Sunday, May 29, 2016

Where are the Middle Class?

A handful of economists from international agencies and think-tanks began a discourse that then entered African and development studies. This, in turn, led to calls for policies to be redirected. Countries were urged to strengthen their middle classes. The leading proponents were the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) followed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The OECD’s view is evident in its Global Development Perspectives 2012 report and the UNDP’s in its 2013 Human Development Report. The main economists behind this push included World Bank chief economist Martin Ravallion, his former colleague, William Easterly, Nancy Birdsall from the Centre for Global Development in Washington, and Homi Kharas from the OECD Development Centre.

They define middle class as a group of people with a minimum of anything from US$2 to $10 monetary income/expenditure a day. Such a reduced approach misses much of what is required for a proper analysis of a class – its character, and its positioning in and impact on society. Rather, the discovery of the middle class was linked to its anticipated role in promoting social change to which those in the “business of development” could pin their hopes. This, however, shifts the debate away from the critical assessment of obstacles to development. It thereby gets in the way of a proper diagnosis of the real challenges to promoting more social equality and justice in some of the most unequal societies in our world.

Defining the middle class as a group of people with a minimum of anything from $2 to $10 monetary income/expenditure a day is itself fuzzy. With reference to the $2 threshold, the African Development Bank declared one-third – 300 million – of the continent’s population as middle class in 2011. A year later it adjusted its size up to 500 million. It considered this a key factor for development. It takes quite some fantasy to imagine how, based on the living costs in Africa’s urban centres, a $2-a-day threshold catapults someone from the $1.99 margin as criteria for poor into a middle-class existence.

It seems that all those not starving are nowadays considered “middle class”.

Limiting the debate to purely monetary categories also ignores a range of other important aspects. These include employment or social status, sources of income, lifestyle-related attributes, cultural norms, and religious or ethnic identities as contributing factors. Rigorously explored differentiations – not to mention any substantial class analysis – have been largely absent. This turns the “middle class” into a “muddling class”, devoid of any true meaning in terms of social analysis that seeks to identify a social agenda and the role members of society can play in transforming societies.

A closer look at the widely held assumption that middle classes by definition play a positive – meaning socially progressive – role is not convincing. History suggests a rather mixed balance, if not mainly opportunistic behaviour, of middle-class members. They usually do not tend to bite the hand that feeds them. The new Chinese middle class is anything but known for its opposition towards an authoritarian state. The Chilean middle class of the early 1970s in its majority did not side with Salvador Allende, but supported the military coup by General Augusto Pinochet. Politically, middle classes seem not as democratic as many of those singing their praises believe. According to a recent Afrobarometer survey, a majority of those with higher education argue that the less educated should not have the same say in democratic elections, as they would not know what is best for their country. In South Africa, the black middle class is no more likely to hold democratic values than other black South Africans. But it is more likely to want a government to secure higher-order survival needs over basic ones.

It is also dubious that African middle classes by their sheer existence promote economic growth. Their increase was mainly a limited result of the trickle-down effects of the resource-based economic growth rates during the early years of this century. Their position and role in society hardly has the economic potential and dynamics to induce further productive investment that contributes to sustainable economic growth. And there is also little evidence of any correlation between economic growth and social progress, as even a working paper of the International Monetary Fund admits. Even the African Development Bank concedes that income discrepancies as measured by the Gini-coefficient have increased, while six among the ten most unequal countries in the world are in Africa. Real sociopolitical influence is hardly owned by a growing middle class.

While the poor partly became a little bit less poor, the rich got much richer.

The celebrated growth of the African middle class(es) is also questionable. The UNDP’s 2013 Human Development Report predicted that by 2030 80% of middle classes would come from the global South, but only 2% would be from sub-Saharan Africa. Recent assessments suggest that it is not the middle of African societies that expands, but the lower and higher social groups. According to a report by the Pew Research Centre only a few African countries had a meaningful increase of those in the middle-income category. Multinationals in the retail and consumption sector have already reacted to the dwindling purchasing power of the middle class. They have reversed earlier investments. The world’s biggest food producer, Nestlé, has reduced its presence in Africa by 15% of its employees.

