Africa must transform agriculture to meet its food security needs and contribute to economic transformation. But change in this sector is usually slow. It is often bedevilled by popular opposition to the use of new technologies.
These perceptions could lead to people opposing new technologies and ultimately undermine farming communities’ abilities to improve their well-being through agricultural innovation. In Kenya some farmers have, over the past decade, opposed the introduction of mechanical tea harvesters because of the potential impact on jobs.
Such perceptions aren’t new. Agricultural mechanisation, for instance, has been marked by long periods of opposition, largely by advocates of farm animals and human labour worldwide. American farmers objected to the introduction of tractors. They argued that horses could reproduce themselves while tractors depreciated. Anxiety about the loss of incumbent farming systems lay at the heart of this controversy.
Agricultural transformation requires both courage and sensitivity to social effects. This is why Africa needs a variety of incentives – particularly prizes for excellence – that promote agricultural innovation in ways that benefit farming communities. Research has proved how much prestigious prizes can boost cultural innovation. Why shouldn’t the same be true for agricultural innovation?
The prestige of prizes
One of the initiatives that’s trying to change people’s attitudes to agricultural innovation is the Africa Food Prize. It styles itself as “the preeminent award recognising an outstanding individual or institution that is leading the effort to change the reality of farming in Africa”.
The prize, founded by the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa and the Yara Corporation, is worth much more than its monetary value of US$100,000. It “celebrates Africans who are taking control of Africa’s agriculture agenda.” It highlights “bold initiatives and technical innovations that can be replicated across the continent to create a new era of food security and economic opportunity for all Africans”.
More importantly, it aims to change African agriculture “from a struggle to survive to a business that thrives”. This involves pursuing agricultural excellence that isn’t usually associated with traditional farming systems whose emblem is an African woman oppressed by the inefficiency of the hand hoe.
Prizes aren’t without their detractors, of course. Their role in promoting excellence is one of the most hotly debated areas of social innovation in Africa. Each year, for instance, there is much discussion about the award or non-award of the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.
In his pioneering book, “The Economy of Prestige”, James English points out that prizes have been critical in promoting advances in literature and the arts. He argues that they’ve helped to create the “cultural capital” that’s needed to propel creativity and excellence in these areas. English shows how cultural innovation benefits from improvements in the prize sponsorship, nomination and judging procedures; presentation and acceptance; and publicity and even controversy. These lessons can all be applied to the world of agricultural innovation.
Today a number of prizes globally seek to foster innovation. A study by consulting giant McKinsey found that such prizes are most effective when there is:
a clear objective (for example, one that is measurable and achievable within a reasonable time frame), the availability of a relatively large population of potential problem solvers, and a willingness on the part of participants to bear some of the costs and risks.
More prizes needed
Hopefully, the Africa Food Prize will foster the creation of similar and complementary prizes. This is important. There’s a tendency for society to shun excellence prizes if they appear to serve only a small group of people. In social settings where patronage and entitlement are the default criteria for awards, resentment toward these prizes is particularly strong.
So what might new prizes in the field of agricultural innovation look like? They could have very specific objectives – rewarding young agricultural entrepreneurs, especially those who succeed across the full agricultural value chain. They could focus on newer agricultural fields like data processing. They could reward those who are innovative in production, processing and packaging, retailing, recycling and environmental management.
The diversity of agricultural activities calls for more prizes. As “The Economy of Prestige” suggests, society can rapidly accumulate cultural capital if there are as many prizes as they are winners. The Africa Food Prize should be the first seed in a broader effort to cultivate a culture of agricultural excellence on the continent.
Prior to colonialism, food production in Africa was in the hands of African farmers who grew crops mainly for food production. Many explorers to Africa were more focused on acquiring and shipping raw materials to the western world and considered this the most efficient use of their resources. Over time this way of conducting business became expensive and they sought to diversify ways to increase their profits. More often than not, private companies such as the Royal Niger Company, Imperial British East Africa Company, and British South Africa Company incurred high costs in trying to set up a new administration that would protect their interests. These new administrations often introduced tax systems and laws that forced local farmers to grow crops they could openly sell on the local market in order to pay their taxes. This led to the introduction of cash crop agriculture in many parts of Africa.
Ghana and Nigeria
On the Gold Coast, cocoa became the key cash crop after it was introduced to the territory in the 1880s. The Gold Coast became the single largest producer of cocoa in the world and production continued to expand until the 1970s. Cocoa production in Ghana, was introduced to the Akwapim by missionaries. In Nigeria, the Yoruba were introduced to cocoa and the Hausa to groundnuts. While cocoa production was profitable for export it required large tracts of land and could take up to 15 years to mature.
In Uganda, the British Cotton Growing Association encouraged the Ganda chiefly class to embrace cotton production. Prior to cotton becoming the key cash crop, the Buganda had exported slaves and ivory only and farming was primarily used for food production. While cotton production increased dramatically, food production declined as more farmers chose to plant cotton which would increase the value of their land. In Sudan’s Gezira region, cotton was also the major cash crop and Sudan’s Plantation Syndicate dictated the use of land to farmers by providing most of the financing. The focus on a single cash crop for a country of region left many Africans vulnerable during periods of drought, economic decline and falling world prices.
In Kenya, most groups were pastoralists except in the fertile Rift Valley, where the settler government parceled out land to its people by clearing African inhabitants. Groups like the Kikuyu were displaced and moved to areas with poor soil and unfavorable climate known as reserves. The few Africans who continued to live on land designated for white settlers were treated as squatters who were required to work for the white farmer in return for living on his land for a specified amount of time, thereby offering cheap labor.
Early colonial government would actively support white farmers by providing them financial assistance, seeds, equipment, agricultural advice, startup loans and cheap transportation rates to transport produce using the railway. The white settler government actively sabotaged African farmers by making it illegal for them to participate in export trade of any cash crop and prohibited from growing specific cash crops like coffee or tea.
In Southern Rhodesia (now present day Zimbabwe), the white settlers settled for farming after failing to find large the large gold reserved they hope to. In 1923, they consolidated power and achieved self-governing status. In 1930, through the Land Apportionment Act, the white settler farmers were able to take 49 million acres of the most productive land while Africans were placed in 7.5 million acres of the worst land known as reserves. Most of white settler farmers grew cash crops for export.
This article serves as a foundation for understanding the land issue in many African countries such as Malawi.
