Friday, June 29, 2007

The Scramble for Bio-Fuel in Africa

Apart from the frenetic Scramble For Oil in Africa that is currently taking place ( see earlier blog entries here and also here and here ,here , too, as well as here and here ) , but there is now also the beginnings of a frantic , feverish Scramble For Bio-Fuel ( or agro-fuel as some quarters call it ) - ethanol production - in the African continent . The EU alone wants to see at least 10% of road fuel derived from plants by 2020 and to achieve that aim it has to acquire resources .

The GRAIN report says its research shows show that governments and biofuels firms in developing countries are collaborating to push hundreds of thousands of indigenous people and peasant communities off their land.
GRAIN said: “The numbers involved are mind-boggling… an agrofuel lobby is speaking of 379 million hectares being available in 15 African countries. We are talking about expropriation on an unprecedented scale."

Brazil, largely by way of the state-owned oil company Petrobrás, has cut deals for ethanol imports and technology transfer with a range of African countries, from Senegal to Nigeria, Mozambique to Angola
Viscount Energy (China) Memorandum of understanding with the Ebonyi state government in Nigeria to establish a US$80-million ethanol factory in Nigeria using both cassava and sugar cane.
21st Century Energy (USA) Plans to invest up to US$130 million over the next five years in the production of ethanol from sugar cane, maize and sweet sorghum, and later to manufacture biodiesel from cottonseed and cashew nut residues in Cote d’Ivoire.
Bioenergy International (Switzerland) Plans to set up a 93,000-hectare jatropha plantation with a biodiesel refinery and an electrification plant in Kenya.
Sun Biofuels (UK) In association with the Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC), has acquired 18,000 hectares of top quality agricultural land for jatropha production.
AlcoGroup (Belgium) Bought South Africa’s NCP Alcohols, Africa’s largest producer of fermentation ethanol, in 2001.
MagIndustries (Canada) Acquired a 68,000-hectare eucalyptus forestry plantation and is constructing a 500,000-tonnes per-year wood-chipping plant near the port city of Pointe-Noire in the Republic of Congo. The wood chips will be shipped to Europe for use as biomass.
Aurantia (Spain) Investing in oil-palm plantations and possibly four biodiesel refineries in the Republic of Congo.
Dagris (France) Investing in the development of biodiesel production from cottonseed oil in Burkina Faso through its local oil processor SN Citec.
SOCAPALM and Socfinal (Belgium) Plans to expand its 30,000-hectare oil-palm plantation in Cameroon .

Rather than improving energy security, biofuels will create a new problem of food insecurity, for the price of the national staples, cassava and palm oil, will almost certainly rise substantially when agrofuel production is under way. This year South Africa is running a deficit in its maize production, instead of the expected surplus. In only the last six months the “ethanol effect” (that is, the extra demand from the ethanol producers), combined with a drought in Southern Africa, have caused maize prices to skyrocket, with a percentage increase four times the level predicted in the Biofuels Strategy. As maize is the country’s staple food, the poor are suffering most.

There is evidence elsewhere that leads many to believe that agrofuels may, in part, be a smokescreen for the investors’ real agenda, which is to obtain land. The agrofuels sector, which is only a few years old, is almost entirely unregulated. In the confusion investors are obtaining large chunks of land for nominal fees. One ministry of energy official confided in an off-the-record briefing: “It is possible that the whole thing is being abused by night-flyers, since the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing.” By the time the government wakes up to what is happening, many more of the country’s precious natural resources will have been destroyed .
In South Africa, the Eastern Cape government is to make 3 million hectares of “under-utilised” and fertile communal land available for agro fuel investments. One such project involves the planting of 70,000 hectares of canola for export by German investors. Rural communities use this land in several ways, including grazing, and it makes a considerable contribution to their livelihood. South Africa has a long history of expropriating rural communities or restructuring land use in a way that impoverishes them. This new scheme for taking land away and using it to plant crops for export is, unfortunately,
just more of the same.

“Southern Africa has the potential to be the Middle East of biofuels”, said Andrew Owens, CEO of the UK’s Greenergy at an agrofuels meeting in Cape Town.

But as in any other sector of agribusiness, corporate profit with agrofuel crops is best assured when these plantations are on the most fertile lands, close to major transportation routes. Millions of small farmers still occupy these lands. In Tanzania, the prime minister is fast-tracking agrofuels to accommodate a Swedish investor looking for 400,000 hectares in the Wami Basin, one of the country’s major wetlands, to plant sugar cane for ethanol. The project will inevitably displace local small-scale rice farmers. In Liberia, a UK company, Equatorial Biofuels, acquired Liberian Forest Products (LFP), which holds management agreements and permits covering over 700,000 hectares of land for the cultivation of oil palm. In Ethiopia, where land pressure is high, over 1 million hectares are being granted to agrofuel corporations to grow mainly jatropha, a potentially invasive species that is being introduced on a large scale without proper environmental impact assessments .

The truth is that the agrofuels boom in Africa is not about rural development and improving the living standards of poor farmers. On the contrary, it is about foreign companies taking over the land: by striking deals with government officials and lobbying for legal protection, subsidies and tax breaks; by acquiring scarce fertile land and water rights; by coercing farmers into becoming cheap labour on their own land; by introducing new crops in large-scale plantations; by introducing GM crops through this backdoor; by displacing people and biodiversity-based systems; and by enslaving Africa even more to the global market. Land grabbing on an unprecedented scale is on the march in Africa.
The agrofuels boom is being driven by the government’s desire to increase export earnings, mainly through the export of cassava and sugar cane for agrofuels. The reality is that, just as in the case of oil and all other global commodities, the market will fix the price of agrofuels. The country of origin will have little control, especially if ownership of the whole value chain is in the hands of international companies. The production of agrofuels will not guarantee cheap fuel to the local population.

Bio-fuels will not improve the lot of the vast majority of African people for various reasons:-
First, the poor simply cannot afford them because they do not have money to buy energy, but rely on wood, charcoal and dung.
Secondly, it makes no sense for rural families to replace their sustainable and food-secure agricultural systems and forests with foreign-owned industrial plantations and in the process become cheap and dispensable labour.
Thirdly, the privatisation of the land that is the source of Africa’s wealth will undermine any chance that Africans have of determining their own future.

The aim of capitalism is not to satisfy people's needs but to accumulate profits. This is not a policy choice but an economic necessity imposed by the operation of impersonal and uncontrollable economic laws which governments have to abide by, unless they want to risk making things worse by provoking an economic crisis and stagnation in the area they rule over.

Governments put profits before poor people because they are obliged to by the impersonal workings of world market forces, not out of choice. The same goes for the capitalist corporations. Their whole purpose is to make a profit on the capital invested in their businesses so that their shareholders can benefit. That's the nature of the beast . As long as the international capitalist system continues to exist, its economic laws will operate.

What is required is the end of the economic principle "can't pay - can't have" , not a reform of this system but its abolition and its replacement by one in which the Earth's resources become the common heritage of all humanity. Only on this basis can these resources be mobilised to eradicate world poverty and ensure a decent life for every man, woman and child on the planet. Yes, the world and Africa does possess the wealth and means to end world poverty .

Africa - Bill Gates Charity - No Solution

“Now it’s Africa’s turn. This is only the beginning of the continent’s Green Revolution. The end goal is that within 20 years, farmers will double or even triple their yields and sell the surplus at market. This is a vision of a new Africa, where farmers aren’t doomed to a life of hunger and poverty, where people can look toward future with promise.”
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 12 September 2006

Africa is often looked upon as backward and primitive , yet the birth-place of homo sapiens ( "wise man" or "knowing man" ) has developed its own and appropriate means of sustenance that successfully maintained its populations for tens of thousands of years and provided the knowledge for the rest of the world . African farming represents a wealth of innovation: for example, the US and Canada's main export wheat is derived from a Kenyan variety called "Kenyan farmer"; and the Zera Zera sorghum grown in Texas originated in Ethiopia and the Sudan.

