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Four stories, briefly noted

Three African stories that caught my eye this morning:

BBC is watching a situation in the Niger delta where a militia group, the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force, associated with the Ijaw people of the delta, has seized control of an oil installation. The group’s leader, Mujahid Dokubu-Asari, was previously arrested and charged with “treason and illegal assembly” – when his lawyer arrived from Port Harcourt to bail him out, he was promptly jailed as well. Representatives from the militia claimed they were moving on an additional seven installations and would destroy all of them if Asari was not released.

Nigeria is the largest oil exporter on the African continent. With global energy markets in a froth over increased demand in India and China, and supply reductions from hurricanes on the Gulf Coast of the US, major disruptions in Nigerian oil supply would likely have a major effect on world energy prices…

Natasha Burley, writing in the International Herald Tribune, observes that food aid given in response to shortages in Niger might have a detrimental effect on local farmers. The food aid has taken a long time to arrive and now appears destined to reach communities just as farmers are bringing a bumper crop of millet to market. Most farmers borrowed money to purchase millet seedlings, and with a glut of millet on the market, they’ll need to sell more of their crop to pay their debts… leaving them with less food in reserve, vulnerable to future food shortages. There’s now a debate over whether relief agencies should stop providing emergency food in order to avoid destabilizing markets.

I can’t help but think back to Kenyan economist James Shikwati’s arguments that food aid can damage regional economies. Burley’s article is a good reminder that providing aid is a difficult business – it’s easy to do harm to one group while helping another, despite the best of intentions.

Update: Jonathan of HeadHeeb does a better job on this story than I do, as he so frequently does. Read his commentary if you’re interested in the issue of donor-driven market failure.

Steve Song, a Canadian expert on ICT4D, has an interesting article on IDRC’s website about Internet connectivity to African universities. Steve contends that the average African university has the connectivity the average home Internet user in the United States has via a DSL line or cable modem, and that an African university pays 50 times what its North American counterparts do for this connnectivity. I’m assuming that Steve means that African universities pay 50x what a Canadian university would pay for the equivalent of a DSL line, not that African universities have connectivity budgets 50x of what a Canadian university would have. Instead, most African universities provide extremely limited bandwidth to their students and students who want to spend time online do so from cybercafes.

Not news, but worth a second look:

Like most African blogreaders, I’ve reached the point in Sokari Ekine’s vacation where I’m actively missing her sharp wit and insightful posts. Looking to see if she was back yet and had weighed in on the Niger delta events, I ran into the most recent of her posts, on the “Africa Standing Tall Against Poverty” concert. The post includes wonderful photos of the concert and of a parade to alert people to the concert. The parade evidently passed through Osu, a neighborhood in Accra that I lived in during 1993-4 and had an office in from 2000-2004 – the photos make me a little homesick, but mostly blissfully happy to see Ghana’s alternative to the Live 8 concerts.