Diskussion über Themen der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit (EZ) in/mit Westafrika einschließlich (und vor allem) der politischen sowie sozio-ökonomischen Bedingungen in den Ländern und was EZ bewirken kann -- oder auch nicht -- oder ob sie aber nicht sogar schadet. ACHTUNG: In Ermangelung von Kommentaren lediglich Beiträge zu EZ-Themen. _________________________________________________________________

29. Oktober 2006

U.S. Jobs Shape Condoms’ Role in Foreign Aid

October 29, 2006



EUFAULA, Alabama ­ Here in this courtly, antebellum town, Alabama’s condom production has survived an onslaught of Asian competition, thanks to the patronage of straitlaced congressmen from this Bible Belt state.

Behind the scenes, the politicians have ensured that companies in Alabama won federal contracts to make billions of condoms over the years for AIDS prevention and family planning programs overseas, though Asian factories could do the job at less than half the cost.

In recent years, the state’s condom manufacturers fell hundreds of millions of condoms behind on orders, and the federal aid agency began buying them from Asia. The use of Asian-made condoms has contributed to layoffs that are coming next month.

But Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, has quietly pressed to maintain the unqualified priority for American-made condoms and is likely to prevail if the past is any guide.

“What’s wrong with helping the American worker at the same time we are helping people around the world?” asked the senator’s spokesman, Michael Brumas.

That question goes to the heart of an intensifying debate among wealthy nations about to what degree foreign aid is about saving jobs at home or lives abroad.

Britain, Ireland and Norway have all sought to make aid more cost effective by opening contracts in their programs to fight global poverty to international competition. The United States, meanwhile, continues to restrict bidding on billions of dollars worth of business to companies operating in America, and not just those that make condoms.

The wheat to feed the starving must be grown in United States and shipped to Africa, enriching agribusiness giants like Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill. The American consulting firms that carry out antipoverty programs abroad ­ dubbed beltway bandits by critics ­ do work that some advocates say local groups in developing countries could often manage at far less cost.

The history of the federal government’s condom purchases embodies the tradeoffs that characterize foreign aid American-style. Alabama’s congressmen have long preserved several hundred factory jobs here by insisting that the United States Agency for International Development buy condoms made here, though, probably in a nod to their conservative constituencies, most have typically done so discreetly.

Those who favor tying aid to domestic interests say that it not only preserves jobs and supports American companies, but helps ensure broad political support for foreign aid, which is not always popular.

On the other hand, skepticism of foreign aid is frequently rooted in the perception that the money is not well spent. Blame often falls on corrupt leaders in poor countries, but aid from rich nations with restrictions requiring it to be spent in the donor country can also reduce effectiveness.

The United States government, the world’s largest donor of condoms, has bought more than nine billion condoms over the past two decades. Under President Bush’s global AIDS plan, which dedicates billions of dollars to fight the epidemic, a third of the money for prevention must go to promoting abstinence. But that leaves two-thirds for other programs, so the federal government’s distribution of condoms has risen, to over 400 million a year.

Over the years, Usaid could have afforded even more condoms ­ among the most effective methods for slowing the spread of AIDS ­ if it had it bought them from the lowest bidders on the world market, as have the United Nations Population Fund and many other donors.

Randall L. Tobias, who heads Usaid, declined through a spokesman to be interviewed on this topic. His predecessor, Andrew Natsios, sought to weaken the hold of what he sometimes called a cartel of domestic interest groups over foreign aid. He tried, for example, to persuade Congress to allow the purchase of some African food to feed Africa’s hungry. Congress killed that proposal last year and again this year.

Hilary Benn, Britain’s secretary of state for international development, said in an interview that in 2001 his country untied its aid from requirements that only British firms could bid for international antipoverty work.

“If you untie aid, it’s 100 percent clear you’re giving aid to reduce poverty and not to benefit your own country’s commercial interests,” he said.

In recent years, most of the low-end condom business has moved to Asia, including Australia-based Ansell, which used to have plants in Alabama. American makers cannot compete with Asia on price ­ unless they have the federal contract.

The last American factory making condoms for Usaid sits anonymously in a pine-shaded industrial park here in Eufaula. Inside a modern, low-slung building owned by Alatech Healthcare, ingenious contraptions almost as long as a football field repeatedly dip 16,000 phallic-shaped bulbs into vats of latex, with the capacity to turn out a billion condoms a year.