With much fanfare and trumpeting the Bill Gates charity along with the Rockefeller Foundation launched the "Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa" investing over $150 million towards shifting African agriculture to a system dependent on expensive, harmful chemicals, monocultures of hybrid seeds, and ultimately genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Another initiative funded by the G8 is pushing biotechnology in agriculture through four new major Biosciences research centres in Africa. The charity headed by Bill Clinton’s foundation had pledged fertilizers and irrigation systems support to Rwandan farmers. Another US ex-president, Jimmy Carter, teamed up with a Japanese tycoon to launch the “Sasakawa 2000” project to bring seeds and fertilizers to Africa. GM companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta are entering into public-private-partnership agreements with national agricultural research centres in Africa, in order to direct agricultural research and policy towards GMOs. The core of these initiatives is the breeding of new seeds and getting Africa’s small farmers to use them. The Green Revolution is often described as an agricultural development project based on the breeding of new crop varieties that respond better to fertilizer, agrochemicals and irrigation.

This so-called "green revolution" or "gene revolution" is being done once again under the guise of solving hunger in Africa yet GRAIN claim it fails to address the real causes of hunger in Africa. Farmers in Africa cannot afford these expensive agricultural inputs and in fact these agricultural reforms are being driven by the industry's demand for new markets--not to meet the needs of farmers . The new foreign systems will encourage Africa's land and water to be privatised for growing inappropriate export crops, biofuels and carbon sinks, instead of food for people.

While the head of the Microsoft empire puts up most of the money, the real mover behind this initiative is the Rockefeller Foundation. who tried to explain away previous failed endeavours on the complexity of Africa’s agriculture and its lack of infrastructure as reasons why the new Green Revolution largely ‘bypassed’ this continent but according to GRAIN Green Revolution technology didn’t simply just ‘bypass’ Africa: it failed. It was unpopular and ineffective. Fertiliser use, for example, increased substantially from the 1970s onwards in sub-Saharan Africa, while per capita agricultural production fell. In Malawi, despite the widespread release of hybrid maize, the average maize yield remains roughly what it was in 1961.

With this evidence instead of offering another better and improved approach from Gates-Rockefeller experts , it has been more of the same - more fertilizer use, more irrigation, better infrastructure and more trained scientists. Together with these same corporations, which are constantly merging together, are now spending billions of dollars promoting yet another technological fix: genetic engineering. This new technology, which, like pesticides before it, is fraught with risks to human health and the environment, is particularly troubling because it has the potential to give corporations complete control over the global seed supply and, therefore over the production of food in the world. In this agriculture, farmers are merely recipients of technology, forced to sign contracts that dictate what can and cannot be done in their fields and with their crops.

Progress is being guided by the interests of transnational corporations, not by the collective wisdom of its rural communities. Totally ignored is the central role of local communities, their traditional seed systems and rich indigenous knowledge, despite increased international recognition of their crucial importance .

Under pressure from international and bilateral trade instruments African governments are increasingly opening up their markets to let their farmers “compete” with the heavily subsidised food and other agricultural produce dumped into their economies by the US and the EU. The same African governments are then forced by the same agencies to devote their most fertile land to the growing of export commodities for markets in the North, thus pushing small farmers off their land and food production out of rural economies.

For more about the dark shadows cast by Bill Gates Foundation and his philanthropy read here and also his cohort Warren Buffett here

The above article is collated from GRAIN , a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity based on people's control over genetic resources and local knowledge.

Nigeria's president discloses his riches

President Umaru Yar'Adua of Nigeria revealed personal wealth of $5 million and said he owned several buildings across northern Nigeria, where his family is prominent in business and politics.

Although credit must be given to him for making the declaration public as an inducement to other politicians to do the same ( hopefully not just a public relations exercise ), Socialist Banner nevertheless notes his wealth and have no doubt that he will still be representing the interests of his class , the wealthy .

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cotton is "white gold"

Further to the earlier article on cotton

The BBC World Service tracked a kilo of cotton from its origins in West Africa to the department stores of New York for Cotton T-shirts - the product of a number of different global industries, with production in almost every country in the world - are one of the best products for tracking globalisation. There are 2 to 3 million cotton producers in West Africa, whilst some 15 million people depend directly of indirectly on the cotton sector; many of these belong to the poorest sectors of society.

It is well worth summarising here to demonstrate how Capitalism is a world system .
Burkina Faso, Benin, Chad, Mali are some of the world’s poorest countries with a Human Development Index ranking of 169, 158, 166 and 164 (out of 173) respectively. These countries accounted for 10% of total cotton exports in 2001. Cotton exports account for 42 % of exports for Mali, 34% for Chad, and 45% for Burkina Faso and 65% for Benin.
In Burkina Faso a typical cotton farm is a freehold, worked on by a family who cultivate the six or eight hectares of land.

"Cotton is very special as probably the only commodity where you have producers from developing countries with a plough and a pair of oxen, competing with producers from developed countries with a cotton picker [-machine] which costs $300,000," says Gerard Estur, a freelance international cotton consultant. "These two are competing in the same world market."

One kilo of Burkina Faso-produced raw cotton is worth $0.32 (£0.16). For many of the cotton producers the cash they get from selling the cotton is the only money they receive in the whole year. They have no alternative cash crop. But cotton prices globally are declining

From the farm the cotton is transported to the ginning factory to make lint - a process which takes the cost per kilo to $0.76. The companies have not made money for the last three seasons, and prices are well below the costs of production with the companies almost bankrupt.

The cotton is now transported for export to the Togo port of Lome, where it is sold to merchants at $1.20 per kilo. Over half of it is sold to China: loaded onto cargo ships for ports such as Shanghai, where it is sold to local spinning factories for $1.32 per kilo.

Bonded Servitude

The International Labour Rights Fund, is critical of the conditions in both the spinning factories and the garment manufacturers, of which there are thousands in Shanghai - staffed by some of the more than 100 million "floating workers" who have migrated from inland.

"They're bound to their factories, because they're not allowed to live - they don't have residents permits for the areas They're not allowed to live in the areas where the good jobs are unless they have a job - so they're bound to their factories for permission to live in the area, which makes it very difficult for them to quit, or to look for another job if conditions are bad."

The garments themselves - made for many of the West's most famous brands, often in the same massive factory - are now taken to port and loaded for export to the US.

The average price of a T-shirt imported into the US is $1.51, but a downtown department store in Manhattan will sell two for $20.

Cotton that started in Africa costing $0.76 a kilo is now worth $25 a kilo.

"The way it's produced is going to cost in human lives, in misery, in environmental degradation. And some way down the line, we're all going to pay those costs." Says Bama Athreya, director of ILRF

Cotton Subsidies

Details of domestic subsidies to American and European domestic cotton growers can be seen here US , and here EU

The United States’ 25,000 cotton farmers, chiefly in Texas, California and Mississippi, receive billions in government subsidies, which encourage farmers to grow and export more cotton, thus driving down international prices and reducing the incomes of African cotton growers, in the eyes of many economists. In crop year 2002, the US government provided $3.4 billion in total subsidies to the cotton sector. To put this figure into perspective, it is nearly twice the total US foreign aid given to sub-Saharan Africa. It is also more than the GDP of Benin, Burkina Faso, or Chad, the main cotton-producing countries in the region.

US subsidies have led to depressed world cotton prices, which in turn have cost countries in Africa millions of dollars in lost export earnings. This means less revenue, which these countries badly need to fund basic services such as education and healthcare, and to finance debt. Oxfam estimates that sub-Saharan African countries lost $305 million due to US subsidies in crop year 2001. These are some of the poorest countries in the world, and these losses are not a one-time event. For the 2002 crop year, Oxfam estimates sub-Saharan African countries lost $94.6 million. All told, between crop years 1998 and 2002, the USA spent $14.8 billion on cotton subsidies. This is virtually the same as the total value of cotton produced during that time - $21.6 billion. Harvesting government subsidies is nearly as lucrative as growing cotton in the USA. Without subsidies, most US cotton production would not be economical.

The losses associated with cotton subsidies exceed the value of US aid programs in some of the major cotton-producing countries in Africa. For example, in 2002:

• Burkina Faso: received $10 million in US aid, yet lost $13.7 million in export earnings;
• Chad: received $5.7 million in US aid, but lost nearly the same amount in export earnings;
• Togo: received $4 million in US aid, but lost $7.4 million in export earnings.

