The News | African Policy Forum

Monday, 10 June 2013 20:53

By Anuradha Mittal:

Herakles Farms appears to be operating illegally in Cameroon, lacking required government permits.

Source:  Al Jazeera



In late May, the Oakland Institute and Greenpeace International publicly released internal documents of a New York-based corporation which is in the midst of constructing a massive palm oil plantation in the world's second largest rainforest. The communications have brought to light an age-old tale of greed and deceit wrapped in the wholly modern packaging of international development work and green consumerism. 

At the heart of this story is Herakles Farms (HF), a subsidiary of venture investment firm Herakles Capital: a heroic name which aptly frames the gallant branding necessary to secure support. On its public site, the phrases "sustainable", "poverty reduction" and "environmentally benign" are used liberally to describe the forthcoming plantation. However, as the leaked documents reveal, behind the scenes lies a very different story, one which shows a startling disregard for the noble goals on which Herakles claims to be founded. 

At the helm of this venture stands CEO Bruce Wrobel, a man who extols the company's sustainability mission, going so far as to declare: "Throughout my entire life I have considered myself to be an environmentalist and an activist for the poor." Yet the company is constructing what it claims will be among "the largest palm-oil plantations in all of Africa" - an area roughly 12 times the size of Manhattan - in a hotspot of biodiversity. Last year, after complaints about Herakles to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) highlighted the company's alleged environmental violations, Wrobel made no attempts to set the record straight. Instead, Herakles resigned from the Roundtable before the claims were to be investigated, spuriously stating that they "remain committed" to RSPO's standards. 

Shockingly, Herakles' wayward actions continued with brazen attempts to pull the wool over the eyes of many more than just its "green" supporters. As the documents reveal, the company also appears to be knowingly lying to its investors about its viability and financial health. 

Perhaps the most important debunking of Herakles' claims by Greenpeace and Oakland is the well-guarded secret that the company is operating without all required permits in Cameroon, and therefore, the legality of its operations is questionable. In communications with investors, Herakles assures that it has "secured a 99-year lease... and also received all required permits and approvals to commence field operations". But in an internal communication, a senior Herakles official states unequivocally: "We do not have the required government approvals for field planting." 

Cameroon's Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife has on numerous occasions - the most recent, just last month - formally warned the company to stop felling trees until it receives the necessary approvals. Among these missing approvals is a signed presidential decree required to validate the leases of all land concessions of more than 50 hectares on public lands in Cameroon. Yet despite its many reproaches, Herakles proceeds with impunity. 

Not only is Herakles knocking down the trees, but the company assures investors that it will go on to sell the timber, which it believes will result in "a potential upside of $60 to $90 million over the next seven years". Yet in an open letter, written by CEO Wrobel in September in an attempt to pacify the project's growing number of critics, hestated: "We surrendered the timber to the government [for] a lower lease rate." 

This unabashedly two-faced style of negotiation by Herakles betrays a greater truth: that many foreign investors see Africa as the new Wild West where laws can be bent at will. The laws seem to become particularly pliant when the company is, as one senior employee reveals to be the case for Herakles, "in a cash crunch". The fact of Herakles' operations appears to be that Wrobel and his cohort are in over their heads and are desperate to cover their shortfalls. 

The company did, however, take its public mission to address "a dire humanitarian need", straight to the communities and local leaders. It did so by dangling the promise of hospitals, jobs, food security and "tremendous long-term benefits", and managed to gain pockets of consent in the area, to which it now clings as proof of its right to operate.

In the meantime, local people have come to terms with the notion that they have been hoodwinked by Herakles. Their dreams of stronger infrastructure began to evaporate at the moment when, instead of hospitals and jobs, the only new features to materialise in the area were red tape perimeters and warning signs, flaunting the fact that their land rights had been forfeited.

Now villages and local NGOs have mobilised - and they are seeking support from international civil society organisations to undo what amounts to a herculean human rights and environmental catastrophe. This is a sobering lesson for all parties involved - that the land rush by foreign investors into African nations is not philanthropically driven, despite claims to the contrary. Rather, companies such as Herakles Farms have exploited images of poverty and hunger, and couched their efforts in the language of sustainability, allowing them to handily reap profits from Africa's resources while undermining national laws, local communities and the environment. 

