Saturday, December 29, 2007

Can Ethical Capitalism Work

Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank revolutionised credit for the poor, won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize and micro-finance became a household concept.

The maxim - “teach people how to take a small investment, grow their business and eventually become self-sufficient”.

The micro-finance sector is in the middle of a boom: “Micro-finance will grow more and more,” claims Nairobi-based director of Inclusive Financial Systems, Stephan Staschen. “More commercial entities will also get involved as they realise its profitability and the result will be that many poor people will be served.”

Yet , this report , questions its effectiveness . According to research by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor in 2003, evidence of the effectiveness of micro-finance as a tool for development remains slim .

Thomas Dichter of the Cato Institute, the Washington DC-based think-tank, calls the potential of micro-finance “grossly overestimated”.
He asserts , “In Bangladesh, 30 years after Yunus’s invention, poverty statistics are worse than they’ve ever been, so something else is the source of the problem and micro-credit is not helping.” Dichter also criticises the influx of micro-finance institutions, claiming that agencies are “jumping into this field” under the assumption they can alleviate poverty without actually looking at the different causes of poverty in different regions. In recent writings he argues that micro-finance could be doing more harm than good.

Economics journalist Gina Neff has also written that “after eight years of borrowing, 55 percent of Grameen households still aren't able to meet their basic nutritional needs - so many women are using their loans to buy food rather than invest in business.”

Gambian Hotel Workers Strike

The Gambia is a popular holidaying place for Europeans and the tourist industry is one of the country's major source of income . However it is not all swimming pools and sandy beaches for the locals . They have to endure the daily grind of the class struggle . Sometimes , they fight back . This report :-

Three hundred members of staff of the Senegambia Beach Hotel who went on a sit down strike on Monday, December 24, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the management of the hotel. The employees went on strike when management failed to meet their demands of 50 percent salary increment and secure working conditions. Meanwhile, a 5 percent salary increment will be implemented until a review is made based on the audited account of the company. It was also agreed for the hotel to give a two years contract to 100 junior employees. Not total victory but a sign of growing worker muscle .

The hotel usually employs people on a six month contract basis, which could be renewed or terminated at the end of the period. Some members of the staff said that despite the fact that some people have been working for the hotel for over ten years, their employment is still on temporary contracts , and they have not got any other benefits. Some employees receive only D750 dalasi as salary and whose contracts can be terminated without justification.

The strikers, who were assembled in the hotel hall, were chanting slogans and displaying placards with phrases such as; "No more slavery", "No free labour", "We need job security, salary increment and we are fighting for our rights".

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sierra Leone Class Struggle

Over at the Power to the People blog a report on the unrest at the diamond mining area in Sierra Leone where police cracked down on protests about the exploitation and inhumane conditions .

Residents were protesting the mining operations’ impact on living conditions, saying the company has failed to compensate affected families. Residents say Koidu Holdings has not met promises to help in the resettlement of residents displaced by its operations. A private company owned by Israeli diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz, Koidu Holdings mines the deepest vertical kimberlite pipe in the world. It has been in talks with locals who live near the blast site in the concession for several years.

Rich in diamonds, Kono district lacks piped water, electricity and good roads, citizens say. Residents have long denounced what they call exploitation by diamond seekers.

Dozens of young residents of the eastern Sierra Leone town of Koidu swarmed onto the mine to protest against the mining company. Sierra Leone police had to intervene and opened fire on the protesters.
Valnora Edwin is the director of Sierra Leone non-governmental organization, Campaign for Good Governance. She says the residents of the town adjacent to the mine complain the blasting has negatively impacted their daily lives. The residents are also complaining that the mining, which started in 2003, damages their plantations, their water supplies, and more generally, the environment. They want the mining company to pay to relocate them.
"They are complaining that when they are doing the blasting it is affecting their school, it's affecting everyday activities because everyone has to go indoors, there are particles flying in the air, and that is also affecting their health," she said.

