Rex Tillerson has been removed as the Secretary of State, ending a tumultuous tenure as America’s top diplomat that was marked by a series of public disagreements with his boss — President Donald Trump.
Trump plans to appoint CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace the former Exxon Mobil chief executive. The president picked deputy CIA Director Gina Haspel to run the spy agency. Just on Monday, March 12, Tillerson visited Nigeria on the last leg of his official visits to Africa, being the first high-ranking official under the Trump administration to do so.
He met President Muhammadu Buhari during the visit, where they discussed issues of mutual interest to both countries. The ex-Secretary of State had also warned Nigeria and the rest of Africa against accessing financial help from China.
Trump announced Tillerson’s sacking via his verified Twitter handle:
As reported by the CNBC, since Tillerson took the post in February 2017, mixed messages repeatedly came out of the White House and a State Department with diminishing relevance. The intramural clashes between the president and secretary of State came amid major international crises, including a potential nuclear showdown with North Korea.
South Africa has had the biggest listeriosis outbreak in the world that resulted in more than 180 deaths to date. The Conversation Africa’s health editor Candice Bailey spoke to Prof Lise Korsten about the challenges around food safety in the country.
What’s challenging about the pathogen that causes listeriosis?
The pathogen – listeria monocytogenes – causes the deadly disease in nature and uses food as a vehicle to invade the human body. Once it enters the body it “switches gears” and becomes lethal, causing symptoms such as nausea and diarrhoea – and even death.
As with many other food-borne pathogens, listeria can coexist with other microorganisms in water and soil ecosystems or on plants. The bacteria can survive even under stressful conditions, such as refrigeration. It can proliferate even when other microorganisms die off. And it even competes with other microorganisms for nutrients and space.
What does the outbreak tell us about food safety in South Africa?
South Africa was ill prepared for this devastating food safety outbreak. It is perhaps a reflection of the weaknesses in the whole food system.
There are several problems. Pieces of legislation that manage how food safety is handled remain outdated. It means that the systems in place are inadequate. This includes detecting and verifying potential problems.
On top of this there is a critical shortage of regulators, inspectors, laboratory personnel, scientists and auditors.
These shortcomings were all evident in the extensive delay between the first reported case in January 2017, the announcement of the outbreak in December 2017 and the source being identified in March 2018. In the intervening 14 months, more than 180 people died and close to a thousand were affected.
In addition to outdated legislation South Africa has been dealing with a lack of effective regulation in the food sector. Industry has relied on self regulation in the absence of an effective regulatory system. Product recall is also not common despite being a requirement in food safety systems.
Due to the gaps in the system companies can become complacent and provide sub-standard products if not pressured to effectively self regulate.
A food safety outbreak was imminent and the scientific community was aware that it could happen - but not on this scale.
What does this mean from a food safety perspective?
Listeria is a potential hazard in food production, processing and food handling environments all over the world.
The pathogen can be difficult to trace and kill, particularly if effective cleaning schedules are not followed. Once the bacteria is introduced, it is able to hide in difficult to clean places and often survives in microbial biofilms (slimy layers), where it is protected against harsh cleaning agents. It prefers to breed in wet areas, particularly near drains which are difficult to effectively manage.
Once introduced into a processing plant, listeria is difficult to remove and can easily spread through a factory. Effective monitoring is as important as good cleaning programmes.
The emphasis should be on continually improving food safety management systems. But companies can be tempted to take short cuts as they balance between consistently delivering affordable, nutritious and safe food and turning a profit.
How do we solve the problem?
The South African government should consider establishing a national food safety authority. The idea has been proposed with suggestions of different governing models over the past 10 years. But none of these have gained traction.
The fact that there is no central authority or coordinated framework is problematic as it means there is no coordinated central point or one stop shop that deals with all import, export and local food control to protect consumers.
A central authority would shorten the time frame between the initial outbreak, identifying the source and product recall. It could also control imports and prevent illegal dumping and movements of counterfeit goods more effectively.
It would mean that technical experts in food science, food microbiology, plant pathology and animal science etc. could be used more effectively to benefit a national food safety framework.
At the moment most commercial South African companies involved in food production and processing particularly those who export, have to go through expensive certification. This is a self-regulatory system that relies on good auditors and accredited certification bodies. The challenge is that the country has a serious shortage of competent auditors/inspectors and local certification bodies.
Another problem is that when there are threats of a foodborne disease, the government, industry and academia work in silos and don’t share knowledge or technologies that could benefit the whole country.