European Union’s cotton regime also has a significant and measurable impact (EUR 0.8 billion in subsidies spent annually (mainly to Greece, Spain and Portugal), with exports from Greece increasing by 209% between 1991 and 2001.European cotton farmers receive by far the highest level of support per kilo in the world. Prices paid to cotton farmers in the EU were 154% above world prices in 2001/2002, significantly higher than prices paid in the US. On average, aid for cotton production amounts to an average of EUR 600 million for Greek producers and EUR 200 million for Spanish farmers.

Socialists have always known that there is no such thing as “fair trade” or a “free market” . The peoples of Africa and of the rest of the world will always be subjected to the vagaries and vacillations of capitalist competition .

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

From Third World to One World

While the growing disparity in G.N.P. between rich and poor states in recent years has been matched by the growth of inequality within each, there are undeniably huge differences in material circumstances of the average worker in Western Europe and their counterpart in, an African country . How did this come about and what, if anything, can be done about it within global capitalism?


Since the Second World War there has been a concerted effort by national governments and international agencies to "develop" the so-called Third World. At the outset this was linked with de-colonisation; it would help make political independence more "meaningful". According to the prevailing "modernisation" theory, development meant "less developed countries" passing through a series of stages mirroring the economic history of "developed countries". But while favourable circumstances had allowed the latter to reach the final stage of "mass consumption", a number of internal factors prevented the former from progressing towards "take-off into self-sustaining growth".

Most important was a supposed shortage of capital. This had to be tackled on two fronts. Firstly, savings as a proportion of GNP had to be increased. As the "propensity to save" was thought to be highest among the rich, gross inequalities were justified on the grounds that they facilitated savings. Secondly, as less developed countries were thought unlikely to generate sufficient capital internally, foreign capital needed to be mobilised for inward investment along the lines of the famous Marshall Plan which helped rebuild the war-torn economies of Western Europe.

For modernisation theorists, this shortage of capital necessitated a policy of "unbalanced growth": concentrating investment where it realised the greatest return and hence the most rapid accumulation of capital. Following the example of the First World countries, Third World countries embarked on a programme of industrialisation. At a time when Keynesian orthodoxy still held sway with its implicit distrust of unfettered markets, a policy of import-substitution was pursued to protect budding industries from foreign competition behind a wall of tariffs.
As well as promoting rapid growth, industrialisation was supposed to assist the structural transformation of these countries' economies. Typically, these were thought to exhibit an essentially dualistic structure: a small modern urban-industrial sector alongside a large traditional, mainly pre-capitalist, rural sector. The latter was supposedly characterised by low productivity and an abundance of surplus labour. Industrialisation would enable this surplus labour to find employment in the modern sector and indirectly help boost local agriculture: the exodus of labour from the rural areas would draw farmers into the emerging cash economy, compelling them to buy agricultural inputs, like machinery and fertilisers, to meet the growing demand for food in the towns. It was expected that, in due course, the benefits of economic growth, hitherto confined to the modern sector, would automatically "trickle-down" to the impoverished backwater. The "dual economy" would, it was envisaged, be replaced by a structurally-integrated modern capitalist economy.

It was not long before cracks in this scenario began to appear. The prohibitive costs of agricultural inputs meant many small farmers were unable to increase output, while growing labour shortages caused by urban migration seriously impaired the productivity of traditional labour-intensive farming. As for the urban sector, modern methods of industrial production, being highly capital-intensive, required only a relatively small workforce. Thus, increasing urban migration in fact led to rising unemployment while the importation of these First World technologies imposed a growing debt burden.


By the 1960s, modernisation theory had reached an impasse. A new scenario of development emerged: dependency theory. Contrary to the previous conventional wisdom that the economic backwardness of less developed countries was attributable to their incomplete incorporation into global capitalism, it was portrayed instead as an inevitable consequence of capitalist penetration of the Third World which left it increasingly dependent on the First. This shifted attention from internal to external factors affecting the development of national economies. For dependency theory, the "world trading system" was a hierarchical order in which the dominant or "core" countries with their technological, economic and political superiority, are able to impose their needs on the "peripheral" countries. These dictate that the latter should become markets for the products of industrial countries, not rival producers, supplying them with raw materials for processing into finished goods. In short, industrial development and economic diversification in the less developed countries was effectively blocked within an externally imposed global division of labour.

The basic mechanism that condemned the Third World to a state of perpetual "underdevelopment" was the continual outflow of economic surpluses—notably in the form of debt repayments and expatriated profits. ( see Dropping the Debt ? ) So, far from foreign aid and investment compensating for the lack of local capital, they caused this to happen. This had been compounded in recent years by the declining terms of trade with the value of Third World exports falling sharply against manufactured imports. Political independence made little difference; it simply enabled the First World to divest itself of the cost of administering these territories while co-opting their emergent class of "comprador bourgeoisie" into this process of neo-colonial exploitation.

To break this stranglehold, several less developed countries saw the need to "de-link" as far as possible from the international economy and pursue "self-reliance", while nationalising the economy to staunch the likely outflow of capital this would incur. In short, a marriage of convenience between Third World nationalism and Leninist state capitalism. However such an approach was problematic for several reasons. Firstly, the structure of production which many of these countries inherited was heavily oriented towards exportation of cash crops or minerals and could not easily be re-oriented towards local needs. Secondly, an autarkic policy favouring economic diversification would have to contend with local markets being insufficiently large, particularly in small countries, to justify investment in certain lines of production where economies of scale may be critical. Thirdly, increasing state intervention was likely to lead to the growth of an unproductive bureaucracy, further impairing an already impoverished economy while increasing the scope for corruption.

Getting Worse

The 1970s oil crisis made matters worse for the less developed countries by massively increasing import costs but in the short term it produced a flood of "petro-dollars" loaned to them via western banks. Between 1973 and 1981 these loans increased nine-fold. The spending spree this unleashed helped maintain relatively high growth rates though much of this investment tended to be channelled into grandiose projects which did little to alleviate poverty. Then, as the long post-war boom came to an end, the bubble burst. The 1980s witnessed a steep decline in Third World incomes. Growing poverty led to eruptions of popular unrest to which governments responded with increased military repression. Ironically, increased military spending only exacerbated the problem, diverting scarce resources away from development projects. In the 32 poorest countries in the world (apart from India and China) such expenditures amounted on average to twice what was spent on education and seven times on health.

Magic of the Market?

Global recession also signalled a profound change in the political climate. Growing disenchantment with Keynesian policies in the late 1970s and the sudden collapse of the Soviet bloc in the late 1980s ushered in an age of "market triumphalism". Blind faith in market forces replaced blind faith in the efficacy of state intervention.

Such free market theory was shaped by an influential theory first put forward by the British economist and MP David Ricardo in the last century. According to his theory of 'diminishing returns,' companies would reach a point after which their additional investment would yield increasingly lower returns. This theory, of course, had implications for national economies, for as they grew they could also be expected to reach a point of diminishing returns with their growth expected to eventually come to a halt. This meant that the poorer nations were predicted to catch up—the 'Third World' to convergence with the 'First.'

This view did not take account of a number of important factors. Huge initial amounts of capital are, as mentioned above, required before a company or nation can even begin to compete in many world markets. Furthermore, wealthy states can exert influence on trade patterns to maintain their interests, as indeed they were doing during the 1980s when free market theory was so much in vogue.

Free market rhetoric was the forte of the I.M.F. and World Bank who took on a more aggressive role as watchdogs of international capitalism during the 1980s. With the growing threat of debt defaults in the early 1980s, Structural Adjustment Programmes were imposed in exchange for rescheduling debts and further aid. This involved privatisation of state enterprises, public spending cuts and price liberalisation. (The World Bank, IMF and Structural Adjustment.)

If the stated intention of such reforms was "economic stabilisation", their real purpose was to ensure that these countries were better able to fulfil their debt obligations. To that end, greater emphasis was placed on boosting exports with the less developed countries reverting to their traditional role as suppliers of raw materials as prescribed by the theory of comparative advantage within a global trading system progressively shorn of protectionist features.
Predictably, the results have been disappointing. But then that is the nature of reformism; "solving" one problem within capitalism only seems to generate another. For example, while the new G.A.T.T. treaty prohibited developed countries from dumping subsidised food onto Third World markets, this meant the less developed countries having to pay more for food imports. More expensive imports means getting ever deeper into debt which in turn intensifies the drive towards export production at the expense of domestic food production. Furthermore, with many other producer countries in the same boat yet prevented by free trade agreements from forming cartels to bargain for higher price, the markets for such exports are soon saturated. So prices decline, as does the capacity of less developed countries to service their debts. It's a case of protectionist swings or free market roundabouts.

