Friday, November 24, 2006

Chinafrica (8) - Watching for PRC Influence in Africa

Africa between China and the West: The New War of Influence
By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé
The PerspectiveAtlanta, GeorgiaNovember 24, 2006

On his way to attend the 5th Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC, November 4-5, 2006, Beijing), President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal stopped over in Washington, DC and had discussions with American policymakers. In one of the meetings, the subject of China came up and Wade was asked if Africans were aware that China was only interested in Africa’s oil and other raw materials. President Wade responded by asking:” Do you think we are children?” A few months ago, when she addressed a group of development specialists in Washington, DC, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was also asked about China in Liberia. Her response was that in her short term in office, she has learned that China always delivers fast on its promises. During a banquet honoring the visiting Chinese President in Abuja in April 2006, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said “We want China to lead the world, and we will be right behind you!”

Presidents Sirleaf of Liberia, Wade of Senegal as well as Obasanjo joined more than forty African leaders in Beijing for the FOCAC. China and the US have similar interests in Africa: both need mineral resources that the continent has in abundance. The potentials of a huge consumer market also form part of the equation. For the past years, both countries have tried to develop close economic ties with African nations. Unlike Europe, neither the US nor China have a past colonial history with the continent.

The anxiety of US policymakers about China’s growing influence in Africa is well justified. At the current trend, China would become the number one trade partner of Africa by the end of the decade. Trade between China and Africa has grown by 700 percent just in the past decade. According to the International Monetary Fund, economic exchanges economic between China and Africa grew from under $2 billions in 1995 to $50 billions in 2006. During the FOCAC, Beijing authorities promised to reach the $100 billion mark by 2010. Angola has surpassed Saudi Arabia as the number one supplier of oil to China. China is now fourth as Africa’s trade partner according to the Council on Foreign Relations (January 12, 2006). Princeton Lyman, a senior fellow at the Washington, DC office of the think tank said that the continent’s extraordinary growth – more than 5 percent – is mainly due to trade with China. For example, thanks to China’s presence on the world steel market, Liberia will be reaping close to $70 for a ton of iron ore instead of the paltry $19 it received just a few years ago.

Europe & Africa
Historically, interaction between Europe and Africa has been tainted by memories of the colonial era. This unbalanced relationship that always kept Africa at the receiving end continued throughout the years of the Cold War. The continent served as an economic battleground between East and West during the Cold War. Those countries that sided with the West received easy access to credit but are now indebted beyond salvation, while those that subscribed to USSR- led socialism sunk into abject poverty. Ethiopia under Mengistu and Liberia under Samuel Doe are two good examples of this scenario.

From overt military presence as in Cote d’Ivoire to subtle advisory capacity such in Zaire under Mobutu, European powers shadowed African governments with “experts” specialized in a new branch of colonial anthropology called “development.” Subjected to new catch phrases such as “transfer of technology” to “structural adjustment programs” and now to “poverty reduction”, Africa became a laboratory for bureaucrats who invented social and economic programs as they moved from one country to another without ever having to prove that their theories worked. Billions of easy money from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other institutions funded these “development schemes” and indebted poor nations.

It now appears clearly that many of the “aid programs” from the West, be it Europe or the US rarely benefit Africans. Addressing the European Development Day Forum in November b2006, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said that “it is unclear how much money is being spent by bi-lateral and multi-lateral organizations in the name of Liberia.” A Liberian political analyst, Mr. Nat Galarea Gbessagee writes on a Liberian website:” The $520 plus million dollars collected with fanfare in New York under the Transitional Government disappeared in thin air without Bryant knowing how the money was spent, and millions of dollars more are being collected in the name of Liberia and spent without President Sirleaf knowing anything about it. So who is really benefiting from the monies collected--the Liberian people or the foreign consultants?” In next door Côte d’Ivoire, Ivorians complains about the billions “given” to them but wonder where all the money went.

There is disenchantment in Africa about the Western approach to issues regarding development. China is a welcoming change because there is little disguise in the terms of engagement.

