Friday, October 30, 2009

Blood Oil

This story is about the Nigerian Delta region and the oil production there. It is tells of people who are stealing crude oil from an illegally installed tap in the oil pipe lines and selling it to the smuggling tankers. For their stolen oil the thieves are paid in guns, drugs, or just cash.

This is becoming a major problem in Nigeria because tens of thousands of barrels of illegal crude oil will disappear into legitimate European and American markets. Nigeria’s president Umaru Yar’Adua calls this “blood oil,” like the “blood diamonds” from Liberia and Sierra Leone. He is asking for outside help to curb the theft of oil and to police the Delta region. But the problem is not the “militants in boats” but corrupt government officials who are dubbed as “godfathers.” A source that did not want to be identified said, “If the president goes after them, they could destabilise the country, cause a coup, a civil war. They are that powerful, they could bring the state down. This is an industry that makes £30m ($60m) a day, they'd kill you, me, anyone, in order to protect it.”

To protect their “business” the illegal traders need “security”- “a gangs of armed heavies.” There are always unemployed youth loitering around that will do anything they are asked for a bit of money. These gangs are usually led by a “commander” and every commander is always in war with the other gang commanders. These gangs are used for a variety of services, ranging from bribing, threatening, and “hot-taping.” Hot-taping is when the oil pipeline is blown up causing the oil company to temporarily shut it down for repairs. During this time an illegal tap is installed. “These militants don't see the process of oil theft as stealing, observers say. They believe they are taking what is legitimately theirs from the companies and the government.”

Gang assisted theft of oil is not the only way to steal it. Because of the heavy military presence in the Delta region, the “oil bunkerers” have been forced to find other ways to steal. “With the connivance of officials from international oil companies, national oil parastatal officials and ships' captains, oil can be stolen through the legitimate process of lifting oil from the dock to the ship.” The International Maritime Organization reported that last year 80,000 barrels were stolen every day. It is hard to be completely sure how much oil is taken out though. Ownership of the shipment can be changed while still in route and documents can be forged, all of this making it difficult to track this oil.

There are several ways this problem can be addressed. An electronic invoice can be used that will track the amount of oil that is being loaded on each ship and reveal any file that have been tampered with. Also with the modern technology oil can be fingerprinted and a file on Nigerian crude oil can be made. This way it can be tracked. And yet another solution is to increase the military presence in the Delta region. But the local activists are already complaining that there is too much military presence in Delta already. “And the Nigerian military is part of that violence, observers say. Soldiers have indiscriminately burned whole towns and killed civilians, according to activists.”

It is sad when such a rich country like Nigeria is robbed by its own people. Oil that can be sold by the government and put into the pockets of regular citizens is smuggled out of the country for the profit of a few corrupt officials. Almost every day I hear on the news stories of violence and militant clashes in the Delta region. International organizations cannot help Nigeria until it “cleans out its own house!”

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Disaster Risk Reduction Project

Today I would like to tell about the work Andre VanWoerden does in Malawi. He is working with Emanuel International in Zomba, Malawi, a in Disaster Risk Reduction Project. The project employs 3 staff members in its office and 20 more who work in the Machinga District where 45 villages are located. They try to reduce the risk of climate change and help increase food production. Some of the ways that they try to increase food production is by introducing new crops and small scale irrigation. They try to improve the lives of villagers by introducing them to fuel efficient stoves that use less wood and thereby reduce deforestation. They also encourage replanting of trees to that same end. Also they have started village savings and loan services to help people start their own businesses. To summarize, the project seeks to increase the resilience of Malawian households against any major setback.