The Outcome

History has forced economists to rethink their supposition of a smooth path towards development. Average growth for 16 rich countries surveyed by The Economist has slowed since the early 1970s in particular, but it is still above the average. As for the supposed faster growth among the developing world,

if there is any discernible pattern… it is the opposite: poorer countries have tended to grow more slowly.(1)

Interestingly, the United Nations Development Programme administrator, James Speth, believes "the world has become more economically polarised" and that "if present trends continue, economic disparities between industrial and developing nations will move from inequitable to inhuman"(6).

As a result, many of the world's poorest countries have seen average incomes decline and increased polarisation. The wealth of many nations has actually declined in recent years. 89 countries are reporting lower per-capita incomes than they were 10 years ago.(6)

The wealthiest fifth of nations dispose of 84.7 per cent of the word's combined GNP; its citizens account for 84.2 per cent of world trade and possess 85.5 per cent of savings in domestic accounts. Since 1960 the gap between the richest and the poorest fifth of nations has more than doubled which confirms in figures the bankruptcy of any promise of fairness in development aid (GT 29)

During the 1980s average incomes were reported to have fallen by 10% in most of Latin America and 20% in sub-Saharan Africa. In many urban areas wages have fallen by as much as 50%.(1)

The 1980s decline in average incomes in many developing countries has continued in the 90s: in 1990, average per capita income fell by over 2.5% in Latin America and by over 2% in Africa.(2)
The 1992 United Nations Human Development Report states that the poorest 20% of the world's population have seen their share of world income fall from 2.3% to 1.4% over the past 30 years.(3) In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of families who are unable to meet their most basic needs has doubled in a decade.(4) According to OXFAM projections, the future looks little brighter for the rest of Africa, the Middle East, South and Central America.

Yet, as the Bank works through its sixth decade of trying to promote something called 'development', the poor in most of its borrowing countries are in worse shape than they were a decade and a half before. According to the United Nations Development Programme (U.N.D.P.), since 1980, economic decline or stagnation has affected 100 countries, reducing the incomes of 1.6 billion people". For 70 of these countries, average incomes are less in the mid 1990s than in 1980, and for 43, less than in 1970. In the early 1990s incomes fell by 20 per cent or more in 21 countries, mainly in the former Soviet Empire. The poorest fifth of the world's population has seen its share of global income fall from 2.3 per cent to 1.4 percent over the past 30 years.

Even according to the Bank's Operations Evaluation Department's latest Annual Review of Development Effectiveness 1999, "poverty trends have worsened… The number of poor people living on less than US $1 a day rose from 1,197 million in 1987 to 1,214 million in 1997. Excluding China, there are 100 million more poor people in developing countries than a decade ago". Furthermore, since 1990 life -expectancy has declined in 33 countries.(7; p15)
On other indicators of progress, the U.N.D.P report does provide some more positive facts:
During this half century the trend was towards greater income inequality among countries. At the same time, on some important measures of social well-being, the gap between the `North' and the `South' has narrowed in recent years. During the 1960 to 1990 period, North-South disparities declined in, for example, life expectancy, literacy rates, infant mortality and average caloric supply. In the same period however, disparities rose on important indicators of economic capacity for further progress: mean years of schooling, tertiary education enrolment rates, and scientists and technicians per capita, for example (9; p71)

So-called 'new growth theorists' have sought explanations for this discrepancy between fact and the Ricardian theory. They have identified factors such as unequal levels of education and training as decisive in explaining the increased polarisation. In a comprehensive study R. Barro concludes that:

if one holds constant such factors as a country's fertility rate, its human capital (proxied by various measures of educational attainment) and its government policies (proxied by the share of government spending in Gross Domestic Product), poorer countries tend to grow faster than richer ones.(5)

In stark contrast to the hopes of charity organisations such as the United Nations Children's Fund (U.N.I.C.E.F.), Overseas Development Aid (O.D.A.) can be relied upon even less as a substantial source of help for poorer nations. In 1993, O.D.A. fell 8 per cent from 1992 levels to US$56 billion.(3)

As Michel Chossudovsky explains, the World Bank produced an influential study in 1990 in which they proposed a low and quite arbitrary threshold to define poverty:

The World Bank 'estimates' that 18 per cent of the Third World is 'extremely poor' and 33 per cent is 'poor'. In a major World Bank study which has served as a reference on issues of global poverty, the 'upper poverty line' is arbitrarily set at a per capita income of $US1 a day, corresponding to an annual per capita income of US$370 per annum. Population groups in individual countries with per capita incomes in excess of $US1 a day are arbitrarily identified as—'non poor.' In other words, through the manipulation of income statistics, the World Bank figures serve the useful purpose of representing the poor in developing countries as a minority group. Double standards abound in the 'scientific measurement of poverty'. The World Bank, for instance, 'estimates' that in Latin America and the Caribbean only 19 per cent of the population is—poor'.: a gross distortion when we know for a fact that in the United States ( with an annual per capita income of approximately US$20,000) one American in five is defined (by the Bureau of the Census) to be below the poverty line.(10; p43)

More than 80 countries now have per capita incomes lower than they were a decade or more ago, and as the United Nations Development Programme (U.N.D.P.) points out, it is often the countries that are becoming even more marginal which are highly `integrated' into the global economy. While exports from Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, have reached nearly 30 per cent of G.D.P. (compared to just 19 per cent for the leading industrialised countries of the O.E.C.D.), the number of people living in poverty there has continued to grow. (7)


Meanwhile, the problems of poverty and environmental destruction escalate in tandem. The same pressures that force governments to inflict austerity programmes on populations in the name of "structural adjustment" compel them to drastically cut their meagre environmental protection budgets—at a time when the drive to increase exports poses a growing threat to the environment. Similarly, the increasing mobility of international capital in an era of free markets had enhanced its bargaining position vis-a-vis labour in both developed and less developed countries alike while enabling it to circumvent even limited attempts by states to impose environmental cost constraints by relocating (or threatening to relocate) to countries where environmental standards may be lower. Not that things could have turned out much different given the nature of capitalism.

There can be no turning back to the discredited models of development of the past. State interventionism could never provide a solution to poverty and environmental destruction. Even if this were theoretically conceivable, capitalism's globalising tendencies have put paid to that option. Arguably, the neo-liberal order we now have is the irresistible outcome of such tendencies but in any event it too can offer no hope of real progress.

In short, the system has exhausted every possibility of development. To move forward the dispossessed majority across the world must now look beyond the artificial barriers of nation-states and regional blocs, to perceive a common identity and purpose. There is in reality only one world. It is high time we reclaimed it.

(1) The Economist 25–31/5/96
(2) New Internationalist—Housing issue:
(3) Fairer World Statistics (Revised Version Feb 1992) OXFAM
(4) The Guardian 29.7.96
(5) The Economist 25–31/5/96
(6) The Observer, London 1996
(7) The Ecologist, U.K., September 2000.
(8) 20/20 Plan, U.N.I.C.E.F.
(9) United Nations Development Project Report 1992
(10) The Globalisation of Poverty—Michel Chossudovsky (Third World Network 1997)

Who Are The Outsiders ?

It is not only in the West that black people are subjected to racism and abusive languages by the host nation's population as "bloody foreigners"."parasites"."aliens"."refugees",etc. but also Africans living in other African countries are grimly accustomed to the same abusive languages. Sometimes matters have been getting out of hand in recent years.

A few years ago, tens of thousands of Eritreans and Ethiopians have been expelled against their will when the two countries started war (May, 1998 - June, 2000) The Eritreans and Ethiopians who happen to be respectively living in each other's country have lived there for most of their lives, in some cases many of them don't know their country of origin. And yet Meles and Isaias after having accused each other of human rights violation. This is an irony that when many countries in Africa are busy trying to organise a Union of African States to replace the useless, that the OAU has become.

The reasons for these mass expulsions and violence are almost always the same in each country, "patriotic" citizens are quick to assert, nationalistically, that the "outsiders" have come to take over their resources, their jobs and what have you. Therefore, though the grievances of the masses may be related to economic factors, it is unreasonable to blame it on their fellow poor workers.