The US & Africa
In the 1960s, the US was in the same position as China today vis-à-vis Africa. The continent was buoyant with new ideals and looked to start partnerships with a giant that had no colonial past with the new nations. But in the realms of Cold War politics and in a sort of international division of labor, the US refrained from direct engagement in Africa, leaving its European allies to deal with the continent. By the late 1980s, every country in Africa was in a “zone” controlled by either the West or the Soviet Union. The US was absent, as it focused on Latin America, Asia and Europe.

Instead of designing its own paradigm of relationship with the continent, the US followed in the footsteps of Europe, looking at Africa through the prism of colonialism. This borrowed and narrow vision undermined the effectiveness of even the best and most creative attempts of American governments to establish contacts with Africa.

Beyond the fact that it was never party to colonialism on the continent, the large population of Americans of African descent could have serve to establish linkages in many areas.

In the late 1990s, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) that allows African countries to export certain commodities onto the American market. President George W. Bush followed up on this commercial treaty with the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) that is meant to provide grants rather than loans to “qualified” African nations. Although very innovative in essence, both of these schemes functioned as “clubs for a privileged few”, accessible only to those nations that met a certain criteria set by Washington. Acceptance in these programs is still based on fulfillment of what Washington considers to be the tenets of “good governance”. Therefore, a country such as Liberia with all the promises of progress and historical ties to the US would have to wait a long time to get in because it will have to meet so many bench marks.

For example, on the MCA website, it is said that “For a country to be selected as eligible for an MCC assistance program, it must demonstrate a commitment to policies that promote political and economic freedom, investments in education and health, control of corruption, and respect for civil liberties and the rule of law by performing well on 16 different policy indicators.” The US government relies on findings by the World Bank (Institute) and Freedom House to extend grants by the MCA. In the case of AGOA, “market openness” is the key phrase. But as said a Ghanaian minister at the recent AGOA Forum in Washington, DC, Africa never had the luxury or the capacity to close or open its markets. The major problem with these programs is that are presented as “gifts” to Africa, because Africans have no saying as to who benefits from them and how the policies are implemented. The US could decide to cancel both programs at anytime or suspend the participation of any country if dissatisfied with a country’s new political orientation, as experienced by Gambia’s Yahiya who moved too closed too Venezuela and Iran.

Notwithstanding the great promises, these programs follow a trend in the relationship between the West and Africa: one side dictates all. It is the Us that decides what African countries can enter its markets and what products can be brought in and at what price. Meanwhile, US subsidies to its farmers virtually make it impossible for Africans to trade on US market, even if they were to get in.

The skyrocketing debts many countries have to service limit their capacity to provide basic services towards health, education and roads. In as much as the US has been very active in tackling many of the issues that confront post Cold war Africa, including refugees, peacekeeping and HIV-AIDS. But it has been slow in acting on two of the most important issues that could change the outlook of Africa: the debt problem and unfair trade practices that include agricultural subsidies. Again, African policy makers blame most of these ills on their relationships with the West, going as far as back as 600 years ago.

Can the US adjust its African policies to the new era and become more proactive? Africa has greatly evolved since the 1970-1980s. Less it takes these new political realities into account, the US could lose the opportunity of building an important partnership with Africa. The changing global market and new geo-political alliances between Europe and China and China and Africa are transforming the international market place. The rest of the world has moved far beyond the Cold war.

The Chinese African Formula
In flocking in such great numbers to China, African leaders are motivated by the prospect of signing lucrative contracts. They are also drawn by the respect China shows to them. Although it may be exploitative in the end, Sino-Africa relations do not carry the patronizing attitude of the West. Many African leaders say openly that they are tired of “receiving lessons” from the West, as none other than Mr. Ping, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Gabon said: “We are tired of receiving lessons!”

