Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ethiopia's Man-made Famine

Ethiopia is a large country (385,925 sq. miles), with a population of just over 101 million (13th largest in the world), which is growing at a yearly rate of around 2.5% (over double the world-wide average). The government proudly boasts that the Ethiopian economy has been growing, by between 7% and 8%.More than half the population live on less than $1 a day; over 80% of the population live in rural areas (where birth-rates are highest) and work in agriculture; the majority being smallholder farmers who rely on the crops they grow to feed themselves and their families. Nevertheless Ethiopia still finds itself ranked 174th out of 188 countries in the UN Human Development Index. This suggests that whatever ‘growth’ the country has achieved, it has not changed the lives of the majority of Ethiopians. It is evidenced by the millions suffering from hunger and malnutrition, has clearly not eradicated food insecurity.

Millions of the poorest, most vulnerable people in Ethiopia are at risk of starvation. Elderly men and women, weak and desperate, wait for food and water; malnourished children lie dying; livestock, bones protruding, perish. According to a statement issued by the World Food Programme (WFP), over 10 million of the most vulnerable require urgent humanitarian assistance. This does not take into account the seven and a half million people who annually receive cash or food from Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme taking the total in need of humanitarian food aid to almost 18 million. The worst affected areas, according to USAID, are the pastoral areas of Afar and Ogaden Region – where people rely totally on their livestock – and the agricultural lowlands of East and West Haraghe – close to the capital Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia – where millions rely on food aid every year – exports food. Since 2008 the government has been leasing huge amounts of fertile agricultural land to so-called “foreign investors’’: international corporations, domestic agents, fund managers, and nations anxious to secure their own future food security. In 2011 it was estimated that 3,619,509 hectares of land have been transferred to investors. and is sold with the understanding that it is cleared of everything – including people, by government forces. Indigenous people (who have lived on the land for generations) are displaced and herded into camps – the universally condemned ‘Villagization’ programme. Over a million people have been affected. Industrial size farms have been built and foodstuffs (not eaten by the native population) grown for export, – to the investor’s homeland – India, for example. Very little, if any, of the food grown is going into the Ethiopian food market, and there are attractive government incentives in place to ensure that food production is exported, providing foreign exchange for the country at the expense of local food supplies. The NGO Oakland Institute found that these commercial agricultural investments, by national and multi-national companies “increase rates of food insecurity” in Ethiopia, and that, despite “endemic poverty and food insecurity, there are no mechanisms in place to ensure that these investments contribute to improved food security.”

It is the poor who die of hunger-related causes throughout the world; it is the poorest people in rural Ethiopia – who constitute some of the poorest people on Earth – who are currently at risk. Every day 35,000 children in the world die of starvation and its attendant causes, but we live in a world of plenty; there is no need for a single man, woman, or child – in Ethiopia or anywhere else – to die because they do not have enough food or water to survive. Oxfam reports that the world now “produces 17% more food per person today than 30 years ago. But close to a billion people go to sleep hungry every night.” And they all live, more or less, in seven countries: India, China, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

The Future of Africa

Africa is blessed with abundant natural resources but plagued by poverty. Africa conjures in the minds of many white people images of backwardness, disease, ignorance and poverty. There appears to be little appreciation of the fact that Africa is the second largest continent in the world and, with a population of about 1.2 billion, the second most populous. Africa holds 60% of the world’s strategic minerals, specifically, 65% of its cobalt, 18% of its gold, 95% of platinum, 42% of diamonds, 8% of natural gas, plus vast deposits of oil and uranium.

This begs the question: why is Africa, so rich in resources, the poorest continent on earth? What is the value of diamonds or gold underground when the owners living above them endure a sad miserable life and cannot exploit them and add value to them?

First, the slave trade, which operated from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century, led to a loss of an estimated 42 million people from Africa, draining the continent of many of its strongest and fittest.

Secondly, the colonial period from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, although it led to the termination of inter-tribal wars and the introduction of law and order and education, also caused considerable damage to the self-confidence of the people, stifled economic development and choked off growth in entrepreneurial skills. Manufacturing was vigorously discouraged so Africa would not compete with factories in the countries of the colonial powers – France, Great Britain, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Germany. For centuries, even up to now, Africa has been primarily an exporter of raw materials and natural produce.

Vast fields are ripe for development, among them solar energy, wind power, oil and other minerals, the processing of cocoa into chocolates and of palm oil into margarine, soap and other detergents. Housing provides another rich opportunity. The irrigation of the Sahara and Kalahari deserts into fruitful agricultural lands, following the recent discovery of water under the deserts, and the mechanisation of farming also deserves attention. All this is only the tip of the iceberg, considering Africa’s tremendous and huge untapped natural and mineral resources.

Attempts to "woo big business", to make common cause between the interests of capital and those of labour are bound to founder on the reality of class struggle. This should be particularly obvious in  countries like South Africa and Nigeria. The legacy of massive structural inequality cannot begin to be tackled through the market mechanism which works to concentrate wealth in fewer hands. Between the hammer of the state and the anvil of the market, the working class will continue to suffer rampant exploitation and grinding poverty.

It does not have to be like this. There is an alternative which, in fact, has far more in common with the best traditions of African communalism, and which looks beyond the state or the market for the real emancipation of the great majority.

There can be no national solution to the struggles of workers in Africa because capitalism is itself international. Their struggles are closely linked to the struggles of workers here in Britain and elsewhere; our fate is bound up with theirs. The Socialist Party, therefore, urges our fellow workers in Africa to seriously consider the socialist alternative.

What we seek cannot be brought about by putting our trust in leaders, no matter how sincere or  enlightened; it must arise from the self-organisation of ordinary people, conscious of that alternative, and determined to make it a reality. Together, we can make it a reality. In so doing, we will have nothing to lose but our chains; we have a World to win.

A war still to be won

Workers in South Africa are yet to access a better life and are trapped in poverty wages, a labour activist said.

“It is common knowledge that workers and the working class, in general, are yet to access a better life as they remain trapped in poverty wages. The wage gap, which is characterised to a large degree by race, continues to perpetuate racial polarisation between workers in the same industry,” said labour activist, Ngako Elifas Ngoepe. “A battle to bring about better working conditions, safer work environment, job security, a living wage and so forth remains an ongoing battle by workers and the working class, in general, the world over.”

Ngoepe said access to mine housing still reflected racial stereotypes with mine hostels remaining 100 percent African, whilst their white counterparts were offered decent family accommodation in nearby suburbs. “Similarly, squatter camps that envelopes the mining areas are characterised by high levels of stinking poverty with neither sewer systems nor adequate water supply.”

Friday, April 29, 2016

Spending more to stay healthy

By 2040, people in developing countries will continue to spend a greater proportion of their own money on healthcare than those in the developed world as national health spending is failing to keep up with demand, a Lancet study warns.

The researchers say that low-income countries only spend around 3 US cents on health for each dollar that rich countries spend. This is unlikely to change in the next 25 years despite growing wealth, according to the paper. This means people living in these countries will have to spend a larger share of their own income on private healthcare than those in rich countries - or forego important health treatments, the authors say.

The research also found that donor money for health services in developing countries is levelling off after tripling between 2000 and 2010. Funding for maternal and child health is growing, but money to care for people with health problems such as HIV/AIDS tuberculosis and malaria is decreasing, the study says

Fact of the Day (Zambia)

40.8% of Zambians living in extreme poverty.