In order to receive development assistance, Tanzania has to give Western agribusiness full freedom and give enclosed protection for patented seeds. “Eighty percent of the seeds are being shared and sold in an informal system between neighbors, friends and family. The new law criminalizes the practice in Tanzania,” says Michael Farrelly of TOAM, an organic farming movement in Tanzania.
In order to get developmental assistance, Tanzania amended its legislation, which should give commercial investors faster and better access to agricultural land as well as a very strong protection of intellectual property rights.
‘If you buy seeds from Syngenta or Monsanto under the new legislation, they will retain the intellectual property rights. If you save seeds from your first harvest, you can use them only on your own piece of land for non-commercial purposes. You’re not allowed to share them with your neighbors or with your sister-in-law in a different village, and you cannot sell them for sure. But that’s the entire foundation of the seed system in Africa’, says Michael Farrelly.
Under the new law, Tanzanian farmers risk a prison sentence of at least 12 years or a fine of over €205,300, or both, if they sell seeds that are not certified.
‘That’s an amount that a Tanzanian farmer cannot even start to imagine. The average wage is still less than 2 US dollars a day’, says Janet Maro, head of Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT).
Under pressure of the G8
Tanzania applied the legislation concerning intellectual property rights on seeds as a condition for receiving development assistance through the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSN). The NAFSN was launched in 2012 by the G8 with the goal to help 50 million people out of poverty and hunger in the ten African partner countries through a public-private partnership. The initiative receives the support of the EU, the US, the UK, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Companies that invest in the NAFSN are expected to pay attention to small-scale farmers and women in their projects, but sometimes little of that is noticed. As a result, the NAFSN receives a lot of criticism from NGOs and civil-society movements. Even the European Parliament issued a very critical report in May this year to urge the European Commission to take action.
‘In practice, it means that the fifty million people that the New Alliance wants to help can escape poverty and hunger only if they buy seeds every year from the companies that are standing behind the G8.’
With the changes in the legislation, Tanzania became the first least-developed country to join the UPOV 91-convention. All countries that are members of the World Trade Organization must include intellectual property rights on seeds in their legislation, but the least-developed countries are exempt from recognizing any form of intellectual property rights until 2021. After that, the issues would be reviewed.
‘In practice, it means that the fifty million people that the New Alliance wants to help can escape from poverty and hunger only if they buy seeds every year from the companies that are standing behind de G8,” says Michael Farrelly.
‘As a result, the farmers’ seed system will collapse, because they can’t sell their own seeds”, according to Janet Maro. ‘Multinationals will provide our country with seeds and all the farmers will have to buy them from them. That means that we will lose biodiversity, because it is impossible for them to investigate and patent all the seeds we need. We’re going to end up with fewer types of seeds.’
‘I have seeds of my family, because my great-grandmother used them. She gave them to my grandmother, who gave them to my mother and my mother then gave them to me. I’ve planted them here in the demonstration garden in Morogoro and that’s why very rare plants now grow here’, says Janet Maro. ‘Local farmers find it hard to understand the idea that you can patent and own a seed. Seed should simply be something that is easily available”, says Janet Maro.
Ownership for investments
‘Intellectual property rights ensure that farmers have better access to technology’, claims Kinyua M’Mbijjewe, head of Corporate Affairs in Africa for Syngenta. Syngenta is a Swiss company that produces seeds and agrochemicals alongside Yara, one of the two largest players in the private sector in the NAFSN.
‘A company that wants to invest wants to be sure that its technology is protected. African farmers have been sharing, bartering and trading their seeds as a form of tradition. For farmers who want to continue to do so, it is important that they have that choice.’ Kinyua M’Mbijjewe claims not to be aware that the Tanzanian legislation no longer allows that freedom of choice. This is strange, since Syngenta is one of the companies that is part of the leadership council of the NAFSN, meaning that they negotiate directly with the partners about the changes in legislation which must be met in exchange for aid.
Nevertheless, according to the Tanzanian Government, the legislation never intended to penalize small-scale farmers, only to protect their property rights – that is, if they patent their own seeds.
‘Small-scale farmers do not have the means to get a patent for their seeds.’
‘But who’s going to sell non-certified seeds? Small-scale farmers do not have the means to get a patent for their seeds’, says Janet Maro.
“The government is working on a revision of the seed legislation. We hope that they will add an exception for small-scale farmers and will expand the Quality Declared Seed System,” says Michael Farrelly.
The Quality Declared Seed System gives quality guarantee for seed. It is a kind of compromise, because quality is cheaper and easier to obtain than a patent.
Currently, a farmer is allowed to sell recognized seeds in only three surrounding villages, but the government says it wants to expand this at the district level with the new legislation. ‘That way, the seeds could be sold in seventy villages, which is economically viable,” says Farrelly.
Removal of trade barriers
An additional problem is that the seeds of foreign companies are not always adapted to the local climate. ‘What works in Utrecht doesn’t necessarily work in Zanzibar,’ says Michael Farrelly. Tanzania alone has five different climate zones. ‘Even the region of Morogoro has different climate zones,” says Janet Maro.
‘Africa’s trade barriers have not pushed forward the farmers and the economy.’
Yet soon it will be easier for seeds from different regions to enter the country, and other African countries are on the way to follow Tanzania’s example. In 2015, eighteen African countries signed the Arusha Protocol for the protection of new plant varieties.
The purpose is that all countries would try to work on eliminating the trade barriers and incorporate intellectual property rights on seeds in their legislation, in order to achieve a harmonized regional system. Among others, the Community Plant Variety Office, an EU agency for the protection of plant varieties as intellectual property, invariably takes part in all meetings related to the Protocol.
Syngenta believes that these measures will help advance Africa: ‘We are pleased that it is finally going in the right direction after years of negotiations,’ says Kinyua M’Mbijjewe. ‘The EU has a harmonized policy regarding the seeds that are allowed to be brought into another country. In Africa this doesn’t exist. You could not bring seeds from Kenya over the border to Tanzania, an area with the same climate zone. Africa’s trade barriers have not pushed forward the farmers and the economy.’
More intensive farming?
In order to feed the world population by 2050, the World Bank and FAO (the UN food agency) state that food production must increase by half. A figurative war is fought regarding the approach to increase production, but there will likely be many victims among the small-scale farmers.