In order to ward off unrest various tactics are employed by governments. One of them is creating divisions among the poor workers by, for instance blaming foreigners and whipping up nationalistic feelings. In response to the official propaganda, the masses who are hungry and illiterate are taken in by the government policy.

Since anger is emotional and overpowers reason, the least provocations can result in violence often misdirected. Such violence can be vented against fellow citizens usually manifested in riots. The violence is also invariably be turned loose on the "aliens". This is the real cause of xenophobia the rich pitting the poor against the poor.

In the past when Africa didn't have artificial boundaries such as there are today, wars and hatred were not as rife.

Making up nations have taken a great deal of building. There is almost no nation-state that has not had its boundaries drawn in blood. Its foundation dug out of human flesh. America was built on the bodies of native population. It is a process that continues today in Africa. The effort, though, has to be ongoing. States have required the use of an education system, to standardise learning, spread a national history and a sense of shared culture.
Language become a factor in establishing state power, and thus it became a factor in determining a "nation", it is no coincidence that nationalism is accompanied by mania for classifying, delineating and defining people into categories. These practical considerations were made explicit by the Polish Nationalist Pilusdski, who observed that "it is the State that makes the nation, not the nation the State".

In order to enforce the new system of property over the whole range of its influence, the ruling class needed the state, and its legitimising ideas of nationalism and the nation. Culture resides in sets of ideas, values and practices that set out a sense of precedent, self and future possibility. By imposing the idea of the nation upon a culture, complete with its inherent notions territorial ownership and property on the very self-image of the people within that culture.

The idea of "the nation", functions as supreme good, beyond the physical and mechanical functionings of the State, to which any cause may appeal. It is a fantasy, which can be used to cover up for problems and contradictions in the practice of the State's daily life, its function is to legitimise both the state and class rule, and sustain a large quantity of support, through workers who identify with the ideas of nationhood and believe themselves to be the same as and have the same interests as, their masters.
Workers of course, do not share a common interest with their masters. It does not follow that if the "national wealth" increases, or if trade increases, or even if profit increases, that higher wages will be gained by workers. So it appears that workers and employers share a common interest. In fact the interest of workers is conditioned by the interest of the employer, in exactly the same manner as hostages held by a kidnapper: unless the kidnapper employer, demands are met, they will not allow the hostage workers to have what they need to live.

In the powerful nation's history becomes a means of winning popular emotions to cause of stability. An influential and well funded nostalgia industry has long been used in these nation's to persuade workers that there is something great about being the nation's subject.

The valid definition of a modern nation is a geographical and political area in which goods and services are produced for the sale on the market with a view to profit and with the general class division of ruling and ruled. And the fact that the majority of population owns little but its ability to work is evidence the working class has no common interest with the minority ruling class.

Michael Ghebre

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Fetishism of Money and Aid

Jeffrey Sachs, Nobel Prize winning economist and head of the Earth Institute at New York's Columbia University has said :

"Don't believe them when they say there is no money. There is more wealth than ever before. The money is just not getting channeled to people who are so poor that they are dying. There is no shortage of money in the world...Too much money is spent on meetings, conferences and workshops that lead nowhere. Money should be spent on concrete actions, instead. Development starts with money . First the financial resources should be made available; then systems should be put in place, paid for with those financial resources. The result would be "real paved roads, real electricity, real infrastructure."

How often do we hear it said, “we do not have the resources”? What is meant by resources is always money.

Every day politicians give lack of money as a reason why we cannot provide better health care or the many other public services that are in urgent need of improvement. Money is fetishised as having the power to solve problems because without it nothing can be done.
They ignore the fact that productive resources are materials, means of production, transport, energy, communications and networks of infrastructure through which goods and services are produced. And all these depend on one single resource which is labour. These are the real resources on which the lives of communities depend and there is an abundance of labour to provide for needs.

They are unable to see the availability of real resources because their minds are pre-occupied by the illusion that only money resources count. Reliance on the imagined powers of money runs through every social problem. They imagine that real resources can only be brought into use by money, whereas the opposite is the truth. The powers of the community to solve problems can on be fully released with socialism and the abolition of money.

Development plans like the United Nations Millennium Development Goals rely on the uncertainties of the market system and the use of money . Socialists say these promises are guaranteed to fail . Capitalism is concerned with profit-and-loss accounting, as its aim is to produce monetary profits . Plans in socialism would be drawn up as a list of the materials and labour required to satisfy the "Development Goal" .

William Morris said over a century ago:

"The palliatives over which many worthy people are busying themselves now are useless because they are but unorganised partial revolts against a vast, wide-spreading, grasping organisation which will, with the unconscious instinct of a plant, meet every attempt at bettering the conditions of the people with an attack on a fresh side."

Darfur Sudan and Spies

Sudan hosted the fourth conference of the Committee for Intelligence and Security Systems in Africa (CISSA), which operates under the African Union (AU) umbrella. At least 46 African agencies were present, plus nearly all the main western intelligence agencies.

Khartoum has bent over backwards to provide intelligence to the west, especially on al-Qaeda's penetration of north Africa. In addition, it was reported that Khartoum is providing intelligence on jihadist operations in Iraq. Sudan's National Security and Intelligence Service has been increasingly praised, albeit discreetly, by Washington.

Some of the sentimental "suits" in the US administration may shed real tears for the Darfurians, but the hard-nosed warriors know that Sudan is a vital element in regional security. Even if all US troops in Iraq were suddenly transplanted to Darfur, they would not be able to police a region the size of France. The Sudanese government knows that Islamic extremism threatens the region, and so Washington has to back-pedal on condemnation of Khartoum's policy in Darfur.

Cotton Prices

A newly issued report found that eliminating U.S. cotton subsidies would increase world prices by 6 to 14 percent. Eliminating U.S. cotton subsidies of $4 billion would mean an extra $46 to $114 per year for a typical cotton-producing household in West Africa , farmers' incomes could increase by about 5 percent . More than 10 million people in West Africa depend on cotton farming for their major source of income. A typical cotton-producing household in West Africa has about 10 family members. The average life expectancy is about 48 years, and fewer than one in four adults are literate. These households produce corn, cassava, and other cereals for home consumption, and they plant from two to seven acres(one to three hectares) of cotton. Farmers hand-pick their cotton, rely on rains for irrigation, and sell to only one cotton company. Cotton is often the only source of cash income for these families.

Education: In many countries in West Africa, school is not provided for free to children. Families mustpay school fees of $1 to $2 a month. Additional income from cotton sales could allow families to sendtwo to 10 additional children to school each year. Even when governments offer free primary education,families still have to pay for uniforms, books, supplies, and benches.
Health care: Households across West Africa spend about $12 per person a year on health care costs.9Higher incomes could pay for life-saving medicines, hospitalizations, and consultations for four to 10individuals for an entire year.
Fertilizer: This extra income could also cover the cost of fertilizer for 25 to 60 percent of a family’s cottonarea.10 And since inputs used for cotton tend to benefit other crops, too, this additional fertilizer couldhelp farmers produce more cotton to sell and more food crops to feed their families.

Socialists however does not counsel free-market price tinkering as a solution for the poverty of Africans but post to indicate the capitalist priority of American protectionism over humanitarianism . The only real solution will be the abolition of the market economy and the establishment of socialism .

The Rwanda Genocide

The instability that has plagued the Great Lakes region has always been distorted by both the perpetrators of the crisis and ignorant political analysts. This article presents a socialist viewpoint of the problem .

As Rwandans prepare to mark a decade of the genocide that was imposed on them by a tiny section of the international community, the real perpetrators of the massacre are still making frantic efforts to conceal the truth. France is leading the crusade with the tacit backing of the other world powers through their ubiquitous media. The strategy, as is always the case, is to reduce the whole affair to insignificant issues. In this present attempt, they are doing all they can to demonise the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame as the sole cause of the genocide. He is said to have been the one who ordered the shooting down of the late President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane - an act that sparked off the killings. But what is never mentioned is that the massacre was so well organised that it could not have occurred just because someone shot down an aircraft or a president was murdered. The genocide was a premeditated, not a spontaneous, act and therefore its cause cannot be reduced to what the world is being told.
The real reason for the genocide cannot be properly understood until a broader perspective of the scenario is appraised. The killings that took place in Rwanda are only one aspect of a much wider design. It was only a link in a long chain of activities engulfing the whole of the Great Lakes region. Here is an area generously endowed with huge deposits of minerals and other natural resources. It is perhaps the richest area on the continent where one can boast of immense quantities of gold, diamond, coltan, copper, cobalt, zinc, oil, gas, and such forest resources as timber, coffee, etc.