One of the examples of the work the Project does is a river rerouting project in the Namasalima area. Several years ago the Domasi river was rerouted so that people could have access to the fertile soil of the river bed. In February 2008 after three days of heavy rains, the Domasi river dyke broke and flooded the surrounding villages. In April DRRP distributed basic household items and made up for the crops that were destroyed in the flood. In October the United Nations Development Project provided funds to DRRP for the repair of the Domasi dyke. Fifteen thousand bags fool of sand were needed to patch it up. This October DRRP decided to reroute the Domasi river back into its original bed. Five hundred men from 13 villages were hired to dig the new route for the river. Another dyke was constructed to keep the river where it should be. Seven thousand bags of sand were used to make this new dyke and for some minor repairs on the old dyke. Because the local villagers planted their corn and tomatoes in the fertile river bed, the workers first had to dig up the entire crop and replant it someplace else. And the work began! For 3 week in the cool early hours of each morning 500 men rushed to beat the rainy season that could bring more flooding. Now 2600 feet of the new bed is done and the workers will be paid today, Friday October 30, with each one receiving a 110 lb bag of corn and 22 lbs of dried beans.

Malawi is a desperately poor country but fortunately there are organizations that are making considerable progress in alleviating some of the most pressing needs. If you are interested in finding out more about Disaster Risk Reduction Project, go to

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Go in pieces!!!

This weekend I took my kids to a birthday party in Zomba. While all of the kids ran around wildly, we, the parents, got to sit down and visit. Since we were all ex-pats, our conversation shifted towards sharing of our favorite Malawian funny experiences. Listening to them and contributing some myself I decided to put them all into a post so you all could enjoy them as well! I do not want to take Michael Rea’s blog away :-) so this one is going to be about Malawi Police itself.

First of all, in Malawi we have roadblocks that are utterly useless! Police will pull you over and ask you questions ranging from whether you have windshield wiper fluid to whether your brake lights are working. Here are some of my favorites:

A policeman stops a friend of mine and asks her, “Madam, do you have a pair of triangles?” She replies, “Yes.” Policeman: “How many?” My confused friend: “A pair!”

My husband, Mark, drives a Land Rover with a huge spare tire right on the hood of the car. A police officer pulled him over and asked, “Sir, do you have a spare tire?”

Last week Mark went to the north of the country. On the way there he was stopped at one of these roadblocks. After the officer was satisfied with everything he told Mark to “go in pieces!”

Here is a story that was told to me by my friends, Tamsin Christie. It happened years ago before Malawi cracked down on drunk driving. One of Tamsin’s friends got completely wasted at a party. On his way home he had to stop at a roadblock. A police officer tapped on his window to ask him something. The friend was so drunk that he could not find the handle to open it! Instead, he accidentally opened his car door and fell out! The officer than said, “Sir, that is why you should wear a seat belt!”

And my last and best story! One time the Alisons, my friends who work in Tanzania, were stopped at a roadblock by an officer with a machine gun. They were told to get out of the car and pop open the trunk so that the police could search it. They did as they were told. The officer then asked them to take everything out of the trunk. Again, they complied. When the policeman tried to look through their things, he could not hold his weapon and search the bags at the same time. So, he gave his machine gun to my friends to hold while he did the searching! :-)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ann Thiesen and “The Warm Heart of Africa”

Today I want to tell you about my mother-in-law, Columbia Ann Thiesen. This amazing woman moved to Malawi, Africa, in 1968 with four small children, her youngest one being 6 months old. She did not live in a big town with everything a woman would need to raise her family. She and her family moved to Lubagha Mission near Muhuju village in the north of Malawi. For those of you who do not know where it is, it’s where the middle of nowhere dead ends!

She had to cook from scratch, often lacking the very basic ingredients like oil, sugar, and salt. And she had to cook on top of a wood stove! She had no electricity, no friends to turn to, nothing to make her life comfortable. Because there were no schools around she had to home school all of her children! She dreaded these lessons more than her kids and had to force herself every day to stay on track.

One day she decided to write a book about her life and that of her family in Malawi so her grandkids would know the story. In 1998 her book, The Warm Heart of Africa, was finally published by JC Choate Publications. I want to tell you about my favorite story in the book.