If we are serious about the need for social change and transformation, we should be as serious about class analysis. The World Socialist Movement explains that the ‘middle class' is primarily a section of the working class. It may be popular to talk vaguely about various other 'classes' existing such as the 'middle class', but it is only two classes, working and capitalist, are the key to understanding capitalism.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Africa can change

"fine words do not produce food" Old Nigerian Proverb

It is vital that healthy ecosystems underpin human health, wellbeing, livelihoods, jobs and sustainable growth. Africa is facing a harsh reality that is exacerbated by climate change, poverty and conflict.

Data shows that one in every two people on the continent lives in extreme poverty.
In 15 years time, most of the world's poor will reside in Africa.
About 240 million people go to bed hungry every night
Malnutrition kills more than 50 percent of the African children who die before they reach the age of five

Imagine for a moment the pain of a mother who cannot feed her newborn daughter with the proper food she needs to live beyond the age of five. Imagine the mother who toils all day in the field but still goes to bed with a stomach aching from hunger because she cannot afford enough food to feed her family.

Now picture this: Millions of perfectly good, nutritious tomatoes rotting in the hot Nigerian sun. While 13 million Nigerians suffer from hunger and more than one million children suffer from malnutrition, the country wastes more than 50 percent of its annual tomato harvest. We cannot continue to let this happen.
This is not just a Nigerian problem. It is an African problem. Sub-Saharan Africa spends $35bn on importing food each year and the region loses a further $48bn from food that is wasted post-harvest because of poor roads, inadequate storage and poor access to markets These are enormous resources that - when added to the $68bn the continent loses each year due to depleted soils and degraded land - could be ploughed back into African economies to drive the transformation that the continent so badly needs. The resources saved could be used to empower more men and women, end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, combat climate change, create jobs and promote sustainable agriculture.

Africa's transformation lies in the continent's rich soil. Simply raising crop yields by 10 percent reduces poverty by about seven percent. Today, we already have the knowledge to do this. If we want to achieve food security we must ensure that we look after the vital ecosystems that allow us to produce our food. It means looking after our soils and our water sources. And it means sharing the knowledge and the technology that allows us to do all of these things. If we can do this - if we can optimise food production by embracing an ecosystem-based adaptation approach to agriculture - we can boost yields by up to 128 percent.

What is even better about this approach is that it does not require enormous resources. There is an ancient farming technique in West Africa called "zai". This simple technology - a circular depression is dug into dry soil and used to grow seedlings - can turn crusted land into nurseries by improving water retention. If properly executed, zai can increase yields by up to 500 percent in some of the trickiest terrains on Earth. We must also focus our efforts on improving every part of the food chain. We will have to improve our transport links and storage facilities so that we don't waste so much food after it is harvested.

As the continent continues to battle with climate change, we can no longer afford to play the proverbial fool for we already know that the continent's transformation lies in the richness of the African soil. And we already know how to harness this vast potential. So the time has come for us to put aside our fine words, pick up our tools and start to sow the seeds of the future we so desperately want.

Africa and Global Warming

Extreme heat that would be considered unusual today could become a yearly occurrence there by mid-century, one new study suggests, and the trend will emerge earlier there—and in the rest of the tropics—before it does in more temperate areas, another finds.
Global warming hits the African continent soonest and hardest. Africa looks to increasingly feel the sting of climate change through more frequent, widespread and intense heat waves.

The studies emphasize the undue burden that some of the poorest populations on the planet—often those that have contributed least to global warming—will face from climate change.