The equation of need is never straightforward. Africa’s need to forestall its slow-motion catastrophe of AIDS deaths is vast. But there is need here, too.

Most of the 260 people employed at this factory and the company’s packaging plant in Slocomb are women, some the children of sharecroppers and textile factory workers, many of them struggling to support families on $7 to $8 an hour.

The most vulnerable among them ­ single mothers and older women with scant education ­ are the most fearful of foreign competition. All feel the looming threat.

“It’s cheaper, yeah,” said Lisa Jackson, 42, a worker in the packaging plant. “But we Americans should have first choice. We need our jobs to stay in America. We got to feed our families. I just wish it had never come to sending manufacturing jobs overseas.”

From 2003 to 2005, Alatech and one other company making condoms for Usaid fell behind on their orders, agency officials said. Last year, the other company went bankrupt. So Usaid ordered condoms from Asia, the first of which were shipped last year. With only a single American company still in line for the federal contract, agency officials are wary of ruling out Asian suppliers.

At such moments in the past, Alabama’s politicians have come to the rescue of the state’s condom industry. This time was no exception.

Senator Richard C. Shelby, a Republican on the Appropriations Committee, had a provision tucked into the 2004 budget bill requiring that Usaid buy only American-made condoms to the extent possible, given cost and availability. His spokeswoman, Kate Boyd, said the agency did not tell him it was worried about the relative cost of American and Asian-made condoms.

Senator Sessions wrote Usaid a letter last year saying it should purchase condoms from foreign producers only after it had bought all the condoms American companies could make, noting it was “extremely important to jobs in my state.”

Usaid assured the senator in writing that it “remains committed to prioritizing domestic suppliers.”

On the strength of that, Alatech bought the more modern Eufaula plant from its bankrupt rival. Without the government contract, the company’s president, Larry Povlacs, said, Alatech would go out of business.

In interviews, agency officials were noncommittal about whether they would halt all purchases in Asia. Condoms made there cost around 2 cents each, opposed to about 5 cents for those made here.

“At the end of the day, it’s all a political process,” Bob Lester, who recently retired after 31 years as a lawyer at Usaid, said of such decisions. “The foreign aid program has very few rabbis. Why make enemies when you don’t have to?”

Duff Gillespie, a retired senior Usaid official who is now a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said that over the years officials at Usaid raised the prospect of foreign competition to tamp down what he called “the greed factor” of Alabama condom manufacturers.

But whenever the staff pushed to buy in Asia, Alabama politicians pushed right back.

During the Reagan years, the offices of two Alabamans, Representative William Dickinson, a Republican, and Senator Howell Heflin, a Democrat, caught wind of one such move. Mike House, chief of staff to Senator Heflin, recalled being tipped off by Mr. Dickinson’s chief of staff.

“He says, ‘Well, A.I.D. is going to buy condoms from Korea,’ ” Mr. House recalled. “ ‘The reason is they can get three condoms for the price of one that they’re paying us.’ ” Mr. House said he asked in amazement, “You mean we’re making rubbers in Alabama?”

The congressmen’s staffs threatened to introduce amendments to require that condoms be made in America. The agency backed off.

Further attempts to open up bidding proved fruitless. Representative Jim McDermott, a Democrat from Washington State, had seen the devastation of AIDS firsthand in the 1980s as a State Department medical officer in Africa. But he said he could not break what he called the “stranglehold” of Alabama congressmen on the condom rules.

In the mid-to-late 1990s, Representative Sonny Callahan, a Republican from Alabama, served as chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that shaped Usaid’s budget. Brian Atwood, who headed Usaid in those years, said no administrator “in his right mind” would have tried to cut Alabama out of the condom contract at a time when many Republicans were deeply hostile to foreign aid.

Then in 2001, after decades of negotiation, the United States and other wealthy donor nations reached a nonbinding agreement to open at least some foreign aid contracts to all qualified bidders. Included were those for commodities bound for the world’s poorest nations.

Usaid decided the agreement did not apply to condoms since some went to more advanced developing countries. Alabama’s manufacturers kept the condom business once again.

William Nicol, who heads the poverty reduction division of the Development Assistance Committee at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of economically advanced countries, scoffed at Usaid’s interpretation. “That’s rubbish,” he said in a telephone interview.