To have easy and cheap access to these vital resources, the capitalist companies in Europe and America need not only to have puppet regimes in power but they also need to keep the region in perpetual turmoil and instability. This was the reason for Patrice Lumumba’s assassination way back in the sixties by Mobutu and that under the supervision of the western powers and their United Nations. It was also for the same reason that Yoweri Museveni was sponsored to wage the bush war, which culminated in the overthrow of Milton Obote in the eighties. The same goes for Paul Kagame and the Rwandan Patriotic Army, whose war was bankrolled by American and European governments on behalf of big business interests. Museveni and Kagame were carefully hand picked, groomed and helped to ascend the throne and then thrown into D R Congo to do the dirty work of looting for the western companies. There is a staggering wealth of evidence to prove the active involvement of the UA, UK, France and Belgium and corporate business interests based and or owned by members of these countries. Uganda and Rwanda prop up (to this day) almost all the rebel groups in DR Congo from funds donated by their masters abroad.


It is important to understand the role of the UN in the Great Lakes region. But first of all it is worth noting that the UN is kept alive through the contributions of the Western capitalists through their governments. And since it is the one who pays the piper who calls the tune, it is not strange to realise that the UN is at the beck and call of the capitalists. A typical example is seen in the recent refusal by American capitalism to listen to the UN and to then go ahead and attack Iraq. Long before the massacre in Rwanda in 1994, the UN was fully aware of the intention and plans of the perpetrators of the genocide and refused to act. In fact it even deliberately smothered all information on the impending atrocity. Kofi Annan was then in charge of peace keeping operations at the UN. But as if that was not enough, the UN went ahead, against expert advice, to dissolve the small military mission in Rwanda (MINUAR) during the peak of the mayhem.

That the UN was merely obeying its master’s directives can be deduced from the actions and words of Kofi Annan (now the Sec. General) almost a decade after his criminal and inhuman action and inaction. In 2003, he removed Carla Del Ponte from her post as prosecutor at the Rwanda Genocide Court. The reason? She was treading on dangerous ground: she had decided not only to carry out her duty of prosecuting suspects but also to look into the part played by Kagame’s Rwanda Patriotic Army in the massacres. This would have exposed real forces behind the killings – the Western capitalists. Naturally, Annan was ordered to act swiftly. He quickly put the matter before the UN Security Council, which unanimously voted her out of Rwanda. Another proof of guilt is seen in his belated apology to the people of Rwanda on Monday 29th March 2004.


The capitalist controlled media also played and continue to play its historically determined role in this sordid affair. Corporate journalists initially maintained an irreverent silence on the genocide, but when it was no longer possible for them to do so they were at their negative best on their reports on the mayhem. They completely reduced the obvious capitalist war to a trivial tribal conflict. Their masters dictated to them what to report in return for the cash. They refused to acknowledge the fact that what was happening in Rwanda was the killing of innocent, helpless and poor Tutsis and Hutus by a combined force of trained RPA militia and Rwandan government soldiers. These militia and soldiers were themselves forced to kill because they were fed deceit and false propaganda. They had absolutely nothing to gain from the killings. In fact those they were deceived to kill were actually their relatives, neighbours and friends with whom they previously lived together in peace and harmony. This fact was so palpably glaring that the media found it hard to neglect and so they had to couch it in such terms as "Hutus killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus". Moderate, of course, being a misnomer for those who had realised the hollowness in the reasons advanced for the internecine war and refused to take in it.

The fact of the matter is that there has always been a class conflict in that society, just as in any other society. In Rwanda, it was reflected in the antagonistic relations between a minority of feudal lords, mostly Tutsi, and the commoners comprising both Tutsi and Hutu. These feudal lords lived off the toil of the mass of peasants. This generated, however latent, resentment for the ruling classes by the masses. And as is usually the case, the poor masses, in times of hardship, ignorantly vented their anger on their fellow sufferers instead of on the exploiting tribal rulers. In Rwanda this confused situation was further aggravate by the colonialists through their policy of divide and rule. A pernicious wedge was driven between the Tutsi, who were accorded a more privileged status, and the Hutu. Then, with the attainment of the so-called independence and the subsequent introduction of the World Bank and IMF structural adjustment policies with its attendant biting effects, the animosity and mutual hatred heightened. Thus, the society became an ethnic time bomb ready to explode at the least prompting. And that was exactly the situation that the leadership of both groups exploited.

It follows from the above that at the heart of the Rwandan genocide and indeed the other massacres going on in the whole of the Great Lakes region is the quest for raw materials. It was the same search for raw materials that brought the Europeans to Africa and the resultant colonialism. These raw materials are not needed for their own sake; they are the means to super profits that constitute the ultimate aim of the capitalists. Thus, profit is the underlying cause of all our woes. The driving force of capitalism is profit and there is no way the world’s people can do away with killings, war, hunger, suffering, disease, etc until that profit system is done away with.

[Reference: New African, November & December 2003, Congo Panorama – A pamphlet of the Congo Solidarity Campaign.]

From African Socialist 7

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Eritrea - A Personal Experience

Michael Ghebre was on holiday in Eritrea . Below is an account of what he saw in this relatively newly ‘independent’ country.

Everybody is afraid to talk politics in the coffee bar. The man sitting down opposite our table had heard that I was interested in talking about freedom and politics in post-independence Eritrea. Eritrea was liberated from Ethiopia some 15 years ago in 1991. Some of the people whom I spoke to were friendly but frightened in case someone from the state security heard them. Others were very suspicious of me. I do not know why they felt that way. I felt like a stranger in my native country.

Even the person I was talking to was also very scared because Eritrea is a police state and it is not uncommon to be arrested and imprisoned without any trial. There is no rule of law in Eritrea and if you are imprisoned you will be there most likely until you rot. It is even worse than the Dergue in Ethiopia. The people I approached to talk to did not like my questions. The social interaction between the government and the people is getting worse; the people are living under siege.

Outside the coffee bar, as I was going back to my place, I saw many kids walking on the street without any adult accompanying them. Nearly half of Eritrean population are children. Millions are orphans. They are economically very active and most of them work more hours than a full-time adult worker. They look after their little brothers and sisters; sometimes even their mothers. The majority of the children who live in the towns and cities are fatherless - their fathers killed in conflict. The government does not give out any money to these orphans. The kids are dependent on the goods they sell. But the police are not very kind to them. The police can often be found rounding up homeless kids in the capital. Any young adults who appear to be above 16 years old are also rounded up for conscription into the national service scheme (Sawa), which is compulsory for every Eritrean one they reach the age of eighteen.

Most children help themselves and their mothers by selling lottery tickets, tissues, chewing gum, and cigarettes and also by working as shoe-shine boys. The situation is desperate as there’s no help from the government or any other charity organisations. Some young girls are forced to sell their bodies for cash.

The Eritrean government doesn't accept any kind of charity from the donor countries. They adopted the system of self-reliance even when they were guerrillas during the war for freedom from Ethiopia. Today, no NGO is welcome into Eritrea; the government is very suspicious of any foreign aid. At the moment Eritrea is suffering from economic and political uncertainty. Many Eritreans are now living behind bars. The arbitrary detention by the government is common in every part of Eritrea. No one between 18 and 40 years is allowed to move from one place to another without an ID card.

Eritrea is the only country in the world that doesn't have any independent newspapers and no freedom of expression. For the last three years the Asmara University has been closed bringing higher education to a standstill. More than 30,000 students have been migrated to neighbouring countries, the majority of them to Ethiopia.

Thousands of people are arrested on suspicion of evading military conscription and held at Adi Abeto army prison. Conditions in this military holding centre are harsh, with severe overcrowding, little food and appalling sanitary conditions. Many detainees have reportedly been forced to sleep outside in very cold weather, with no blankets or shoes. Prisoners have no access either to their families or to lawyers; my cousin Mengisteab is one of them. Such unfortunates are thought to be at the risk of torture and ill treatment. Many prisoners have reportedly been shot dead. Eritrean security forces in the capital, Asmara, indiscriminately arrest thousands of youths and others suspected of evading military conscription. The arrests take place in the streets, shops and offices, at roadblocks and in houses.