The 2015 living conditions monitoring survey has revealed that 40.8% of the country’s population is living in extreme poverty. The survey has also revealed that 54.4% of the country’s population is poor, while 13.6 percent of the population is moderately poor. The survey indicates that 76.6 percent of the population in rural areas is poor, with 23.4% of the urban population being poor. Western province has the highest population of the poor at 82.2% with Lusaka province having the lowest 20.2%.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The recession bites in South Africa

 Tens of thousands of jobs in mining, metals and engineering are at risk in South Africa as firms cut costs due to the commodity rout. Trade union Solidarity says that as many as 58,549 workers in South Africa could lose their jobs this year across a number of industries. It said that more than 29,000 jobs could go in the mining sector, as well as 8,000 in the metal and engineering industry.

South Africa — which exports vast quantities of platinum, manganese and iron ore — has been hit hard by resource companies cutting costs in the face of declining profits. They've been hurt by sharp falls in commodity prices due to oversupply and slowing demand growth in top consumer China.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

At the crossroads (1997)

From the February 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Of all the African countries, Morocco is the nearest to Europe. It is just 16 kilometres south of the southernmost tip of Spain, across the Straight of Gibraltar. But immediately you step off the ferry from Algeciras, at Tangier, you know that you are no longer in Europe, but in North Africa.

After 44 years of "protectorate”— that is colonial rule—Morocco became independent of France and Spain on 2 March 1956. The Hizb el-Istiqlal (Independence Party) and a number of other pro-nationalist groups, but excluding the Parti Communiste Marocain which was also pro-nationalist, had achieved their aim. The PCM. being good patriots, supported a constitutional monarchy and the reunification of Morocco with Mauritania; but this did not stop the Moroccan government from dissolving the PCM in September 1959. Morocco has been ruled by King Hassan II since 1961.

About the only kind thing that can be said about Morocco is that it is a "guided" bourgeois democracy, where opposition parties (but not "subversive" parties) are generally tolerated —and where Islamic fundamentalists have not, as yet, resorted to the kind of violence witnessed in adjacent Algeria. In Morocco, the king rules with a Parliament, in which two-thirds of the deputies are elected by universal suffrage. and the remaining third are chosen by an electoral college of local councils, professional groups, employers' organisations and a few "tame" trade unionists. The iron fist of the state is generally covered by a velvet glove, although when I was there in 1981, I witnessed students who were demonstrating against the deposed Shah of Iran, who was in the country at the time, mown down by machine-gun fire from Moroccan troops.

French influence is still strong, although less than in the past. Nevertheless, French companies have been responsible for much of Morocco's industrial development. Politically, however, Morocco has. and has had, other less transparent allies and friends.

In 1948, there were about 200,000 Jews living in Morocco: and up to Moroccan independence in 1956, 100,000 of them had left for Israel. Following independence, the new Moroccan government gave in to pressure from other Arab states and forbade emigration to Israel. However, MOSSAD organised secret escape routes bribing Moroccan officials. In 1961, Israel asked France and the United States to intervene with the recently crowned King Hassan II. The king needed Western support, and so quietly co-operated with Israel, thus allowing more than 80,000 Jews, who wanted to go to Israel, to leave the country. Although Morocco was a member of the Arab League, and officially a supporter of the Palestinian cause, it nevertheless established close ties with Israel. MOSSAD helped Morocco organise its secret service; and in 1965, did Morocco a favour by assisting the Moroccan secret-police assassinate their dissident, Mehdi Ben-Barka. Morocco and Israel, sometimes with Egypt, have quietly co-operated ever since.

In 1977 Jonas Savimbi, the Angolan UNITA nationalist leader, backed by South Africa and the United States, travelled to Morocco, where he met King Hassan. From Morocco. UNITA obtained a secure external headquarters in Rabat. Morocco offered Savimbi military training facilities, near Marrakech, for up to 500 men at a time; and Morocco provided UNITA with arms, and other military equipment, most of which came from the United States, over a period of many years. In 1981, Savimbi and other UNIT A rebels met senior State Department officials in Morocco to discuss United States plans for Angola. Morocco has, since independence, been a loyal but subordinate ally of the United States; and the CIA has always had a strong presence in the country.

Economic problems
The Moroccan economy has suffered severe drought in recent years, which has badly affected the predominant agricultural sector. Indeed, agriculture is still dominant. It is the principal source of employment, accounting for half the working population. Most of the farms are not economically viable, with only one percent of the farms having more than 125 acres. Most of the rest are under eight acres.

Since 1993, the government has been involved in a massive privatisation programme of what was largely a state-run, dirigiste, capitalist economy. Banking and foreign currency regulations have been lifted. From the capitalist viewpoint, the Moroccan government claims that it is a success story:
"International fluctuations in commodity prices have led the government to build up a more diversified economy by reducing reliance on agriculture and mining. It has been largely successful since the mining sector's share of GDP had declined steadily from 5.3 percent in the 1970s to 1.8 percent in 1994. Manufacturing has increased its share from an average 16 percent in the 1970s to almost 18 percent in 1990-94 period. The sector's share of total exports has jumped from 20 percent in 1986 to about one-third since 1992" ("Images”, Observer, 22 December 1996).
However, the economy is estimated to have contracted by five percent in 1995.

And how has this affected the majority of the people of Morocco, the workers and the peasant farmers? The Times (26 December) reports that unemployment is 20 percent, with those under 30 years of age suffering unemployment of more than 40 percent. Fifty-one percent of the population are still illiterate; and the per capita income in Morocco, North Africa's poorest country, is just £800 a year.

All this has resulted in thousands of poverty-stricken Moroccan would-be workers "illegally” going to Spain. Scores of them are detained every week, reports the Times. Last summer, 50 Moroccans were apprehended each day in Spain; and 1,300 were detained in June alone. Just how long it will take them, and many others, to realise that escaping the miseries of one country, Morocco, for the miseries of another, Spain, will not solve their problems, we cannot say. All we can say is that they will not solve them, in Morocco or elsewhere, within the framework of world capitalism.
Peter E. Newell

Monday, April 25, 2016

Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200

Not so long ago, when investors, shell-shocked from the 2008 financial crisis, were hunting for the next big growth story, the idea of a resurgent Africa took hold. After decades in which the perception of Sub-Saharan Africa had been that of a continent of poverty, disease, civil wars and corruption, from about 2009 a new, more hopeful, narrative began to gain attraction.

In this version, instead of being the “hopeless continent” — the title of an Economist magazine cover story in 2000 — a new narrative replaced it – "Africa Rising". Africa became the next great investment frontier. Most of its multilateral debt had been forgiven, growth rates had improved since the turn of the century and, for the first time, governments were tapping capital markets at low rates.

Overpopulation is no problem for capitalist growth. Thanks to a high birth rate — in many countries 5 or 6 per woman — the population of Sub-Saharan Africa is likely to double to 2bn by 2050, according to Hans Rosling of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. By contrast, Europe, and the Americas have stopped growing and Asia’s population is leveling out. African cities were thus said to be brimming with young aspirants ready to buy branded beer (rather than cheap moonshine), toothpaste, mobile phones, motorbikes and, perhaps before too long, cars and houses. That means a newer bigger market. But the conviction that there is a growing African middle class, which has done most to drive business interest in the continent, is fragile.

The boom was fed by China’s voracious appetite for African oil, copper, iron ore, bauxite and sundry other commodities which pushed up the GDP of countries from Angola to Zambia. Similarly, its China began to invest in roads, ports and power stations.

“Africa was about to become the new Asia,” says Richard Dowden, executive director of the Royal African Society in London, and author of The Economist’s “hopeless continent” article. It was, he says, “absolutely ridiculous”.

Moeletsi Mbeki is an academic and younger brother of Thabo Mbeki, the former South African president noted that few countries have a strategy to match Asian economies, such as Taiwan and South Korea, which built prosperity on manufacturing and exports. “Africa is still not yet in the manufacturing age.” [With exception of Ethiopia]

“Africa has always been valued for its commodities, whether it’s gold or diamonds or slaves,” says historian Martin Meredith. “‘Africa Rising’ was based on the Chinese being prepared to trade heavily to get their hands on those raw materials.”
That phase is over.