According to Abu Brima, executive director of the Sierra Leone Network Movement for Justice and Development
"The community people have made a number of complains, and have written a lot of letters of complaints to the authorities, and recently they also made a memorandum of 14 points to go on strike if Koidu holdings did not meet their demands," According to Brima, because these demands were not met, the villagers resorted to protesting, expecting the support of local authorities. "But, unfortunately they the authorities have used their heavy hands to clamp down on local communities on behalf of the mining company..."

Members of parliament who visited Kono following the uprising issued a statement on 17 December condemning what they called "heavy handed action taken" in quelling the unrest. "We believe it was a peaceful demonstration which could have been settled through negotiations," the seven MPs said in the statement

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Aid - the road to no-where

"Foreign assistance is far from charity," J. Brian Atwood, the USAID director under former President Clinton, told Congress in 1995. "It is an investment in American jobs, American business."

Just in case it was not already quite apparent we read here .

Under the Buy American Act, the U.S. Agency for International Development must spend aid money to buy products and services from U.S. suppliers whenever possible, and then deliver them aboard expensive U.S.-flagged ships or planes.

The World Bank estimates that throughout the 1980s, more than half of all aid was tied to what donor countries wanted to export, often at higher prices than could be found on the market. This practice reduced the value of aid by anywhere from 11 to 30 percent.

Often donors did not understand Africa or talk to Africans. The Norwegian government built a fish processing plant on Lake Turkana in the 1970s to provide jobs for nomadic cattle herders — soon doomed in part because the local community had no fishing culture.
In a self-assessment in 1987, the World Bank found 106 out of 189 African development projects audited — almost 60 percent — had serious shortcomings or were complete failures. African agriculture projects failed 75 percent of the time. A recent report on aid from the World Bank's private arm, the International Finance Corporation, found only half of its Africa projects succeed.

In the 50 years since the first African countries won independence, the world has spent $568 billion on Africa. Yet Africans are poorer now than a quarter century ago

"Africans do not want to be viewed as a charity case," adds Okonjo-Iweala, a World Bank managing director. "Ninety-nine point nine percent of Africans are people who are getting on with their own lives. All they are asking for is....a set of tools."

We in Socialist Banner will add that what also is required is a new social system , something that the World Bank cannot deliver , only the workers themselves .

Flights of Fancy

The Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, is to buy a new Gulfstream presidential jet for £24 million after convincing MPs that his £16 million plane bought seven years ago is out of date.

The plans have caused outrage in Uganda, where one in three people live on less than a dollar a day .

Newspapers are reminding readers of Museveni's famous speech when he came to power in 1986, in which he mocked the expensive tastes of African leaders. "The honourable excellency who is going to the United Nations in executive jets, but has a population at home of 90% walking barefoot, is nothing but a pathetic spectacle," he said at the time. A matter of do what i say , not what i do .

His government has spent already lavishly this year, forking out £79 million on hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and a reported £27 million for a presidential palace refurbishment. In an editorial, the Weekly Observer questioned the president's priorities, noting that "parts of the country are ravaged by floods, Ebola, cholera, malaria, and even plague!"

Stop Firestone - Support the strikers

While your company has reaped millions of dollars in profit from Liberia, you have handed back just pennies to the workers . And now you are compounding these violations of the dignity of workers through your efforts to stymie the freely expressed wishes of the workers for an independent union.” - The United Steelworkers of the USA

On July 7, 2007, workers turned out in massive numbers to participate in the first genuinely free and fair union elections in the 81-year history of Firestone’s operations in Liberia. Workers of the Firestone Rubber Plantation in Liberia say they will continue their strike action until the management of the company recognizes their elected union representatives.

Workers employed at the Firestone Plantation in Liberia earn a little more than $3 a day. They live in shacks with no electricity, no running water or toilet facilities. Their children have no access to a high school education.

