Coal: fuel to the fire
Malawi is investing heavily in a new coal-fired plant despite the country’s stated commitment to renewables
Coal in Malawi is mainly used in local cement manufacturing and by tobacco companies Photo: Collins Mtika
Malawi plans to bankroll a coal-powered plant despite current worldwide disdain for using the fossil fuel. The country’s appetite for political appeasement has fuelled government non-adherence to its own policies and strategic documents that direct it to focus on renewables to meet its future energy needs. The $700 million, 300-megawatt Kam’mwamba coal-ﬁred plant, to be built in southern Malawi, will have a 30-year lifespan once operational, even though as of 2016 the country had coal reserves pegged at 2.2 million metric tonnes lasting just 26 years.
“We see this project supporting industrial growth as there are expectations of opening other mines and creating jobs. Moreover, Malawi coal has less than 1% sulphur content hence safe to the environment,” energy consultant Grain Malunga told Africa in Fact. The Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) says the country has the potential to produce 745 MW to 1,670 MW, based on its coal resources, 630,000 metric tonnes of uranium for nuclear power and 60,000 hectares of biomass, which can provide an additional 50 MW.
Malawi consumes about 120,000 tonnes of coal per annum, most of which is used in the local cement manufacturing and steam generation industries. Malawi currently, imports about 65,000 metric tonnes of coal per year, mostly from Mozambique, at a cost of around $4 million. Less than 10% of Malawi has access to electricity, giving the country one of the lowest electriﬁcation rates in the world, according to the World Bank. The electricity grid is concentrated in urban centres, where only 25% of households have access compared to a mere 1% percent of rural households.
The government has introduced a carbon tax, which is levied on all motor vehicle owners who renew their annual Certiﬁcate of Fitness (COF). The stated aim is to mitigate the extreme effects of climate change. Yet the same government is promoting projects that are contrary to the goals of decarbonisation. In 2015, President Peter Mutharika joined world leaders in adopting the 17-point Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs chart a pathway to end poverty and environmental ruin by ensuring that everyone uses clean and sustainable energy by 2030, among other things.
Local experts claim Malawi coal has 1% sulphur hence does less harm to the environment Photo: Collins Mtika
At home, however, his government acts differently. The country’s rush to the coalﬁelds to kickstart Kam’mwamba seems a kneejerk and desperate reaction following in the footsteps of South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Nigeria, among other African countries. China had pledged to ﬁnance the project in its entirety, but backtracked in 2019, forcing the Malawi government to shoulder the cost on its own, using the public purse. Malawi’s pursuit of coal to meet the country’s power needs contradicts its documented policies in the power sector, which do not mention coal as a source of power.
The Malawi Energy Policy (2003) envisages a steady increase in hydroelectric power generation, a reduction in biomass use, and steady growth in renewable sources, especially solar, wind and micro-hydropower plants. The government agrees that pollution is already rampant in areas where coal mining currently takes place. “Yes, the companies are culprits when it comes to pollution and environmental degradation, Ministry of Energy and Mining spokesperson Sangwani Phiri said. “But you must know that they do that in selected areas where the members of the community are also involved in clearing huge areas of forest, so we must all take responsibility in taking care of our environment.”
However, mining companies in Malawi generally take advantage of the government’s laxity in policing mining regulations that deal with environmental protection, noted Natural Resources Justice Network chairperson Kossam Munthali. “The situation in these communities is just too bad. Apart from air pollution, most of the mining companies dig deep pits and leave without ﬁlling them in, and they are now turning into death traps. All of this is simply because the government is not serious,” Munthali said.
Malawi signalled its commitment to the ﬁght against climate change and its effects by the introduction of the aforementioned carbon tax. But instead of the funds being channelled to the Climate Change fund – which government established in 2018 to provide ﬁnancial and other resources for undertaking climate change interventions – the funds are deposited into the government’s Account Number One. This account is an infamous black hole, as it is prone to political interference and abuse. Africa’s affinity with coal-ﬁred power plants reflects a failure of the continent’s governments.
Coal mines in Malawi are not fully mechanised Photo: Collins Mtika
For decades, the leadership has not only ignored the best available advice but has also glossed over information on new forms of energy. “Policy drives implementation of renewable energy across the world. Eskom (South Africa’s major power provider) relied primarily on coal for electricity production until the South African government published the white paper on renewable energy in 2003,” Professor Sampson Mamphweli, Director: Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies, at Stellenbosch University, South Africa said in a presentation he gave at the Power Week Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa in September, 2019.