The condom companies’ inability in recent years to fulfill Usaid’s orders accomplished what the gentleman’s agreement did not: the entry of Asian competitors.

Usaid has asked Alatech to make 201 million condoms next year, less than half of this year’s order, and ordered another 100 million made in Korea and China.

Come Nov. 15, Alatech will lay off more than half its work force. Those jobs fell victim to Usaid’s smaller orders for condoms, foreign competition and automation.

The reactions of these workers ranged from philosophical to panicked.

One, Garry Appling, a 41-year-old single mother, has worked before as a $6-an-hour cashier at Krystal, the fast food restaurant, and another at $7.15 an hour in a chicken processing plant. She said her 10-year-old daughter, Anterria, worries that she will have to go back to the chicken plant, a place so cold and wet Ms. Appling often fell ill.

But even facing her own impending job loss, Ms. Appling took a moment to empathize with the women making condoms on the other side of the world.

“We need a job ­ I guess they do, too,” she said, during a brief pause from feeding condoms into an intricate, rotating, whooshing machine that tested them for holes. “It’s sad.

“At the same time, the United States can’t just keep helping overseas. They’ve got to help us, too.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Africa’s World of Forced Labor, in a 6-Year-Old’s Eyes

October 29, 2006


KETE KRACHI, Ghana­ Just before 5 a.m., with the sky still dark over Lake Volta, Mark Kwadwo was rousted from his spot on the damp dirt floor. It was time for work.

Shivering in the predawn chill, he helped paddle a canoe a mile out from shore. For five more hours, as his coworkers yanked up a fishing net, inch by inch, Mark bailed water to keep the canoe from swamping.

He last ate the day before. His broken wooden paddle was so heavy he could barely lift it. But he raptly followed each command from Kwadwo Takyi, the powerfully built 31-year-old in the back of the canoe who freely deals out beatings.

“I don’t like it here,” he whispered, out of Mr. Takyi’s earshot.

Mark Kwadwo is 6 years old. About 30 pounds, dressed in a pair of blue and red underpants and a Little Mermaid T-shirt, he looks more like an oversized toddler than a boat hand. He is too little to understand why he has wound up in this fishing village, a two-day trek from his home.

But the three older boys who work with him know why. Like Mark, they are indentured servants, leased by their parents to Mr. Takyi for as little as $20 a year.

Until their servitude ends in three or four years, they are as trapped as the fish in their nets, forced to work up to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, in a trade that even adult fishermen here call punishing and, at times, dangerous.

Mr. Takyi’s boys ­ conscripts in a miniature labor camp, deprived of schooling, basic necessities and freedom ­ are part of a vast traffic in children that supports West and Central African fisheries, quarries, cocoa and rice plantations and street markets. The girls are domestic servants, bread bakers, prostitutes. The boys are field workers, cart pushers, scavengers in abandoned gem and gold mines.

By no means is the child trafficking trade uniquely African. Children are forced to race camels in the Middle East, weave carpets in India and fill brothels all over the developing world.

The International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency, estimates that 1.2 million are sold into servitude every year in an illicit trade that generates as much as $10 billion annually.

Studies show they are most vulnerable in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Africa’s children, the world’s poorest, account for roughly one-sixth of the trade, according to the labor organization. Data is notoriously scarce, but it suggests victimization of African children on a huge scale.

A 2002 study supervised by the labor organization estimated that nearly 12,000 trafficked children toiled in the cocoa fields of Ivory Coast alone. The children, who had no relatives in the area, cleared fields with machetes, applied pesticides and sliced open cocoa pods for beans.

In an analysis in February, Unicef says child trafficking is growing in West and Central Africa, driven by huge profits and partly controlled by organized networks that transport children both within and between countries.

“We know it is a huge problem in Africa,” said Pamela Shifman, a child protection officer at the New York headquarters of Unicef. “A lot of it is visible. You see the kids being exploited. You watch it happen. Somebody brought the kids to the place where they are. Somebody exploited their vulnerability.”

Otherwise, she asked, “How did they get there?”

John R. Miller, the director of the State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, said the term trafficking failed to convey the brutality of what was occurring.

“A child does not consent,” he said. “The loss of choice, the deception, the use of frauds, the keeping of someone at work with little or no pay, the threats if they leave ­ it is slavery.”