According to the business world, Africa needs more agricultural inputs: fertilizers, hybrid seeds, pesticides… But is the commercial approach best suited to help the poorest segment of the population?
‘The small-scale farmers are not our target.’
All the development initiatives of the NAFSN in Tanzania focus exclusively on the most fertile part of the country. The Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) covers much of the southern half of the country. Fertile soil easily attracts investors. But what about the farmers who are located in less-than-ideal regions? Or what about the statement by the World Bank (2008 report) that input subsidies for fertilizer in Zambia were beneficial mainly for relatively rich farmers rather than for the small-scale farmers whom the subsidies were meant to benefit? Another essential fact: this type of intensive farming is one of the biggest causes of global warming.
Syngenta itself has admitted that it is logical that they, as a company, have little concern for the less successful farmers. ‘We are a commercial company and therefore we invest in Africa. We believe that Africa is done with development aid and that it is now all about trade,” concludes Kinyua M’Mbijjewe. ‘The small-scale farmers are not our target. We focus on small-scale farmers trying to grow businesses and we are happy to work with NGOs that have a commercial approach. Farmers who merely try to survive or operate in an unfavorable climate are left out.’
Many farmer organizations and FAO have more faith in ecological methods. Particularly the smaller-scale farmers would benefit from it, because they usually cannot afford the expensive inputs for conventional agriculture.
Janet Maro, on the other hand, works in challenging rural areas. Together with SAT, she trains small-scale farmers in agro-ecological farming methods. SAT teaches farmers to do farming with what is available in their surroundings.
‘After our training, there were many farmers with good results who questioned why they should still go into town to buy expensive synthetic fertilizer.’
‘Our training center is located in the dry areas of Vianze, which most people would claim to be impossible to farm,’ says Janet Maro. ‘If we can do it there, we can do it anywhere. We plant additional trees that hold back the water when it rains, so that it is incorporated into the soil, and we have an irrigation system with water bottles, so we consume less water.’
‘We teach small-scale farmers how to make compost with the plants they cut in their fields. We also teach them to do mixed cropping and to make extracts from plants that grow in their surroundings in order to control crop pests and diseases. The most common pest, for example, is the aphid. You can make an extract of Lantana camara, a shrub that grows in almost every village in Tanzania, to control the aphids,’ says Janet Maro.
‘We also trained farmers in a region where they were given government subsidies to purchase fertilizer. After our training, there were many farmers with good results who questioned why they should still go into town to buy expensive synthetic fertilizer, as they can have a good harvest and can fight pests with resources that are available in their own fields. Those farmers returned their vouchers for subsidized fertilizer to the government. The government has now also come knocking on our door, asking us to train farmers.’
Choosing between grandmother and industry
‘Doing nothing and thinking that you can continue with what your grandmother grew, is a guaranteed catastrophe’, says Kinyua M’Mbijjewe from Syngenta. ‘The reason we have hunger in Africa is that there are insufficient agricultural inputs.’
‘Doing nothing and thinking that you can continue with what your grandmother grew, is a guaranteed catastrophe.’
Abel Lyimo, the CEO of the Tanzanian Rural Urban Development Initiatives, a NGO that focusses on the development of small-scale farmers through the private sector, thinks the same: ‘Tanzania is one of the countries with the lowest use of farm inputs and the lowest productivity in the world. There is a link between proper use of inputs and productivity. Use only half, and you’ll produce only half.’
Janet Maro contradicts that. ‘In the Mlali Region, there were projects in which they gave the farmers parcels of land to grow tomatoes. It went really well for a while and they produced a huge quantity of tomatoes, but this year things went wrong. The price of a bucket of tomatoes ranged between two and three Euros. Nowadays, because of the overproduction, you have to consider yourself lucky if you get 40 cents. Now, the farmers can no longer afford those expensive fertilizers and chemicals.’
‘And I haven’t even started to mention the environmental damage and the deterioration in soil fertility that these projects cause. The government has asked us to train farmers because the quality and quantity of the water from the Mzinga and Ruvu Rivers have considerably worsened because of the government’s agricultural projects. They want to save the situation before it is too late and have seen that the projects of SAT have a much better impact on the environment.’
Even the United Nation’s former Special Rapporteur for the Right for Food, Olivier De Schutter, stresses the importance of more research and investment in agro-ecological methods in a report in 2011.
According to FAO figures, more than 80 percent of the food in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa is produced by small-scale farmers. If they cannot afford commercial inputs, they can still make progress with agro-ecological methods. The methods are not immediately patentable and therefore the industry treats them shabbily. An unfortunate consequence of this is that insufficient research is being done into such methods.
Ebe Daems & Kweli Ukwethembeka Iqiniso This article was created with the support of Journalismfund.eu
During the drought that devastated the Horn of Africa in 2010 and 2011, women bound their waists with rope to deaden the pangs of hunger as they gave what little food they had to their children.
In stark contrast to such selfless acts, the international community stood back and watched until it was too late for the 260,000 people who starved to death.
Now aid workers are increasingly concerned that 2017 could see a tragedy on a similar scale with droughts – and floods – meaning some parts of southern and east Africa have not had a significant harvest for three years.
The Government is leading calls for the world to take effective action this time – just as right-wing politicians and newspapers call for David Cameron’s flagship pledge to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on aid to be scrapped.
The Department for International Development (DfID) has already committed £362m in aid over this year and next, and is understood to be considering increasing its contribution further.
“As we enter 2017, over 37 million people across Africa are without food,” International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, said in a statement sent to the Independent. “Families face losing their homes and livelihoods as the effects of widespread drought worsen.
“That is why ‘Global Britain’ is leading the response to the escalating crisis by providing life-saving food, water and shelter.”
Warning the crisis could force many people in the region to become refugees, Ms Patel appealed to other countries to “step up to prevent people from going hungry”.
“Tackling the global challenges of our time such as drought and disease which fuel migration, insecurity and instability is the right thing to do and is firmly in Britain’s interest,” she said.
A source in the international aid community told The Independentthat there was a danger of a repeat of “the desperate conditions and extreme hunger that killed hundreds of thousands in 2010”.
“Certain population groups are now in the third year of having very limited household input,” the source said.
“They will have already sold off household assets, livestock will have died or are likely to be unhealthy and not productive.
“That’s when you start to see changes in mortality that we shouldn’t be seeing in populations.”