In addition to a centralised food safety authority, there have also been suggestions that the agricultural and food legislative framework should be revised and the fragmented and outdated regulations be amended or new legislation promulgated.
Lastly, certification bodies responsible for certifying food safety management systems and test laboratories must reassess their role in supporting an effective food safety system.
Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is home to 10 million people. With an estimated 400 markets and over 1 million traders, markets are an important supplier of goods and source of livelihood. They are also an important source of revenue for the state.
Our ongoing research found that markets are also a major source of private revenue. A wide variety of actors are in constant competition for their share of revenue. These include market administrators, mayors, security officials, provincial ministers, high ranking bureaucrats, family members of the President, Presidential advisors, family members of high ranking civil servants. All are fighting to get their piece of the market income.
On the markets, private revenue is being collected through what are locally called “informal taxes”. These aren’t entered into formal revenue streams, but are directly received by the civil servants and their superiors. A whole variety of those taxes are been collected on markets. They are referred to by a range of names, from ‘hygiene tax’, to ‘economy tax’, or ‘standard and conventional safety tax’.
On top of this our research also shows how the majority of the “formal” and officially acknowledged taxes aren’t fed into the formal hierarchy and revenue flow as they are supposed to be. Instead they are kept locally. In other words market administrators and civil servants do not pass on collected taxes, but pocket them.
This leads to a situation in which traders feel they are overburdened by various forms of revenue extraction.
This isn’t surprising, as there is an unwritten understanding among Congolese that civil servants should fend for themselves by extracting revenue from citizens. People in the DRC jokingly refer to this practice as ‘Article 15’ – parlance for an imaginary article in the country’s constitution which gives civil servants licence to ‘fend for themselves.’
This way of doing things emerged in the 1970s. It was (in)famously launched in a speech delivered by President Mobutu Sese Seko in 1976 in which he famously encouraged his civil servants to ‘steal cleverly’:
If you want to steal, steal a little cleverly, in a nice way. Only if you steal so much as to become rich overnight, you will be caught.
The speech effectively led to a de-facto privatisation of public services: the state uniform became a way for civil servants to extract revenue.
More surprising, and less documented, is the degree to which higher-level actors intervene to appropriate these revenue streams.
First, higher level political networks play an important role in revenue extraction in the markets. In our research, we show how important revenue flows are directly controlled by higher level political actors. This can happen in one of two ways. Either through direct control of particular taxes. Or spatially, in which markets are divided in different zones of interest, in which various actors are able to extract revenue in ‘their’ zone.
The high level influence is most explicit in the Marché de la Liberté. This is the most profitable market in Kinshasa, with high symbolic value. It was constructed by former President Laurent Désiré Kabila as a present to the Kinshasa population.
The Marché de la Liberté has been repurposed as a vehicle for private rent generation through all these measures. Firstly, the market isn’t governed as a state public entity, but by agents who are financially and politically accountable to political elites. Revenues are collected privately and beyond public scrutiny. Staff aren’t employed by the public administration but come from presidential networks. Taxes are not collected by the mandated public servants but by individuals outside the public administration.
Secondly, various actors rely on their personal connections to gain access to the biggest share of (private) revenue – a system which is locally called ‘branchement’. In this system, actors rely on links based on family, ethnicity or regional, political party affiliations, or simply through financial linkages: a common practice is to provide financial or in kind incentives to higher-level authorities.
This practice – which also occurs in other sectors such as the police –provides protection which enables and strengthens private extraction. For example, market administrators pay a weekly amount to higher-level civil servants and politicians, which allows the administrators to keep most of the collected market revenue.
The situation in markets such as the Marché de la Liberté aren’t stable and prone to conflict. For example, in a number of markets conflicts were encountered between finance officers, market administrators and mayors – all of whom were relying on their respective links such as their political party, the governor or presidential advisors to try and reduce the others’ access to income, or even push them out of the market.
In addition, changes in these power configurations at the higher level in turn create changes at the local level. When patrons lose their position – whether this is a minister, high level civil servant, presidential advisor or other – the clients (such as market administrators) lose their protection and access to revenue.
In sum, the outcome for the market traders themselves is rather grim: they are largely dependent on circumstances beyond their control, which they navigate by continuously looking for better connections (‘branchement), which should help to protect them- now or in the future. At the same time, this makes the traders vulnerable, due to their dependence on these connections, and due to the strong monetisation of these connections.