“They don’t have the capacity to respond to such heat waves,” lacking the kind of warning systems and regular access to health care that help those in wealthier countries cope, said Jana Sillman, a co-author of the first study, and a climate researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Norway. Many of these areas lack the resources to help people cope with extreme heat—such as reliable access to safe drinking water and cooling centers—and don’t always have the systems in place to warn residents that a heat wave is coming.

Because the tropics have less variation in their day-to-day and season-to-season temperatures, that means the trend of more extreme heat will emerge sooner and will reach higher heights than in more temperate locations. Those areas also happen to generally correspond to the regions where the world’s poorest and richest populations live, respectively. The tropics are home to some 4 billion people.

One of the new studies used climate models to link cumulative carbon dioxide emissions to extreme heat occurrence and showed that fewer emissions were needed to see an increase in the number of extremely hot days for the poorest fifth of the world’s population than for the wealthiest fifth. Among the most impacted regions were West Africa and the Horn of Africa. Sillman and her colleagues found that Africa is already seeing heat waves that are more intense, more frequent and that cover a larger area than ever during the last couple decades of the 20th century. And the models suggest that heat waves considered unusually extreme today could become a yearly occurrence by 2040 if greenhouse gas emissions are not curtailed. By the end of this century, they could happen even more often, particularly in the tropics where there aren’t seasons like temperate areas. “The heat wave is not limited to the summer,” Sillman said.

Even though people living in tropical areas are more adapted to hot temperatures than those in more temperate climes, there is a limit to the human body’s tolerance of heat. The background warming of the planet means that heat waves now and in the future push closer to that limit than they once did, just as a rising tide lifts the height of the waves. The impacts to human health from such heat waves could be exacerbated by humidity. Though neither study incorporated this factor, other studies have shown that heat stress (a measure of both temperature and humidity) will increase in much of the tropics, including in places likely to see some of the biggest increases in population.

Intense heat can also affect the productivity of economies, particularly for work based outdoors like construction and agriculture. A recent U.N. report estimates that 1 billion workers in vulnerable countries are already subject to impacts from extreme heat and that lost work hours could deal a major blow to developing economies. Heat also affects the crops and livestock that people in many areas rely on for survival—drought and heat have led to severe food shortages in parts of Africa this year.

“The threat to Africa is multi-faceted. Threats to human health via heat waves is but one of them,” Michael Wehner, a climate researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said. “Disruptions to agriculture, combined with a rapidly growing population in some countries is also of great concern.” Wehner was not involved with either study but has conducted research on heat extremes.
How much Africa and other precarious regions are impacted depends on how the world as a whole decides to respond to the threat of climate change, including whether countries stick to their commitments to the Paris climate agreement. With a certain amount of warming guaranteed, though, adaptation to future conditions will also be necessary.

“Emissions reductions can ameliorate these increasing risks, but even in rather dramatic emission reduction scenarios, the change in heat waves is still very large,” Wehner said.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Fleeing Eritrea

Leaving Eritrea without permission is a criminal offense. There has also been a noticeable increase in controls on the Eritrean side of the Sudan-Eritrea border in the last two months. People are being intercepted and sent back. Eritrean soldiers are instructed to shoot at anyone they discover trying to leave the country illegally, a policy that hasn’t prevented thousands from fleeing across the border every month. Eritrea’s stepped up border controls may be partly related to security concerns as it celebrates 25 years of independence, but that they were also about “trying to make themselves look like a good partner” to the EU. While the majority of Eritreans remain in camps in Sudan and Ethiopia, over 70,000 applied for asylum in Europe during 2014 and 2015, according to EuroStat figures.

Authorities in Sudan have launched a crackdown on Eritrean migrants - arresting those living in the capital, Khartoum, and intercepting hundreds travelling north through the country towards Libya, the launching point for smugglers’ boats heading for Europe.

Reports that 900 Eritreans were rounded up in Khartoum on Monday and that a further 400 arrested en route to Libya have been deported to Eritrea, come amid recent revelations in the British and German media that the EU is planning to deepen its cooperation with a number of African countries, including Sudan and Eritrea, to stem migration towards Europe.