One day my two brothers-in-law, Henry and Mike, decided to make huge feet out of boards, tie them to their feet, and make footprints in the muddy bank of the Rukuru river. The next day the local people were terrified. They had never seen such a thing in their life. Moffat, the man who oversaw the mission, claimed that he knew the creature that left the footprints and that it lived on top of Nyika Plateau. Men were afraid for the safety of their families and women were afraid to go out to gather firewood as the rumor spread about this creature. Mike and Henry were overjoyed in their accomplishment and were planning on going out that night and making some more footprints. But that evening Mike overheard Mom and Dad discuss what was happening. Dad said that he was going to the police in the morning because someone was up to no good. Later on that night both boys came to their parents’ room and confessed to what they had done. As you can imagine, Mom and Dad were furious! At that time Malawi was under a dictatorship and they could have been deported in 48 hours for causing public unrest. But the person who was the most furious was Moffat, the man who claimed that he knew the creature that left those prints, for it made him look like a fool.

This is just one story from the book that contains a rich array of experiences from a remote African country in the 1970 and 1980.

Namikango Maternity Clinic

Some of you may have already figured out that my husband and I are Christian missionaries working in Malawi, Africa. Today I have decided to share with you one of the services our mission offers to the local people.

In 1974 the previous Namikango missionaries decided to open up a maternity clinic that would serve the women in the local area. Thus came the beginning of Namikango Maternity Clinic. In Malawi 40% to 45% of women still have their babies at home or on the way to the hospital. Because of the high mortality rate the Malawi government urges women to have their babies at the hospital. And the village chiefs are chastised for not getting a woman who has gone into labor to the hospital. She is still to go there after the baby was born. To have a baby at our Maternity clinic one had to pay $2 but for some, it was still too much. For that very reason the Malawi government and Namikango Maternity Clinic went into partnership. Now we provide free service to all of the women and the government reimburses our costs.

Here are the services Namikango Maternity Clinic provides:

Antenatal care. The expectant mothers are examined and blood work is done to see if they have HIV or STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection.) If the mother is HIV positive she will receive ARV drugs to prevent the baby from getting HIV. Also she is given Bactrin to boost up the immune system and prevent any kind of infection. All of the expectant mothers are given a mosquito net to sleep under to prevent malaria. On average we have around 200 women per week come to receive the antenatal care.

In the back of the Maternity clinic we have hostels where the expectant mothers come to stay as they approach their due date and wait for the baby to arrive. The clinic is staffed with competent midwives that have had lots of experience. If a complication arises, like a C-section, we take the patient in an ambulance to the Zomba Central Hospital where they can undergo a surgery. We deliver about 80 babies a week. Mothers will come in after 6 weeks for their final check up. At this time they are offered the family planning options.

The Under Five Clinic offers vaccinations and checkups for the babies. Before the vaccinations were available lots of babies in Malawi died from polio. Now the polio vaccine is readily available along with DTP, measles, and BCG (vaccination against TB.) All of the children under 5 are given mosquito nets as well. About 100 children come for these checkups per week.

And another service we provide is the HIV testing facility. People can come to us and see whether they have HIV or not. If they are found to be positive with the virus they can receive counseling and join group therapy. If they need to get an exact CD4 count and the ARV drugs they will be referred to Zomba.

Our clinic is not big, only 20 beds, but it is one of the best clinics in the country. We strive to provide the best service we can and help as many women as possible! Namikango Maternity Clinic’s Slogan is “Promoting a Safe Motherhood!”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Drought in Kenya

A few weeks back I wrote a post on how the African charcoal industry contributes to the climate change all over the world. I just want to include one phrase from that post, “Global warming means that many dry areas are going to get drier and wet areas are going to get wetter.” This very thing is happening in Kenya right now.

