some bread and water. I was struggling in the heat with my big camera and several litres of water in my backpack, and there he was with little more than the clothes on his back. I accepted the bread and then refilled his water bottle with my water. He was very grateful for the water, and I was left humbled by a man who had so little yet had offered me his last food and water.   An Afar man carves out a salt block (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   The Afar live a basic life. They are nomadic, living in moveable wooden huts, and look after small herds of cattle, goat, donkeys and camels. The one river in the region, the Awash is surrounded by a narrow fertile belt, which gives life to the Afar and their herds.   The Awash River is the main water-flow into the area. It runs dry during the dry season and ends in a chain of saline lakes (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   The Awash is one of the world's most unique rivers, because it never reaches the sea, flowing from the Ethiopian highlands down into lakes in the Danakil Depression. The intense heat there means that all the water evaporates, leaving behind the great salt pans. Although the Depression is a dry and barren place, the river still brings life, both in the water itself and the valuable salt that it carries.   Camels wait to be loaded up with salt. Mining salt is a major source of income for many Afar groups (Credit: Vivien Cumming)   This moon-like landscape is harsh, but it has brought us wonders beyond belief: from fascinating volcanic landscapes to clues to extraterrestrial life, and possibly the dawn of humanity. Follow Vivien Cumming's adventures on instagram and twitter: @drvivcumming       Source: BBC

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