A spokesperson with UNHCR’s office in Khartoum confirmed that a number of migrants, including Eritreans, had been intercepted in northern Sudan heading towards the Libyan border. Sudan has a prior record of deporting Eritreans without allowing them access to asylum procedures, a practice that UNHCR has condemned in the past as amounting to refoulement.

The EU has increasingly sought the cooperation of African states to control the flows of migrants headed for its shores by using the promise of aid and trade agreements. Critics argue that such policies have contributed to states viewing migrants as bargaining chips to be leveraged for maximum political capital with disastrous results for their safety and human rights. Der Spiegel and the New Statesman reported on a leaked plan to increase cooperation with African countries of origin and transit for migrants. The articles alleged that the EU plans to use funding from the recently launched Emergency Trust Fund for Africa to send equipment and vehicles to help Sudan police its border with Eritrea and to assist with the construction of two closed reception centres in Gadaref and Kassala. Eritrea would be given assistance to develop or implement human trafficking regulations. Europe’s engagement with Sudan and Eritrea, and other countries along the Horn of Africa to Europe migration route, dates back to the Khartoum Process, launched in November 2014. The Khartoum process risks legitimizing the governments of Sudan and Eritrea by treating them as partners in tackling irregular migration, when in fact those countries’ own policies are a major factor in driving migration and fuelling migrant smuggling and trafficking. Sudanese officials have repeatedly been accused of colluding with or turning a blind eye to traffickers who kidnap Eritrean refugees and hold them for ransom.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Fact of the Day (life expectancy)

A new report by the World Health Organisation released on Friday shows that Africa has registered an increase in life expectancy by almost 10 years over the past 15 years.

The average life expectancy of Japan is 86.8 years compared to Sierra Leone with the world's lowest life expectancy for both sexes: 50.8 years for women and 49.3 years for men.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Communist Party of South Africa -1990

South Africa
Now that the Communist Party of South Africa has been unbanned, it is possible to discuss its mistaken policies openly in South Africa. We reprint below a letter published in the Johannesburg "Star" on 26 February.

In the article "Alone is my joy—after 40 years" [The Star, February 8), Joe Openshaw states: "After 1948 I ceased being an active communist but continued to have faith in the economic arguments propagated in ‘Das Kapital’ and in Marxism".

And he concludes: "The upheavals in the Soviet Union and in the communist bloc have shaken me, but joining the Communist Party seemed a good idea at the time. My conviction still is that socialism could work if not perverted".

The last point, "the perversion' of socialism”, has been the central deception of the Bolsheviks from before 1917: and their followers, as well as their mainstream opponents and detractors, have "gone along with" the distortions of Marxism, to support the introduction and development of state capitalism in Russia and elsewhere. The Leninists "adapted” Marxism to suit their programmes after the overthrow of Tsarist feudalism.

Joe, your "faith” in Das Kapital and Marxism is very sad, in view of the obvious fact that you have never understood either of these. Das Kapital defines capitalism as a system of commodity production based upon wage-labour and capital, whose purpose is the realisation of the surplus- value wrung from the working class and contained in all commodities. This system prevails in Russia and in all modern countries in this world.

Finally, Marxism does not propose or support minority and/or insurrectionary action for/by/on behalf of the world's working class, but insists on the need for the democratic self-conscious, political act of the said class—when sufficiently enlightened—to replace commodity production by production solely for use, freely and willingly, based on the new relationship of common ownership and control of social production by the whole of society; not by the state, which will no longer function.
Alec Hart 

Life expectancy doubled

Since the year 2000 life expectancy in Africa has risen by almost ten years. It has been rising almost twice as fast as the rest of the world and now the average person on the continent can expect to live to 60 years of age. 

