Thursday, July 31, 2008

Broken promises , as usual

When the Kenyan government promised to provide free secondary education last year, many parents were elated. Rolling out the programme in January, President Mwai Kibaki said free education would ensure that children from poor homes acquired quality education.

But seven months after the programme was supposed to take off, the government has provided only a quarter of the funding schools need to make it work. Some school administrators have been forced to run the institutions on a credit line while others have opted to reinstate tuition fees to avoid closing down.

Key ministries - among them medical services, roads, education and finance - have already had their budgets slashed to accommodate the increased government expenditure. The free secondary school education programme may just be one of the casualties.

Chinese imperialism at work again

For centuries Africa has failed to gain much benefit from its enormous mineral deposits; they were plundered by colonisers and during wars.

A multi-billion dollar oil deal between China and the west African state of Niger has been denounced by unions and transparency campaigners.
Civil rights groups in Niger are calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the $5bn (£2.5bn) contract and for scrutiny of how funds will be spent.
China's state oil company was given oil exploration rights in Niger in June.
There is widespread concern that the people of Niger will not benefit from the country's oil wealth.

A mining union in Niger said the deal with China took place in the greatest of secrecy and with contempt for regulation.
It is not easy changing the way such deals are struck - political and business elites often have a vested interest in avoiding transparency.
Even when a company or investor wants to disclose the details of a deal, it risks losing its license to a less scrupulous competitor.
There are plenty of examples where governments have failed to do business in the interests of the people they serve.

White collar international fraud

The Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo are losing at least $12m annually in tax avoidance by logging companies, Greenpeace says.

The environmental group says it has evidence showing how firms like German-owned Danzer group have set up "elaborate profit-laundering schemes". In its report, Conning the Congo, Greenpeace alleges the amount of tax lost each year is 50 times the DR Congo's Ministry of Environment's annual operating budget.Greenpeace says it has documents showing that Danzer's Swiss subsidiary company (Interholco AG) buys timber from its African sister companies (Siforco and IFO) at below the market price and then makes up the shortfall by depositing money in offshore bank accounts. In so doing, the group evades paying big corporate tax and export duties.

Environment Minister Jose Endundo told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme."What I can say about forestry, is that the commission in charge of setting the minimum export prices for timber has not met since 2000. So the logging companies took advantage of the situation to export timber at a price under its real value. It means that the Congolese government has suffered losses in terms of foreign currency earnings and taxes."

Sony Playstations and the game of war and death

"Kids in Congo were being sent down mines to die so that kids in Europe and America could kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms," said Ex-British Parliament Member Oona King.

Has the video game industry dug up its very own blood diamond?

According to a report by activist site Toward Freedom, for the past decade the search for a rare metal necessary in the manufacturing of Sony's Playstation 2 game console has fueled a brutal conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At the center of the conflict is the unrefined metallic ore, coltan. After processing, coltan turns into a powder called tantalum, which is used extensively in a wealth of western electronic devices including cell phones, computers and, of course, game consoles.

Allegedly, the demand for coltan prompted Rwandan military groups and western mining companies to plunder hundreds of millions of dollars worth of the rare metal, often by forcing prisoners-of-war and even children to work in the country's coltan mines.

So where's the connection to Sony? According to Toward Freedom, during the 2000 launch of the PS2, the electronics giant was having trouble meeting consumer demand. To pump out more units, Sony required a significant increase in the production of electric capacitors, which are primarily made with tantalum. This helped drive the world price of the powder from $49/pound to a whopping $275/pound, resulting in the frenzied scouring of the Congolese hills known for being ripe with coltan.

Sony has since sworn off using tantalum acquired from the Congo, claiming that current builds of the PS2, PSP and PS3 consoles are sourced from a variety of mines in several different countries.

But according to researcher David Barouski, they're hardly off the hook.

"SONY's PlayStation 2 launch...was a big part of the huge increase in demand for coltan that began in early 1999," he explained. "SONY and other companies like it, have the benefit of plausible deniability, because the coltan ore trades hands so many times from when it is mined to when SONY gets a processed product, that a company often has no idea where the original coltan ore came from, and frankly don't care to know. But statistical analysis shows it to be nearly inconceivable that SONY made all its PlayStations without using Congolese coltan."