Mamphweli noted that sub-Saharan Africa had the highest renewable energy share among all regions of the globe due to the large consumption of solid biomass in the residential sector, with the region’s use of modern renewables signiﬁcantly below the global average. “The continent’s electricity supply was mainly fossil fuels-based, until recently. [But] following high-level declarations at the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Conference in late 2015, there is a growing interest in renewable energy in the African continent,” he said. According to an article in the Economist in July 2019, wealthy countries should stop operating coal plants by 2030 if they are to limit global warming.
Needless to say, a splurge on coal will make it harder for African countries to uphold their end of the bargain. Of the 108 countries that have thus far indicated that they will step up their climate commitments in 2020, as required by the Paris agreement, some 47 are in Africa, Professor Carlos Lopes from the Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance at the University of Cape Town noted in an article, titled ‘Africa must choose renewables over coal’ published by Project Syndicate in February this year.
“This is particularly critical for Africa, which is disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of global warming: more frequent and severe tropical storms, droughts, and floods, all of which have devastated African communities and economies in recent years,” Lopes wrote. In Africa, South Africa remains the leader in its use of coal, despite controversial deals, corruption and opposition from environmentalists. “Despite the economic and social case for renewables, new coal-ﬁred plants are still being planned across Africa. With projects expected to come online in Zimbabwe, Senegal, Nigeria, and Mozambique, the continent’s coal-ﬁred power capacity could increase from three gigawatts today to as much as 17 GW by 2040,” Lopes said.
“Shifting away from coal is good, not only for the climate, but also for Africa’s economy and people. In many regions, renewable energy is now cheaper than coal, even without subsidies.” Furthermore, he added, shifting to renewables could improve energy access quickly and affordably, while avoiding air pollution.
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced during a press briefing, that his government has postponed independence day celebrations and discouraged locals from travelling to all affected countries, even though the country has no detected cases so far of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Harare on March 17, 2020. (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)
Amid a spiralling economic and political crisis, President Emmerson Mnangagwa addressed the people of Zimbabwe on Tuesday 4 August. His speech, although sudden – four days after his government’s violent clampdown on the July 31 citizen protests – was highly anticipated. There may have been a desperate hope in some sections of the bruised citizenry that the president would, perhaps in the remotest of ways, acknowledge their suffering and hint at atoning for the state’s brutality. However, the ‘crocodile’ neither acknowledged the legitimacy of the widespread grievances against his leadership nor took any responsibility for bringing the country to this precipice. Instead, President Mnangagwa argued that his administration “has been undermined by the divisive politics of the opposition, sanctions, cyclones, droughts and now COVID19”, and blamed widespread protests on “a few rogue Zimbabweans acting in league with foreign detractors.” The President’s speech exposed a tone deaf and intransigent government at war with its long-suffering citizens.
For the past two decades Zimbabwean citizens have engaged in diverse, valiant efforts to use every legally available avenue to expedite democratic reform. Many Zimbabwean citizens have made heroic efforts to shed light on the gross corruption and mismanagement that has characterised ZANU-PF’s rule and created a staggering man-made disaster. They are currently caught between a regime willing to go to any lengths to crackdown on dissent, the need to navigate the day-to-day difficulties of securing precarious livelihoods, and the fear of contracting COVID-19. In the face of an unrelenting regime and rising from the crushed hopes of 31 July 2020 protests, Zimbabwean citizens have grafted the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign onto ‘the energy and anger of the global’ outcry that #BlackLivesMatter. Can the South African government, whose President has taken an unequivocal stance on #BlackLivesMatter continue on an indeterminate posture on the plight of its neighbour’s black lives? Their economic and political fate, as aptly observed by SAIIA CEO Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, is intertwined with its own and that of the region.
South Africa is ideally placed to push for change in Zimbabwe, with the two countries sharing many social, political, and economic ties. South Africa remains one of the country’s most important trading partners. Zimbabwe imports 40 percent of its total imports and exports 75 percent of its total exports to South Africa. However, despite the countries’ growing stake in each other’s fates, South Africa’s response to the deepening crisis across the Limpopo leaves much to be desired. Zimbabwe is now considered one of the four most food-insecure countries in the world, alongside Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan. More than 60 percent of Zimbabwe’s 15.6 million people are considered food insecure. Around one in three children under 5 years old suffer from stunted growth as a result of chronic malnutrition. The country has the highest inflation rate in the world at around 800 percent, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects economic contraction of 10.4 percent in 2020, following a 12.8 percent contraction in 2019.