Respect is an important factor dealing with people who, for centuries, have never had the chance to decide for themselves what is good for them or what is bad. There is a new pragmatism developing on the continent and that attitude may tend to identify more with a China that was just a few years ago at the bottom of human development index but is now a major player on the international. “If China can do it, so could Africa” seems to be the thinking. As the oldest nation-state in the world, China attached a great importance to the notion of sovereignty and does not get involved in “domestic affairs” of its partners. This is well appreciated by African whose sovereignty have been so sorely battered since independence by Western powers, through their lending institutions, “experts’ in every possible social and economic issue.

There is also another factor belying Sino-China relationship. Because of the Taiwan issue, China has had, over the years, to court every African nation to establish and maintain diplomatic relationships, sometimes at a price. China was clear about its needs when it approached Africa.

China will have an impact on the lending practices in the international financial market because it has cash in excess that it can give freely without bureaucratic bottlenecks. China can dish out money and African raw materials may have a new and more profitable destination. In a not too long a distant future, one could imagine Africans borrowing from China to pay off high interest loans from Western financial institutions. Unlike former colonial powers that have tried to keep special relations mostly with their former colonies, China is present everywhere on the continent and in every sector. According to Antoine Glaser, publisher of the very influential Paris-based Lettre du Continent, a newsletter focused on Africa, “this strategy runs contrary to the Western consensus approach to Africa based on a vision directed mostly by the World Bank and IMF”.

According to another observer of African politics, Jean Pierre Cabestin, a fellow at France’s Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, (CNRS), and Beijing played its relationship with Africa on two levels. He says that China came to Africa as a “big Third World nation,” – sort of a big brother - who could relate to the problems faced by the continent. At a second level, it presents itself as “major power” with an incontestable position on the international scene.

Looking at the Past to Forge Forward
Africans will have to draw lessons from the past. Flying to Beijing is not a panacea for success. Self-reliance, self-determination and nationalism that served as pillars to China’s growth are not transferable commodities. Dancing between China and the West will not bring the deep structural changes needed on the continent.

Africans will have to learn to be more aggressive in the pursuit of national interests on the international market place. For example, very few of the countries that qualified to take advantage of AGOA ever penetrated the American market to establish business linkages. Most African governments seemed to have reduced AGOA to a forum where they go and beg for new sorts of aid. Trade and aid don’t belong in the same sentence. Governments and NGOs dominated the last AGOA forum in Washington, DC while the private sector that should have been at the center of the conference was but a side show with a few merchants peddling old masks and recipe books.

The essence of the comment by President Abdoulaye Wade is that Africans will not fall prey to the false dichotomies of the Cold War years. Those Western policy makers warning Africa about China remain silent when their corporate and political leaders run to Beijing to make deals. How could they convince Africans while they remain silent when their leaders crisscross China in search of billion dollars contracts without addressing human rights and environmental issues? How can they warn Africa about China’s disregards for the environment when Western companies plundered African forests and foraged for oil, diamonds and gold for decades without raising issue about the plight of populations or the damages caused to the environment?

In as much as China may be attractive to Africa, lessons of the past are important to ponder. Democracy, protection of basic human rights, accountability and transparency as well as the protection of the environment are making their way into governance on the continent. These gains came through painful sacrifices and must not be wasted.

The lessons Africa can learn from China and that may benefit the continent are of many folds. The first and foremost is a renewed sense of nationalism that would bring dignity and respect to Africans. Hearts can move mountains. Africans stopped believing in their capacity to effect change, when in the 1980s, governments were overthrown almost on a daily basis, at the wish of Western or Eastern power and human rights abuses escalated. This, combined with the rise in corruption and brutality by governments run by the likes of Mobutu, Doe, Moussa Traore and Bokassa just to name a few led to the massive brain drain.

Fighting corruption that cost the continent more than $160 billions a year according to the ECA (Economic Commission on Africa) would be another added valued to a renewed African spirit of nationalism. While African leaders fly all over the world to beg for a few million dollars here and there, the coffers of the continent are drained every day of billions.

