Stone Crusher Stone crushers rattle for 12 hours. 6 days per week. A man is standing by its side feeding the machine shovel after shovel with gravel. A shawl covers his face against the stony dust.

Gold that will later decorate the necks of Indian brides, be displayed in a Turkish souk or stored in the vaults of central banks first has to be scrapped from the belly of the Earth, often in devastating conditions around the world.

Given the volatility of gold prices and the general depression of metal prices many large mining companies lack the spirit and financial muscle to engage in new gold ventures. Countries around the world feel the pinch and increasingly turn to their home grown artisanal mining sector to make up for the shortfall.  This could be a welcome shift from many countries obsession with mega projects back to their own mining force.

Oftentimes large mines operate as enclave industries with very weak links to the rest of the economy, although their environmental and social impact on the surrounding communities can be dramatic. Read More

Dhow in Dar es Salaam harbour

Dhow in Dar es Salaam harbour

Bowing to mounting political pressures it appears that Tanzania has halted its constitutional review process until after the General Elections in 2015.

President Kikwete and others have recognised that the time to accomplish the momentous task before he leaves office won’t be sufficient.

John Cheyo, chairman of the Tanzania Centre for Democracy (TCD), announced the suspension after a meeting with President Jakaya Kikwete at Kilimani State Lodge on Monday afternoon, Mr Cheyo said those present agreed unanimously that the exercise be called off on the grounds that it was unlikely to deliver on the promise.

A suspension of the process and the meetings of the Constiutional Assembly would save taxpayers money given the fact that a new constitution can only be passed after October 2015. Thus far the assembly has not recognised this logic and proceeds with business as usual.

Starting in 2012 the review process gathered a broad range of views including those of the youth, civil society and for once even pastoralists, Masaai, Barbaig and others came together to present their views on democracy and the future of Tanzania.

Woman in Paje, Zanzibar

Woman in Paje, Zanzibar

Inefficiency, arguments and delays have characterised the process ever since. After all the new constitution was suppose to be announced at Tanzania’s 50th anniversary in April. The failure to deliver on his promise to give the country a new – modern – constitution will be a further blow to the outgoing President’s legacy.

Only time can tell whether the incumbent will steam ahead with the endeavour and pick up where Kikwete left off or whether Tanzania – once again – leaves the job half done.

“You have to be really well tempered to put up with the things that happen here. It’s not good men but supermen that are needed.”

“In reality, the thought of remaining in the Congo continued to haunt me long into the night, and perhaps I did not so much take the decision as become one fugitive more.”

Che Guevarra to Fidel Castro in 1965.

Streets of Kinshasa
Streets of Kinshasa

 2013 did not end well for Congo Kinshasa. A group of armed youth attacked the airport. They were quickly overpowered by the Congolese army, but the incident left a bitter taste in the country that otherwise had a relatively good year.

On November 5th Congo defeated the M23 rebel group, one of the main rebel groups in the East that murdered its way across the Kivus, drove 800,000 people from their homes and continued to destabilize the region. During my last visit in Congo the mood was upbeat.  

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After years of delays, Guinea’s first legislative elections since the 2008 coup have gone relatively smoothly. But the hardest task is yet to come. This Saturday, an estimated five million Guineans cast their ballots to choose a new parliament in the nation’s first legislative elections since a 2008 coup. There were reports of missing voting cards, shortages of indelible ink, and polling stations opening late. Many waited for hours to vote, but amidst high security, proceedings remained calm. The independent national electoral commission (CENI by its French acronym) congratulated Guineans for the peaceful conduct of the process, while the Economic Community of West African States observer mission said they believed the elections “were held in acceptable conditions of freedom and transparency”. Read More

The difficulties for SMEs in Africa and the rest of the world in accessing finance have been well documented. The causes are equally well known: First, traditional bank financing (secured or cash-flow based) is often not available due to the lack of adequate collateral or the opaque modus operandi of many SMEs as well as access barriers due to the often rural base of SMEs. Furthermore, African financial markets are not sufficiently well developed to facilitate traditional private equity (PE) financing of SMEs. If those constraints can be overcome, Private Equity can offer a much needed stimulus to SME finance. Private Equity targets established high-end small to medium sized companies and are believed to offer trickle down effects to a much larger sector of the economy and create employment.

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A long commute to work and a surgery that temporarily bound me to the couch have had the positive effect that I read several eye and mind-opening books in the past weeks. Three lessons stood out:

  • We live in the most peaceful of times
  • All is not lost in international peacebuilding and
  • Trust your guts when making a decision.

1. We live in the most peaceful times ever

Steven Pinker: The better angels of our nature. A history of violence and humanity.

Pinker - Better Angels of our Nature Image: www.BookDepository.co.uk

Pinker – Better Angels of our Nature Image: http://www.BookDepository.co.uk

In 1000 odd pages Steven Pinker has managed to answer every single question I ever had about violence and war. Would the world be more peaceful if it is ruled by women? Is the War on Terror justified? Were the dark ages really that dark?

First, Pinker  sets out to convince the reader of his main point: Violence is and has been in steady decline. The rest of the book is dedicated to identify, proof and refute several explanations for why that is. Homo universalis Pinker delves deep into history, politics, sociology, psychology and biology to seek explanations. We learn that through the Flynn-effect humankind becomes gradually more intelligent. The literary revolution and globalisation has brought us closer together and made us more empathetic and thus less inclined to hurt each other.

And more Americans condone violence to reach political goals than Pakistanis. His source base is a joy for every researcher: surveys, quantitative data sets, literature from Kant to Nabokov, secondary studies, archival documents and art.

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