The source said during the previous drought “there was an issue around a slow response by the system” and efforts had been made since then to try to pick up on the warning signs sooner.
But, with the world focused on events in the Middle East, the current refugee crisis, Brexit and the US presidency, there are fears an unfolding disaster could go unnoticed once again.
The problem has been caused by a particularly severe El Niño weather system, a natural recurring effect that has been exacerbated by climate change. While the El Niño has ended, there are suggestions that the next harvest could be in trouble.
Rebecca Sutton, Oxfam’s global El Niño campaign manager, said: “The vegetation cover index in parts of the Horn of Africa area is lower now than it was at this stage in the 2010/11 drought. That indicator is looking worse now than it was then.
“With drought, it’s a slow-onset crisis. It doesn’t attract media coverage and very unpleasant pictures of people and animals in a very bad way come only once it’s way too late.
“By the time you get headline media coverage, things are extremely bad and way too many people have suffered more than they needed to.”
She praised the UK Government, saying it had “responded quite well to this crisis”, but warned that “something of this scale is more than a handful of donors can deal with”.
As part of its aid package, DfID has now given £16.9m to Unicef to help countries in southern Africa, which are approaching the “peak of the lean system”, the United Nations aid agency said in a statement.
It said this year had seen the “worst El-Niño induced drought in decades”, and the money would be used for “life-saving interventions to prevent the escalation of malnutrition and child illness or death in Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe”.
Increasing numbers of children have been dropping out of school due to a lack of water or more pressing problems at home, Unicef said, while all four countries were seeing outbreaks of diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhoea.
The money will allow 456,000 children to be checked for severe, acute malnutrition and more than 65,000 to be treated for several common diseases. A further 194,000 people will get access to safe drinking water.
Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala, Unicef’s regional director for eastern and southern Africa, said: “As already vulnerable children and their families enter another lean season, these funds are critical for helping them to cope with the ongoing impacts of this chronic emergency.
“We greatly appreciate – and applaud – DfID for leading the way in ensuring that communities are significantly supported to become further resilient to the recurrent climatic crises we are seeing across much of the region.”
The Milton Hershey School in Pennsylvania is one of the wealthiest education centers in the world. Founded in 1909 as an orphanage for “male Caucasian” boys, it was awarded 30 percent of the company’s future earnings by Milton S. Hershey upon his death. Thanks to the success of Kit-Kats, Reese’s, and Whoppers, the school is worth a staggering $7.8 billion.
Now home to more than 2,000 students, it owns a controlling interest in the $22.3 billion Hershey company—a chocolate maker with roots in child protection and education that, in the worst form of irony, allegedly relies on cocoa harvested by child laborers in West Africa.
It is this irony that serves as the motivation behind a class action lawsuit filed Monday against Hershey and two of its competitors, Mars and Nestle. The complaints, filed by three California residents, allege that the companies are guilty of false advertising for failing to disclose the use of child slavery on their packaging. Without it, the plaintiffs claim, the companies are deceiving consumers into “unwittingly” supporting the child slave labor trade.
“America’s largest and most profitable food conglomerates should not tolerate child labor, much less child slave labor, anywhere in their supply chains,” the complaint reads. “These companies should not turn a blind eye to known human rights abuses… especially when the companies consistently and affirmatively represent that they act in a socially and ethically responsible manner.”
The class action suits seek both monetary damages for California residents who have purchased the chocolate and revised packaging that denotes child slaves were used. It’s a new approach to an old problem: the chocolate industry’s deep, dark, not-so-secret scandal. It’s been 15 years since the first allegations of child slavery in the chocolate industry caused national outrage. Will this be the final straw?
West Africa is home to two-thirds of the world’s cacao beans (cocoa), the main ingredient in chocolate—a product that’s fueled a $90 billion industry.
The first group to question the financial strategies behind the industry’s wealth was a British organization called True Vision Entertainment. In a shocking 2000 documentary titled Slavery: A Global Investigation, the group reported on the chocolate industry’s alleged connection to cocoa harvested by child slaves.The award-winning film opens on stick-thin adolescent boys in the Ivory Coast slinging hundred-pound bags of cocoa pods on their backs, followed by an interview in which the boys express their confusion over not being paid.
Later the filmmakers meet with 19 children who were said to have just been freed from slavery by the Ivorian authorities. Their guardian describes how they worked from dawn until dusk each day, only to be locked in a shed at night where they were given a tin cup in which to urinate. During the first six months (the “breaking-in period”), they say, they were routinely beaten. “The beatings were a part of my life,” says Aly Diabata, one of the former child laborers. “I had seen others who tried to escape. When they tried, they were severely beaten.”
The boys’ stories are sickeningly graphic. Before beatings, the boys say they were stripped naked and tied up. They were then pummeled with a variety of weapons, from fists and feet to belts and whips. In the film, some of the boys get up and imitate the beatings. Others stand to reveal hundreds of scars lining their backs and torsos—some still bloody and scabbed. They get quiet when the filmmakers ask whether any are beaten today and say some are simply “taken away.”
Asked what he’d say to the billions who eat chocolate worldwide (most of the boys have never tried it), one boy replies: “They enjoy something I suffered to make; I worked hard for them but saw no benefit. They are eating my flesh.” Toward the end of the segment, the filmmakers meet with one of the “slave masters,” who admits he purchased the young boys and that some of his men routinely beat them. His reasoning: He is paid a low price for the cocoa and thus needs to harvest as much of it as he possibly can.
The release of the film in late 2000 sparked national outrage. No one seemed more shocked than the chocolate companies themselves. In June 2001, Hershey senior vice president Robert M. Reese toldPhiladelphia Inquirer reporter Bob Fernandez that “no one, repeat, no one, had ever heard of this.” After internal investigations, several companies, including Hershey, expressed concern over the conditions of laborers in West Africa.
The news made its way to Congress, where U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel quickly drafted legislation asking the Federal Drug Administration to introduce “slave free” labeling. After gaining approval in the House of Representatives, the bill moved to a vote in the Senate, where it had the support needed to win passage. But just before the legislation made it to a vote, the chocolate industry stepped in with a promise it has yet to keep: to self-regulate and eradicate the practice by 2005.
The Engel-Harkin Protocol (or Cocoa Protocol), as the agreement was called, was signed in September 2001.