From the days of the war with Ethiopia (1998-2000), national service has become full military service and has been extended indefinitely. Those who completed national service and pre-independence fighters are subject to recall as reservists or on special duties.
There is no exemption for conscientious objectors. Many young people have tried to evade military service and thousands have fled the country or deserted after being conscripted. The usual punishment for evading or escaping from military service is torture by beatings, being tied in painful contorted positions for days and indefinite detention without trial or charge. The pathetic irony it that for the millions of underprivileged in Eritrea, it is not enough that they live lives of abject misery – the government insists that they must defend with their lives their right to live in such wretchedness.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Politics of Poverty in Zambia

Further to an earlier post we have been sent this article .

It is not everyone who is in full support of the British magistrate’s court ruling against the former Republican President Frederick Chiluba that he must repay 80% of public funds siphoned through the Zamtrop account in London.

This is a civil case in which it is alleged that Chiluba and his associates fraudulently spent about £25 million of public funds during his days as president of Zambia. On May 31 the High Court of Zambia ordered the freezing of $25 million-worth of assets and money owned by Frederick Chiluba and his co-accused accomplices.

Chiluba has strongly defended himself—by accusing the British prime minister Tony Blair of colonialism and intimidation. He said that the money he spent on his luxurious clothes (K200 million was mostly received in donations from overseas wealthy individuals and corporations. Indeed the corruption charges against the ailing former president has been received with mixed feelings within Zambia—because of the evident lack of political and moral sympathy from President Levy Mwanawasa (the man Chiluba has appointed to replace him in 2001).
It is the case that the judiciary and the anti-corruption force have failed to find tangible evidence on the alleged corruption charges against Chiluba.

The political intimidation of Frederick Chiluba has dealt a big blow to the political fortunes of the MMD—it has lost the erstwhile emotional and political sympathy among the disgruntled working class communities in the urban and mining communities—especially in Lusaka and the Copperbelt. This will remain to be fact because the political strength of the MMD depends upon working-class political sympathy and not otherwise.

Indeed, the ailing former president still enjoys political and tribal loyalties among the Bemba-speaking communities in Wapola (?) and the Copper-belt mining towns.

The careless and unguarded political utterances by President Levy Mwanawasa has helped to inflame tribal ill feelings among the Bemba-speaking political hooligans in Zambia. It is a fact that Mwanawasa is physically and emotionally unpredictable—when compared to his predecessors Chiluba and Kenneth Kaunda. More or less Mwanawasa has succumbed to the vice of ethnic and tribal loyalties in the sense that political appointments are made on the strength of the existing ethnic and political patterns.

We in the World Socialist Movement believe that corruption is a vice endemic within the political and economic structures of capitalism. The struggle against corruption must be viewed to be a struggle against property—we have always cautioned the peasants, workers and students to guard themselves against choosing sides between the warring religious, ethnic and racial factions. We advocate international working-class solidarity—socialism as the only alternative to capitalism.
ENB (?)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Class First and Foremost

In Nigeria unions are angry at a series of measures pushed though in the last days of the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo, who stepped down last month. The price of petrol was increased from 65 naira (51 US cents) a litre to 75 naira (The government has now reportedly offered to reduce this to 70 naira ). Transport fares have doubled in some areas following the fuel price hike.

Impoverished Nigerians see cheap fuel as one of the few benefits they derive from a corrupt state. Despite nearly 40 years of oil production that has brought the government hundreds of billions of dollars, most Nigerians live in poverty. A fifth of all of Nigeria's children die before the age of five .While Nigeria is one of the world's biggest oil producers, virtually all of its refined fuel is re-imported from overseas at great cost. GNP per capita is actually lower than it was on the achievement of Independence in 1960.

Nigeria's powerful labor unions launched a general strike Wednesday to protest government price hikes, leaving many schools and banks shuttered and normally bustling streets quieter in Africa's oil giant. The unions, including Nigerian workers in the oil industry, rejected concessions by new President Umaru Yar'Adua's government aimed at averting the action and said Wednesday the work stoppage was under way.

It is Not Colour - It is Class

On June 1st South African public sector workers staged the largest strike since apartheid . It involves 17 unions, including teachers, nurses and other civil servants. The government has mobilised army medics as strikebreakers in hospitals. Soldiers are also doing the work of non-medical hospital staff, including porters, cleaners and cooks. The government secured court orders to widen the legal definition of “essential workers” so as to deny around 300,000 of the country’s more than 1 million public servants the right to strike. Many nurses, doctors and health workers have defied the orders.
The government sacked 638 health workers who had not returned to work.

Thulas Nxesi, general secretary of the 220,000-strong South African Democratic Teachers Union, told workers at the June 13 Johannesburg rally, “Any injury to one is an injury to all. Dismiss one, dismiss all!”

A report published by the South African Institute of Race Relations demonstrated that the living conditions for millions of South Africans have worsened since the ending of apartheid 13 years ago. Official unemployment currently stands at 26 percent, but the real figure is 41 percent—double what it was 10 years ago. Millions of workers earn less than US$150 a month, and 4 million people are living in conditions of extreme poverty, defined as less than US$1 a day.

President Thabo Mbeki gets a 57,3% pay rise, taking his total package from R1,1-million to R1,8-million annually. Members of Parliament receive a total of R650,000 annually.

Yet a miserable 6% wage increase originally offered to public sector workers .

The police union Popcru and the South African Police Service are in a legal battle on whether the police and correctional services personnel may join the strike.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

War Crime Does Pay

Charles G. Taylor may still have access to considerable wealth amassed during his presidency, despite claiming penury at his war crimes trial . A U.N. panel says Liberian ex-leader’s wealth hasn’t vanished . At his trial on 11 war crimes and crimes against humanity in The Hague on June 4, Taylor refused to appear, saying he was too poor to afford his own defense .

Taylor’s claims of penury are a surprising turn of events for a man believed to have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone, which he dragged into a civil war that lasted more than a decade. Taylor built a fortune in kickbacks from sales of the rich array of natural resources from both countries.

In his time as a warlord and later as president of Liberia, Taylor extracted millions in exchange for tax breaks and a wide range of other favors for businessmen who hauled off billions’ worth of treasure from Sierra Leone and Liberia in the nearly two decades they spent embroiled in interconnected civil wars.

The report details of one such deal between Mr. Taylor and Natura Holding, which hauled thousands of tons of hardwoods from Liberia during the civil war. According to a 2001 statement of account from the Ministry of Finance of Liberia unearthed by researchers, a subsidiary of the timber company, Natura, was credited for paying $2 million in taxes on July 17, 2000. The next day, a deposit from Natura for almost the same amount appeared in Taylor’s personal account, according to a bank statement. He is believed to have entered into similar deals with the Oriental Timber Company, which was partly owned by Guus van Kouwenhoven, a Dutch businessman who was convicted in a Dutch court in 2006 of smuggling arms for Taylor.

In an earlier report last year, the United Nations panel of experts said evidence suggested that Taylor had “made significant investments in Nigeria, such as in real estate,” the report said.
But efforts to trace his fortune have bumped up against resistance in Nigeria, where the panel of experts says he has made a number of investments, and Liberia, where he is connected, through intermediaries, to one of the country’s biggest cellphone networks. The Nigerian government refused to allow the panel, a group of financial analysts and specialists in the timber and diamond trades, to travel to Nigeria to investigate Taylor’s finances, according to the report. Nor have Nigeria and Liberia frozen assets believed to be connected to Taylor .

By control of the most mineral- and timber-rich regions of the country, Taylor gained, by some estimates, $100 million a year in the early 1990s and amassed a personal fortune estimated at half a billion dollars while in power in Liberia .