The International Labor Rights Fund in November 2005 sued Bridgestone/Firestone for the slavelike conditions in its rubber plantations in Liberia. Firestone's operations allegedly forced children as young as 11 to work in the fields from before sunrise until late day. These kids typically walked one to two miles carrying two 75-pound buckets of rubber to storage or collection tanks. If the children refused to work, their parents risked losing their measly $3.19 daily wage, all while Bridgestone/Firestone celebrates record-level profits for 2005 and 2006.

Tappers and their children are held in virtual bondage, isolated from the world on a million—acre plantation and dependent on Firestone for everything from wages to lodging to food and medicine, all of which are desperately inadequate. Bridgestone/Firestone housing has not been renovated since its construction in 1926. Most of the houses do not include running water or indoor toilets.

Enviromentalists have been documenting Bridgestone/ Firestone’s abuses and have confirmed the habitual release of suspected toxins into the environment and the Farmington River as well as the exposure of plantation workers to compounds and chemicals that are internationally recognized as toxic and environmentally damaging.Bridgestone/ Firestone’s dumping in the Farmington River is polluting Liberian’s waterways and is hazardous to the communities that live along the river; depending on it for fishing, bathing, and drinking water. Bridgestone/ Firestone’s actions have made a once vibrant ecosystem and river way into one that is nearly dead.

For years, workers on the Firestone rubber plantation in Liberia have been represented by the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL), which is affiliated to the General Agriculture and Allied Workers Union of Liberia (GAAWUL). However, for years, the leadership of the union did not truly represent the concerns of workers and was what is referred to as a “company union” . This means that Firestone management controlled the previous union leaders .

Since the union leadership on the Firestone plantation has not historically represented workers, workers formed another organization called the Aggrieved Workers Committee.The Aggrieved Workers ran candidates for each union leadership position in the July 2007 elections and overwhelmingly won each seat . The election process was extremely open and democratic.

Since the elections, Firestone management has refused to meet with the newly elected leaders and is continuing to give workers’ union dues to the old, illegitimate leadership. Firestone management has arranged for paid leave for workers related to the old union leadership to “conduct education for members of FAWUL on their role in keeping the Plantation stable to avoid labor unrest.” This is a clear union-busting strategy being used by Firestone to avoid having to negotiate with a truly representative union.

Comfort Willie, the newly elected treasurer general of the Firestone Agricultural Workers’ Union of Liberia, has also accused the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of engaging in witch-hunting against union members.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Gifts for Africa

Ethical gifts are billed as the perfect antidote to the conspicuous consumerism of the festive season. Whether buying a goat for a family in Africa, or the materials to build a toilet, we are told that these simple items can make a big difference to people in developing countries.Such presents have been growing in popularity and last year Oxfam sold £3.9 million worth of ethical gifts . The charity has this year launched a celebrity-led campaign to encourage more of us to send useful gifts - which may include items such as dung, condoms or even a can of worms - to help communities in the developing world.

However UK-based education charity Worldwrite says that far from being welcome, these gifts are often seen as "demeaning and patronising". Worldwrite also argues that far from encouraging development, buying someone a goat or a hoe for Christmas only conspires to keep recipients at the same subsistence levels year after year. "People in the developing world are like us - they know the sorts of things we have and they want them too " . They felt some projects epitomised "low horizons" and irritated locals who say they are offered "peanuts" with endless "accountability" and "target" forms to fill out.

Worldwrite's views are echoed by Ghanaian De Roy Kwesi Andrew, a teacher and translator, who says: "Our people and government have become merely the passive, obedient pupils to be preached to."

As a local teacher in Ghana , Godbless Ashie , puts it : "Africans have big brains, big aspirations and want to live in liberty."

We at Socialist Banner say the best Xmas present for everybody would be for all of us to put an end to capitalism and for us all to achieve socialism and put an end to exploitation and pauperism .

One Laptop per Child

A little bit of realism from PC Mag and their writer John C Dvorak about philanthropic gestures.