The healthcare system has collapsed, and every day Zimbabwean citizens face persistent fuel shortages and rolling blackouts. The number of Zimbabweans using illegal entry points along the Limpopo River to access medical services and basic commodities has dramatically increased in recent weeks, heightening the chances of cross-border transmission of COVID-19 in both directions. As many desperate Zimbabweans will make the dangerous journey south, the South African government is poorly prepared to deal with an escalating migrant crisis. The country is wrestling with its own record unemployment levels. Increasingly, regional integration and the flow of people, commodities, knowledge and information means that insecurity anywhere is a threat to security everywhere, challenging the principle of non-interference which has guided foreign relations between southern African states and become institutionalized in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Decades of non-interference, liberation politics, and ‘quiet diplomacy’ on behalf of the ANC has simply allowed a political and military elite in Zimbabwe to plunder the country’s resources, undermine democracy, and create an economic crisis with implications for the wider Southern African region.
A more urgent and concrete stance is imperative. It is befitting therefore that after what had seemed like another bout of silence, the Government of South Africa, through the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) ‘noted with concern the reports related to human rights violations in the Republic of #Zimbabwe’. However, from the Mbeki to Zuma administrations, this political gesturing is well-worn. Building on #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, a campaign that has attracted resounding regional and international intervention calls from ordinary citizens, celebrities, politicians, diplomats and multi-lateral institutions alike, it is now ‘easier for SA and the SADC to begin a meaningful engagement with all stakeholders’. But will they? South Africa in particular has an opportunity as a strategic arbiter to harness all these voices across multiple platforms that can begin the work of persuading stakeholders to come to the negotiating table. It is time for the South African government to boldly break out of the ‘liberation war-pact’ cocoon and stand with the citizens of Zimbabwe.
DIRCO’s emphasis on government to government engagement, reported to have been initiated through a telephonic call between Dr. Naledi Pandor and her Zimbabwean counterpart Dr. Sibusiso Moyo, seems to thwart any hopes for including citizen voices. Dr. Pandor’s non-committal reference to ‘South Africa’s readiness to assist if requested’ does not imbue confidence of a radical departure from previous administrations. President Mnangagwa’s 4 August speech and Government Spokesperson Nick Mangwana’s press release (two days later) declaring reports of human rights violations as ‘false’ are not a request for assistance. South Africa now needs to build the diplomatic muscle required to crack through Harare’s hardball defence. Through the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign, the Zimbabwean citizens’ request for assistance has been unambiguously echoed and clearly endorsed regionally and globally. As well noted by the Executive Director of Good Governance Africa, Chris Maroleng, ‘…it is incumbent on…especially…government… in South Africa to stand up and basically call on the government of Zimbabwe to cease and desist from such anti-democratic behaviour.’ South Africa has a unique opportunity to get it right this time. Many are ready to assist.
This article originally appeared in Business Day.
Extractives: green industrialisation
The business case for greening the extractive industry is strong, especially with the growing trend of ethical investing
Sentinel copper mine in Zambia
Photo: Ross Harvey / courtesy of Sentinel Copper Mine
Everything we consume has its origins in either agriculture or the extractive industries. Our smartphones are laden with minerals and metals. Even agricultural fertilisers come from mined minerals. But the way we’ve extracted, historically, has been both ecologically and socio- economically destructive. Across many jurisdictions, mineral and hydrocarbon extraction has produced negative externalities – a divergence between private returns and social costs. In other words, it’s left holes in the ground, decimated ecosystems and imposed a healthcare burden on workers.
Acid mine drainage (AMD) in South Africa provides one example. It occurs when pyrite (fool’s gold) comes into contact with oxygenated water. The consequent oxidation process produces sulphuric acid. Pyrite is a common minor constituent in South Africa’s coal and gold ore bodies. Mining fragments these bodies and large quantities of acidic water are released into the environment, initially into the groundwater and ultimately into streams and rivers, rendering the water toxic to varying degrees. Large settlements in the Witwatersrand area now live with the risks posed by this toxic water and associated sinkhole formation.
AMD expert Terence McCarthy notes that mining has funded much of South Africa’s development, but as it enters its twilight “we are now beginning to grasp the environmental damage that the [gold mining] industry has caused and will continue to cause in the decades to come. We have also seen the impact that coal mining has had, particularly on water quality in the Olifants River system.” We must learn from these experiences and prevent further coal mining in key freshwater catchments and rivers.