The Two Africas

There are two Africas: one normally portrayed in the media, a land of poverty, disease and war. And another Africa: a vital, energetic continent of hard working men and women, a continent of humor and a continent of hope.

It is estimated that 70 percent of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 30, and that 60 percent of the unemployed are also young people.

South Africa has the highest tuberculosis death rate per capita worldwide, followed by Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The situation is worsened by the high number of cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR) in several countries. In addition, diarrheal and respiratory infections, malaria, measles and malnutrition represent big threats to children’s health. Malaria is the leading cause of death among children under five years old.

The continuing exodus of physicians and nurses to industrialized countries makes health problems even worse. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 23,000 health care workers leave Africa annually. Malawi, a country of 15.38 million people, has a severe shortage of doctors and nurses. There is only one doctor for every 40,000 people in the country, according to WHO.

Writer Paul Theroux, who has travelled extensively in several African countries stated, “I would not send private money to a charity, or foreign aid to a government, unless every dollar was accounted for. Dumping more money in the same old way is not only wasteful, but stupid and harmful.”

Monday, May 16, 2016

Pan-Africanism or pan-humanism? (2002)

From the February 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

When slave labour was no longer profitable as a result of the invention of machines, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was abolished. This created a severe social problem as the ex-slaves could hardly fend for themselves. They became homeless, jobless and hungry. These problems forced them to become vagabonds, outcasts, "criminals", and (owning nothing in a society dominated by money and private ownership of property) an inferior class.

This sorry state of affairs culminated in the emergence of black (ex-slave) radicals such as Marcus Garvey who organised the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Other activists against the appalling situation of the black ex-slaves included W E B. Dubois; James Brown, who sang "say it loud, I'm black and proud"; and several groups of the Black Consciousness Movement which sprang up in the middle of the 20th century.

This wind of awareness and defiance that was blowing across the Americas and Europe naturally touched the black students from mainland Africa who had gone to the USA and Europe to study. Prominent among these were Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Leopold Sedar Senghor. These radicals together with others from the Caribbean like George Padmore were after to become the precursors of the Pan-Africanist movement. It was also known among in the French-speaking world as "Négritude".

It follows from the above that (other considerations aside) Pan-Africanism is a concept that is limited to black people – those on the continent and the ones in the Diaspora. In this regard, one can liken Pan-Africanism to other (albeit better organised) groups like Zionism, Pax Romana, the Arab League, etc. They are concepts and groups dedicated only to the interest of their members.

The colour smokescreen

As explained, the roots of Pan-Africanism can be traced to the conditions, the concrete reality of the newly-"emancipated" slaves in the Americas. Let us assume for the moment (despite all) that they faced those hardships "because of their colour". The question which readily comes to mind, now, is whether we can say it is the same scenario today. Are the causes of our problems today due to our colour? Of course not.

Consider the following cases. Mobutu allowed himself to be used by the Western powers to inflict untold suffering on the people of the then Zaire. Together with these powers he stole all the wealth of the country. In fact, it is said that he was richer than the state. There is also the case of Bokassa who squandered millions of dollars to crown himself emperor when at that time the ordinary people of Central African Republic could not afford one decent meal a day. In Angola, Jonas Savimbi and a few friends (UNITA) teamed up with Western businesses to visit a limitless insecurity on the poor people just to plunder the resources of the land. The story is no different in the case of Foday Sonko and fellow rebels in Sierra Leone; quite recently the chief whip of South Africa, Tony Yengeni, and a senior official of the ANC as such, was embroiled in multi-billion dollar arms deals. Yet South Africa is not at war; meanwhile, millions of ANC supporters do not have drinking water and electricity in their ghettos.

Moving outside the continent, what can Pan-Africanists say about blacks in the Diaspora like the US Secretary of State Colin Powell who ordered the US delegation to walk out of the Durban Conference on Racism because he and his capitalist colleagues would lose if reparations are to be paid to the victims of the slave trade? On the other hand, there are non-blacks who help in various ways many Africans. There are countless families in poor Africa whose survival depend on well-meaning and genuine Europeans and Americans.