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Role of the Military in Society

There is no doubt that the military constitute a vital force in today’s society. This fact is based on the conventionally perceived role they play in the lives of the populace. Being an armed section of a nation, the military have the primary role of defending the nation against external aggression. They are trained in modern warfare and furnished with whatever weapons the state is capable of procuring to enable them repulse the enemy as swiftly and as brutally as possible. But in times of peace, the military engage themselves in such occupations as the construction of roads, bridges, etc. They may also get involved in such varied tasks as relief work and evacuating victims in times of disaster. Sometimes they are sent abroad to help in keeping or ‘enforcing peace’ in war-torn areas. However, it is not uncommon for the military to intervene in the political affairs of a nation. In fact, the mere mention of the military, in most cases, evokes memories of brutalities in many a mind. They have carved a somewhat negative image of themselves as notorious perpetrators of insecurity and instability. This stems from their often violent and bloody uprisings and coups d’etat which they are prone to staging. In other cases, governments use them to unleash terror on striking workers or students on peaceful demonstrations.

Who are the military?

These conflicting functions that the military plays in society calls into question the real position of this tiny but important segment of the population. To understand the military and their real (not perceived) role, certain questions must be posed and answered. First and foremost, who exactly are the military and how did they come into existence? Simply put, they constitute a part of the coercive arm of the state. The other parts of this coercive arm being the police, prison officers, lawyers, judges, the courts and other paramilitary groups.

Every nation is made up of two basic classes. There is the class of owners and there is the propertyless class. By the ‘class of owners’ we mean that tiny group in society who own and control the means of production and distribution of wealth - factories, mines, land, railway lines, aircraft, roads, communication network, media houses, etc. On the other hand, the ‘class of workers’ refers to the overwhelming majority of people who do not own any of the properties mentioned above. They only possess their mental and physical abilities. The class of owners hires the latter to work on the means of production in order to create wealth. The owners then appropriate the wealth created (by virtue of their ownership) and pay the producers wages and salaries. As the class of owners are looking for ever more profits, then the less wages and salaries they are prepared to give out to the workers. But as the workers also need to have enough to clothe, feed, educate and shelter their families and indeed themselves, they demand more wages and salaries. This conflict of interests leads to a constant friction in society. So in order to maintain peace and security so that production can go on, the state emerged as a body standing above society and serving as an ‘impartial' regulator. Thus, it has the task of stopping the two antagonistic classes tearing society apart. It does this by using its three arms – the executive (the government in power), the legislature (the law-making body) and the judiciary (the body which dispenses justice). Now, it is to the judiciary that the military belong.

For or against

Having seen who the military are (a part of the state), one may now ask whether the state, and for that matter the military, is as neutral as it is claimed to be. In other words, are the military unbiased or are they on the side of the workers or on the side of the wealthy owners of the means of production? Here again, in order to do justice to the question, one must understand how the state is formed or who are chosen to represent the state. As has already been explained above, the state comprises the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. The executive arm is the government in power. This government, under normal conditions, assumes power after having contested and won elections. But every mainstream political party is in reality owned by a few wealthy people who contribute huge sums to maintain the party and enable it meet the financial and logistical expenses of contesting elections. Therefore, the party in power (the executive) serves the wealthy owners, who are really in control. It is the same with the legislature. Only the rich owners of wealth are able to provide the funds to sponsor themselves or their stooges to get into the national assembly or parliament. The common people, the working class, only queue up on Election Day to vote for one group of wealthy individuals or another. The story is the same with the judiciary, the third arm of the state. This is peopled with individuals who have been privileged to attain the highest levels of academic achievement. They are, in the main, hands-in-glove with the few privileged wealth owners and leaders of society. Members of the judiciary are appointed to their positions mostly on account of their cordial relations with the leadership of the nation.

It follows, logically, that since the state apparatus is peopled with those in cahoots with the owners of the means of production and distribution, there is no doubt as to where the loyalty of the state lies in the conflict between these owners and the working class. At best the state is part and parcel of the privileged class and at worst it (the state) is controlled by this privileged few. Thus, the military, being an instrument of the state machinery has a historical role of defending the interests of the owning and ruling class against the interests of the working class.

The reality of the military

An honest analysis of the conventionally perceived role of the military, outlined in the first paragraph, clearly proves that the military stands solidly behind the owning class against the majority in the working class. For instance the issue of the military defending the nation in times of war only masks the reality. When a nation fights another nation it is always over sources of raw materials or markets for their finished products, or over trade routes, or even the strategic positions from which the same can be defended. The central issue is always wealth. And since wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few owners of the means of living, wars are fought in the interests of these owners. Wars are therefore not a matter of nations against nations but they are a matter of the rich of one nation against the rich of a competitor nation. Sadly, however, all wars are fought by the poor people of the belligerent nations and who have no stake at all in such wars.

It has also been mentioned that in times of peace the military are deployed in construction. The roads, bridges and other infrastructure they help to provide are not intended to benefit the masses. Given the fact that society as at present constituted is run in the interests of the owning classes, all undertakings on the part of the state aim at enhancing the profit prospects of the wealthy. Thus, even in times of peace, the role played by the military is still anti-working class. And this is manifest in the ease with which the military is unleashed on workers when they embark on an industrial action to demand better conditions of service. Even harmless school children, demonstrating peacefully over one issue or the other, can be brutally massacred by the military when given orders to do so by the powers that they serve. And if the international role they play in the various peacekeeping missions is critically examined, the fruitlessness of that role cannot be missed. Apart from the numerous reports of such peace keepers getting involved in widespread looting, rape and sexual abuse they, in all cases, only add to camouflage the real essence of war. Peacekeeping forces have been in the Middle East for umpteen years now, yet that region remains volatile and insecure. It is the same in the Horn of Africa and the Congo Basin, which have known no peace since the early days of independence.

A positive role

This being the situation on the ground, the next is question whether the military can play a positive role in society. The answer obviously is both yes and no. Depending on how the military see this class-divided society, they can either live up to the expectation of their class or they will continue in this present unenviable "killing" profession on behalf of the capitalist class. If the military accept the present unjust world economic order and think they can reform it by going to war or indulging in peace keeping abroad or by repairing bridges and roads at home, then they will be choosing to continue along the negative path. But if they understand the world economic system in operation today and strive to change it, then they will be charting a positive course. So what is the current economic arrangement like? Though this has been referred to earlier in this write-up, more light will be thrown on it. Society is locked in a continuous battle with itself: the few who own and control wealth against the majority who produce the wealth but own nothing. In other words the current material productive forces are in conflict with the relations of production. Material productive forces refer to the elements actually involved in production, such as workers, land, factories, mines, transportation etc. The relations of production are somewhat more difficult to explain. They involve such things as production costs, who owns the material productive forces and who owns the results of production. Currently, the relationship between people on the one hand and land, factories, mines, transportation, etc on the other, divides people into two groups. One group owns those things. The other group must use its physical and mental ability to turn raw materials into finished products. Workers produce everything from food to education, from automobiles to hammers, from houses to hospitals, and from shopping malls to factories. They even produce the weapons used to kill each other in wars.

Those who own the means of production (basically the material productive forces excluding workers) determine when, where and how production takes place. If a factory decides to shut down, the workers have no say in the matter. If the owners of a soap manufacturing company in The Gambia, for instance, decide to move their factories to Nigeria or Ghana, it is their choice. They own the means of production. If the owners of a soft drinks processing plant believe that they cannot sell their product for a profit, they have the right to shut down the plant. That right is theirs even if the processing plant produced all the soft drinks in the world. Profit trumps human need every time in capitalism.

Those who own the factories own the products of the factories. The owners may have never been on the same continent as the factory but they nonetheless own everything produced in the factory. Those who do the actual work have no legal right to the products they have produced. Those who own the means and the products of production and who control production are the capitalists. Those who do the actual producing are the working class.

Humanity has developed the ability to produce to a level which easily enables the planet’s real needs to be met.. But the current relations of production dictate who eats what, who sleeps where and at what price. Capitalism cannot accommodate necessary production. By and large, people do not go hungry, walk barefooted or die of curable illnesses because there is no food, shoes or medicines, but because they are, from the unalterable perspective of capitalism, unworthy: they cannot buy the food, pay for shoes or procure medicines. They do not have the finances to purchase what the capitalist sells, so they do not present as a market.

If the military were to understand the world as explained above, they would be in a position to throw their weight behind their historically determined class – the exploited class; to be in a position to stop serving the interests of the master class, to stop fighting their wars, to stop breaking strikes and attacking peaceful demonstrators. Were this to happen, then the military could be seen to be playing a positive role in society.