Beyond AMD, a recent court settlement in the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg awarded a total of R5 billion in compensation to mine workers afflicted by silicosis or tuberculosis contracted while mining at six of South Africa’s gold mining companies between 1965 and 2019. Had these costs appeared on the offending companies’ ﬁnancial statements, they likely would not have been offloaded onto the adjacent communities who could least afford it. Globally, estimates suggest that 24.5 deaths are attributable to each Terawatt hour of coal-ﬁred electricity produced.
Coal is a health hazard, not only to those who mine it but also to those who live near coal-burning power stations. In addition to mining’s direct negative externalities, the short-term rents generated by mining have often precipitated authoritarian consolidation, inequality, corruption and generally poor governance. Elites have captured the spoils at the expense of broad-based beneﬁt. This malaise is part of a broader problem – our economic models (and resultant activity) have ignored planetary boundaries, the limits of what our interconnected life-support systems can sustain. We are consequently at risk of inducing catastrophic climate change.
If greenhouse gas emissions are not severely curtailed, or biodiversity-killing pollution not upended, ecological disaster awaits. Global collective action is now required to change the way that we produce and consume. A major part of that new policy direction has to entail the greening of the extractive industries and the integral connection of mining to green industrialisation. Not only is this possible; it’s imperative. The business case complements the moral case. Such a reorientation would simultaneously address the negative legacy effects of mining and create sustainable links to other sectors of the economy.
The technological quest for a low-carbon economy is well underway. Transport and energy revolutions are upending old systems. Electric vehicle and renewable energy production, however, require signiﬁcant quantities of minerals and metals – double the volume currently mined, according to the World Bank. But most remaining coal and hydrocarbon deposits will have to be left in the ground, rendering the need for a “just transition” away from dirty technologies to clean ones. To support this transition, the mining industry needs to be reoriented to supplying the minerals and metals required for generating and transmitting renewable energy, for building electric vehicles, and continued inputs for other products such as smartphones and batteries.
Through the adoption of new technologies, we can mine in a less environmentally destructive manner. This would also create upstream opportunities to produce the capital equipment required for less environmentally invasive mining methods. Practically, what might this look like? To begin with, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can transform geological exploration. Sensors on UAVs can detect geothermal activity, which helps exploration ﬁrms to drill and sample only in areas where resources are indicated. In the production phase, robots can work in hazardous environments instead of people, improving mine safety considerably.
Underground deposits can be accessed through relatively minor invasion, akin to laser or “keyhole” surgery. A 2015 paper, ‘A vision of Zero Entry production Areas in Mines’ (ZEPA), co- authored by four scientists from Lulea Tekniska Universitet Institut in Sweden, proposes that in mines “all work processes should be remotely operated or automated, while special mine robots should be developed for the preventive maintenance of equipment and safe retrieval operations”.
The Kankberg Gold Mine in Sweden exemplifies the art of the possible. Boliden (the mining company), in partnership with Ericsson, ABB and Volvo “plans to eventually operate with no personnel in the mine itself”. Connecting different technologies such as a 5G wi-fi network and a Smart Ventilation system, the mine is now completely automated. The resultant process optimisation has saved 54% of the mine’s energy consumption. This represents a saving of 18 MW a year on a mine that previously consumed 34 MW a year.
In South Africa, mining consumes about 15% of the country’s national electricity supply, equivalent to roughly 5,100 MW. If the sector could reduce this demand by half, it would free up 2,550 MW from a supply-constrained grid. The industry paid 86 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) for coal-fired power in 2017/18. A reduction of 2,550 MW a year would represent a cost saving of R2.25 million. Further cost savings would be wrought if a larger portion of power was sourced from renewables, as global procurement prices of solar PV power are now around the equivalent of 26c/kWh. Procuring renewable energy and decreasing overall demand is therefore eminently sensible business practice for the mining industry, with positive spillover beneﬁts for society and the environment.
Note that modern mines need to achieve a plant recovery rate of at least 90% to cover escalating ﬁxed costs. With declining grades and the need to mine deeper ore bodies, new methods are required to reduce rock movement, mine more selectively, and achieve quality over quantity. Motivated by these requirements, “in-place” mining and processing at the point of extraction is gaining traction. It will deliver a smaller surface footprint, reduced tailings generation and low-capital-intensive mines. Mining projects could attract ﬁnancing more easily and deliver returns more quickly than with the conventional model.
