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Africa

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Rape is an African Problem

15 September 2013

Rape is an African Problem

By Gwynne Dyer

Last May, with considerable trepidation, I wrote an article about what seemed to be extraordinarily high rates of rape in Africa. The original data came from a study by South Africa’s Medical Research Council in 2009 which found that more than a quarter of South African men – 27.6 percent – admitted that they had committed rape. Almost half of those men had raped two or three women or girls. One in thirteen had raped at least ten victims.

Over the next couple of years, I ran across a couple of other less detailed studies suggesting that the problem was not just South African. A report from the eastern Congo in 2012 said that over a third of the men interviewed – 34 percent – had committed rape, and an older report from Tanzania found that 20 percent of the women interviewed said they had been raped (although only one-tenth as many rapes were reported to the police).

So I wrote a piece called “An African Iceberg” in which I said that this was a phenomenon that needed urgent investigation continent-wide – but it did occur to me to wonder if there were similar icebergs in other developing countries. The only figures that were available for developing countries elsewhere were official ones, and those normally only record the number of women who tell the police they have been raped. Most don’t.

Women are reluctant to report rape in any society, and in traditional societies much more so. The South African study was the only one that had adopted the strategy of asking men directly. Maybe if the same sort of study were done in other continents, I thought, it would return equally horrifying figures. And lo! Somebody else had the same thought, and the resources to do something about it.

The new report, conducted under the auspices of four United Nations agencies cooperating as “Partners for Prevention”, was published last week in the online version of “The Lancet Global Health”, a respected British medical journal. The study was undertaken quite specifically to learn if the South African figures were duplicated in developing countries outside Africa. .

The researchers chose six countries in the Asia-Pacific region: China, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. As in the South African study, the word “rape” was not used in the questionnaire. The 10,178 men interviewed were asked if they had ever “forced a woman who was not your wife or girlfriend at the time to have sex” or “had sex with a woman who was too drunk or drugged to indicate whether she wanted it.”

There were further questions about forcing a wife or girlfriend to have sex (which is also rape), about gang rape, and about raping males, but for simplicity’s sake let us stick with the questions about what the researchers called “single perpetrator rape” of a woman who was neither wife nor girlfriend. The answers varied from country to country, but the overall picture was clear. Africa (or at least South Africa) is all alone out there.

In most of the Asian countries involved in the study, between 2 and 4 percent of the men interviewed said that they had raped a “non-partner” woman. That falls into the same range that prevails, one suspects, in most developed countries (although their reported cases of rape are much lower).

There were some local peculiarities, like the fact that in rural Bangladesh men are more likely to get raped than women. China came in surprisingly high, with 6 percent of the men interviewed admitting to rape, but that may be related to the growing surplus of males in a society where the gender ratio has become very skewed: there are 99 large Chinese cities where more than125 boys are born for every 100 girls.

But Papua New Guinea was right up there with South Africa: 26.6 percent of the men interviewed had committed “single perpetrator rape” of a non-partner woman. And the other numbers were just as startling: 14 percent of PNG men had participated in a gang rape, and 7.7 percent had raped a man or boy. So Asia as a whole is quite different from Africa on this count – but PNG is practically identical.

What is so special about Papua New Guinea? It is a country with an extravagantly large number of different tribes and languages. It is an extremely violent country, where most people live in extreme poverty. It is a place where the law is enforced only sporadically, and often corruptly. And it is a place where traditional tribal values, patriarchal to the core, reign virtually unchallenged among a large part of the population. Remind you of anywhere?

Well, you already suspected that this was at the root of it, didn’t you? You just didn’t want to say so, for fear of being accused of being racist, anti-African or something of that sort.

But it does need to be said, loudly and repeatedly. Women and girls are more likely to be the victims of sexual violence in Africa than almost anywhere else, and the only way to change that is to change the behaviour of African men. By persuasion if possible, but also by enforcing the law.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 2 and 9. (“Over…police”; and “There…girls”)

World Population: The African Exception

24 June 2013

World Population: The African Exception

By Gwynne Dyer

The news on the population front sounds bad: birth rates are not dropping as fast as expected, and we are likely to end up with an even bigger world population by the end of the century. The last revision of the United Nations’ World Population Prospects, two years ago, predicted just over 10 billion people by 2100. The latest revision, just out, predicts almost 11 billion.