“You’ve gone from huge over-exuberance to uber-pessimism without anything much in between,” says David Cowan, Africa Economist at Citibank.

Nigeria and South Africa, which together make up more than half of sub-Saharan Africa’s gross domestic product, are in deep trouble. Nigeria’s petroleum-dependent economy will be lucky to notch up GDP growth of 3 percent this year, barely enough to keep up with population expansion. The naira is under pressure, foreign exchange is rationed, the budget is strained and a balance of payments crisis is looming. South Africa is in even worse shape, convulsed politically, battered by deep job losses in its struggling mines and facing the real possibility of a downgrade of its sovereign debt to junk.

Other African states, especially commodity producers, are struggling. Angola, which had been pumping out oil and purring along at double-digit growth rates, has turned to the International Monetary Fund. Mozambique is in dire straits after squandering much of the proceeds of international borrowing. The grotesque use by politicians of windfall profits around the continent is a reminder that corruption is alive and well.

In country after country, growth is slowing, external positions weakening and fiscal deficits widening. In its semi-annual report, the World Bank forecast growth in Sub-Saharan Africa of just 3.3 percent this year, less than half the average of 6.8 per cent recorded between 2003 and 2008. Because of their growing populations, most African states need nearly 3 percent growth just to stand still in per capita terms. Vijay Mahajan helped consolidate optimism with his 2009 book ‘Africa Rising: How 900m African Consumers Offer More Than You Think.’ But Mahajan, built his thesis on less-than-robust advertising classifications of spending power of a “middle class” that were scraping by on a few dollars a day in insecure jobs. (His book title he admits was his publisher’s spin.)

 Many well-paid jobs are in the bloated public sector, funded by governments that may no longer be able to afford such expense. In recent years, consumer goods companies have been forced to chase their customers downmarket, offering them smaller packet sizes (the two-cigarette pack has hit the streets of Harare) or economy brands to keep cash-strapped customers loyal. Perhaps the biggest flaw in the middle-class story is that with a few exceptions, Africa hardly makes anything. For too many countries, the economic model continues to be to dig stuff out of the ground and sell it to foreign companies.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

African Leaders Flying High

The US president has “Air Force One” – or more specifically, two customised Boeing 747-200B aircraft fitted with secure communications equipment, a large office, a conference room and a medical suite that can function as an operating room. In Africa, the fleet of presidential planes is diverse, as one might expect. Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, for instance, has no less than ten airplanes in his presidential fleet. Chad’s Idriss Deby, in contrast, has only four presidential planes – a Boeing Business Jet, a Gulfstream II, a Beechcraft 1900 and a Fokker. On the other hand, some African leaders – such as Cameroon’s Paul Biya – prefer to charter luxury planes.

 Earlier this month, stories of the new presidential jet found their way into local news again after it emerged that around 800 South African peacekeeping troops in Darfur, Sudan, had been stranded as the military scrambled to bring them home. The problem, according to local reports, was the military’s “unoperational” C130 heavy-lift aircraft. As an editorial in South African daily “The Times”, noted, “Finding the money to replace the ageing C130 fleet has to take precedence over vanity projects such as buying a new presidential jet.” Given the circumstances, his administration’s bid to acquire a new presidential jet with a long-haul fuel range of 13,800 kilometers complete with a luxury bedroom suite and a conference room was not about to go down well with the opposition. Sure enough, the estimated bill of around $280 million sparked howls of protest and calls to scrap the new aerial acquisition plan.

Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, which consistently ranks at the bottom of the UN Human Development Index. Earlier this year, President Mahamadou Issoufou was sworn in for a second term in office following an election boycotted by the opposition. But back in 2014, when Issoufou announced the acquisition of a $40 million Boeing 737-700 to replace the existing presidential jet, it sparked howls of protest from the opposition. With our country facing a new famine and with further serious flooding this year, the state decides to spend billions [of CFA or Central African Francs] on a prestige purchase," Ousseini Salatou, spokesman for the Nigerien opposition coalition, told reporters. By then of course, it was already too late.

Cameroonian President Paul Biya decided he wanted a new plane to replace the existing presidential plane – called “the Pelican” – for his personal and official trips. But the impoverished West African nation at that time was trying to reduce its debt under a World Bank and IMF programme. The bill for a Boeing Business Jet class aircraft was not going to pass muster with the international financial institutions. So, the country’s elites came up with a strategy to appease their “Big Man”. The aircraft would be bought by the country’s national carrier, Camair. A financial package was duly set up, with the money – $33 million – coming from the National Oil Corporation, known by its French acronym, SNH. Three years later, with the jet duly delivered, Biya – along with First Lady Chantal and the couple’s children – boarded the new presidential plane for an inaugural flight bound for Geneva. But the aircraft developed technical problems and had to make an emergency landing in the Cameroonian port city of Douala.
The saga of the Albatross, as the plane was called, had just begun. The plane Biya and his family had boarded turned out not to be new at all. Through a series of intermediaries and shady negotiations, the Cameroonian state had merely leased the Albatross, an old Boeing 767-212. And the $33 million coughed up for a spanking new presidential plane had disappeared. A darker chapter began shortly after that doomed April 24, 2004 "inaugural" flight of the presidential plane. Was the acquisition – or rather non-acquisition – of the faulty aircraft part of a grand plot to overthrow or bump off the president? “The Albatross Affair” – as the scandal came to be called – suddenly had all the elements of a high-profile murder plot. Ministers – who also happened to be threats to Biya’s grip on power – were arrested in succession and thrown into the high-security Kondengui prison in the Cameroonian capital of Yaounde. The senior officials in jail included a politician a 2007 WikiLeaks cable revealed to be the man favoured by the US, France, and other Western diplomats to lead the country. Some in Yaounde joked that there were enough top politicians in the country’s high security jail to form a parallel government in Kondengui. Since then, La Lettre du Continent notes, Biya has "not dared" buy a presidential plane. The Cameroonian strongman instead relies on luxury private charter jets to ferry him back and forth from Cameroon to Europe. This happens alarmingly often since the octogenarian leader spends extended periods living in a Swiss hotel, which has earned him the moniker “the absentee landlord” in diplomatic circles. A presidential plane waiting to be used

Sometimes intrigue and presidential planes go hand in hand and one of Africa’s newest leaders is apparently not above the fray. Benin’s President Patrice Talon – a tycoon-turned-politician who was sworn into office on April 6 – is not enthusiastic about using the country’s new presidential plane, according to La Lettre du Continent. The jet, a Boeing 737, was ordered by Talon’s predecessor and arch rival, Boni Yayi and delivered just 24 hours before the new president was sworn in. According to the French bimonthly, Talon has requested a technical investigation of the aircraft.  But the paranoia between Talon and Yayi runs both ways. In 2013, the current Beninese president was accused of trying to poison his predecessor. Talon was forced to flee Benin for France, where he stayed until a presidential pardon was issued a year later. Under the circumstances, Talon probably has good reason to be suspicious. Meanwhile, the spanking-new Boeing 737 lies waiting to be used.