Emerging digital technologies in automated rock-face mapping, material characterisation and fragmentation analysis, and rock preconditioning can also be built into the equipment and preprogrammed for speciﬁc mines. The machines that cut hard rock are now able to identify and exploit natural rock cleavages to make cutting more efficient. Declan Vogt of the Centre for Scientiﬁc and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa notes: “If rock can be cut rather than blasted, mining can become continuous, leading to process and efficiency improvements.”
Crushing technology is also becoming nimbler, making obsolete the big crushers typically required at processing plants. Employing upstream technology at the rock face, to selectively mine and pre-concentrate material for subsequent metal extraction, avoids the many negative environmental impacts usually associated with mining. In the case of copper, crushing is among the largest components of a mine’s energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. These can be drastically reduced by in-pit mobile crushing, which, according to research scientists Terry Norgate and Nawshad Haque, “eliminates the need for trucks by having the shovel feed the run-of-mine ore directly to a continuous and dedicated belt conveyor handling system”.
Of course, these new technologies are disruptive. Mining will become less directly labour-absorptive and more capital-intensive. But they may also result in lower cost margins and greater wealth creation, which can be allocated towards research and development initiatives that develop local upstream or side-stream capacity. As economist Ricardo Hausmann famously pointed out in 2014, Finland did not become wealthy because it turned its forests into furniture; it became wealthy because the quest for more efficient tree cutting methods produced Nokia. How? Through the development of appropriate technology.
One copper mine in Zambia is charting the way in this respect. Sentinel Mine, adjacent to Kalumbila, is a “pocket of effectiveness” – an example of how mining should and could be done. Input crushing and investments in data analysis, artiﬁcial intelligence and machine learning are already a feature. Once the ore body is depleted, the river – currently diverted – will be restored. Every effort is being made to prevent soil and water contamination. The surrounding forest, part of the ecological restoration programme funded by the mine, currently supports a sawmill and furniture-making factory. When the mine closes, the factory will continue, and the entire concession converted to a nature reserve with a ﬁve-star tourism offering.
The town itself is separated from the mine and boasts an industrial development zone, which can tap into upstream, side-stream and downstream links with mining. The business case for greening the extractive industries is strong, especially with the growing trend of ethical investing and the importance of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) reporting. Internalising the cost of negative externalities, it turns out, is a sound business investment
Pressure has been piling up on the Kenya government to accelerate the national roll-out of its proposed Universal Health Coverage (UHC) plan in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Speedy implementation of the comprehensive medical coverage will enhance service delivery, health financing and governance, according to the Chairman of the Council of Governors Wycliffe Oparanya.
“This is a people-centred health system. Its ultimate execution in all the 47 counties in Kenya would have saved many lives, especially at such a time when we are faced with the COVID-19 crisis,” Oparanya, who is also governor of Kakamega County, noted in an interview with Africa In Fact.
President Uhuru Kenyatta declared UHC a national priority on 12 December 2018 as part of a grand development blueprint, known as the “Big Four Agenda”, that sought to sustainably transform the country. Besides healthcare, other pillars on the “Big Four” agenda are food security, manufacturing and affordable housing.
Pressure has been piling up on the Kenya government to accelerate the national roll-out of its proposed Universal Health Coverage (UHC) plan in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the UHC initiative, President Kenyatta committed to make strategic investments in health, with all Kenyans able to access essential medical care by 2022. But the plan appears to have stalled almost 10 months after one-year pilot programmes in Kisumu, Machakos, Isiolo and Nyeri counties ended in October 2019.
The Kenyan Government undertook to appraise the project when the test experiments in the four counties were concluded. The exercise would evaluate the UHC package and if necessary, make improvements to it before countrywide roll-out, Ministry of Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe told me.
The evaluation appears to have been carried out, but not published. One of the main challenges identified during the trials, Kagwe said in an earlier interview with me, was the monumental demand for care. Medical facilities that are barely developed have been labouring to respond to the huge pressure for care. But insiders say the evaluation has been ignored. (Kagwe did not respond to requests for comment on this.) No further effort appears to have been made to pursue the UHC initiative.
The evaluation of the Universal Health Care pilot projects appears to have been carried out, but not published. One of the main challenges identified was the monumental demand for care.
Meanwhile, hospitals are being ineffectively managed, with inadequate budgetary allocations, and demoralised personnel, putting the lives of many Kenyans at risk. Kenya National Union of Nurses Secretary General Seth Panyako says such challenges could force the union to withdraw its members from facilities until their grievances are addressed. “Frontline workers are neither getting responsibility allowances, [n]or insurance [cover]; this will have spiralling effects on the spread of the virus,” he said.