That’s a truly alarming number, because it’s hard to see how the world can sustain another 4 billion people. (The current global population is 7 billion.) But the headline number is deceptive, and conceals another, grimmer reality. Three-quarters of that growth will come in just one continent: Africa.

The African continent currently has 1.1 billion people. By the year 2100, it will have 4.1 billion – more than a third of the world’s total population. Or rather, that is what it will have if there has not already been a huge population dieback in the region. At some point, however, systems will break down under the strain of trying to feed such rapidly growing populations, and people will start to die in large numbers.

It has happened before – to Ireland in the 1840s, for example – and it can happen again. In fact, it probably will. When you look more carefully at the numbers, you can even identify which regions will be hardest hit, because even in Africa there are large areas where population growth is low and dropping.

None of the Arabic-speaking countries of northern Africa will increase its population by more than one-third by 2100, and some will even be declining. South Africa, at the other end of the continent, will only add another ten million people by the century’s end. It’s in the middle belt of Africa that things will get very ugly.

Between now and 2100, six countries are expected to account for half of the world’s projected population increase: India, Nigeria, the United States of America, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Uganda. Four of the six are in central Africa.

In this area, where fertility is still high, the numbers are quite astonishing. Most countries will at least triple in population; some, like Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia, are predicted to grow fivefold. That is on top of populations that have already tripled, quadrupled or quintupled in the past half-century. Uganda had 5 million people at independence in 1962; it is projected to have 205 million in 2100.

The numbers are simply preposterous. Niger, a desert country whose limited agricultural land might feed 10 million people with good management, a lot of investment, and good luck with the weather, already has twice as many as that. By the end of the century it will have twenty times as many: 204 million people.

All these numbers are based on assumptions about declining birth rates: if we all just carried on with the birth rates of today, there would be 25 billion people on this planet by the end of the century. The key question is: how FAST is fertility declining – and all the numbers in this article so far are from the UN’s “medium estimates”, i.e. the moderately optimistic ones. The “high estimate” for Niger gives it 270 million people by 2100: an extra 70 million.

It makes no practical difference. Even the “low estimate” of 150 million people in Niger by 2100 is never actually going to happen. That is fifteen times too many people for the available land, and Niger certainly cannot afford to import large amounts of food. Even without reckoning in the huge negative impact of climate change, large numbers of people in Niger (and quite a few other African countries) will begin starving long before that.

So the real picture that emerges from the UN’s data is rather different. It is a world where two-thirds of the world’s countries will have declining populations by 2100. China and Russia will each be down by a third, and only the United States among the major developed countries will still have a growing population: up from 320 million now to 460 million. (By the way, that means there will only be twice as many Chinese as Americans by then.)

In terms of climate change, the huge but ultimately self-limiting population growth in Africa will have little impact, for these are not industrialised countries with high rates of consumption and show no signs of becoming so. The high economic growth rates of African countries in recent years are driven mostly by high commodity prices, and will probably not be sustained.

It is the developed and rapidly developing countries whose activities put huge pressure on the global environment, not only by their greenhouse gas emissions but also by their destructive styles of farming and fishing. Their populations are relatively stable but their actual numbers are already very large, and each individual consumes five or ten times as much as the average African.

So the frightening numbers in the UN’s latest population predictions are mostly of concern to Africa – but the rest of the world is still in deep, deep trouble on many other fronts.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 5. (“It has…very ugly”)

 

 

An African Iceberg?

22 May 2013

An African Iceberg?

By Gwynne Dyer

Keeping a file of random clippings is an old-fashioned thing to do, but sometimes it offers you unexpected connections. Sometimes it’s a connection that you don’t even want to see. But there it is, so what are you going to do about it?