In Senegal, the saga of the presidential aircraft dubbed “La Pointe de Sangomar” [a narrow sandbar in the Atlantic Ocean west of Senegal] finally ended in June 2014, when President Macky Sall donated the plane to the country’s air force after failing to find a buyer. A Boeing 727-2M1 fitted with a private bedroom, a shower as well as presidential and ministerial meeting rooms, “La Pointe de Sangomar” served three presidents – including Senegal’s founding father, Leopold Sedar Senghor, and his successors, Abdou Diouf and Abdoulaye Wade. The controversy around “La Pointe de Sangomar” erupted during Wade’s last term in office, when the increasingly unpopular octogenarian leader announced his plan to buy a new presidential carrier, arguing that “La Pointe de Sangomar” was outdated and frequently ran into mechanical problems. Wade replaced the presidential aircraft with a new Airbus 319 christened “La Pointe de Sahel” in 2011, sparking an outcry, with opposition leaders noting that the $43 million for the new acquisition was not authorised in the country’s budget. Two years later, Wade’s successor Sall came to power. After several unsuccessful bids to sell the “La Pointe de Sangomar”, the aging presidential plane was finally donated to the Senegalese Air Force. The aircraft is expected to spend its last days in an army museum, where the exhibits include three presidential limousines.

Obiang set to become Africa's longest ruler

Africa’s longest-serving ruler, Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, looks set to win a fresh seven-year term. Obiang initially took office in a 1979 coup, ousting his own uncle, Francisco Macias Nguema, who was then rapidly dispatched before a firing squad. He has since acted to preempt any new putsch, regularly claiming to have quashed attempted coups and building a fortress state policed by security personnel in every public nook and cranny.

Obiang captured 95% of the vote in last presidential election. The elections have no chance of being free and fair.  The main opposition Progressive Party of Equatorial Guinea is banned and its leader Severo Moto won’t be on the presidential candidate ballot.

For all of the wealth Equatorial Guinea’s natural-resources generates, the country remains one of the world’s poorest with three-quarters of its fewer than 1 million people mired in poverty. The U.S. Department of Justice in 2014 reached a settlement with Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the Equatorial Guinea president’s son who is seen as his potential successor, forcing him to sell a $30 million mansion in Malibu, California, a Ferrari and various items of Michael Jackson memorabilia, that he purchased in the U.S. “with the proceeds of corruption.” It also ordered that certain other assets of his, including a Gulfstream Jet, would be subject to seizure and forfeiture if they are brought into the U.S.

Round the horn (1986) - Book review

Round the horn (1986)

Book Review from the November 1986 issue of theSocialist Standard

Preston King. An African Winter (Penguin, 1986) 

The area occupied by Sudan and Ethiopia became a focus of world attention as a result of the recent drought and famine. This study attempts to analyse the problems suffered by these countries and by Africa as a whole as it competes in the world of international capitalism. The various states suffer from many problems, not least in relation to their former colonial rulers. Added to this is a climate of devastating heat and uncertain rain with the threat of pest devastation. If that were not sufficient, these problems are further exacerbated by eruptions of conflict between and within the African states.

Ironically, if we examine infant mortality rates they compare with those in Europe and America at the turn of the century, as King points out:
the major infant killers in New York. Birmingham and Paris eighty-five years ago were those which now scissor their way through Addis Ababa. Nairobi. N'Djamena and the so-called Homelands of South Africa, (p.35)
These include diarrhoea, pneumonia, bronchitis and infections such as tuberculosis. The famine in Ethiopia that received international attention after October 1984 caused a massive influx of aid. Yet that attenuation of human misery did not relieve the underlying causes of the misery. There are also political considerations affecting how and why aid is granted. The establishment of the regime of Colonel Mengistu in 1974 after the overthrow of Haile Selassie, led to shift in support from American and the EEC to Soviet sources. Ethiopia has also suffered from an internal conflict with Eritrea which it absorbed in 1962 after federation with Ethiopia had been established by UN charter in 1952. After 1975 there was a revolt in Tigray province on the southern border of Eritrea. Ethiopia suffered from military incursions by the Somalis especially into Ogaden. It is these conflicts that have absorbed the energies of Mengistu's government. During the period 1977- 79 it is estimated that debts of some US $2 billion were owed to Russia for armaments — debts which it could not possibly meet. King argues that "Ethiopians are dying in the north because combatants on both sides place a higher value upon future political structures than upon immediate human suffering" (p.64). It is not simply the internal war over who will achieve political supremacy that is the problem but also a conflict within the Horn of Africa between the rivalry of America and Russia "to demonstrate which of the superpowers is blessed with the more powerful musculature" (p.64). In the nineteenth century the same conflict had occurred between France and Britain.

The Horn juts into a region containing the world's major oil reserves. Sudan and Ethiopia may have extensive reserves themselves. The Horn also represents a major strategic area for both America and Russia as well as being adjacent to the important transport routes of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. It is little wonder that when drought and famine occur, there is a limited capacity for response. The absurdity of this situation is pinpointed by King when discussing the Somali-Ethiopia conflict:
the 1977-8 war could not have been fought had the modem weaponry not been so indulgently supplied. The Americans (after the Second World War) first armed the Ethiopians; then the Soviets (after 1963) armed the Somalis; then the Somalis (1964 and 1977) attacked the Ethiopians; during which the Soviets re-armed the Ethiopians; after which the Americans and their allies re-armed the Somalis, (p. 116)
Even where a country has been funded for development purposes the problems of international finance can have disastrous consequences. By 1985 Sudan's debt was $11 billion representing $500 per head of population in a country whose GNP per capita was less than $400. The IMF's typical response was to suggest austerity measures.

It is no coincidence that Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia have doubled as theatres of war and famine. In 1985 the government of Siad Barre spent 65 per cent of its budget on military expenditure. The Somali government has pursued a policy of absorbing neighbouring territories inhabited by people whom it sees as having a Somali identity, regardless of the national barriers arbitrarily imposed by the former colonial powers. Somalia has courted aid from various sources as was seen above. For Russia it is reported that in return for military aid they were granted unrestricted access to Somali airfields which would allow reconnaissance over the Indian Ocean. Since 1980 the United States have been offered the use of Soviet built air and naval bases at Barbera for their Rapid Deployment Force.

The double standard involved in the conflicts within the Horn over autonomy and independence fail to recognise the dependency on foreign aid and on the very fact of having to exist in modern capitalism. The fuelling of nationalistic claims is contrary to the international nature of capital. Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia waste precious energies upon causes which have little benefit for the inhabitants of those countries. Rather they exacerbate the inability to cope with natural disasters that periodically occur. For the superpowers it is a battle to achieve spheres of influence again with scant regard for the needs of the indigenous populations.

The world is economically interdependent and for King this emphasises the waywardness of pursuing nationalistic imperatives. He seems to have a view of a one-world capitalist system which could be of benefit to the emerging African states through such multi-national organisations as the UN. He wishes to see a system whereby the poorer states can exercise more control over their lives and this would involve equalising power between rich and poor states:
there are various measures which can be pursued — liberalizing trade, providing greater aid., stabilizing commodity prices, stabilizing arrangements with multi-nationals, increasing investment in Third World agricultural and industrial development — which in fact should prove mutually beneficial to Africa and the North. (p.211)
Yet this flies in the face of all the evidence he has previously presented of an essentially competitive world in which conflict is endemic. His warnings about nuclear armageddon or ecological collapse are real threats and point to the need for an alternative future, but his view is limited and this he admits when he accepts that "development — meaning the achievement of greater equality between nations — will most certainly not end all inequity, brutality, exploitation and the rest. But there is no alternative" (p.221). His programme is to offer alternative relative poverty. He admits that the difference between poor and rich in developing and developed nations is little different in that "the domestic gap between rich and poor within developing states is on average no more than 4 per cent greater than within developed states" (p.220) but argues that the relative standards of living would see an actual improvement for the "third world" nations.