China moved fast because of, among things the size of its market. With 900 million inhabitants, Africa could also become an economic giant, if leaders stop paying lip service to regional integration. A business person trying to get from Monrovia to Abidjan, for a 70 minute-flight has to wait two days in either city, or fly to Europe and back to next door. Sometimes it could take up to three or more days to travel from part of the continent to another, by air. Mismanagement and corruption got the best of most African airlines.

No sense of urgency should force Africans to sell and export their commodities without insisting on at least a first stage of industrial processing, that would not only add values but also create jobs on the continent. This is also one way of stopping the continent from being the dumping ground for cheap Chinese manufactured goods. But so far, African goods are moving faster to China than the other way around. This is a positive that need to be maintained.

Finally, and most importantly, as China did, companies investing in Africa must go into joint ventures with local business partners. This would not only ensure a transfer of technology, but also would stop the flight of capital.

As for the US, it will have to start looking at Africa with its own eyes and develop a consistent policy, as Mel Foote, the head of Constituency for Africa (CFA) said a few years ago when lamenting about the state of US approach to Africa. If the US does not develop a new approach to Africa beyond energy and security issues, it would lose the war of influence on the continent. It can and must use its power to address those issues that are dear to Africans. By listening, Americans may learn that African worry more about malaria than HIV-AIDS. Malaria is the cause of 47 percent of all deaths in Liberia and the rate is even higher in some countries.

© 2006 by The PerspectiveE-mail:

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Liberia Forest

Conservation International related Links:

> Conservation Regions: West Africa
> Biodiversity Hotspots: Guinean Forests of West Africa
> Feature Story: Liberia's Last Best Hope
> Press Releases: Liberia Announces Protection of 155,000 Acres
> On the Web: Liberia Forest
> On the Web: Ecotourism at Conservation International


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

ANNOUNCEMENT - UNEP and World Agroforestry Centre

UNEP and World Agroforestry Centre Underscore Africa 's Untapped Potential to Boost Agriculture and Drinking Water Supplies


UNEP and World Agroforestry Centre Underscore Africa's Untapped Potential to Boost Agriculture and Drinking Water Supplies NAIROBI, 13 November 2006 - The massive potential of rainwater harvesting in Africa is underlined in a new report released today at the UN Climate Convention talks in Nairobi.

The report, compiled by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Agroforestry Centre, concludes that many communities and countries suffering or facing water shortages as a result of climate change could dramatically boost supplies by collecting and storing rain falling freely from the clouds.

Kenya, for example, with a population of somewhere under 40 million people, actually has enough rainfall to supply the needs of six to seven times its current population.

Ethiopia, where just over a fifth of the population are covered by domestic water supply and an estimated 46 per cent of the population suffer hunger, has a potential rainwater harvest equivalent to the population needs of over 520 million people.

Not all can or should be harvested for drinking water and agricultural uses. Indeed over a third of rainfall is needed to sustain the wider environment including forests, grasslands and healthy river flows.

It makes the actual rainwater harvesting potential somewhat less- but still much more than adequate to meet a significant slice of population needs.

Until recently, the importance of rainwater harvesting as a buffer against climate-linked extreme weather events has been almost invisible in water planning, with countries relying almost exclusively on rivers and underground supplies, says the report.

UNEP and the World Agroforestry Centre are urging Governments and donors to invest more widely in a technology that is low cost, simple to deploy and maintain, and able to transform the lives of households, communities and countries Africa-wide.

Unlike big dams, which collect and store water over large areas,small-scale rainwater-harvesting projects lose less water to evaporation because the rain or run-off is collected locally and can be stored in a variety of ways.

The report says rainwater harvesting also holds important potential for assisting managers of protected areas with the technology already having been tested to help wild animals in places like Kenya's Nairobi and Tsavo National Parks during drought.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director,said: "The figures are astonishing and will surprise many. It is important to emphasize, however, that it is not desirable, realistic or environmentally sensible to harvest every last drop for human needs. Nevertheless, the numbers do underline the huge untapped potential for rainwater harvesting as a promising adaptation measure for coping with climate change that has largely gone unnoticed."