But more importantly today, and even during the period of the "liberation" of the slaves and beyond, suffering in the form of insecurity, murders, poverty, illness, misinformation, boredom, exploitation, etc affected both blacks and non-blacks alike, from Africa, America, Asia to Europe. Therefore, we cannot be justified when our suffering is blamed on our colour and their colour. Colour is used as a smokescreen to conceal the real cause of discrimination. There is a deeper factor underneath the black/white ruse.

The world economic order

It was not by accident that the Europeans came to Africa. They were looking for trade routes to the East. They were pursuing their business interests. It was also not by mistake that they started the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. They need cheap labour for their plantations. They were in business. It was again not out of humanitarian considerations that they stopped the slave trade and set the blacks free. Slave labour had become obsolete and a fetter on production. The Industrial Revolution had made it possible for machines to be used in the production process so slaves were no longer needed. Therefore, the real and fundamental cause of the problems of the "freed" slaves (which led to the rise of Garvey, Dubois, etc and Pan-Africanism) was the world economic order.

Interestingly the problems that these ex-slaves faced upon their "release from bondage" are still the same problems facing us – humanity as a whole – today. These are hunger, poverty, disease, insecurity, no job satisfaction and joblessness, etc. These problems are a direct result of the system in operation in the world.

This system is based on private ownership. This means that the means of production and distribution of the wealth (factories, land, transportation, etc) are owned by a minority whilst the majority own nothing. The few owners of the means of production determine what to produce. Since their primary objective is to make profits but not to satisfy human needs, they do not hesitate to produce goods which are not needed by people. For instance armaments and weapons of mass destruction, sophisticated security systems fancy goods, cigarettes, etc are manufactured in huge quantities because they bring in huge profits. Yet food, medicines, textbooks, shoes, housing, etc which are necessities are either in short supply or beyond the reach of the masses. This type of economic system (call it the money-system, the profit-system or the capitalist system) was responsible for the slave trade, colonialism and today's problems. With the majority having nothing and constantly under economic pressure, tension is inbuilt and can at the least prompting explode into real violence such as is happening in many countries including the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in the US.

Which way forward?

One can clearly see from the above that Pan-Africanism can only be relevant if it seeks to address issues from a much wider perspective. Pan-Africanists have to transcend the narrow scope of seeing things from the point of view of colour. Today almost all countries are multi-racial. This is best articulated in the South African reggae star, Lucky Dube's song One people, different colours. Thus, to continue to harp on the "black race" is a matter of tackling the symptom and leaving the disease in fact.

Pan-Africanists must understand the profit system and learn to analyse issues from the angle of ownership to profit-making property. That is, from the angle of haves and have-nots. The world is divided into two antagonistic groups – the rich minority and the poor majority.
To be to achieve this, and even produce beneficial results, we need to acquire knowledge and live by it. This is tune with the socialist adage that "Practice without theory is blind and theory without practice is empty."

Acquiring knowledge means raising our consciousness. The highest level of consciousness is internationalism. Internationalists see every person as a person regardless of tribe or colour. And the cream of internationalists are socialist. Socialists do not consider the artificial boundaries dividing humanity as a barrier. Wherever they are is home.

However, it is not enough to declare oneself socialist. It is necessary to understand the theory of socialism and how to get the peoples of the world to live by it. This involves, first, the knowledge that society, as at present constituted, is divided into two opposing camps. On the one hand, there are the few privileged owners of the means of livelihood and, on the other, the majority who own nothing and so are forced to slave for the comfort of the propertied minority. The second phase entails striving for a society in which there will be common ownership and democratic control of the means of livelihood; free and equal access to the products of labour; and where, therefore, the concept and use of money (in all its forms) will cease to exist. This society is the socialist society.