Eight companies—including Nestle, Mars, and Hershey—were signatories of the massive accord, pledging $2 million to investigate the labor practices and eliminate the “Worst Forms of Child Labor,” the official term from the International Labor Organization, by 2005. When the July 2005 deadline arrived with the industries yet to make major changes, an extension was granted until 2008.
When the next deadline came and went, a new proposal arose. By 2010, the companies basically started anew with a treaty called TheDeclaration of Joint Actionto Support Implementation of the Harkin-Engel Protocol. This document pledges to reduce the worst forms of child labor by 70 percent across the cocoa sectors of Ghana and Ivory Coast by 2020.
In the 15 years since the documentary sparked outrage, there are more child laborers in the cocoa industry than ever before. The companies have not only failed to stop the “worst forms of child labor”; they’ve seemingly made it worse. A report released on July 30, 2015, from the Payson Center for International Development of Tulane University and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor found a 51 percent increase in the number of children working in the cocoa industry in 2013-14, compared to the last report in 2008-09. The number, they found, now totals 1.4 million. Those living in slave-like conditions increased 10 percent from the 2008-09 results, now totaling 1.1 million. The study concludes that while “some progress has been made,” the goal of reducing the number of children in the industry had “not come within reach.”
The California plaintiffs’ false-advertising claims against Nestle, Hershey, and Mars are the latest effort to pressure the chocolate industry to fix a problem it has known about for more than a decade. “Children that are sometimes not even 10 years old carry huge sacks that are so big that they cause them serious physical harm,” the complaint alleges. “Much of the world’s chocolate is quite literally brought to us by the back-breaking labor of child slaves.”
The complaint goes into detail about the lives of the estimated 4,000 children allegedly working in forced labor conditions harvesting cocoa in the Ivory Coast. Many of the children are sold into slavery, some for less than $30; others are kidnapped or tricked into thinking it’s a real job, the complaint alleges. Once there, the children are allegedly trapped on isolated farms, threatened with physical abuse, required to work when they are sick, and denied sufficient food.
While the plaintiffs mention each company’s individual pledges to tackle the problem of child labor, they consider these promises to be “false assurances” that have done little to solve the problem. As long as the companies allegedly continue to use child slaves, the plaintiffs say they believe consumers have the right to know.
In the eyes of Miki Mistrati, an award-winning documentary filmmaker who released a movie on the subject in 2014, Shady Chocolate, the lawsuit may help, but it won’t be the answer. “There is no doubt that a campaign about the reality in chocolate production will harm the chocolate companies,” Mistrati said. “Modern slavery with children is a part of the chocolate industry today. But I do not think that it can be the real game changer.”
Mistrati, who consulted with UNICEF and the U.S. Department of Labor, among others, for his movie, said he witnessed child slave labor firsthand—and believes it can be stopped quickly. “Mars, Hershey, and Nestle have had every opportunity to stop the trafficking of children and illegal child slaves,” he said. “I have seen small children, 6 years old, being trafficked from Mali to Ivory Coast. It was so heartbreaking to watch. But the companies have not had the will to end it for many years. Only empty words and expensive advertising instead of using money to pay back to the children on the ground in West Africa.”
Mistrati stressed the importance of Americans taking at least part of the blame. “Consumers have not been critical enough,” he said. “They have not asked why a chocolate bar only costs $1 when the cocoa comes from Africa. Customers have been too easy to trick with smart ads. It is over now. This trial is a unique opportunity for the world to see how their chocolate is produced and why it is so cheap.”
Nestle responded quickly to a request for comment on the allegations, calling the lawsuit “without merit” and claiming that “proactive and multi-stakeholder efforts” are necessary to eradicate child labor, not lawsuits. Of the three chocolate makers, Nestle appears to be taking the lead in fighting child labor. The company is the first cocoa purchaser to set up a system for tackling the problem, with concrete measures in place.
The company’s more than $100 million action plan involves building a child labor monitoring and remediation system to identify children at risk, enable farmers to run profitable farms, and improve the lives of cocoa farming communities. “Child labor has no place in our cocoa supply chain,” a spokesperson from Nestle told The Daily Beast. “We are taking action to progressively eliminate it by assessing individual cases and tackling the root causes.”
Mars representatives echoed Nestle’s sentiments on child slave labor, saying the company “shares the widely held view that child labor and trafficking is abhorrent and rooted in complex economic, political, and social issues.” In an official statement to The Daily Beast, the company said it was “committed to being part of the solution.”
At the moment, that solution seems vague. The company points to “Vision for Change,” an initiative it launched in 2012 that, according to its website, is meant to “achieve sustainable cocoa production” and “address farmer productivity and community issues.” Mars mentions that it has built 16 Cocoa Development Centers and 52 Cocoa Village Centers in the Ivory Coast, where farmers are taught how to manage their land and crops efficiently. How it specifically targets child labor is unclear.
Steve Berman, managing partner at Hagens Berman, the law firm representing the plaintiffs, confirmed that Nestle seems to have launched the most tangible program but said it has yet to yield results. “They claim they’ve been taking steps. They partner with the Fair Labor Association to investigate, and they claim they’re committed to eradicating it, but the fact is the recent reports show the number of children in the cocoa industry has increased,” Berman told The Daily Beast. “We doubt that Nestle is taking this very seriously.”
“The consumers reaching out to our firm have been outraged to learn that the candy they enjoy has a dark, bitter production cost—that child and slave labor have been a part of Nestle, Mars, and Hershey’s chocolate processing,” saidBerman. “These companies fail to disclose their use of child and forced labor, tricking consumers into indirectly supporting the use of such labor.”
Berman added that he believes Mars, Nestle, and Hershey’s failure to eradicate child labor in the cocoa trade boils down to one thing: “cheap labor; dirt cheap.”
After interviewing Hershey about the 2000 documentary for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Fernandez decided to pursue a book on the company’s trust. That book, The Chocolate Trust, was released in June. In the final chapter, he remarks on the oddity of a company with roots in child welfare making its billions on the backs of child laborers.
But it’s the 15-year gap that most baffles Fernandez, who remembers being shocked by the initial revelations. The fact that alleged child slavery persists to this day seems almost too difficult to believe. “The thing is the industry said it would solve it in 2001; then they said they’d do it by 2005,” he told The Daily Beast, before asking the pivotal question: “What happened?”