"Over the coming years we are going to need a range of measures and technologies to capture water and bolster supplies. Conserving and rehabilitating lakes, wetlands and other freshwater ecosystems will be vital; and big dams, if sensibly and sustainably designed and constructed, may be part of the equation too. However, large-scale infrastructure can often by-pass the needs of poor and dispersed populations. Widely deployed, rainwater harvesting can act as a buffer against drought events for these people while also significantly supplementing supplies in cities and areas connected to the water grid", he added.

"Rainwater harvesting can also assist in meeting wider aspirations, including the Millennium Development Goals as they relate to fighting poverty and hunger, delivering environmental sustainability and gender quality. Maasai women, taking part in a pilot project in Kisamese, Kenya, are gaining four hours in a day because of the reduced demands on their time to find and fetch water. Having water supplies on their doorstep has thus liberated them from a daily chore, giving them more time to spend on education, child-care, cultivation and alternative livelihoods", said Mr. Steiner.

Dennis Garrity, Director-General of the World Agroforestry Centre, said:"In the popular mind. Africa is seen as a dry continent. But overall, it actually has more water resources per capita than Europe. However, much of Africa's rain comes in bursts and is rapidly swept away or is never collected. The time has come to realize the great potential for greatly enhancing drinking water supplies and smallholder agricultural production by harvesting more of the rain when and where it falls."

"Some countries are already successfully exploiting their rainwater. In South Australia, over 40 per cent of households use rainwater stored in tanks as their main source of drinking water. Germany has over half a million rainwater-harvesting schemes. So this is not a second-rate technology but a first-rate, low-cost one. It is a technology that needn't await further research and development. With little adaptation it is available now."

Last week Kenya's Water Minister announced plans to require all new buildings to include rainwater-harvesting measures and similar plans have been drawn up in India where, via work coordinated by the Barefoot College, some 470 schools and community centres now collect 29 million litres of rainwater in regions where conventional supplies are unsafe as a result of salt contamination and metals.

The impact on lives and livelihoods of rainwater harvesting is underscored by a five-year-old project established by UNEP and the non-governmental organization EarthCare Africa with funding from the Government of Sweden. It is also now backed by the Regional Land Management Unit (RELMA) in the World Agroforestry Centre and the Rotary
Society's Water & Sanitation Action Group (RWASP).

Rainwater-harvesting equipment including containers and mini-reservoirs or "earth pans" have been installed in a Maasai community in Kisamese, Kajiado, some 30 minutes' drive from Nairobi in the Ngong Hills. The project has the capacity to store over half a million litres of water and has led to the development of small kitchen gardens and improved agricultural plots that are contributing to food security. Wood lots, which can be harvested for fuel for cooking, have also been

Agnes Mosoni Loirket, a Maasai community leader in Kisamese, said: "Accessibility of water has lessened the work load and time spent to fetch water. Before the project, some women used to leave early and sleep close to the river, leaving school children going to school unattended."

RWASP, in alliance with UNEP and the World Agroforestry Centre, are planning to extend the Maasai pilot project into other parts of Kenya and Africa.

Key Points from the Study

The report, compiled by UNEP and the Regional Land Management Unit of the World Agroforestry Centre, has mapped the rainwater-harvesting potential of nine countries in Africa. These are Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Maps estimating the rainwater harvesting potential of Nairobi and Kampala have been completed and similar assessments are underway for Addis Ababa, Dar es Salaam, Kigali, Maputo, Lusaka, Lilongwe and Harare.

The work is assessing the potential from various angles including the levels of rainwater that could be directly harvested from roofs, run-off on agricultural land, and from flood overflows.

Currently, 14 out of Africa's 53 countries are classed as water stressed or water scarce. A water stressed country has water availability of less than 1,700 cubic metres per person per year and a water scarce one less than 1,000 cubic metres per person per year.