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Black and White Unite

The head of South Africa's governing African National Congress, Jacob Zuma, has said he is shocked and embarrassed about white poverty in the country. Mr Zuma was speaking after visiting the Bethlehem township near the capital, Pretoria, where white families live without running water or electricity.
A new report by the charity, which helps poor white communities, says more than 130,000 white people in South Africa are homeless. South Africa's Helping Hand says the number of homeless white people has increased by 58% since 2002.

The trade union Solidarity, whose membership is mainly white said "For a long time whites have been seen as rich and and blacks poor... Talking about white poverty has been seen as politically incorrect. The emergence of this scourge has left everyone looking for answers."

Well the answer has always been socialism . Not the ANC version of what they believed socialism is and what they then jettisoned but the socialism which means "the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind, without distinction of race or sex."

The hate and distrust that exists in society today is a direct result of the nature of societies past and present. A society in which we must compete to survive, in which our jobs are threatened by other workers, in which we do not feel secure, is fertile breeding ground for racism, sexism, nationalism and all the other hatreds that abound.

Even today, while this hatred is sometimes used to pit one worker against another, it appears that overall, these hatreds are being rooted out and made socially unacceptable. This is particularly noticeable in countries like South Africa where there is a shortage of white workers, and black workers must be brought into previously "white" workplaces without the major disruption that is caused by overt racism.

No society can meet our human needs as long as there are different classes of people. Every person has abilities that differentiate them from others, but we are all equal in our humanity. We all have strengths and weaknesses. What we need is a society that allows us to use our strengths, and that accepts and accommodates our weaknesses.

Socialism will be a society geared to meeting human needs, and the need to be accepted for what we are is probably the most basic of human needs. When the breeding ground for these hatreds has disappeared, people will naturally be able to eradicate them with all the other negative leftovers of capitalism.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Africa - The Power-house of Europe

Rationally organised , African natural resources can provide world-wide solutions to the energy crisis .

Speaking at the Euroscience Open Forum in Barcelona
, Arnulf Jaeger-Walden of the European commission's Institute for Energy, said it would require the capture of just 0.3% of the light falling on the Sahara and Middle East deserts to meet all of Europe's energy needs.A tiny rectangle ,an area slightly smaller than Wales yet scientists claimed it could one day generate enough solar energy to supply all of Europe with clean electricity. The scientists are calling for the creation of a series of huge solar farms - producing electricity either through photovoltaic cells, or by concentrating the sun's heat to boil water and drive turbines - as part of a plan to share Europe's renewable energy resources across the continent.

Scientists argue that harnessing the Sahara would be particularly effective because the sunlight in this area is more intense: solar photovoltaic (PV) panels in northern Africa could generate up to three times the electricity compared with similar panels in northern Europe.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A New War for Oil

Gordon Brown will offer British help to the Nigerian government – to fight rebels in the oil-producing Niger delta.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said the focus will be on providing training for the Nigerian military. He said: "Oil supply from Nigeria has been undermined by insecurity in the Niger delta...and to achieve levels of production that Nigeria is capable of"

Major unrest in the impoverished Niger Delta region has cut the country's capacity to pump oil by one-quarter in recent months, helping to drive oil prices to the record high of $145 per barrel.
A series of attacks on installations and the kidnapping of oil workers by the main militant group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), has cut Nigerian oil production by one-quarter. The group is demanding a greater share of oil revenues be given to local people as the Niger Delta is among the poorest regions in Africa, despite the immense oil wealth it produces. Britain is one of the largest investors in Nigeria. About 4,000 Britons live in the west African country, many working for large companies, including the oil and gas companies Royal Dutch Shell and BG Group

A spokesman for Mend, Jomo Gbomo, told The Independent that the UK offer was tantamount to a return to colonial policies of divide and rule:
"They ought to know better than any other country [not] to involve themselves in any other area aside from development. They [the British] are getting frustrated and we will continue frustrating the oil-dependent markets until justice is offered."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mandela pleads for charity

Seems rather than seeking political and social solutions to poverty , Nelson Mandela is now making moral appeals to the benevolence of the capitalist class .

“There are many people in South Africa who are rich and who can share those riches with those not so fortunate who have not been able to conquer poverty,” Mandela said.

But he is certainly 100% correct when he stated "If you are poor, you are not likely to live long,"

Thursday, July 17, 2008

a better life for all

"We don't have houses, we don't have jobs, we don't have anything," said Cyril Mthembu, a 42-year-old unemployed father of three who has lived in Alexandra for 28 years. "So, we are fighting over the little we have."