While investors may have initially bought into Wrobel's multi-tiered façade of the perfect "sustainable" investment with the promise of mega-returns, it is time to come to terms with the fact that they, too, are among the victims of Herakles' many deceptions. But the time is now to begin to make things right, and the first step is to help the Cameroonian people free themselves from Herakles' greenwashed snare by demanding accountability. 

This is not a rebuke to the very real efforts to bring infrastructure and aid to Africa. However, it must serve as an imperative for the international community to proceed only with the understanding that Africa is open for business, not for theft. 


Anuradha Mittal is the founder and executive director of the Oakland Institute, a policy think-tank dedicated to increasing public participation and promoting debate on social, economic and environmental policies that impact our lives. 

Follow her on Twitter: @Mittaloak


The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Friday, 10 May 2013 21:11

President Joyce Banda

By President Joyce Banda


All of us have acknowledged that Africa has not done well in terms of hunger and poverty reduction as compared to other continents . This is partly due to agriculture not being given much attention as there has been little investments in agriculture, agricultural production has not been regarded as a business in serious terms and sometimes people have looked at agriculture as an occupation for the poor.

At this particular moment, Africa has the potential to reduce poverty and hunger through agricultural production as we have 60% of the underutilized land in this world and the fact that G8 Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is in support of African's home grown strategies to address hunger and poverty.

This is unlike in the past 50 years where it was left to outsiders to define what strategies would work best for Africa which made Africa to be a passive recipient of externally made policies and programs to reduce hunger and poverty.

In Malawi, my government has implemented policies to eradicate poverty at household and national level . Our government's strategy is to modernise and industrialise agricultural production by moving away from subsistence farming to encourage farmers in managing farms as a business . My government aims to continue supporting farmers through guaranteed pricing of produce, secure markets, contract farming and mobilisation of farmer's clubs to help in sharing knowledge, experience and resources to boost commercial farming.

In order to increase production of staple food as part of food security, my government is continuing with programs to expand irrigation systems to encourage twice a year crop growing instead of just relying on rains .

In addition, as part of the Presidential Initiative on Hunger and Poverty Reduction, my government has continued to implement the One Cow Per Family project to boost livestock production and generate wealth for our citizens.

Africa has the potential to be the world's best economy if we work together and promote transparency, accountability, women empowerment and fighting corruption as we implement policies and strategies to promote wealth through agricultural production .

May God bless you all!

And May God bless Africa!

Dr Joyce Banda
Republic of Malawi

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Kofi Annan: The world must tackle corruption in Africa’s oil, gas, and mining sectors

KOFI ANNAN: Imagine an African continent, where leaders use mineral wealth wisely to fund better health, education, energy, and infrastructure too.

Africa, our continent has oil, gas, platinum, diamonds, cobalt, copper, and more. If we use these resources wisely, they will improve the lives of millions of Africans. If we don't, they can fuel corruption, conflict, and social instability.

Transparency and accountability are key. The US and Europe are demanding new transparency from companies who work in Africa. We must also take responsibility. Our governments may have become more open. Big businesses may have improved their ways of working. But we -- Africans --must do so much more.

This issue is too big for the politicians and big business to manage without the involvement of civil society. I'm Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Chair of the Africa Progress Panel. Work with me to demand more transparency from Africa's national leaders and foreign investors. What are they doing?

How much is it worth? And how will the money be spent? Because this is our continent, our minerals, our children's and grandchildren's future.


Wednesday, 08 May 2013 13:56

 By H.E President Hassan  Mohamud

London 7 may 2013


"Heads of State and Governments, Excellencies, Ambassadors, Special Representatives, Honored Guests – the Prime Minister and I welcome you to the second Somalia Conference in London. I know you all understand this and I fully appreciate the political capital being invested to support Somalia."

"My vision is for a Federal Somalia at peace with itself and its "

A few weeks ago, I planted a young sapling in the garden at Villa Somalia to raise the issue of deforestation, and it got me thinking - what does a young sapling need for it to grow into a strong, healthy tree?