It is estimated that the number of countries in Africa in this situation could double by 2025 to around half of all countries.

The report's overall conclusion is that "Africa is not water scarce. The rainfall contribution is more than adequate to meet the needs of the current population several times over. For example, Kenya would not be categorized as a 'water stressed country' if rainwater harvesting is considered. The water crisis in Africa is more of an economic problem from lack of investment, and not a matter of physical scarcity".

Overall the quantity of rain falling across the continent is equivalent to the needs of 9 billion people-or one and half times the current global population.

Country Studies
Around a third of Africa is deemed suitable for rainwater harvesting if a threshold of 200 mm of rainfall a year is used. 200mm is considered to be at the lower end of the scale.

Ethiopia: The rainwater-harvesting potential is estimated at over 11,800 cubic metres per person compared with annual renewable--river and ground water-- supplies of only around 1,600 cubic metres.

Kenya: The rainwater-harvesting potential is estimated at over 12,300 cubic metres per person compared with the current annual renewable water availability of just over 600 cubic metres.

Uganda: The rainwater-harvesting potential is estimated at over 9,900 cubic metres per person compared with the annual renewable water availability of 1,500 cubic metres.

Tanzania: The rainwater-harvesting potential is estimated at over 24,700 cubic metres per person when compared with the annual renewable availability of around 2,200 cubic metres.

City Studies
Nairobi: The city could support the water needs of a population of between 6 and 10 million with 60 litres a day if rainwater were efficiently and effectively harvested. The current population is about 3 million of which only 21,000 are served under the existing supply system.

Kampala: The city could support the water needs of a population of between 3.5 million and 5.5 million with 60 litres a day if rainwater were efficiently and effectively harvested.

Notes to Editors
A more detailed evaluation of the rainwater-harvesting potential, based on the new mapping study, can be found on UNEP's website at and the World Agroforestry Centre's website at

Information on the Barefoot College can be found at

For more information, please contact: Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson,
on Tel: +254-20-762-3084; Mobile: +254-733-632-755;

Or Elisabeth Waechter, Associate Information Officer, on Tel:+254-20-762-3088, Mobile: +254-720-173-968;

UNEP News Release 2006/55

Jim Sniffen
Information Officer
UN Environment Programme
New York
tel: +1-212-963-8094/8210

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Chinafrica (7) Watching for PRC Influence in Africa

GREG MATHIS: Is China helping or exploiting Africa
by Greg Mathis
November 10, 2006

Leaders from China and 48 African countries recently announced a trade agreement worth $1.9 billion. The pact includes investment deals, low-cost loans and aid, all to help boost development in Africa. Let's hope Africa does benefit from this partnership. China is sure to profit - the country's power players are known for making and benefiting from deals that other nations thought impossible. But what about Africa? Will this new deal pull Africa's nations from the depths of poverty or exploit the country's people and resources, as so many other relationships - reciprocal or forced - have done in the past?

China's affiliation with Africa is nothing new: the country has already spent billions securing its right to drill for oil in African nations like Nigeria and Angola; deals to begin drilling in Kenya and Ethiopia are in the works. The Chinese have also invested in the copper industry in Zambia and Congo and have bought large shares of lumber from Cameroon, Liberia and other nations. In the last year, China's trade with Africa increased by nearly $30 billion and continues to grow. Africa's economy has nearly doubled in that same period; experts say that one of the major reasons behind this growth in the increased trade with China.

Though Africa's economy has improved, almost half of Africa's people still live on less than one dollar a day; most of the world's poorest countries are in Africa. Many blame Africa's poverty on corrupt governments and economies and famine and, to some extent, these things play a role. But Africa's poverty is a direct result of the slave trade and colonialism. Historically, wealthier nations - among them are Britain and France - raped the continent, depleting it of its wealth of resources - human and natural - and leaving its residents to wallow in unimaginable poverty.