What King fails to extrapolate from his evidence are the possibilities inherent within technology and world resources for a radical alternative future. This is not based on the pious hope of a transformed. caring capitalism, which even King admits is untenable. King wants democracy so that the needs of individuals can be met. but this notion is not consistent with capitalism. It is only when we begin with the desire to fulfil the needs of individuals that the transformation of society can begin and the inequalities and impoverishment imposed by capitalism be removed.
Philip Bentley

Friday, April 22, 2016

Xenophobia in Zambia

Violence erupted earlier this month in slum areas of the capital after foreigners, especially Rwandans, were blamed for the recent murders of at least seven people, whose body parts such as ears, hearts and penises had been removed. Locals argued that these were ritual murders committed by foreigners to secure body parts used for good luck charms.

As a result, hundreds of Lusaka residents stoned houses and shops owned by foreign nationals, with hundreds of foreigners seeking refuge at police stations and churches as looters took food, drinks, refrigerators and other electrical appliances. Two people were burned to death in those anti-immigration riots in the country's capital, Lusaka. The two dead had been identified as Zambians who died "in the confusion" as riots tore through the shantytowns.  According to the police, more than 60 foreign-owned shops have been looted or destroyed in Lusaka in the past week and there were calls to "rid the country of all immigrants"

Zambia's government is trying to send hundreds of refugees back to camps. Refugees who built lives in residential neighbourhoods were not willing to return to camps even though they were facing imminent threats.

"People here say they don't want to return to refugee camps because there is no way to make a living and conditions are poor," Al Jazeera's reporter, Fahmida Miller, said

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Doomed Africans?

The Nairobi-based United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) assessed the negative impact of climate change on Africa and concluded that human existence on the continent was at severe risk. It sid that “No continent will be struck as severely by the impacts of climate change as Africa.” 54 countries with a combined population of over 1,200 billion inhabitants. The World Bank, basing on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, confirmed that Africa is becoming the most exposed region in the world to the impacts of climate change. In Sub-Saharan Africa, extreme weather will cause dry areas to become drier and wet areas wetter; agriculture yields will suffer from crop failures; and diseases will spread to new altitudes, say the World Bank experts, while alerting that by 2030 it is expected that 90 million more people in Africa will be exposed to malaria, “already the biggest killer in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

By 2020, between 75 and 250 million people in Africa are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change.

1.  By 2020, in some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%.

2. Agricultural production, including access to food, in many African countries is projected to be severely compromised. This would further adversely affect food security and exacerbate malnutrition.

3. Towards the end of the 21st century, projected sea level rise will affect low-lying coastal areas with large populations.

4.  By 2080, an increase of 5 to 8 per cent of arid and semi-arid land in Africa is projected under a range of climate scenarios,

5.  The cost of adaptation could amount to at least 5 to 10% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Temperatures: By 2050, average temperatures in Africa are predicted to increase by 1.5 to 3°C, and will continue further upwards beyond this time. Warming is very likely to be larger than the global annual mean warming throughout the continent and in all seasons, with drier subtropical regions warming more than the moister tropics.

Ecosystems: It is estimated that, by the 2080s, the proportion of arid and semi-arid lands in Africa is likely to increase by 5-8 per cent. Ecosystems are critical in Africa, contributing significantly to biodiversity and human well-being. Between 25 and 40 per cent of mammal species in national parks in sub-Saharan Africa will become endangered. There is evidence that climate is modifying natural mountain ecosystems via complex interactions and feedbacks.

Rainfall: There will also be major changes in rainfall in terms of annual and seasonal trends, and extreme events of flood and drought. Annual rainfall is likely to decrease in much of Mediterranean Africa and the northern Sahara, with a greater likelihood of decreasing rainfall as the Mediterranean coast is approached.

Droughts: By 2080, an increase of 5 to 8 per cent of arid and semi-arid land in Africa is projected under a range of climate scenarios. Droughts have become more common, especially in the tropics and subtropics, since the 1970s.

Human health: already compromised by a range of factors, could be further negatively impacted by climate change and climate variability, e.g., malaria in southern Africa and the East African highlands.

Water: By 2020, a population of between 75 and 250 million and 350-600 million by 2050, are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change. Climate change and variability are likely to impose additional pressures on water availability, water accessibility and water demand in Africa. In Ethiopia, owners bring their livestock to sell for destocking purposes. El Niño impacts have made it necessary to reduce herd sizes.

Agriculture: By 2020, in some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 per cent. Agricultural production, including access to food, in many African countries is projected to be severely compromised. Projected reductions in yield in some countries could be as much as 50 per cent by 2020, and crop net revenues could fall by as much as 90 per cent by 2100, with small-scale farmers being the most affected.

Sea-level rise: Africa has close to 320 coastal cities –with more than 10,000 people– and an estimated population of 56 million people (2005 estimate) living in low elevation (10-m) coastal zones. Toward the end of the 21st century, projected sea level rise will affect low-lying coastal areas with large populations.

Energy: Access to energy is severely constrained in sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated 51 per cent of urban populations and only about 8 per cent of rural populations having access to electricity. Extreme poverty and the lack of access to other fuels mean that 80 per cent of the overall African population relies primarily on biomass to meet its residential needs, with this fuel source supplying more than 80 per cent of the energy consumed in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Food and Agriculture Organization explains that the increasingly unpredictable and erratic nature of weather systems on the continent have placed an extra burden on food security and rural livelihoods. “Agriculture is expected to pay a significant cost of the damage caused by climate change.” The agriculture sector is also likely to experience periods of prolonged droughts and /or floods during El- Nino events. And fisheries will be particularly affected due to changes in sea temperatures that could decrease trends in productivity by 50-60 per cent.

GMO and Nigeria

An agriculture economist, Dr Thaddeaus Thompson, yesterday, warned against accepting food production and preservation using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the agriculture sector, saying that it will be a great mistake.

Thompson made the assertion while considering the food politics played by some agriculture multinationals that are seriously luring some African countries to accept genetically modified (GM) seeds for food production and preservation in order to make huge financial gains at the expense of the health and environment of the people. He particularly cautioned the Nigerian government to consider the gray facts left out in the GM seeds offered by agriculture giants from America and Europe before making any decision to accept it or not, noting that Nigeria lacks the finance and technology to handle the negative side of GM seeds.

He explained “Because genetically modified food production is more focused on financial gains rather than feeding populations, the government must exercise caution engaging in any contractual deal with the big biotech companies which interest is making money. What Nigeria lacks is excessive technology and not excessive food.  Biotech companies make the most gain and not the local farmers. A lot of misleading information has clouded research, leaving gray areas around the GMO conversation.” According to him, “GMO technology was designed for mass production of food and would be necessary for countries in famine, which Nigeria is not, and the government should not think of that option to meet the people’s food demands as there are better and environment friendly food production and preservation technologies that could be adopted for mass food production for the teeming population.

Kinnock's Tanzanian illusion (1985)

Editorial from the September 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

You can always test the authenticity of those who claim to be socialists by asking for a definition of socialism. For example, a "socialist" who tells you that the Russian Empire, where independent trade unions are illegal and criticism of the government leads to imprisonment, is an example of socialism in action clearly knows as much about the subject as the Duke of Edinburgh does about living in a slum. Likewise, anyone who says that Labour governments have run socialism are soon answered by a Labour Party chairman who stated that “Never has any previous government done so much in so short a time to make modem capitalism work" (Douglas Houghton, The Times, 25 April 1967).

In July Neil Kinnock visited Africa, ostensibly to show his concern for those dying as a consequence of the world capitalist system which he and his party perpetuate. While there he paid a visit to the so-called socialist nation of Tanzania, presided over by Julius Nyerere. If we are to believe Martin Kettle's Guardian report of Kinnock's trip ("Kinnock counts himself as a Nyerere fan", 26 July 1985), the Labour leader was most impressed by the Tanzanian effort to create "socialism in one country". What. then, can we learn from this "socialism" ?