In a March 2020 peer-reviewed research paper Tessa Oraro-Lawrence and Kaspar Wyss used interviews with informants in the national and county levels of healthcare to establish points of agreement and divergence on the aims of the UHC. On the basis of these interviews they say that “the perceived lack of strategic leadership from Kenya’s national government has led to a lack of agreement on stakeholders’ interpretation of what is to be understood by UHC, its contextual values and priorities”.
The authors note that most interviewees supported the expansion of access to health services, but that conflicting priorities of key stakeholders are slowing progress towards this goal. The conversation around healthcare policy had become highly fragmented, they note. Kenya needs “a centralised, systematic and inclusive process” to drive the development and implementation of UHC. The authors recommend that the national government and particularly the Ministry of Health should “foster collaboration in Kenya’s health space”.
Meanwhile, hospitals are being ineffectively managed, with inadequate budgetary allocations, and demoralised personnel, putting the lives of many Kenyans at risk.
Endebess Member of Parliament Robert Pukose agrees. A trained surgeon and medical doctor, Pukose told me that there is a “clearly visible and long-standing strain between county governments and the national government in the running of the health docket”. “Why would the national government allocate more resources to the health ministry than those allocated cumulatively to the 47 counties’ health docket?” he asked.
Healthcare in Kenya is supposed to be a completely devolved function, but the national government appeared hell-bent on controlling it, he said.
In the last financial year, the national government allocated 5.1% (Sh 90 billion) of its budget to the health sector. Of the Sh 90 billion, recurrent expenditure consumed Sh 49.1 billion while grant transfers to seven semi-autonomous government agencies under the ministry took Sh26.9 billion. The remaining amount was spent on universal health coverage transfers and personnel emoluments. Counties spent 27.2% (Sh 121 billion) of their budgets on health, but experts say the number is still below the 35% commitment made before devolution.
There is a “clearly visible and long-standing strain between county governments and the national government in the running of the health docket”. – Endebess Member of Parliament Robert Pukose.
Council of Governors Health Committee Chairman Mohammed Kuti agrees that tension between county governments and national government on funds allocation to medical care has impacted negatively on their service delivery. “Clear policy action is needed in order to develop a logical and consistent approach towards UHC,” said Kuti, who is also governor of Isiolo County.
“If adequate funds were allocated to counties, we would certainly not be under strain in fighting coronavirus disease,” said Kuti. “[But] most of the resources have ended up being misused or stolen while counties struggle with meagre resources to serve the people,” he told me.
For the 2020/2021 financial year which started on 1 July, the Parliamentary Budget and Appropriations Committee approved Sh2.73 trillion ($27.3 billion) for the national and county governments, of which the Health Ministry was allocated Sh111.7 billion ($1.1 billion). Meanwhile, the 47 counties in the country were allocated a total of Sh316.5 billion ($2.9 billion) – but this amount is the same as last year’s allocation, meaning that funding for the counties has stagnated. Moreover, the allocation covers a range of portfolios, says Jackson Mandago, governor of Uasin Gishu county.
“If adequate funds were allocated to counties, we would certainly not be under strain in fighting coronavirus disease,” – Council of Governors Health Committee Chairman Mohammed Kuti
“How do you explain this dismal figure to all the county governments that handle almost all functions ranging from agriculture, infrastructure, health, education, among others?” the governor asked. Relative to the amounts likely to be available to counties for the health portfolio, the allocation to the Ministry of Health was large, he suggested. “It is time counties got the maximum stipulated amount of 35% of the total national budget as envisaged in the Constitution,” he added.
In early August, reports began to emerge that funds meant to mitigate against the deadly disease were being stolen by influential people. According to a series of stories published by the Daily Nation, a leading newspaper in the East African region, businessmen close to President Kenyatta and some of his relatives had profited from the inflated prices of various Covid-19-related tenders.
On 3 August, one of the articles reported that the country had secured Sh223 billion ($2.23 billion) from various donor sources – the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the European Union and the African Development Bank – to support its fight against Covid-19, much of which had ended up in the pockets of powerful individuals.
In early August, reports began to emerge that funds meant to mitigate against the deadly disease were being stolen by influential people.
So powerful are the figures behind the theft and corruption that they have even been able to waylay well-wishers’ donations at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) — a guarded facility — and divert them to private warehouses. As Paul Wafula, the author of the article mentioned above put it, they were “waiting for the procurement whistle to be blown” – with the likelihood that it never will.