Hands Across America, Live AID, the Concert for Bangladesh, and so on. The American (and world) public has witnessed one feel-good event (and the ensuing scandals) after another. Each one manages to assuage our guilt about the world's problems, at least a little. Now these folks think that any sort of participation in these events, or even their good thoughts about world poverty and starvation, actually help. Now they can sleep at night. It doesn't matter that nothing has really changed.

This is how I view the cute, little One Laptop per Child (OLPC) XO-1 computer, technology designed for the impoverished children of Africa and Alabama. This machine, which is the brainchild of onetime MIT media lab honcho Nick Negroponte, will save the world. His vision is to supply every child with what amounts to an advertising delivery mechanism. Hence the boys at Google are big investors.

Before you cheer for the good guys, ponder a few of these facts taken from a world hunger Web site.

In the Asian, African, and Latin American countries, well over 500 million people are living in what the World Bank has called "absolute poverty." Every year, 15 million children die of hunger. For the price of one missile, a school full of hungry children could eat lunch every day for five years. Throughout the decade, more than 100 million children will die from illness and starvation. The World Health Organization estimates that one-third of the world is well fed, one-third is underfed, and one-third is starving. Since you've entered this site, at least 200 people have died of starvation. One in 12 people worldwide is malnourished, including 160 million children under the age of 5. Nearly one in four people, or 1.3 billion—a majority of humanity—live on less than $1 per day, while the world's 358 billionaires have assets exceeding the combined annual incomes of countries with 45 percent of the world's people. Let's include Negroponte and the Google billionaires.

So what to do? Let's give these kids these little green computers. That will do it! That will solve the poverty problem and everything else, for that matter. Does anyone but me see this as an insulting "let them eat cake" sort of message to the world's poor?

"Sir, our village has no water!"
"Jenkins, get these people some glassware!"

But, wait. Think of how cool it would be! Think of how many families will get to experience the friendly spam-ridden Information Super Ad-way laced with Nigerian scams, hoaxes, porn, blogs, wikis, spam , urban folklore, misinformation, sites selling junk from China, bomb-making instructions, jihad initiatives, communist propaganda, Nazi propaganda, exhortations, movie clips of cats playing the piano, advertising, advertising, and more advertising. Do you now feel better about the world's problems, knowing that some poor tribesman's child has a laptop? What African kid doesn't want access to Slashdot?

Of course, it might be a problem if there is no classroom and he can't read. The literacy rate in Niger is 13 percent, for example. Hey, give them a computer! And even if someone can read, how many Web sites and wikis are written in SiSwati or isiZulu? Feh. These are just details to ignore.

Blood , water and oil

From the anarchist web resource , Anarkismo , an interesting and provocative take on the Darfur War .

1. The conflict in Darfur is not between “Arabs” and “Africans”.
2. Sudan is not an Islamic fundamentalist state.
3. The cause of the conflict is not only political.
4. The deployment of United Nations peacekeepers will not help.


Monday, December 17, 2007

World Bank Woes

According to Christian Aid the World Bank risks doing more harm than good, if it is allowed to continue attaching harmful economic conditions to its development loans.

At issue is the Bank's practice of requiring countries to modify their economic policies in exchange for loans and debt relief. These changes often benefit European and US investors much more than the people living in developing countries.

The European Network on Debt and Development (a network of 51 non-governmental organisations from 16 European countries ) has found that more than two thirds of International Development Association loans and grants (71%) remain conditional on economic reforms that can adversely affect the poor.

Olivia McDonald, Christian Aid's World Bank expert, said: "European governments should not be taken in by the Bank's assurances that the imposition of harmful economic conditions has stopped. Using the Bank's own figures we've found that the evidence quite clearly states the opposite. And stories from poor communities around the world demonstrate the continued impoverishment that dictating inappropriate economic policies to poor countries causes."