Update: Hershey sent The Daily Beast the following comment:
At Hershey, we are committed to the ethical and responsible sourcing of all of our product ingredients and have no tolerance for illegal practices, including children used as forced labor in cocoa farming.The allegations in the lawsuit are not new and reflect long-term challenges in cocoa-growing countries that many stakeholders, including NGOs, companies in the cocoa supply chain and the U.S Government have been working diligently together to address for a number of years. Poverty is a fundamental issue in the cocoa-growing region of West Africa, and companies across the entire cocoa supply chain have been actively involved in substantial initiatives to improve the economic, social and labor conditions in these cocoa-growing communities.
Hershey is proud of the cocoa sustainability and farmer training programs we have established through NGOs and other partners in West Africa during the past few years. We have begun to see success from these programs. This includes programs in Cote d’Ivoire that are now beginning to take hold after years of political unrest that had hampered progress there until recently. From the work the industry has undertaken in recent years, it is clear that addressing the challenges will require an aligned and sustained focus from all stakeholders, including the cocoa industry, local governments, and NGOs and non-profit groups. That’s why CocoaAction, the industry response being led through the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), is so important. These aligned efforts are aimed at accelerating sustainability and improving the livelihoods and social conditions of cocoa communities in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.
The cocoa industry, including Hershey, will invest more than $400 million in West Africa by 2020 to accelerate both the supply of certified cocoa and reduce instances of inappropriate labor by investing in better cocoa communities. These industry-wide efforts seek to reduce the occurrence of inappropriate farming practices that involve the use of children by reaching tens of thousands of farmers and their families in cocoa-growing areas, educating farmers about the risks and dangers of child labor, and training farmers and professionals to safely manage riskier tasks in which children have previously been involved. The combined and focused effort of the entire industry and other stakeholders is a very encouraging and positive development.
John Vidal in Lilongwe, Malawi | Sunday 22 May 2016 07.00 BST
UN fears that food aid will not arrive in time to help people of ravaged countries
Up to 50 million people in Africa will need food by Christmas as a crisis across the continent triggered by El Niño worsens, the UN and major international charities have warned.
A second year of deep drought in much of southern and eastern Africa has ravaged crops, disrupted water supplies and driven up food prices, leaving 31 million people needing food now, and 20 million more likely to run out this year.
A further 10 million people in Ethiopia, six million in southern Sudan and five million in Yemen were in danger of starvation after floods and drought, said the UN.
The severest El Niño in 30 years was expected to tail off in the next month as hot equatorial waters in the Pacific returned to normal temperatures, but its effects would be felt for many more months, said the World Food Programme. Stephen O’Brien, the UN’s humanitarian chief, said: “The collective impact of the El Niño phenomenon has created one of the world’s biggest disasters for millions of people, yet this crisis is receiving little attention.
“The numbers are staggering. One million children in eastern and southern Africa alone are severely acutely malnourished, and across southern Africa 32 million people need assistance and that figure is likely to increase.” The UN predicts that food will start running out on a large scale by July, with the crisis peaking between December and next April.
Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Madagascar, Angola and Swaziland have declared national emergencies or disasters, as have seven of South Africa’s nine provinces. Botswana, Kenya, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have also been badly hit.
In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe has appealed for foreign aid to buy food and Malawi is expected to declare in the next few weeks that more than 8 million people, half the population, will need food aid by November. Maize prices have risen by 60% across much of the region within a few months.
Seven million people in Syria, 10 million in Ethiopia and 14 million in Yemen also needed food urgently, said the UN. Elhadj As Sy, secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, pledged $110m after visiting Malawi and Zimbabwe last week. “We cannot describe enough how dire the situation is,” he said.
Abdoulaye Balde, the World Food Programme country director in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, said: “The situation is critical. We are at the point of no return.”
Fears are mounting that international donors, meeting at this week’s UN humanitarian summit in Istanbul, will not pledge enough in time to buy and deliver food. Their fear is that the Syrian civil war and refugee crises are putting an unprecedented strain on aid. African leaders have requested more than $1.5bn, but less than 25% has been pledged.
“The window for responding in a meaningful manner is closing rapidly,” said Shadrack Omol, senior adviser to the UN’s children fund, Unicef. “The concern is that slow-onset emergencies, such as the one we are dealing with in southern Africa, do not get enough attention because they creep up on us.”
Since July 2015, Britain has contributed about £150m for aid to El Niño-affected countries in Africa, including Malawi, Ethiopia, Kenya Mozambique, Somalia and Uganda. The international development minister, Nick Hurd, said: “We cannot and will not stand idly by while millions suffer. Britain is playing a leading role in helping countries across Africa to cope with the impact of El Niño. Support for people affected by El Niño is important to Africa and also firmly in Britain’s national interest.”
Wheat production in sub-Saharan Africa is at only 10 to 25 percent of its potential and nations can easily grow more to limit hunger, price shocks and political instability, a study showed on Tuesday.
The report, examining environmental conditions of 12 nations from Ethiopia to Zimbabwe, said that farmers south of the Sahara grew only 44 percent of the wheat consumed locally, meaning dependence on international markets prone to price spikes.
“Sub-Saharan Africa has extensive areas of land that are suitable for profitably producing wheat under rain-fed conditions,” according to the study by the non-profit International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.
It said countries in the region were producing only between 10 and 25 percent of the amounts that the Center’s research suggested was “biologically possible and economically profitable” with a net return of $200 per hectare (2.5 acres).
The 89-page study, issued at a wheat conference in Ethiopia, said it aimed to identify ways to raise wheat production as “a hedge against food insecurity, political instability and price shocks.”
“Wheat is not an African crop, it is not a tropical crop (but) many governments want to produce wheat locally instead of paying for imports,” Hans-Joachim Braun, director of the Center’s global wheat program, told Reuters by telephone.
The report estimated that African nations would spend about $12 billion to import 40 million metric tons of wheat in 2012, particularly for fast-growing cities. More wheat should not be grown at the expense of other more viable crops, Braun said.
Braun said wheat was already an established crop in Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa but could easily expand to highland areas in other sub-Saharan nations. “Wheat cannot be produced in tropical lowlands,” he added.
Twelve nations in sub-Saharan Africa produced almost six million metric tons of wheat a year in the period 2006-08, the study showed.
And wheat consumption was rising fast. A rise in incomes and a shift to cities from the countryside also meant a shift in diets towards wheat and rice, away from crops including maize, sorghum, sweet potato, cassava or yams.