“Kenya’s health ministry is headed by hyenas. The policymakers’ business is to endanger our lives with their mission to be limitlessly rich,” Kimilili Member of Parliament Didmus Barasa told me. He urged the “hyenas” to stop trying to eat as much as they can within the shortest time possible, and the Ministry of Health to channel funds “to gainful undertakings”. The pandemic had emphasised the need for “high quality research to inform action, not only to combat the coronavirus but also inspire solutions to future pandemics.”
Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) CEO Twalib Mbarak says that corruption must be fought ruthlessly, and made “a high-risk, low-return vice. If there [were] full disclosure, transparent and accountable use of resources, counties would be doing their own tests and also reporting their own COVID-19 statistics, which will go a long way in informing policy,” he told me.
They were “waiting for the procurement whistle to be blown” – with the likelihood that it never will.
Constitutional lawyer Wachira Maina says that the country has pursued a range of reforms and launched various commissions of inquiry into corruption without effect. Corruption cases are routinely reported in the media, in the Auditor General’s reports and to EACC, but they are rarely fully investigated or even resolved. “If any investigation is done, it is aimed at exonerating the powerful or to punish their enemies. Corruption is deeply embedded in politics, which it both funds and subverts,” he observes.
On social media, public opinion about the reported corruption has been vitriolic. Economist Professor David Ndii, in a tweet on 3 August, asked President Kenyatta to check on his “relathieves” from “plundering our taxes with your protection” as the country’s healthcare system suffered a paucity in resources.
Donald Kipkorir, a well-known lawyer, said that a government that had allowed “tenderpreneurs” to profit from pandemics had “surrendered its soul to the devil”.
Beryl Achieng’, a Nakuru town resident, told me she was a Covid-19 survivor. She had been in hospital for nearly three weeks with the disease, she said, but “it was a struggle to access proper care. Drugs were in insufficient supply, [and] doctors also appeared demoralised.” She suspected that donations and resources from well-wishers and development partners were being misused and stolen with the government showing little concern about it.
Corruption cases are routinely reported, but they are rarely fully investigated or even resolved.
Meanwhile, on 2 August it was reported that Marian Awuor Adumbo, a nurse working at the Rachuonyo sub-county Hospital in Homa Bay in Western Kenya, died of Covid-19 complications in a context of reported shortages of protective gear for medical care staff. She had been pregnant, and gave birth to a baby boy before succumbing to the disease.
UHC is an ambitious scheme to extend proper healthcare to the whole country. But under the present circumstances, even the more incremental improvements in healthcare aimed at battling the Covid-19 pandemic are proving difficult to implement.
Improving healthcare in Kenya will require national and county governments to work together. But this would require a willingness on the part of key stakeholders to put aside their differences in the interests of the greater good. Health funding should be properly distributed, or the structure of health funding as provided for in the constitution revised to ensure sufficient health funding to counties.
Marian Awuor Adumbo, a nurse working at the Rachuonyo sub-county Hospital in Homa Bay in Western Kenya, died of Covid-19 complications in a context of reported shortages of protective gear for medical care staff.
Given the political logjam that prevents adequate funding from reaching hospitals and treatment centres, there appears to be little chance of this being corrected, either in relation to the pandemic, or indeed, to the wider problem of endemic corruption.
As I pointed out in my previous blog, the ruling party has ensured a lack of critical evaluation of its policies and actions by striking a deal with the opposition. Meanwhile, key political stakeholders in healthcare have no interest in revising the structure of health funding, since that would deny them influence over budgets – and access to rents to be derived from them. Similarly, they will have little interest in ensuring proper healthcare funding within the present structures, for the same tawdry reasons.
So the country’s capacity to deal with other potential crises, such as climate change, has been further diminished. With other contributors to this blog series on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on countries around Africa, I have to agree that in Kenya, too, the pandemic – a global and national emergency – has simply been another opportunity for members of the entrenched elite to conduct business as usual. For them, that means entrenching their power bases and siphoning off public funds.
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Few issues highlight the dilemma of policy-making more than the choices faced by African governments during the Covid-19 pandemic. For many African countries with large numbers of day workers in the informal sector, the lockdown solution – preventing workers from earning their daily bread – was often worse than the problem it sought to solve.
For others, with large budgets fuelled by loans, the pandemic brought other, more serious, ails.
Take South Africa, for example. When citizens heard the country had secured a R70 billion ($4.3 billion) loan from the international Monetary Fund to support its post-Covid efforts, we were struck by a sense of despair. Why? Because in South Africa, the longer-term pandemic is corruption.