Christian Aid calls on the UK government to withhold funds until the Bank stops demanding that recipient countries implement economic reforms such as privatisation and trade liberalisation.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Swedish Blindness on Somalia

Swedish authorities have recently ruled that failed asylum seekers from the Somali capital, Mogadishu, can be sent back as there is no "armed conflict" there.

The Swedish immigration agency said that Swedish law says there is no armed conflict in Mogadishu because rebels there do not control territory. Sweden automatically grants asylum to anyone from an area in which something "more like your traditional civil war" exists, where "rebellion forces have territorial control in a part of the city, the country or the region," senior immigration official Dan Eliasson told AFP news agency. "This is not the case in Mogadishu," said the general director of the Swedish Migration Board.

This after 17 people were killed in a mortar attack on Mogadishu's main market on Thursday. The UN says one million people are living rough in Somalia - including 60% of Mogadishu's population. About 200,000 people have fled the city in the last month. The UN's describes Somalia as the world's worst humanitarian disaster . Somali asylum seekers in Sweden can be sent home unless they prove lives personally under threat.

The immigration service also ruled last July that there was "no armed conflict in Iraq" on the same grounds, determining that Sweden could send Iraqi asylum seekers back to the war-torn country if they could not prove they would personally be threatened there.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Vultures of the Congo

We read the main teaching hospital is in such disrepair that many patients have to pay freelance porters for piggyback rides up and down the stairs to get X-rays. It costs $2 a flight, each way. Why is the hospital, like so much of the Congo Republic, so tattered when the country sells billions of dollars of oil each year?

“We ask ourselves, why is our country like this?” said Dr. Bebene Bondzouzi-Ndamba, a neurologist at the hospital. “Why are we so rich and yet so poor?”

The Congo Republic’s main teaching hospital may be in terrible shape, but its director, Ignace Ngakala, works in a plush office outfitted with a large, lacquered wood desk and a high-backed leather chair. His office, he said, was recently renovated along with the delivery room in the maternity ward and a meeting room for medical conferences, complete with a state-of-the-art sound system. In his parking space sat a late-model Volkswagen sport utility vehicle that sells for about $50,000 in the United States.

Mr. Sassou-Nguesso, the president, first ruled the country as a "Marxist-Leninist" dictator, from 1979 to 1992, then seized power again in 1997. A brutal civil war followed, devastating the country. He was elected president in 2002, but the vote was deeply flawed because his main rivals were excluded, international observers say. Mr. Sassou-Nguesso’s government has jettisoned its Communist past in favor of petro-capitalism. In Pointe-Noire, the center of the Congo Republic’s booming oil industry, Mr. Sassou-Nguesso lives in a sprawling oceanfront mansion. At a reception there in October, government ministers drank single-malt Scotch by the swimming pool, while Mr. Sassou-Nguesso sipped Champagne from a cut-crystal glass. According to hotel bills, the country’s president, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, paid $8,500 a night for a triplex suite at the New York Palace Hotel during a visit to the United Nations in 2005. His hotel bills in the United States in 2005 and 2006 added up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The credit card bills of one of the president’s sons, Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso, who runs the marketing arm of the Congo Republic’s state oil business, Cotrade. They showed large purchases from shops like Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton and Gucci, and a paper trail suggesting that companies receiving state oil business had paid for the purchases

This world of luxury exposes the vast gap between the country’s elite and its impoverished masses.

Half the nation’s population lacks access to clean water, according to Unicef . The lifetime risk of dying in childbirth for women in the Congo Republic is 1 in 26, one of the world’s highest rates. Life expectancy is just 53 years, down from 55 in 1990. That deprivation exists despite the significant amount of oil the country produces relative to its 3.8 million people — 250,000 barrels a day.

And there skulking in the background is world capitalism and its vulture funds [written previously about here] .