It needs to be supported with a strong stake; it needs to be watered and fed; and it needs to be protected from animals that try to eat its soft bark and kill it.

And so it is with this young sapling we have all planted, called Somalia. We need support; we need assistance and investment; and we need protection from those who try to knock us over.

The first period of growth is always the most hazardous; where the most support and protection is needed. But as the bow thickens and strengthens, the tree needs less and less support, until finally it stands proud and tall and strong all on its own.

My vision is for a Federal Somalia at peace with itself and its neighbours and which poses no threat to the world; a Somalia with a resurgent economy, thriving small and medium sized business ventures and sustainable employment so that families are properly provided for; a Somalia with values of kindness, respect and human rights, all underpinned by an education system that harnesses our intellectual spirit.

So we are here today to begin a four-year process that must begin with considerable investment and support but which I hope will finish with very little.

Heads of State and Governments, Excellencies, Ambassadors, Special Representatives, Honored Guests – the Prime Minister and I welcome you to the second Somalia Conference in London.

Mr. Prime Minister, I wholeheartedly thank you and your government for your personal engagement in shaping our future and for your support in hosting this Conference. I particularly congratulate you for re-opening your Embassy on our soil in Mogadishu after more than two decades absence.

People may ask why Somalia matters at this time but there is a huge amount at stake right now: the future of our country, the security of the region and the wider world, and the removal of the piracy stranglehold on the Gulf of Aden.

I know you all understand this and I fully appreciate the political capital being invested to support Somalia.

Since the last meeting held here in London more than one year ago, more has been achieved than anyone would ever have imagined. In just one year the cornerstones of a new Somalia have been successfully and peacefully laid.

The political transition has ended and I stand here as the elected President of a sovereign nation, with an elected Speaker leading a new Parliament representative of all the regions and all communities and with a legitimate and effective government delivering our Six Pillar Policy Framework. Progress has defied the skeptics. Somalia has rejoined the world community.

Under my leadership, we offer the world a legitimate partner you can trust, hard at work to deliver an integrated national security plan; economic reform and new financial management systems; rule of law and judicial reform; and an environment conducive to commercial growth. We are achieving real progress week by week, month by month. But challenges do remain.

Despite being militarily defeated, Al Shabaab have melted into society and begun a new phase of insurgency and a campaign of terror – an experience I know that Great Britain comprehends as well as any other. Our Constitution is only partially complete. Piracy must come to an end. Millions of Somalis still live in desperate conditions as refugees in neighbouring countries or as internally displaced persons in their own country. And we lack developed government institutions, schools, hospitals, roads, sanitation and other basic services.

As you will hear over the coming hours, however, we come to London to share with you our detailed plans to address these challenges.

We are rebuilding our armed forces. We are restructuring and developing our police force. We are reforming our justice sector. And we are revolutionizing our public finance management systems. We are driving Somalia from emergency to recovery; and from recovery to development and reconstruction.

Ultimately, however, it will be a Somali owned solution that will fix Somalia, but no country has ever recovered from such social and economic collapse without the help of the world. And so in partnership with our endeavors, we respectfully ask for your total and unflinching commitment, partnership and support. We hope that you will agree how you can support the implementation of our plans and put an end to our dependence on the international community.

The Federal Government of Somalia has now laid down the foundations for a new public finance management mechanism, which we believe will give enable our donors to agree funding arrangements with the confidence that funds will reach their intended recipient.

The progress that has been made in Somalia over the past three years would not have been possible without the courageous support of IGAD, African Union and our brothers and sisters in AMISOM and the ultimate sacrifice paid by many brave African soldiers. We owe to it their memory to ensure that we do not take one single step backwards.

The progress that has been made in Somalia over the past three years would also not have been possible without the committed support of the United Nations, the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union. We owe it to the publics who contribute to these governments and institutions to see this process through to a successful conclusion.

We are also indebted to the kindness and generosity of countries like Turkey, Norway, the Arab League member states and other countries. Your assistance over the past few years has spread hope and belief among our people.