China has been heavily criticized for making business deals without any regards to the political and social climates of the region they are in. The country's policy of staying out of other nation's affairs see it doing business in areas where human rights violations are rampant, government corruption is the norm and democracy is a far away dream. In the past, Chinese companies were criticized for funneling cash to an African president charged with war crimes and for funding civil war in another one of the continent's nations.

For Africa to return to her former glory, foreign investment is key. Last year, Africa received less than 2 percent of all foreign direct investment. This lack of investment means less money to create jobs to alleviate poverty. But foreign investment must come with some measure of social responsibility. If China continues to ignore the wide-spread violations that trouble the African nations it works in, Africa will not truly prosper. African leaders will become more powerful, the rich will become wealthy. But most of Africa will not reap the benefits of this billion dollar agreement.

Too many countries have taken from Africa, leaving nothing but despair behind. Let's hope China's involvement with Africa won't be reminiscent of the past. Time will only tell if China is committed to spurring development in Africa.

Judge Greg Mathis is national vice president of Rainbow PUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Costly Porcupine


This is based on a true story.

Once their was this country boy. He was always looking for something in the bush. As so many young men, he had an insatiable hunger for life itself and was sure in his knowledge of how to get along.

One day he was walking through his aunt's cocoa farm when he came to a large stand of bamboo. The shoots towered over him to a height of close to 25 feet and it was a long way around.

So the young man was walking along the trail that circled the bamboo stand, and he saw a huge porcupine dash into the bamboo just ahead of him. His first thought was, "man that would make one hellova soup."

He ran back to his aunt's kitchen to fetch a chunk of fire coal. He was going to smoke that meat out. When he got back to the place where he first saw the porcupine, he knew he would have crawl into the bamboo bush. With the fire coal in hand he went in as far as he could and set a small fire. Then disaster struck.

Since the bamboo stand was so old there was plenty of dry leaf litter on the ground. The dry leaves caught fire almost immediately, and what a fire! The young man got out as fast as he could. Feeling lucky to be alive, he was helpless to put out the great fire he had started.

As the blaze got more intense the bamboo exploded. Pow! Pow! Pow! It was as load as any gunshot. People from miles away could hear it and came running. They witnessed the fire as it was completely out of control jumping from the bamboo to the cocoa farm.

That was one of the most costly porcupines ever eaten! Half the cocoa farm was lost. Not just for that moment in time, but future production as well. From re-planting to producing plants would be another three to four years. From one foolish and impetuous young man thinking only of his own belly and eating for one day a prosperous future was

This brings to mind the situation in Nimba today. Are we to sacrifice our future on some risky scheme for a handful of jobs up at the mine and down at the port? If we stop to think about this in a mature manner, there could be much greater rewards. A clean safe environment, sustainable allied industries and a plan that takes our beloved Country beyond the 25 years of the Mittal Steel deal.

Accounts in the press since August related to the Mittal Steel Contract have discussed and emphasized that the sticking point has been control of Liberia's main port and railway line, which the original deal awarded to Mittal. The main port and railway line are a given in the minds of all Liberians and friends of Liberia. There is much more at stake. Are we going to settle for this concession?

Mittal Liberia chief executive Joseph Mathews has insisted the deal (with the Transitional Government) his company signed was legal. Who can dispute his statement recently in a BBC interview, "We went ahead according to whatever the rules were on the ground at that time." This probably included a backroom deal to transport Guinea's ore for a fee from the Rio Tinto mine across the northern border.

Oh course Mittal's drum beat over the last half a year (in case someone is paying attention) is that they will be "Socially responsible". Mr. Mathews continues to say that Mittal is socially responsible and committed to providing health and education facilities, as well as suitable housing, to the people in their concession area. I hope it is true that Mittal will operate to the standards of the global community.

Until, we see this in the contract, Mr. Mathews is just another big rusty man in a long line of duplicitous company men.

I say that this porcupine is not enough. Could we be so foolish the smoke out this one thing and lose the farm and all the future benefits.

J. Carl Dealy
EarlyBird Foundation

3 Nov 2006