An affiliate of an American hedge fund, Elliott Associates for an undisclosed price bought about $31 million in debt that the country took on in the 1980s but later defaulted on. Now it is suing in American, European and Asian courts to collect the principal plus interest and penalties — more than $100 million in all. So far, it has collected $39 million. According to Justice Department records, the Congo Republic’s government has spent $3.3 million this year and last to hire lobbyists and lawyers to press its cause in Congress and in the news media, including the firms of Washington heavyweights .

Caught in the middle of this fight are the schoolchildren . A school of 3,583 students , as many as 200 in a class . Its three latrines are broken. Many teachers have not been paid in years — they get by on donations from parents. Children sit on the cement floor, notebooks perched on their narrow thighs. There aren’t enough desks for everyone. The school receives virtually no assistance from the government.

“Our country exports wood, but we have no desks,” Mr. Itsouhou , the school’s principal , said “Our children are literally learning on their knees. We don’t know where the money goes. We just pray for help.”

Socialist Banner says it is not prayers that are required , nor loans and gifts , nor reforms and palliaitives to alleviate the Congo's povertyy , but a fundamental change in society - a social revolution .

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Drink to Forget

Instead of tackling the root causes of why people are driven to drink , to endeavour to solve the social problems that lead to alcoholism , what is capitalism's solution - make booze cheaper .

The solution to problem drinking in some of the poorest parts of Africa is to flood troublesome districts with ultra-low-cost beer, according to the world's biggest alcoholic drinks group Diageo.

Three years ago Diageo persuaded the Kenyan government to collaborate on the initiative by reducing duty on a new budget beer brand, Senator Keg. Results from the project led to government ministers last year waiving all duty on Senator Keg, which sells at about 10p for a 330ml glass - only slightly more than local moonshine. Last week Kenyan officials briefed the World Health Organisation about the benefits of Senator Keg, although they conceded it remained a costly drink for the very poorest communities.

Alcohol abuse is not a significant cause of society's problems but is a result of those problems.

The Executive Director of Butabika National Psychiatric Referral Hospital, Dr Fred Kigozi said

"Alcohol and drugs do not solve anything but simply enhance the problem by introducing another burden,"

In 2005, the World Health Organisation ranked Uganda as the leading consumer of alcohol in the world. Per capita consumption is 19.5 litres ( Luxembourg at 17.54 litres and the Czech Republic at 16.21 litres. )

Monday, December 10, 2007

Mega developments - Little benefit for poor

A 2007 study by the UN Development Programme's International Poverty Centre examined poverty, inequality and growth since Mozambique instituted economic reforms in 1992, at the end of the civil war. It found that Mozambique's indices of rapid economic growth were illusory at best. Although the economy grew by 7.9 percent last year, most of the growth in income and consumption occurred among the population's richest quintile, with less than 10 percent of growth affecting the country's poorest.

Growth in industrial production has been the main driving force behind Mozambique's rapidly growing exports the study's authors observed.Based on a few mega-projects, this growth has, however, created few jobs, while its contribution to public revenue has been marginal when compared to its value of production .
The Mozal aluminium plant is a symbol of Mozambique's red-hot economy, touted as a symbol of the investor-friendly environment that led the Wall Street Journal to declare the country "an African success story". Mozal's exports have increased Mozambique's Gross Domestic Product . by between 3.2 and 5 percent. Its output represents almost half the country's growth in manufacturing. Initial investment in the project amounted to approximately 40 percent of GDP, but only created around 1,500 jobs, of which nearly a third are held by foreigners.The smelters use more electricity than the rest of Mozambique combined, enjoys an extensive list of incentives ranging from discounted electricity to a prolonged tax holiday. Mozal pays a one percent tax on sales . It also has the right to repatriate profits. The result is an isolated economic enclave that uses large quantities of scarce resources without returning revenue or jobs to the economy.

The report pointed out that the southern provinces receiving the greatest percentages of foreign direct investment also saw the largest increases in poverty rates in recent years. Development strategies implemented since the end of the civil war neglected agriculture and fishing, the primary source of livelihood of more than 80 percent of Mozambicans.