Some West African families see it more as a survival strategy. In a region where nearly two-thirds of the population lives on less than $1 a day, the compensation for the temporary loss of a child keeps the rest of the family from going hungry. Some parents argue that their children are better off learning a trade than starving at home.

Indeed, the notion that children should be in the care of their parents is not a given in much of African society.

Parents frequently hand off children to even distant relatives if it appears they will have a chance at education and more opportunity.

Only in the past six years or so has it become clear how traffickers take advantage of this custom to buy and sell children, sometimes with no more ceremony than a goat deal.

In 2001, 35 children, half of them under age 15, were discovered aboard a vessel in a Benin port. They said they were being shipped to Gabon to work.

In 2003, Nigerian police rescued 194 malnourished children from stone quarries north of Lagos. At least 13 other children had died and been buried near the pits, the police said.

Last year, Nigerian police stumbled upon 64 girls aged 14 and younger, packed inside a refrigerated truck built to haul frozen fish. They had traveled hundreds of miles from central Nigeria, the police said, and were destined for work as housemaids in Lagos.

In response to such reports, African nations have passed a raft of legislation against trafficking, adopting or strengthening a dozen laws last year alone.

There were nearly 200 prosecutions of traffickers on the continent last year, four times as many as in 2003, according to the State Department’s trafficking office.

Some countries are encouraging villages to form their own surveillance committees. In Burkina Faso, the government reported, such committees, together with the police, freed 644 children from traffickers in 2003. Still, government officials in the region say, only a tiny fraction of victims are detected.

Ghana, an Oregon-size nation of 21 million people, has yet to prosecute anyone under the new antitrafficking law it adopted last December. But the government has taken other steps ­ including eliminating school fees that forced youngsters out of classrooms, increasing birth registrations so that children have legal identities and extending small loans to about 1,200 mothers to give them alternatives to leasing out their children.

The International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental agency set up after World War II to help refugees, has also mounted a United States-financed program to rescue children from the fishing industry.

Since 2003, the organization says, 587 children have been freed from Ghana’s Lake Volta region, taken to shelters for counseling and medical treatment, then reunited with parents or relatives.

“We sign a social contract with the fishermen,” said Eric Peasah, the agency’s Ghana field representative. “If they have 10 children, we say, ‘Release four, and you can’t get more, or you will be prosecuted.’ Once they sign that, we come back and say we want to release more.”

To reduce child trafficking significantly, said Marilyn Amponsah Annan, who is in charge of children’s issues for the Ghanaian government, adults must be convinced that children have the right to be educated, to be protected, and to be spared adult burdens ­ in short, the right to a childhood.

“You see so many children with so many fishermen,” she said. “Those little hands, those little bodies. It is always very sad, because this is the world of adults.

“We have to educate these communities because they do not know any other way of existence. They believe this is what they need to do to survive.”

That is the fishermen’s favorite defense in Kete Krachi, a day’s drive through dense forests from Ghana’s capital, Accra. For the area’s roughly 9,000 residents, fishing is their lifeblood. Children keep it going.

Nearly every canoe here holds at least a few of them, some no older than 5 or 6, often supervised by a teenager. A dozen boys, interviewed in their canoes or as they sewed up ratty nets ashore, spoke of backbreaking toil, 100-hour workweeks and frequent beatings. They bore a pervasive fear of diving into the lake’s murky waters to free a tangled net, and never resurfacing.

One 10-year-old said he was sometimes so exhausted that he fell asleep as he paddled. Asked when he rested, another boy paused from his net mending, seemingly confused. “This is what you see now,” he said.

They never see the pittance they earn. The fishermen say they pay parents or relatives each December, typically on trips to the families’ villages during the December holidays.

The children’s sole comfort seems to be the shared nature of their misery, a camaraderie of lost boys who have not seen their families in years, have no say in their fate and, in some cases, were lured by false promises of schooling or a quick homecoming.

On Nkomi, a grassy island in the lake, Kwasi Tweranim, in his mid to late teens, and Kwadwo Seaako, perhaps 12 or 13, seemed united by fear and resentment of their boss. Both bear inchlong scars on their scalps where, they said, he struck them with a wooden paddle.

“I went down to disentangle the net, and when I came up, my master said that I had left part of it down there,” Kwasi said. “Then I saw black, and woke up in another boat. Only the grace of God saved me.”

Kwadwo, stammering badly, said he had been punished when the net rolled in the water.