Turkana district in north-west Kenya is always dry to begin with, but now it is getting hotter and hotter. The temperature gets up to 40C and “the air coming through the car window feels like the blast from a load of hair-driers.” Where once rivers flowed now lie dry cracked surfaces and Lake Turkana is shrinking.

Because of such drought people who live in this area are losing their animals. Esther Ekouam has lost 40 out of her 100 goats in the one month. "Now the children are very weak because, as the animals are dying, they are not getting enough food. This is the worst drought we have had here since 1969."

Because people do not want to lose their money, they resort to selling their livestock for a lesser price then they are worth. The whole riverbank has been transformed as people butcher and sell their livestock. It is a sad site to see these people kill off the animals they depend on for meat and milk. “For a Turkana to bring their goats to slaughter is like putting their life on the line.” But goats are not the only animals that starve in this environment. Camels are dying as well, "A camel is the most resistant and it is their last resort. When they are slaughtering camels it is like throwing away the pension." “Between March and October, a total of 15,000 goats and sheep as well as 500 cattle have been slaughtered in central and southern Turkana.”

Another implication of the drought is theft of livestock as people are trying to build up their own herds. “In late September 26 people were killed in one raid. In the village of Lobeli, about 80 km south-west of Lodwar town, Turkana herdsmen are engaged in twin battles against drought and livestock theft.” Another herdsman had 6,000 goats stolen from him.

Joseph Elim of the Riam Riam Organization said "Scientifically we may not know about climate change but we can interpret the weather patterns and say something significant has shifted. We can no longer predict the rainfall patterns. Temperatures have also increased as well as diseases. And when rainfall comes we get floods. If that is what is called climate change then it is here with us now."

Here are the first fruits of the climate change in Africa! I hope that the African leaders will read this story and start doing something to prevent further destruction of Africa’s forests.

Stolen youth of South Africa’s child brides

Among the very first posts I have published on my blog was the one about the legal marriage age in Malawi. Today I found a similar article on BBC Africa.

The article starts with a story about Nolizwi Sinama, a 14 year old girl who was forced by her aunt to marry a 42 year old man. Nolizwi got pregnant a month after she was abducted. "They stole my innocence and my childhood." Her family threatened her with disgrace if she dared to leave her husband. She finally got the courage and left him upon discovering that he is HIV positive.

Another sad story is of 15 year old Nangamso Gezana who was also abducted and lived with her new husband for a month in a shack. “I was like a slave, cooking and cleaning for a man I did not even want. A man who did bad things to me and would not stop even when I cried.” One day when her husband was at work she just walked out leaving all of her belongings behind.

Nolizwi and Nangamso now live in Palmerton Children’s Care Center that used to care only for the orphaned children. Now out of 100 children who live there 12 are the victims of abduction.
The practice of abducting young girls for an early marriage is a common thing among Xhosa people in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province. It is called ukuthwalwa. Prince Xhanti Sigcawu defends the custom, “Ukuthwalwa like all our other customs was and remains an important part of who we are as people.”

But not all of the people there think the same. Chief Pathekile Holomisa of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa says that ukuthawalwa should be discouraged. “It has been corrupted by greed for material purposes. It has no place in today's society.” But in the rural areas the practice is still strong. It is hard for the police to make any arrests as the people protect their own.

I cannot even begin to imagine what these young girls feel when they are abducted. Some of them being as young as 11! I still played with my dolls at that age and was pretty na├»ve about lots of things. The South African president should step in and severely punish men that marry girls at such an early age. No one has a right to take away a little girl’s childhood and innocence!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

One hundred years of silence

I love to watch the History channel! Every weekend of this month there are special programs on Africa. I have decided to turn some of the stories into posts for my blog.

This is a little known history of the Herero people in Namibia, Africa. They were nearly exterminated by the German colonial soldiers from 1904 to 1909 in what is known as the first genocide of the 20th century.