In June, 2009, South Africa’s Medical Research Council published a report which said that over a quarter of South African men – 27.6 percent – have raped somebody. Almost half of those men admitted to raping two or three women or girls. One in thirteen of the self-confessed rapists said they had raped at least ten victims.

The numbers are astonishing and horrifying, but on the assumption that at least a few of the interviewees were ashamed, or were afraid that their admission might later be used against them, those numbers are probably low. The Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, where the study was conducted, are among South Africa’s poorer provinces, but there is no self-evident link between poverty and rape.

The study was a model of statistical rigour. It used a Statistics South Africa model of one male interviewee in each of 1,738 households across all racial groups and income levels in both rural and urban areas. Half of the men interviewed were under 25 years old; 70 percent of the rapists had forced a woman or girl into sex for the first time when they were under 20.

The researchers were not even trying to count South Africa’s rapists. The study was called “Understanding Men’s Health and Use of Violence: Interface of Violence and HIV in South Africa,” and it was really investigating the linkage, if any, between sexual violence and the spread of HIV. It turned out there was none – but that the actual amount of rape going on is completely off the scale even for an extremely violent society like South Africa.

I found another report claiming that 40 percent of South African women can expect to be raped during their lives, but I had nothing to add to the discussion so I just filed the information away. Then last November I saw a report in The Guardian about a study carried out in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo in which 34 percent of the men interviewed – over a third – admitted to rape.

That’s a war zone, of course, and it may not be representative of the Congo as a whole. But I did begin to wonder how widespread this phenomenon was, and I came across a study in the African Journal of Reproductive Health dating back to 2000, in which 20 percent of a thousand women interviewed in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania (hardly a war zone) said they had been raped. Only one-tenth of those rapes were reported to the police.

And early this month came a report from the Rwanda government’s Gender Monitoring Office that a survey of more than 2,000 schoolchildren across the country revealed that 43 percent of them were aware of other pupils being raped. Teachers were allegedly among the chief offenders.

“If teachers are responsible for the problems of teenage pregnancies, that is a serious problem as they’re supposed to protect them,” said Education Minister Vincent Biruta. But Katherine Nichol, who works at Plan Rwanda, an NGO that promotes girls’ education in rural areas, was willing to go a little further. “We only know the tip of the iceberg of this issue here in Rwanda,” she said.

That’s the question, really. Are these reports just anomalies and exceptions? After all, South Africa is very violent, the eastern Congo is a war zone, Rwandans have been traumatised by the genocide of 1994, and Tanzania is – well, maybe just an anomaly. Or are they the tip of a continent-wide iceberg?

Rapes happen everywhere, not just in Africa, and it’s especially bad in war zones. There was practically no German woman left unraped in the eastern parts of the country when the Soviet army swept in in 1944-45.

Armies seem to have a special problem with sexual violence even when there isn’t a war. Last year, there were 26,000 reported cases of sexual violence against women in the US military – and the Pentagon believes up to 80% of sexual assaults go unreported. Indeed, a female soldier in the US military is more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted by one of her own colleagues than injured in battle.

But the subject today is Africa, and the few statistics available suggest that there is an astoundingly high number of rapes in several widely separated countries. So what is needed now is more and better statistics.

Is the proportion of rapists among the male population in the western Congo (which is more or less at peace) much lower than in the East, or not?

Are Kenya’s official rape statistics (over 300 women per week) accurate, or should they be multiplied by ten to account for non-reporting, as in Tanzania?

Are the true numbers for rapes different in Muslim countries in Africa (all the ones mentioned above are predominantly Christian), or are they really the same?

Nobody will win a popularity contest by gathering these statistics, but hundreds of millions of African women have the right to know the answer. And when the scale and nature of the problem is clear, there needs to be urgent, decisive action.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3, 5 and 12. (“The numbers…rape”; “The researchers…Africa”; and “Armies…battle”)

 

 

Predicting Disaster: A Risky Business

24 October 2012

Predicting Disaster: A Risky Business

By Gwynne Dyer

Six years in jail and an average fine of over a million dollars: that was the punishment given to six Italian scientists on 22 October for getting their earthquake advice wrong. So what will the expert geologists and vulcanologists in Italy say the next time they are asked about the likelihood of an earthquake? They will refuse to say anything, of course.