In 1967 the Arusha Declaration of Socialist Reconstruction initiated Nyerere"s policy of ujamaa. Stripped of its ideological pretensions, this policy is based on the assumption that state regulation of industry and agriculture will lead to prosperity for all the people. In short, it is a policy for state capitalism. At the time of the Arusha Declaration Tanzania’s most profitable export was sisal. 230,000 tonnes of which were sold annually. In 1984 a mere 47,000 tonnes were exported, largely because of the state’s economic mismanagement of sisal production. Although there is no natural or technological reason for the decline in sisal production, profits are falling because strict capitalist standards of efficient exploitation have not been adopted by the state-run Tanzanian Sisal Authority (TSA). In response to this Nyerere, who is due to retire as President in November, has ordered the beginning of a process of privatisation of the sisal estates. By returning them to private capitalist ownership and control he and his government hope to increase profits. So, after a recent visit to the sisal-growing Tanga region of his country. Nyerere ordered the TSA to declare that it will sell off twelve of its thirty-nine estates to private investors within the next year. Shortly before this the state- controlled Morogoro Oilseed Processing Company (Moproco) was informed by the government that its most profitable assets were to be sold off to private investors. Nyerere insists that all of this is in line with the ujamaa policy: "ujamaa is here to stay" he stated in a recent speech (reported in Concord- a Nigerian publication - 13 June 1985). But at the same time Nyerere"s party, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi. is advocating the policy of tujisahihishe which is based on the assumption that “socialism" must learn from the economic methods of Western capitalism.

Let us take a look at what it is that has impressed Kinnock about Tanzania. Clearly, it is not a socialist society. Apart from the fact that socialism cannot under any circumstances exist in one country, there is nothing about the Tanzanian economy which distinguishes it from capitalism. Production is for profit; workers receive wages which are less than the value of what they produce; the state exists in order to regulate the profit system; access to goods and services is determined by how much money people possess. Tanzania can be characterised as a state-capitalist country — a nation in which the main productive forces have been nationalised.

Kinnock does not understand the difference between state ownership (capitalism) and common ownership (socialism) and therefore he is "a Nyerere fan". But, in the light of recent economic developments in Tanzania, there is reason to believe that Margaret Thatcher might be joining Kinnock in the fan club. After all, what can be more acceptable to Thatcher's outlook than the transfer of centralised state ownership to private ownership? Is not Nyerere"s policy in relation to Moproco and TSA not a Tanzanian version of Thatcher s policy for British Telecom and Britoil?

If Kinnock is a fan of such policies in Africa may we assume that a future Labour government led by him would do the same in Britain privatise the unprofitable NCB, perhaps? The hard fact for partisans of the conflict between state capitalism and private capitalism is that neither offers any alternative to the problems generated by a society which produces for profit rather than need. Some private-capitalist countries will nationalise industries when it is profitable to do so (that is why nationalisation in Britain was initiated by avowedly capitalist parties) and some state-capitalist countries will privatise, as Tanzania is doing now. None of this has anything to do with socialism, which will only be established when workers get rid of both private and state capitalism. For Neil Kinnock to help spread the illusion that there is socialism in Tanzania is proof either of his political ignorance or his dishonesty; whichever it is, we can be sure how far to trust him when he preaches to workers about socialism.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Ghana, the Waste Dump

40 million tonnes of electric and electronic waste (also known as e-waste) are produced worldwide every year. That is boundless heaps of refrigerators, computers, television sets, ovens, telephones, air conditioning units, lamps, toasters and other electric and electronic devices, with a total weight equal to seven times that of the Great Pyramid of Giza. The greatest producers of e-waste per person are the United States and the European Union, while developing countries, such as China, are producing an ever-increasing amount. Only a small part of this waste – about 15.5% in 2014 – is recycled with methods that are efficient and environmentally safe. Researchers from the University of Ghana explained that "the treatment of e-waste in full respect of developed countries’ environmental laws increases its costs, and highly polluting procedures will tend to migrate towards developing countries, where there are no such laws".

Ghana is an important centre for receiving, re-using, recovering and disposing of electronic waste. Accra, the capital, hosts a thriving second-hand market, a sprawling network of repair shops, and a range of activities which attempt to tap into the full potential of e-waste. And yet, it is also the location of an enormous and heavily polluted electronic waste dumpsite. A significant part of Ghana’s e-waste is transported to Agbogbloshie, a suburb of Accra. Here, men and children extract copper, aluminium and other materials – using methods that are harmful to health and the environment – which are to be shipped back towards the factories and refineries in developed countries. To call Agbogbloshie "the largest electronic waste dump in Africa" is - paradoxically - an understatement: it is actually a city within the city. This is where the poorest classes of Accra have spent years dismantling, recovering, weighing and reselling parts and metals extracted from the scrapped devices and from the heaps of electronic waste.

"What was once a green and fruitful landscape is now a graveyard of plastics and skeletons of abandoned appliances," explains Mike Anane, an environmental activist from Accra. "The e-waste boys burn hundreds of kilos of electric cables to extract the copper and then resell it for just a few cedis per kilogram. The toxic fumes rise into the sky, poison the air and then settle on the soil and on the vegetables sold at the market," explains Anane. The consequences fall directly on the inhabitants’ shoulders. "Our boys have very serious health problems," says Wolfgang Mac-Din, of founder of Help the African Child, a foundation that supports Agbogbloshie’s children, providing them with free schooling and protection masks, among other things. "Some of them, like Fuseini, 19 years old, or Ben, 16 years old, we found already dead. Others have cancer."

A team of researchers from Ghana and the United States have collected and analysed blood samples from Agbogbloshie workers. "The samples have revealed high levels of lead," explains team researcher Onallia Osei, "and the amount of time in which one is exposed to e-waste seems to determine the amount of lead present in the blood." (International growth centre)

Traces of iron, lead and antimony have been detected in the e-waste boys’ urine samples. Scientists speculate that these heavy metals originate from the fish and seafood around which the eating habits of Agbogbloshie’s inhabitants are based. (Science of The Total Environment – Volume 424, 2012)

Disturbing amounts of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) have emerged from the analysis of breast milk in the Agbogbloshie area. PCBs are highly toxic compounds found in old electrical appliances. The analysed samples have shown levels ranging from two to 34 times the threshold allowed by international PCB standards. (Environment International, 2011)

An air control station installed in the Agbogbloshie dumpsite has detected iron, lead and copper. 1.5 milligrams per cubic metre of copper (the allowed threshold is 1.0 mg), 7.8mg/ m³ of iron (threshold: 5.0) and 0.72 mg/ m³ of lead (threshold: 0.15) have been found. These thresholds are meant for work areas, but Agbogbloshie is actually an entire area of Accra with about 90,000 inhabitants. (Journal of Health and Pollution, 2011)


Out of 100 soil samples collected in Agbogbloshie, more than half have shown an amount of lead which is over twice as much as the standards allowed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). The detected values range from a minimum of 135 ppm (parts-per-million) to a maximum of 18.125 ppm. The threshold indicated in the USEPA guidelines is of 400 ppm. (Journal of Health and Pollution, 2011)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Nest-egging for a rainy day

The boom years of the commodities and the fast-growing African economies produced a growing class of millionaires and billionaires. According to a study by Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management, there were nearly 150,000 “high net worth individuals” in Africa by 2014, sharing wealth of $1.44tn.

But the revelations of the Panama Paper has the rich and famous worldwide squirming as their financial dirty laundry gets a public airing. Some of the documents released has uncovered illegal or scandalous conduct. But it may be revelations about the routine nature of offshore finance that have the most lasting impact. Mounting evidence suggests that a preference among African elites to shield their assets offshore means that inequality is greater than generally realised.

Between 1970 and 2010 an estimated $814bn flowed out of the continent, according to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts.  “Most of the estimates we have for inequality leave out the fact that the top 1 per cent, in addition to all the money in their domestic accounts, have a lot of money offshore,” says James Henry, an expert in offshore finance and former chief economist of McKinsey & Company.

In Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and top oil producer, for example, the number of individuals with assets over $1m surged by 44 per cent between 2005 and 2013, to 15,700.
Ethiopia, which has struggled with food insecurity and famine for decades, is producing millionaires at a faster rate than anywhere else on the continent. Between 2007 and 2014, the number more than doubled, from 1,300 to 2,700, according to New World Wealth, a consultancy based in the UK and South Africa.

The offshore industry has been growing since 2010 as stock markets in the region have taken off. The gains tended to accrue to a small elite and, thanks to the increasing ease with which money can be moved, the rate at which it flows offshore has surged. Global Financial Integrity, an NGO, estimates that illicit flows out of Africa are increasing at a rate of 20 per cent a year.
“Most ordinary people do not have stocks, so it is simply a result of the ownership of securities that has been a fact,” says Mr Henry at McKinsey. “What we tend to find is that once it is offshore, [money] stays offshore and is reinvested . . . Basically people are looking at this as their nest egg for when they get thrown out of power or need to retire.”

While rainy day funds held offshore tend to stay there, an estimated 20 per cent of such assets do circulate back into domestic markets. One popular avenue is through privatisation. However, such investments tend not to stay in domestic markets for long, as the companies invested in can then be used as vehicles to shift significant amounts of wealth offshore. “In every respect, this is an extremely poor quality of investment,” says John Christensen, director of the Tax Justice Network.

The private banking industry that caters to Africa’s wealthiest, including their offshore needs, has attracted many of the biggest global banks. Swiss banks such as UBS, Credit Suisse and Julius Baer are all major players in African private banking, as are family-owned banks Pictet & Cie and Lombard Odier. Big French banks such as BNP and Société Générale as well as British banks HSBC, Standard Chartered and the upmarket Coutts are also significant players.

Johannesburg-listed Standard Bank is among the firms that have expanded their services to cater to Africa’s new class of wealthy individuals. In 2009 it established a Wealth and Investment business as an offshoot of its existing Private Clients division, catering to individuals with $1m in investable assets or more. Since then, its business in South Africa has trebled, while franchises in Nigeria and Kenya have each grown by over 50 per cent. Offshore is a key component of the services offered. “Almost all of our clients chose to externalise a part of their discretionary savings into safe havens such as our offshore jurisdictions,” says Deon de Klerk, Jersey-based head of Africa and International for Standard Bank Wealth and Investment. “This part of their wealth is seen as the nest egg and philosophically tends to be managed for long-term capital preservation,” he adds. “UK property has been very attractive over the past few years, and many wealthy Africans own second properties there.” The business currently has in excess of $12bn in assets under management worldwide.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Time to Go Mugabe

In the first anti-government rally in years, thousands hit streets of Harare in Zimbabwe to protest against economic mismanagement. Thousands marched through the streets calling for an end to the rule of longtime President Robert Mugabe. Police had initially threatened to ban the  protest but were eventually ordered by the High Court to allow it to go ahead.

Zimbabwe's economic crisis has worsened in recent months, taking a toll on employment rates and government expenditure.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Rwanda's shameful arms trade

Between 800,000 and 1 million people were killed over the course of 100 days in Rwanda in 1994 during the civil war.

Documents detailing Israel’s defence exports to Rwanda during the country’s civil war and genocide in the 1990s are to remain sealed, the country’s Supreme Court has ruled. Two years ago Professor Yair Auron and attorney Eitay Mack submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Israel’s defence ministry to discover the nature of any arms exports made to Rwanda between 1990 and 1995. The request was denied by the Ministry of Defence and later by the Tel Aviv District Court, upholding the argument that the release of information would undermine state security and international relations.

Mr Mack responded to the decision by calling it “mistaken and immoral,” but said that “at no point during the proceedings was there a denial that there were defence exports during the genocide,” and vowed to “continue to fight to expose the truth”.

Israel was not the only country to have supplied arms into this conflict. Egypt supplied $6million of weapons.  It included 60-mm and 82-mm mortars, 16,000 mortar shells, 122-mm D-30 howitzers, 3,000 artillery shells, rocket-propelled grenades, plastic explosives, anti-personnel land-mines, and more than three million rounds of small arms ammunition. South Africa supplied automatic rifles, machine guns, mortars, grenade launchers and ammunition. In May 1993, a French arms dealer agreed to sell $12 million worth of weapons to Rwanda. On Jan. 21, 1994, in violation of the terms of the recent peace accords, a French DC-8 cargo plane landed covertly in Kigali loaded with weapons, including 90 boxes of 60mm mortars.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Poverty tourism

The South African Emoya Luxury Hotel and Spa company has glamorized poverty tourism.

"Millions of people are living in informal settlements across South Africa. These settlements consist of thousands of houses also referred to as shacks, shanties or Makhukhus. A shanty usually consists of old corrugated iron sheets or any other waterproof material which is constructed in such a way to form a small "house" or shelter where they make a normal living. A paraffin lamp, candles, a battery operated radio, an outside toilet (also referred to as a long drop) and a drum where they make fire for cooking is normally part of this lifestyle. This is the only Shanty Town in the world equipped with under-floor heating and wireless internet access! The Shanty Town is ideal for team building, braais, fancy theme parties and an experience of a lifetime."

Sharpeville remembered (1980)

Sharpeville remembered (1980)

From the March 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

On March 21 1960, at the African township ofSharpeville in the Transvaal, police fired on a large crowd of Africans who, in response to a call by the Pan Africanist Congress, had gathered to demonstrate against the Pass Laws. Sixty-seven people were killed and a further one hundred and eighty-six injured. Three more Africans were killed while attending a similar demonstration at Langa location, near Cape Town.

The PAC had announced on February 14 that it would launch a non-violent campaign against the carrying of pass-books, which they described as “the symbol of white domination”. The plan was that all African men should leave their pass-books at home, march to the nearest police-station and give themselves up. If brought before a magistrate they would make no plea, nor would they accept bail. It was further stated that the campaign would not be called off until the Pass Laws had been abolished and various other conditions had been met, including the promise of a minimum wage of £8.6.8. (£8.34) a week and no victimisation.

Predictably, police witnesses, in their official testimony, denied responsibility for the slaughter at Sharpeville. The familiar excuses were offered and accepted: shots had come from the crowd; sticks and stones had been used; the police were in danger of being overwhelmed. It is revealing to note however, that the senior district surgeon of Johannesburg, Dr Jack Friedman, at the post mortem examination he had conducted on fifty-two of the Africans killed, recorded that 70 per cent of the bullets had entered from the back. Of the police, only twelve were injured, none of them seriously.

In the debates which took place in the House of Assembly on the Sharpeville massacre every effort was made by the government spokesmen to whitewash the actions of the police and to blacken the motives and behaviour of the Africans.

Even in a police state as tightly controlled as South Africa's, any attempt to cover up an event as horrific as Sharpeville was bound to fail. News of the massacre made the headlines all over the world. The event was variously interpreted, some commentators going so far as to assert that revolution was just around the corner. Although there were — and are — many apologists for the behaviour of the South African authorities support for racism and police brutality isn’t confined to South Africa — there was a widespread feeling of shock and horror. Even many in the business world contrived to put up a passable imitation of outrage—as well they might; for Sharpeville promised to be much more than the mere disciplining of a handful of recalcitrant blacks. At stake was the continued ability of the South African ruling class to divide, rule and profit from one of the great cheap-labour markets of the world.