In 1884 the European states met in Berlin to carve up Africa among them. Among other colonies Germany got what is now known as Namibia. At the time there were hundreds of thousands of Africans living in Namibia but the Germans were hungry for “Living Space.” The German colonizers regarded the natives as an inferior species and soon after their arrival started to take away their land and cattle. The Herero nation rose up to fight the oppressors and thousands of German troops came to Namibia to conquer them.

The Waterberg Plateau is where the first extermination began. In 1904 German troops attacked over 50,000 Herero men, women, and children who were trying to escape them. Those who survived the massacre were forced to flee into the Kalahari Desert, where they died from exhaustion and dehydration.

Swakopmund concentration camp is where thousands of Herero perished in subhuman conditions. When they died they were just buried in the desert in unmarked graves. A lot of the corpses were buried headless as the Germans decapitated the bodies to sell the skulls to museums in Germany. In order to clean the skulls they made Herero women boil the heads and scrape off the flesh. These heads could have belonged to their friends and family members.
Near the harbor town Luderitz lies Shark Island, another concentration camp. This camp was dubbed as “The Island of Death” and was the worst of the 5 concentration camps that were in Namibia. Thousands of Herero lived there in this cold and insidious place. Night and day the prisoners, including children, worked on a railroad. Three-quarters of the prisoners died working on it, which is about 1 man per 100 meters of track. The corpses were decapitated and the heads were taken for Racial Science studies in Germany. They were trying to prove that black people were an entirely different species from whites.

By the time the war was over, 80% of the Herero population had been exterminated! The survivors did not have much of a life to return to as their land and cattle were confiscated to be made available to the incoming settlers. For awhile Herero children were not much more than slaves on the land they once owned. When the Germans lost the colony to Britain after the World War I, the young Hereros were set free and they were able to regroup.

It is hard to believe that human beings can do something as horrifying as this to other humans. I hope this story will help you see the suffering that Africa went through during colonization. Unfortunately I cannot provide a link to this story, so I urge you to look for this program on the History Channel.

Friday, October 9, 2009

KwaZulu-Natal Midlands of South Africa

Because we live so close to South Africa, we get a lot of South African programs. The one I like to watch on Sunday night is the news program called Carte Blanche. This week I found this particular program even more interesting than usual:

“From the disastrous land reform of Zimbabwe, to South Africa, where some believe things are heading the same way. A stand-off between farmers and so called land invaders in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands in becoming ugly. Cart Blanche looks at a government program that seems to be falling.”

The program is about the white farmers in the KwaZulu- Natal Midlands and the Land Reform Project. It starts with a story of Colin de Gaspary and the farm he has always dreamed of having and has owned now for 11 years. But now his dream is more like a nightmare, as he has been threatened by thugs who have unlawfully settled on his farm. One evening a fire broke out on his farm and he went to put it out. He was surrounded by some people who severely beat him up with an intention to kill.

This conflict in the midlands goes back decades. The government wanted to redistribute the land but did not follow through. “Land for All” is the slogan for the ruling party at every election. Lots of people have high hopes of getting this land from Land Affairs. Some land has been given to the people but it is not usable for farming. The Land Reform Project has failed since 49% of the distribution is not working out and only 33% is a success.

One of the examples of this failure is that when the Land Reform Project bought once thriving Craigie Burn dairy farm and gave it to the Zibukwe Trustees. But there are no cows! How can a dairy farm make a profit without cows?! So now the trustees are poorer as owners of the farm than when they were mere workers.

Farmers around the midlands are threatened, beaten, shot, and their houses are burned and taken away brick by brick!

The Land Reform Project is trying to put everything back on track and provide better leadership. If things are not taken care of there will be more violence and killing!

People think that if they only had that farmer’s land things would be so much better. But do they consider the funds needed to support this farm? Like in the example of the dairy farm, if they had worked there before they should have known that it will not be productive without cows. Everybody wants land and will go to any lengths to get it, but what then, expect the government to help out at every turn?