The study suggested that, with investments including in fertilizers, wheat yields would be highest in the highlands of countries including Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania and Uganda.
Mozambique, Angola and Zimbabwe were least suited to wheat in rain-fed areas, it said. Zimbabwe, however, is one of the most productive of the wheat-growing nations in Africa but depends heavily on irrigation.
“If Africa does not push for wheat self-sufficiency, it could face more hunger, instability and even political violence, as bread riots in North Africa showed in recent years,” Bekele Shiferaw, a lead author of the study, said in a statement.
In 2008, Zambia and Rwanda escaped sharp rises in wheat prices on global markets thanks to domestic production, the study said.
Braun said it was hard to say when African nations might reach self-sufficiency in wheat if they tried.
“The biological potential is there. But you also need access to markets. The big issue is the road infrastructure. It doesn’t help very much if the farm is far from the cities,” he said.
(Reporting By Alister Doyle; editing by Keiron Henderson)
Ntokozo Qwabe, who last made headlines when he refused to tip a white waitress until “you return the land”, did not deny using what he called his “protest stick” in the video, but said he only wished he had “whipped the white apartheid settler colonial entitlement out of the b******”.
Video posted to social media appeared to show Mr Qwabe standing on a table in the law faculty of the University of Cape Town, one of a number of institutions across the country hit by protests in recent weeks.
According to the Times Live, Mr Qwabe said he was involved in a “shut down” of the “arrogant” faculty when a white student started filming the protesters on his mobile phone.
The footage shows an argument over the filming, before it ends abruptly when Mr Qwabe appears to lunge towards the camera with a stick.
Writing on his Facebook page, Mr Qwabe said it was “not true I assaulted or whipped with a stick a white student”.
He said the only acted to knock the phone out of the student’s hand. “He picked it up and continued to video‚ at which point I came closer to him and told him to switch it the f*** off,” Mr Qwabe said, at which point the student “then kindly put it back into his pocket”.
“Although I wish I’d actually not been a good law abiding citizen & whipped the white apartheid settler colonial entitlement out of the b****** – who continued to video record us without our consent – this is not what happened as the media is reporting.”
All quotes are direct quotations from The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. They are taken from his writings and statements during the years he spent working as an attorney in South Africa, before he went back to India in 1915 to fight for independence. Note: “Kaffir” is an offensive term in South Africa considered on par with “n*gger” in the U.S., though in Gandhi’s time some historians claim it was considered more neutral.
Indians Dragged Down to the Kaffirs
Before Dec. 19, 1894: “A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.”
Kaffirs Pass Their Lives in ‘Indolence and Nakedness’
Sept. 26, 1896: “Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.”
Kaffirs Would Not Work
Oct. 26, 1896: “There is a bye-law in Durban which requires registration of coloured servants. This rule may be, and perhaps is, necessary for the Kaffirs who would not work, but absolutely useless with regard to the Indians. But the policy is to class the Indian with the Kaffir whenever possible.”
Indians ‘Infinitely Superior’ to the Kaffirs
Before May 27, 1899: “Your Petitioner has seen the Location intended to be used by the Indians. It would place them, who are undoubtedly infinitely superior to the Kaffirs, in close proximity to the latter.”
Indians Shouldn’t Be Taxed Like Kaffirs
May 24, 1903: “The £3 tax is merely a penalty for wearing the brown skin and it would appear that, whereas Kaffirs are taxed because they do not work at all or sufficiently, we are to be taxed evidently because we work too much, the only thing in common between the two being the absence of the white skin.”
Indians Forced to Live with Too Many Kaffirs
Feb. 11, 1904: “I venture to write you regarding the shocking state of the Indian Location. The rooms appear to be overcrowded beyond description. The sanitary service is very irregular, and many of the residents of the Location have been to my office to complain that the sanitary condition is far worse than before. There is, too, a very large Kaffir population in the Location for which really there is no warrant.”
Calamity Coming for Johannesburg
Feb. 15, 1904: “I feel convinced that every minute wasted over the matter merely hastens a calamity for Johannesburg and that through absolutely no fault of the British Indians. Why, of all places in Johannesburg, the Indian Location should be chosen for dumping down all the kaffirs of the town passes my comprehension.”
No Mixing Kaffirs With Indians
Feb. 15, 1904: “Of course, under my suggestion, the Town Council must withdraw the Kaffirs from the Location. About this mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly. I think it is very unfair to the Indian population and it is an undue tax on even the proverbial patience of my countrymen.”
Kaffirs Less Advanced
Sept. 9, 1906: “Even the half-castes and Kaffirs, who are less advanced than we, have resisted the Government. The pass law applies to them as well, but they do not take out passes.”
Even a Kaffir Policeman Can Accost Indians?
June 4, 1907: “Are we supposed to be thieves or free-booters that even a Kaffir policeman can accost and detain us wherever we happen to be going?”
Kaffirs Can Be Pleased With Toys and Pins
Feb. 2, 1908: “The British rulers take us to be so lowly and ignorant that they assume that, like the Kaffirs who can be pleased with toys and pins, we can also be fobbed off with trinkets.”
Kaffirs Are Uncivilized Animals
July 3, 1907: “Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilised – the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live almost like animals. Each ward contains nearly 50 to 60 of them. They often started rows and fought among themselves. The reader can easily imagine the plight of the poor Indian thrown into such company!”
Indians Must Stay Away From Kaffir Women
Dec. 2, 1910: “Some Indians do have contacts with Kaffir women. I think such contacts are fraught with grave danger. Indians would do well to avoid them altogether.”
PUBLISHED: 15:41, Sat, Jan 7, 2017 | UPDATED: 19:08, Sat, Jan 7, 2017
AS many as 15 million new migrants could enter Europe from Africa in the next three years, according to a report by an Austrian intelligence agency.
The Austrian Military Intelligence agency predicts a further 15m migrants into Europe from Africa.
Analysis by Austrian Military Intelligence, an agency of the Austrian Armed Forces, has predicted a sharp rise in unemployment across Africa, which would lead to millions of economic migrants travelling to Europe in search of work between now and 2020.The predicted numbers, reported by German newspaper Bild, dwarfs the estimated figure of one million migrants believed to have entered Europe during the current crisis.