More than 5,000 scientists have signed a letter supporting their colleagues who found themselves standing trial for manslaughter in the medieval city of L’Aquila, where 309 people died in an earthquake in 2009. But the case is a bit more complex than it first appears.

People always look for a scapegoat when disaster strikes, and it’s understandable that the bereaved people of L’Aquila wanted someone to blame. Most of them were glad when the six Italian scientists were convicted: at least somebody was being punished for the crime. But it wasn’t exactly the crime that those 5,000 foreign scientists thought they had been accused of.

Even lawyers and judges know that you cannot predict an earthquake with any certainty. What the six were actually accused of was being too reassuring about how likely an earthquake was.

There were hundreds of small shocks around L’Aquila in the weeks before the big one struck, and the six scientists were sent to the city to assess the level of danger. They judged the risk as minor, and one, foolishly, said there was “no danger”.

On the basis of this scientific advice, it is claimed, thousands of citizens decided to sleep in their houses rather than outside – and 309 of them were crushed in their houses a week later when the magnitude 6.3 quake brought them down. So the scientists’ crime was not a failure to predict the quake, but a failure to state clearly that it COULD happen.

It’s still a stupid charge. Half of the really big earthquakes are preceded by a flurry of smaller shocks, true – but such clusters of small shocks are quite common, and only 5 percent of them are followed by a major quake. So the scientists were caught on the horns of a familiar dilemma.

Fail to issue a warning before a big quake, and you will be discredited (and maybe, if you are Italian, charged with manslaughter). But issue warnings every time there is a 5 percent risk, and you will cause 19 needless mass evacuations for every necessary one. You will be “crying wolf”, which is usually counter-productive.

The scientists’s conviction will probably be reversed on appeal, bringing this whole foolish episode to an end. For the rest of us, however, this just illustrates how hard it is for human beings to deal sensibly with big but incalculable risks.

The biggest incalculable risk of a purely natural order that we know about is the mega-tsunami that will be unleashed when the western flank of Cumbre Vieja volcano on the island of La Palma in the Canaries slides into the Atlantic Ocean. In an eruption in 1949, a chunk of rock about 500 cubic km. (120 cubic miles) in size, with a mass of 150 billion tonnes, became detached from the main ridge and slid two metres (7 ft.) down towards the sea.

This is bad news for people living around the Atlantic Ocean. In some future volcanic eruption (there have been six in the past 500 years), that whole mass may slide all the way into the ocean and generate a tsunami that would initially be about 600 metres (2,000 ft.) high.

It would travel outwards in an expanding circle at some 1,000 km. per hour (600 mph), destroying everything on the western coast of Africa in one hour. It would inundate England’s south coast in three, and reach the east coast of the United States, Canada iand Cuba in six. Brazilians would have to wait a little longer. The waves would reach up to 20 km. (13 mi.) inland in low-lying areas. Many tens of millions would die.

So let’s imagine that there’s another eruption on Cumbre Vieja, and a committee of global experts is convened to watch the western flank for signs of movement. Should they advise evacuation along all the vulnerable coasts? That’s several hundred million people. Who will give those people food and shelter? How long must they stay inland? And the economic damage would be huge.

The experts can’t wait until the last minute to give their advice: you can’t evacuate the entire US east coast in six hours. If they advise evacuation, and nothing bad happens, they will be the most unpopular people on the planet. If they don’t, and the worst does happen, they will be seen as guilty of mass manslaughter, just like the Italian scientists at L’Aquila.

Since it will always be much likelier that no catastrophe is going to happen this time, the experts will almost certainly issue reassuring statements intended to keep people in their homes. Just like the Italian scientists. And yet some day, next week or a thousand years from now, that mass of rock on Cumbre Vieja will really fall into the sea. Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3, 4 and 9. (“People…was”, and “The scientists’…risk”)