Bitter struggle to learn in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is just now starting to wake up after years of bad leadership under Robert Mugabe. I found this story on BBC Africa. In it two Zimbabweans tell of their stories on “Africa Have Your Say.”

Jack, 20, unemployed, Chitungwiza
“I feel bitter that I have lost out!”
In the beginning of his story Jack tell us that Zimbabwe’s educational system used to be one the best in the Southern Africa. He was not able to go to school for the past four years because all of the teachers have gone to teach in South Africa or Botswana, where they can make more money. The students now are taught by student teachers. It has been hard on him since his father passed away and his mother does not make enough money to provide for his family. His older brother works in South Africa and is helping them with food. Before this arrangement his family had nothing and had to stand in a line for 2 hours just to get a loaf of bread. Now education is getting better but it is too expensive since Zimbabwe is now using US Dollars for its currency. Because people get around $150 a month for their salaries it is too much for them to pay $30 for the school fees. So the parents just opt out of sending their kids to school.

Pamela, 24, Accounting graduate, Chitungwiza
Pamela has completed her accounting degree in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city. She feels very lucky to do so. When she was in her second year the teachers went on a strike which lasted for 3 months. There were outside lecturers that tried to fill in but because they came only on their free time they were not much help. All this time her parents still had to pay college tuition. A lot of college teachers left to find a better future in other countries. Pamela had to find her own books and was lucky to have a brother who could send them to her. She is about to graduate and has already been able to find herself a job. “It wasn't easy for me to get a job but I managed - it comes down to who you know.” Pamela believes that things are changing and “the future looks bright. For one, the money I get paid is adequate for my needs.”

Can you imagine struggling to pay your own or your child’s college fees and not get the education you were hoping for! We are so lucky to just show up in class with the teacher already waiting for us. Even in Malawi, where I live, a typical students does not have the needed text books and has to depend on reserve books at the library, where they can be checked out for only one hour at a time. I feel blessed that I am able to take my courses all the way from Malawi and the only thing I have to worry about is whether the power is going to hold up while I try to take my test!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency

I would like to share with you one or my favorite authors, Alexander McCall Smith. This Scottish writer is loved all over the world for his series like Sunday Philosophy Club with Isabel Dalhousie, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, 44 Scotland Street, and my personal favorite, The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency.

The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency is based in Botswana, Africa, and revolves around the life of a “traditionally built” Mma Precious Ramotswe. After her father’s death, Precious inherits a herd of cattle; after selling some of it she comes into some money. With it she then rents an office and opens the very first detective agency in the capital of Botswana, Gaborone. Later on the reader is introduced to the slightly obsessive secretary Mma Grace Makutsi who is very proud of her 97% grade in the Secretarial College of Botswana, and J.L.B. Matekoni, Mma Ramotswe’s mechanic and future husband.

Right now the series consists of 10 books. Through the whole series the reader follows Mma Ramotswe as she tries to overcome the grief of losing her child, breaks ties with an abusive husband, finds new love with J.L.B. Matekoni, and keeps the agency afloat. In the books she and her secretary, later on a associate detective, embark on all kinds of adventures as they try to investigate the case of a missing husband, the case of a whole family being poisoned by an unhappy cook, the case of a “dubious daddy,” and many more. The series takes its reader on a journey of philosophical thought, joy, laughter, and tears.

Alexander McCall Smith was born in Rhodesia, which is now known as Zimbabwe. He first came to Botswana, which is just over the border from Zimbabwe, in 1982. His job was “to advise the legal department of the University of Botswana on the drawing up of new legislation for this relatively young democracy (Botswana was created out of the Protectorate of Bechuanaland in 1966).”

The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency has been made into a TV series and was aired by HBO earlier this year. Because of Alexander McCall’s books, tourists have been coming to Botswana in search of the movie and book landmarks. I can tell you one thing: after reading all of the books I would like to visit Botswana as well!