For many African countries with large numbers of day workers in the informal sector, the lockdown solution was often worse than the problem it sought to solve.
The IMF loan is not without checks and balances. But, apart from the burden of debt, citizens have ample reason to be concerned that the funds will find their way into the pockets of corrupt politicians and their business associates.
It is not an overstatement to say South Africans were astounded at the level of corruption during the lockdown. “Stealing from your own people is a crime; stealing during the pandemic is a crime against humanity,” said the Daily Maverick’s editorial in early August.
With reports of corruption involving state tenders in the fight against COVID-19 circulating, President Cyril Ramaphosa set up a ministerial committee to investigate the issue. Ramaphosa has asked for speedy updates and has promised decisive action.
In South Africa, the longer-term pandemic is corruption.
Among the many reported incidents were suspected deals between government officials and businesses providing medical equipment, huge mark-ups on personal protection equipment and the sale of food aid parcels meant for the poor.
Ramaphosa himself described those profiting from the disaster as a pack of hyenas circling wounded prey: “It is difficult to understand the utter lack of conscience that leads a businessperson who has heeded the call to provide lifesaving supplies during a devastating pandemic to inflate the price of a surgical mask by as much as 900%.
“Nor can one explain why a councillor would stockpile emergency food parcels meant for the poor for their own family, or why another councillor would divert water tankers en route to a needy community to their own home.”
Citizens have ample reason to be concerned that the funds will find their way into the pockets of corrupt politicians.
It is impossible to review policy in South Africa without tackling corruption. There is some progress, though slow, in this direction, as JP Landman records in an 18 August article. The country’s Justice Minister Ronald Lamola has already noted that the country will need a permanent, multi-disciplinary structure to combat corruption.
South Africa, with the fifth highest Covid-19 infection rate in the world, has seen its already fragile economy decimated. The inequality gap has widened as the wealthy have been able to weather the storm from their Wifi enabled homes while poorer manual labourers have struggled from hand to mouth.
Covid-19 has laid bare the fault lines in our society: Inequality, fragile health systems, an under-delivering economy, large joblessness and unacceptably high levels of gender-based violence.
“Stealing from your own people is a crime; stealing during the pandemic is a crime against humanity,” – Daily Maverick editorial
As the country prepares to build back after the pandemic, it is important not to leave behind the most vulnerable. There is sufficient evidence that women have been particularly hard hit with the International Labour Organisation predicting that measures to curb Covid would disproportionately affect women workers.
At least two-thirds of the three million South Africans who were estimated to have lost their jobs in the informal sector are reported to be women. That same research, based on the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey, showed that women in the informal economy, and particularly those in informal self-employment, recorded large cuts in working hours and earnings during the lockdown.
The country has a long list of policy making priorities. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has reiterated that the National Health Insurance plan is still on the agenda. Indeed, Dr Nicholas Crisp, a consultant at the Ministry of Health and a key figure in developing the NHI, says that the healthcare public/private partnerships that had been developed to deal with the pandemic have shown that “we can do it”, according to a 28 July report. The government was pushing ahead with its plans to introduce the NHI, the minister said.
Ramaphosa himself described those profiting from the disaster as a pack of hyenas circling wounded prey.
But the government’s record on managing health care in the country isn’t great. As I reported in a previous blog, severe mismanagement has seen the (near) collapse of health care systems in at least one province, the Eastern Cape. Meanwhile, overall spending on health care has declined in real terms over the last few years, according to a Section27 report.
Moreover, “in 2017/18 health departments accounted for 57% of unpaid bills by government. Budget constraints are exacerbated by fruitless, wasteful and irregular expenditure (National Treasury, 2019). In 2017/18, departments of health had some of the poorest audit results (AGSA, 2018)”.
Crisp admits that public health care has seen “inefficiencies” and “deficiencies”. This suggests that the problems are merely occasional, and the system is functioning otherwise.
Covid-19 has laid bare the fault lines in our society.
But corruption and mismanagement are not incidental. They are structural elements of how the county has been run. It has been calculated that corruption over the second term of Jacob Zuma’s presidency cost the country R1.5 trillion. That amount could pay for the country’s public health care budget for seven and eight years, calculated by this year’s allocation.
For all the promises of change and building back better after the crisis calms, the reality is that South Africa’s policy making has been held hostage to declining levels of accountability for more than two decades. The NHI is a noble goal, but we have seen noble goals abused for corrupt purposes before. We cannot more forward effectively until we deal with the issue of corruption.
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