When apartheid ended in 1994, Mbeki's African National Congress estimated it needed 3 million homes. Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu told parliament earlier this year 2.6 million homes had been built since 1994. But with population growth, migration to the cities and other factors, the housing backlog stands at 2.1 million.Sisulu's department has said it needs to double the rate at which it is delivering homes if it is to reach the goal of ensuring all South Africans — native and newly arrived — have adequate housing by 2024. But the department acknowledges it lacks technical and management skills and that it has been plagued by supply shortages and poor construction.

The frustration among poor blacks has played out in attacks against foreigners, who often end up in squatter camps in Alexandra and elsewhere. South Africa draws immigrants from war-torn Somalia, from Zimbabwe with its political and economic chaos and from Nigeria, where corruption and military rule have blocked growth.The anger has also led to riots over the lack of electricity and running water, and complaints that the houses the government has managed to build are shoddy.

In South Africa, most blacks are the product of an apartheid system meant to ensure they did not gain the skills to compete with whites, with black schools under-equipped and staffed with teachers who in some cases had not finished school themselves. The post-apartheid government has not done enough to reverse that legacy, Gelb , an economist at Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand, said.

"What people are looking for is not a handout, but something that points the way to the future," Gelb said.

Mbeki is credited with spurring growth in South Africa with free market policies, but the boom has yet to trickle down. Unemployment is more than 20 percent, and now a downturn due in part to rising global food and fuel prices — and a dire electricity shortage resulting from poor government planning — will make it even harder to deliver.After several years of growth of about 5 percent, the International Monetary Fund predicts growth this year for South Africa at just 3.8 percent, and cautions even that may be too optimistic.

The "better life for all" the African National Congress promised during the campaign for South Africa's first all-race election 14 years ago was the same promise that capitalism all over the world promises in its attempts to delude workers - a promise rarely fulfilled and invariably broken .

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Diplomatic Hypocrisy

Socialist Banner has no sympathy with the false socialist Mugabe but we can agree with much of this story .

"...Nigeria. Rwanda. Uganda. Ethiopia. Gabon. Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe has plenty of competitors for the title of "least democratic in Africa."

But while he has been singled out for condemnation by the West, leaders of other autocratic states in Africa have largely been able to avoid sanctions and isolation. Many have friends in Western capitals. Or play a strategic role in the war against terrorist groups. Or sit on oil...How many African leaders can point a clean finger at him? How many held a better election than his one-man runoff that followed a campaign of violence against his foes that induced the opposition leader to quit the race?

"It seems Washington and European governments will accept even the most dubious election so long as the 'victor' is a strategic or commercial ally," Kenneth Roth, executive director of New York-based Human Rights Watch said

Among countries he singled out as sham democracies are oil-rich Chad and Nigeria; Uganda, whose President Yoweri Museveni's friendship with President Bush has shielded him from criticism; and Ethiopia, a major U.S. ally against Islamic militants.Other oil producers that have managed to avoid international condemnation include Angola, which hasn't held a presidential election since 1992, and Gabon, where President Omar Bongo seized power in a 1967 coup and now reigns as Africa's longest-serving leader.

"Countries that have made a point of overtly aligning themselves with U.S. narratives and policies regarding terrorism appear to have benefited not only from financial and military support but seem successfully to have diverted attention away from their internal poor governance and human rights abuse," said Akwe Amosu, senior analyst at the Open Society Institute in Washington.

We are minded of that oft quoted statement of diplomacy and real politic.

"He might be a son-of-a-bitch---but he is OUR son-of-a -bitch"

Only sheep need leaders

From the Independant

"Do you find yourself staring at the television and pining for a good leader – a person who will rise and make the world right again? Do you long for a Mandela, a Churchill, a Gandhi? Then grow up. Our political debate – what passes for it – increasingly focuses on a search for an elusive Messianic leader who will show us the way. This is the opposite of rational politics...

...Apartheid was not just a system of laws; it was an economic system where a tiny white elite owned almost everything. By 1990, the elite realised they could no longer maintain the laws – but they fought desperately to maintain economic control. They demanded that the land and resources they had stolen from poor blacks be recognised in the constitution as theirs, and never redistributed. They demanded that the new democracy pick up all of apartheid's debts, making spending to lift up the poor majority impossible. They demanded the recognition of "intellectual property rights", making the distribution of cheap Aids drugs unaffordable. They demanded their apartheid finance minister and head of the Central Bank continue in position. Western governments, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank piled in behind them in support.