Not every fisherman is so pitiless. Christian Lissah employs eight children under 13, mostly distant relatives. He said he knew many children who were treated no better than workhorses, and some who had drowned.

“In general, this is not a good practice because people mishandle the children,” he said. Yet he said he could not imagine how he would fish profitably without child workers, and depends on friends and acquaintances to keep him supplied ­ for a commission.

“You must get people who are a very low background who need money,” he said. “Some of them are eager to release their children.”

Mark Kwadwo’s parents, Joe Obrenu and his wife, Ama, were an easy sell. Mr. Obrenu fished the seas off Aboadzi, a hilly, sun-drenched town on the Gulf of Guinea, and his wife dried the catch for sale. But the two often ran short of food, said Mark’s aunt, Adwoa Awotwe. Over the years, they sold five of their children into labor, she said, including Mark’s 9-year-old sister Hagar, who performs domestic chores for Mr. Takyi.

Mr. Obrenu drummed up other recruits from neighbors, sometimes to their lasting regret. “It was hunger, to get a little money; the whole today, I have not eaten,” said Efua Mansah, whose 7-year-old son, Kwabena, boarded a small blue bus with Mr. Takyi four years ago for the 250-mile trip to Kete Krachi.

She has seen him only twice since then. In all that time, Mr. Takyi has paid her $66, she said, a third of which she spent on buses and ferries to pick up the money.

In her one-room hut decorated with empty plastic bottles, she forced back tears. “I want to bring my son home,” she said.

Mark also cried when his turn to leave came this year, his aunt said, so his mother told him that Mr. Takyi would take him to his father. Instead, he was brought to Mr. Takyi’s compound of caked mud huts, to a dark six-foot-square cubicle with a single tiny window. He shares it with five other children, buzzing flies and a few buckets of fish bait.

In two days, a smile never creased Mark’s delicate features. He seldom offered more than a nod or a shake of the head, with a few telling exceptions: “I was beaten in the house. I can’t remember what I did, but he caned me,” he said of Mr. Takyi.

Mr. Takyi, who sleeps and works in the same gray T-shirt, is disarmingly frank about his household. He can afford to feed the children only twice a day, he said, and cannot clothe them adequately. He himself has been paddling the lake since age 8.

“I can understand how the children feel,” he said. “Because I didn’t go to school, this is work I must do. I also find it difficult.”

Yet he does not hesitate to break a branch from the nearest tree to wake the boys for the midnight shift.

“Almost all the boys are very troublesome,” he complained. “I want them to be humble children, but they don’t obey my orders.”

One recent morning, his young crew, wrapped in thin bedsheets for warmth, hiked in the darkness down to the shore.

They paddled out in two leaky but stable canoes, searching the water for a piece of foam that marked where their net was snagged on submerged tree stumps. Kwabena, 11, stripped off his cutoff shorts and dived in with an 18-year-old to free it, yanking it at one point with his teeth.

Mark has not mastered the rhythm of paddling. Mr. Takyi said the boy cries when the water is rough or he is cold. He cannot swim a stroke. If the canoe capsizes, Mr. Takyi said, he will save him.

“I can’t pay what is asked for older boys,” Mr. Takyi said, as Mark bailed out the canoe with the sawed-off bottom of a plastic cooking oil container. “That is why I go for this. When I get money, I go to get another one.”

In the other canoe, Kwame Akuban and Kofi Quarshie plucked fish from the net with the air of prisoners waiting for their terms to end.

Kofi, 10, said his mother had told him his earnings would feed their family. But he suspects another motive. “They didn’t like me,” he said softly.

Kwame, 12, said his parents had promised to retrieve him in a year’s time and send him to school.

“I have been here three years and I am not going home, and I am not happy,” he said quietly.

As if on cue, Mr. Takyi shouted: “Remove the fish faster, or I will cane you.”

Running away is a common fantasy among the boys. Kofi Nyankom, who came from Mark’s hometown three years ago, at age 9, was one of the few to actually try it.

Last December, he ran to town half-naked, his back a mass of bruises. He said Mr. Takyi had tied up him and whipped him.

George Achibra, a school district official, demanded that the police intervene, and Mr. Takyi was forced to let Kofi go.

But before many weeks passed, he had brought in a replacement ­ younger, more helpless, more submissive. It was Mark Kwadwo.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company