We welcome UNSOM, the new United Nations Mission in Somalia, and we are grateful for the consultation offered in agreeing both the mandate and the appointment of the SRSG. We congratulate His Excellency Mr. Nicholas Kay on his appointment as SRSG. We are looking forward receiving him and the new UN mission in Mogadishu. I wish to thank Ambassador Mahiga, the outgoing SRSG, for his relentless and determined efforts in leading the design of the roadmap and seeing the transition through. Our best wishes and tributes go to him. The people of Somalia are eternally grateful.

Winning the war in Somalia has been proved. Winning the peace in Somalia will take patience and great skill. We are at a critical junction. The time is now.

We have little time today and lots to achieve. All of us, especially those in the background who have worked so hard to make this conference happen, will want to depart with a real sense of progress.

I thank you all for coming, and for your dedicated support. Together we can make Somalia strong again. A tree standing tall in the African bush with deep roots binding it securely to its region and offering shade and protection to its people as they rebuild their lives.


Tuesday, 07 May 2013 23:11

By Eric Acha

Over the years, coups and other democratic impediments have adversely affected Africa’s freedom ratings. This in return would have had enormous dampening effect on the continent’s progress in other areas including economic growth.

However, the correlation between freedom as defined by the Freedom House and economic growth is not still quite clear cut, especially with regards to Africa. The figures and rhetorics emerging from the continent raise unanswered questions to this relationship.  According to the world Bank, Africa has been growing robustly, and the region’s economic prospects remain good over the years to come. At the same time, very little progress seems to have been made with regards to freedom as per the Freedom House index. So is there really a relationship between those two variables?

 statistically it is widely accepted that the correlation between two variables does not automatically imply that one causes the other. There certainly exist a relationship between democratic freedom and economic growth, but whether they exist causation and the direction of that causation is still a topic generating much debate.

For the sake of avoiding any ambiguity and appreciating the revelations by the freedom house, the facts should be looked at in the context in which they are presented, i.e simply the political freedom and civil liberties.  Without any doubts, sub-Saharan Africa (with the exception of a few countries) has ranked as the world's most politically volatile region for many years, with major democratic breakthroughs in some countries, and coups, civil strife, and authoritarian crackdowns in others. This certainly has been the basis on which Africa has been scored poorly by the freedom house over the years.

The Freedom House index groups and score countries in three different categories; Free, Partly Free, and Not Free.

As per their definition, a Free country is one where there is open political competition, a climate of respect for civil liberties, significant independent civic life, and independent media.

A Partly Free country is one in which there is limited respect for political rights and civil liberties. Partly Free states frequently suffer from an environment of corruption, weak rule of law, ethnic and religious strife, and a political landscape in which a single party enjoys dominance despite a certain degree of pluralism.

A Not Free country is one where basic political rights are absent, and basic civil liberties are widely and systematically denied.

According to Freedom House, while sub Saharan Africa witnessed several significant gains, especially in West Africa, civil conflicts and the emergence of violent Islamist groups in Mali for example prevented an overall upgrade for political freedom. Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal scored positively on the index moving from not free to partly free and from partly free to free respectively.  Sierra Leone also moved from Partly Free to Free as a result of a free, fair, and peaceful presidential election in November.

The gains made by Senegal can be directly attributed to the peaceful political transition that saw President Wade conceding defeat to Macky Sall, as well as the neatly organized parliamentary elections in the country.  

Mali, Guinea Bissau, Central African Republic’s declines were no brainers. The three dropped from Free to Not Free, Partly Free to Not Free and from Free to Partly Free respectively. For Mali, the crisis emanating from the Islamic insurgency in the North could be rightly blamed for the decline in its freedom rating. The country following years of democratic progress astronomically dropped from Free to Not Free.

Kenya, Nigeria, Madagascar, South Africa, and Uganda are amongst the African countries that saw their ratings dropped in the 2013 index.

With these details, it comes as no surprise that 41% percent of sub Sahara Africa countries are considered not free.

For a more comprehensive analysis and insight on Freedom in Africa, see the 2013 Freedom House Index here



Last Updated on Saturday, 11 May 2013 21:00

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