Mandela agreed to it all. He discreetly buried the ANC's Freedom Charter, with its commitments to clean water, free healthcare and land for all. The result is that today whites own 70 per cent of the South African economy, despite being only 10 per cent of the population. Mandela believed this deal was the only way to prevent white flight and increase poverty. But he was wrong. Since the fall of apartheid, average life expectancy has fallen by 13 years. The black unemployment rate has doubled. This isn't because white ruled ceased; it is because it continues today, with a new black corporate logo..."

Socialists have always been wary of placing our faith , more importantly , placing our political power into the hands of individuals . The American socialist Eugene Debs who several times stood for the presidency of the United States tried to make workers aware of the danger of trusting leadership .

" I never had much faith in leaders. I am willing to be charged with almost anything, rather than to be charged with being a leader. I am suspicious of leaders, and especially of the intellectual variety. Give me the rank and file every day in the week...I would be ashamed to admit that I had risen from the ranks. When I rise it will be with the ranks, and not from the ranks. "

and again more poignantly he also said:-

"I don't want you to follow me or anyone else. If you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of the capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into this promised land if I could because if I could lead you in, someone else could lead you out."

Today , the World Socialist Movement doesn't have a leader, and nor do any of the Companion Parties, because leadership is undemocratic. If there are leaders, there must be followers: people who just do what they are told.
In the World Socialist Movement, every individual member has an equal say, and nobody tells the rest what to do. Decisions are made democratically by the whole membership, and by representatives or delegates. If the membership doesn't like the decisions of those it elects, those administrators can be removed from office and their decisions overridden.
Only when people have real, democratic control over their own lives will they have the freedom that is socialism.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Fishing Again

Ivory Coast is calling on the United Nations to lift an arms embargo that it says has prevented the defence of its waters from illegal fishing boats.Under the embargo, the government says it cannot buy the spare parts needed to repair two navy boats that used to patrol the country's waters.

Fishing unions say catches have declined by three-quarters to 40,000 crates a year since the start of the conflict because of illegal fishing.

"It's a vital sector," says Jeanson Djobo, the government's director of fish production."Fish is a staple food, so if the fishing sector dies, it'll create lots of problems for Ivorians."

African ministers are meeting in Namibia to discuss how to stop illegal and unregulated fishing.The meeting in the capital, Windhoek, aims to encourage governments in Africa and beyond to register fishing vessels and their activities.Illegal and unregulated fishing is estimated to cost Africa $1bn (£500m) a year in lost revenue.

The ecological cost may, in the long run, be much higher.

"The immediate ecological impact is damage to habitat, because they are using trawls, and trawls are not always good for the ecosystems - they damage habitat for fish," says Dr Diallo ,programme manager for the environmental group WWF's West Africa office, and a former fisheries officer."The second thing is pollution, because they are discharging at sea, and they can do anything they want."

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Nigerian government's health neglect

In Nigeria , 59,000 women die during or soon after childbirth every year.

Nigeria's maternal mortality rate is the second highest in the world, after India -- 1,100 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The country is home to 2 percent of the global population, but 10 percent of all maternal deaths take place there.

The Center for Reproductive Rights places blame squarely on the "government's lack of political will" to implement policies and allocate funds to improve women's health and prevent maternal deaths.

It also points to widespread corruption in the oil-rich country as a fundamental problem undermining health care for women.

For example, one study found that 42 percent of Nigerian health care workers went unpaid for as long as six months, although the funds had been provided by the federal government. As a result, these workers began demanding "contributions" from women seeking maternity-related care.Similarly, the report notes that public health facilities demand that women seeking care provide many of the needed supplies (disinfectant, bandages, etc.), and require the women to purchase a particular brand.Women who deliver in hospitals must pay immediately or risk detention. One informant told CRR researchers of a woman who fled the hospital in the night after undergoing a birth by Caesarian section, even before her stitches were removed.

"I have seen women who after delivery had to come round the wards begging for money."

The government has also failed to provide access to information on family planning and contraception, two issues very closely related to maternal death. Early marriage is common in Nigeria, and young women are often required to conceive immediately and frequently, endangering their health.This failure, CRR charges, means that the government "violates its duties under international human rights law, namely its obligation to ensure the right to health, the right to access family planning services and information, the right to decide on the number and spacing of children, and the right to equality and non-discrimination."