The agency said one solution to the impending influx would be for Europe to bolster African nations’ economies, in order to support job creation, productivity and education.
This in turn would encourage more investment from abroad and persuade more people to stay and work in their country of origin.
However, the agency recognised such payments are open to abuse by certain regimes, who would use the funds to “attack their own people” and only increase the number of people fleeing to Europe.The report also called for countries of origin to invest in monitoring their own borders and reduce the “flow of migrants”.
The study found that between 2013 and 2016, more than half a million Africans immigrated to EU countries, with the most coming from Eritrea.
About 100,000 Eritreans are believed to have fled their war-torn country, while Nigeria had the second most asylum seekers, with around 80,000.
Somalia was third with about 60,000, followed by Gambia (40 000), Mali and Algeria (30 000 each), Sudan, DR Congo, Guinea and Senegal (more than 20,000).
German Chancellor Angela Merkel embarks Sunday on a visit to three African countries before hosting leaders from Chad and Nigeria for talks in Berlin, as she seeks ways to stem a migrant influx to Europe.
Merkel will first travel to Mali and Niger before heading to Ethiopia where she is to visit the headquarters of the African Union in the capital, Addis Ababa.
Her talks with leaders of all three countries are to focus on migration issues and the battle against jihadist groups.
On Wednesday, a day after her return to Berlin, she will host Chadian President Idriss Deby. She will cap off the week by meeting with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari to discuss the African giant’s battle against Boko Haram Islamists.
“The well-being of Africa is in Germany’s interest,” Merkel told Die Zeit weekly in an interview ahead of the visit, arguing that bringing more stability to Africa and improving living conditions on the continent would help reduce the numbers of people seeking to leave.
Simply ignoring the reasons that are pushing people to migrate “will not make the problem go away,” she warned.
Pointing to drought plaguing Chad as an example, Merkel said that “it does not mean that everyone who is in difficulties there can come to Europe as a refugee”.
“But we should be interested in whether 11 million people will have a livelihood or not,” she stressed.
In a sign of Germany’s growing engagement in Africa, Berlin’s ambassador to Niamey said Wednesday it would build a military base in Niger to support the UN mission fighting jihadists in neighbouring Mali.
Germany has troops stationed in Mali and Niger as part of the UN mission MINUSMA, and Merkel is due to visit the soldiers during her upcoming tour.
Drawing attention to Merkel’s trip to Africa, Jordan’s King Abdullah II commended the German leader for taking a “holistic approach” to dealing with the migrant challenge.
“It’s not just Syria and Iraq, it’s north Africa, it’s east and west Africa and here I want to commend the chancellor’s role because there are very leaders in the world who look at the challenges we are facing… as a global problem,” he told journalists.
Merkel has also said that she wants the European Union and North African countries to do deals modelled on a controversial agreement with Turkey to curb migrant flows to Europe.
Under the EU-Turkey agreement, Ankara agreed to take back one Syrian who made it to Greece in return for being allowed to send one from its massive refugee camps to the bloc in a more orderly redistribution programme.
The deal also pledges billions of euros in EU aid for Turkey, visa-free European travel for Turkish citizens and accelerated EU membership talks.
Getting around Europe is a struggle, but it’s just as tough to cross borders in our own continent
In the summer of 2003, a clerk at the US embassy in London informed me that under new 9/11 laws, I was considered “unstable”, and my request for a tourist visa would be denied. Never mind that on the invitation of my aunt – a US citizen – I had bought non-refundable, round-trip tickets to Philadelphia (both the written invitation and the confirmed bookings were prerequisites), or that I was at the end of the second year of a four-year degree course at Liverpool University, or even that I had a visa and job confirmed in France, where I would be spending my third year.
None of that mattered. I carried a Cameroonian passport, and the job of the consulate team was to presume I had no intention of leaving the US, unless my documentary evidence convinced them otherwise, which clearly it hadn’t. As I left the embassy, my face wet with tears, I invented scenarios to console myself: “Her husband has obviously just left her for her best friend, she’s obviously taking out her frustration on me.”
Over the years it’s not just Americans who have looked at my forest green passport and seen the warning: “Beware! Likely to spread contagion or disappear into the black market.” Queuing in Lille in northern France to upgrade my visa from visitor to work permit was like waiting in line with the disallowed – easily 200 of us jostling to be seen by the gendarmes, emotions ranging from hopeful to desperate, depending on how many times you’d been turned back for some trivial reason. “Revenez demain” (“Come back tomorrow”) became the most painful words to hear.
Much of my time in Britain has also been punctuated by the cycle of visa applications, the prices for which escalate with each change of government. My conversations with immigration officers have become something of a chess match: they make their move then I make mine.
“How long have you been in the UK?” I’m asked, as the immigration officer feels up the page to which my visa is stuck, checking to make sure it didn’t belong to a different passport. “Oh, only 10 years,” I say, insouciant; using my BBC Radio 4 voice. “What did you study at university?” “Do you mean my first degree or one of my masters?” Neither of us break eye contact.
They were only doing their job, but I felt as though I too was doing mine: subtly making the point that I had every right to be here. I’d studied a British curriculum, taught to me by British teachers in African schools; and after my parents raised the thousands of pounds needed to pay for the British university education they thought would help me establish my place in the world, I just wanted to be left to get on with it.
But this is not just a problem in the west. My most painful visa transactions have, sadly, been on the African continent – the place where passports should be recognised immediately for the useless, artificial construct they are; where members of the same ethnic group are separated by barriers imposed from outside.
But immigration systems and visa requirements aren’t designed with actual people in mind. Instead, they are a reflection of the geopolitics of the day and of voter sentiment. The number of countries your passport grants you access to is directly proportional to how many friends your government has, and Cameroon’s Paul Biya is famously reclusive.
That said, Cameroon is not the worst. In a 2014 ranking of countries by the strength of their passport, Finns, Swedes and Brits can travel the most freely, swanning into 173 countries of their choosing. Cameroon came in at 43, alongside China, Congo, Jordan and Rwanda. The least desirable passport was Afghanistan’s, giving its citizens access to a paltry 28 countries.
The system is broken, and the idea that where you are born is a lottery exempts us from our collective responsibility to change that system. But I’m an idealist with wanderlust. So I studied hard for the Life in the UK test, pledged my allegiance to the Queen, and swapped my forest green passport for a crimson red British one – all so that I could just finally roam free.