South Africa is effectively a slave state. Its mainly black workforce is divided along racial lines. In order to maintain control over their enormous reservoir of dirt-cheap labour the South African ruling class has underpinned its position by ensuring, through the granting of extensive and exclusive privileges, that white workers are persuaded that they have no interest in identifying with their dark-skinned fellows. For example: where black workers are deliberately under-educated, or not educated at all, white workers are granted free access to all levels of state education; subject, of course, to the competitive rigours of the examination system. White workers may freely organise in trade unions which black workers may not join. Blacks, under the policy of apartheid (separate development) have no permanent right of settlement outside specially designated areas the so-called ‘Bantustans’ or ‘Homelands’. Whites are free to live where they please. A corollary of all these circumstances is the massive job discrimination which exists throughout South Africa.

It is not as if the South African capitalists have any greater love or respect for their white employees than they have for their black or brown ones, despite the fact that all white South Africans are encouraged to believe that the blacks, whom they slightingly refer to as the ‘Bantu’, are essentially less than human. (Can this account for the behaviour of one Dominee J. J. du Toit, of the Nederduitse Hervormde Kerk reported in the Guardian, 17.1.80—who refused to conduct the funeral service, in Germiston, of a white employer because two truckloads of his former black employees turned up to help bury him?) It is rather that they exploit an opportunity to capitalise on the prejudice, jealousy and greed which they have themselves assiduously fomented among the working class as a whole. It is a heightened illustration of what Karl Marx correctly identified as a ‘false consciousness of class’;—heightened because it includes the particularly vicious concept of racial superiority. (Of course, it repays capitalists everywhere, and not only in South Africa, to play off one group of workers against another using wage levels, religion, colour, language or whatever, in order to do so. The method may be examined even closer at hand among our own coloured brothers and sisters whose isolation currently serves the miserable purposes of such as the National Front; or Enoch Powell; or Thatcher).

Sharpeville, then, represented a threat — not to the capitalist system as it was—and is—operating throughout the world, but to the peculiar and highly lucrative manner in which it was operating in South Africa. A police massacre of unarmed, protesting, black near-slaves is hardly calculated to bathe either South African or international capitalism in a very flattering light. In short, the whole affair was acutely embarrassing. But that was not all. If world opinion were allowed to get out of hand then it could begin to endanger the continued amassing of the huge profits hitherto enjoyed by some of the world’s largest corporations and banking interests.

They need not have worried. An initial tactical suspension of the Pass Laws by the South African Government led to even greater repression, with the—by then—re-introduced Pass Laws being more forcibly upheld than before. The black Africans’ right of assembly was withdrawn and the police were armed with even more punitive powers. (Following mass protests and strikes the police had resorted to indiscriminate brutality on a scale and of a type which shocked even many white bystanders.) A state of emergency was declared. The leaders of the Pan Africanist Congress and the African National Congress were gaoled and their organisations proscribed, mass arrests were made of opponents of Government racial policy. South African and world capitalism rode out the storm.

As time passed Sharpeville slipped into the shadows and for the capitalists it was business as usual. Who today can truthfully say that the seventy black workers who died at the hands of South Africa’s police thugs brought about any noticeable change of policy in that country except for a determination on the part of the white ruling class to tighten the screws of oppression? Far more than that seventy have died since: hangings, shootings, mysterious ‘suicides’ by ‘suspects’ who ‘leaped’ from high windows during police ‘interrogation’. Some, like Steve Biko, were kicked and beaten to death for no better reason than that they were black and politically articulate. Then there were the Soweto riots, resulting in yet another crop of police killings. Hundreds languish in prisons such as Robben Island, convicted on trumped- up charges which the South African judiciary and police, lackeys that they are, have ensured need no proper substantiation.

What message, then, should workers draw from these and other similar happenings around the world? Firstly: it cannot be emphasised strongly enough that, appalling though such disasters as Sharpeville are, they are nevertheless manifestations of a condition which all the world’s workers share: the capitalistic exploitation of their labour power in exchange for wages. If this can be achieved voluntarily then so much the better. If it cannot then our masters can resort to the methods described above. This would be true even were the present white regime in South Africa to be overthrown and replaced by black rule: black governments throughout Africa bear witness to the validity of this assertion. Doubters will shortly be in a position to test it anew against events taking place in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia on South Africa’s borders. At the time of writing, that country—ostensibly preparing for elections—is demonstrating all the signs of a plunge into a civil war even more ferocious than it has suffered hitherto. What is certain is that whoever emerges ‘victorious’ will proceed with as much dispatch as possible to take over capitalism where the last lot left off. (In reassuring Rhodesian whites of their future position, the so called Marxist Robert Mugabe was reported by the BBC on 27 January as saying that if his party came to power they would have to inherit a capitalist economy and any reforms would be built on that basis.) It will make not a scrap of difference whether the troops who hold the ring are South African, British, Cuban, or whatever: black and white workers alike will merely find themselves saddled with a new set of exploiters. The demands that are made of them will not have changed. And it is certain that unless and until workers are prepared to understand this then any protest they may make can in the end be no more effective than that which led to the bloodletting at Sharpeville.

Richard Cooper

Corruption and Tax Havens

Oxfam estimates, at least $18.5 trillion is hidden in tax havens worldwide. The organisation found that two thirds of this offshore wealth is hidden in European Union related tax havens while a third is in UK-linked sites where it is left undeclared and untaxed.  Oxfam said that their estimate is a conservative one. Tax Justice Network suggests that between $21 to $32 trillion is being diverted into offshore companies. Oxfam found that tax dodging by multinational corporations alone costs the developing world between $100 billion and $160 billion per year. Added with profit shifting, approximately $250 billion and $300 billion is lost. This “missing” money could lift every person above the $1.25 per day poverty threshold three times over, according to Brookings Institution calculations. Oxfam added that for every $1 billion lost through commercial tax evasion, 11 million people at risk across the Sahel region could have enough to eat, 400,000 midwives could be paid in Sub-Saharan Africa which has the highest maternal mortality rates, and 200 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets could be purchased to reduce child mortality from malaria.

Former governor of Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta State James Ibori was also implicated in the Panama Papers,allegedly using Mossack Fonseca as an agent for four offshore companies in Panama and Seychelles. These entities provide anonymity, hiding true owners’ names and actions and thus allowing for finances and assets to be undeclared and untaxed.

Though he was detained in 2012 for diverting up to $75 million out of the country, Nigerian authorities estimate that Ibori stole and stored over $290 million in tax havens.

Like Uganda, Nigeria ranks low in health indicators, contributing to some 10 percent of global maternal, infant and child deaths. Poverty has increased in the country with 61 percent living below the poverty line, according to the most recent Nigerian Bureau of Statistics report.

The Niger Delta region in particular, despite being a significant contributor to the country’s economy through oil production, remains the poorest and least developed region in Nigeria. In Ibori’s Delta state alone, 45 percent of people live in poverty. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) report found that the majority of people in the region lack access to potable water, electricity, health facilities and infrastructure including roads and telecommunications.

“Have you seen any taps here?…Water used to run in public taps, but that had stopped 20 years ago. We basically drink from the river and creeks…hygiene is secondary,” a Niger Delta Resident told UNDP.

Though Ibori’s stashed money represents only a slice of Nigeria’s budget, it is indicative of a global and pervasive problem that goes beyond Mossack Fonseca.

Transparency International’s Senior Policy Coordinator Craig Fagan told IPS: “If you think about the millions of files that have been released and the number of high profile individuals [in the Panama Papers], this is just one law firm in Panama. We can be certain that there are many other law firms whether in London, Hong Kong, New York, Miami that are operating similar structures,” he said. The Swiss Leaks in 2015, revealed how over 106,000 clients from Venezuela to Sri Lanka hid more than $100 billion in Swiss HSBC bank accounts.

This is the same rigged system that has created the situation where the wealth of the richest 1% surpasses the combined wealth of the rest of the world.