Dependence on large projects, coupled with Mozambique's already heavy dependence on foreign aid, means top officials are more concerned with accountability to donors and financial institutions than the people they were elected to serve. The authors concluded that the result was not "pro poor".

"Following in the footsteps of the centralised colonial administration and the subsequent Marxist-Leninist party/state apparatus, the government continues to operate, through mega-projects put together by the top political leadership and respective donors and/or private investors, with very little public consultation or transparency," the study noted.

The Economist reports that the World Bank praised Mozambique for being among the region's top business reformers. Enthusiastic donors poured $1.3 billion into the country in 2005—about a fifth of its GDP . Carlos Castel-Branco, a local economist, says the economy is not really developing. Growth is driven by foreign aid and big capital-intensive foreign investments, which, he argues, create few jobs and contribute little to the public purse.

So far, the country's growing wealth has largely benefited a tiny elite .
“The tentacles of the ruling party are in almost every sector of the economy,” says a local journalist.

Renamo says its supporters in rural areas are being harassed and sometimes beaten up. The pressure on civil servants to join the ruling party is growing. Much of the extra money given to local authorities for economic development is said to end up in the pockets of Frelimo people. Until his death the former president Mr Chissano's son , Nympine , was being investigated in connection with the murder in 2000 of a journalist who had been investigating corruption.

Big Business calling the shots , and the local politicians filling their coffers , while the poor lose out . Same old news

Friday, December 07, 2007

Taxing Food

"Bread used to be called the white or rich person's maize, and maize was the Swazi's or poor person's bread, but now both are beyond reach almost, and it is making more people dependant on food aid," said a food aid distribution officer at the village of Mliba

Crippling drought is responsible for a decline of up to 80 percent in maize harvests in some parts of the Swaziland . Over 400,000 people out of a population of 970,000 now need some form of food aid to survive.

The price of a loaf of bread will jump by 10 US cents, and by the end of the year a loaf may cost US$1 in a country where over 60 percent of people live on less than US$1 a day .

But the radically escalating price of bread is not related to Swazi weather; no wheat is grown in the country. Rather, it is because of the government's desire for tax revenue. Through its price-fixing arm, the National Agricultural Marketing Board , an 8.5 percent levy is fixed on all wheat imported into the country.

"Swaziland, the nation with the worst food crisis per capita in the southern African region, has the most expensive flour in the region. This is because of government tax," said the manager of an industrial bakery. Bakeries say they can no longer absorb the high cost of flour without passing on the increases to consumers. If forced to shut down, they warned that 2,000 jobs could be lost in a country where formal-sector unemployment is above 40 percent. Some bakeries are coping by cheating, and stories about undersized loaves of bread feature extensively in the local media.

Why is the Swazi government charging wheat importers this levy when there are no farmers producing wheat in Swaziland who need to be protected from unfair competition?

A shopkeeper and restaurant owner in the central commercial town of Manzini says "This is all about tax revenue for government. Why are they taxing food during a food crisis? It makes no sense - it's just greed."

Finance minister Majozi Sithole told parliament last week that government receives only 20 percent of the customs duties due to it because of the under-declaring of goods and other cheating at border posts. Since 2004, he has reported annually that the amount of money lost to government through various forms of corruption is equal to the nation's annual debt.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bribery - A Tax on the Poor

More than one in 10 people has paid a bribe in the past 12 months, a survey by global anti-corruption body Transparency International has found. The report added that the world's poor were the hardest hit by bribery. The popular perception may be that bribes are paid by wealthy people to gain influence and oil the wheels of power, but they are mostly paid by poor people to ensure they get basic public services.

"Extortion hits low-income households with a regressive tax that saps scarce household resources," the report said .

In Africa, 42% of people paid a bribe to obtain a service .

Cameroon - 79%
Cambodia - 72%
Albania - 71%
Kosovo - 67%
FYR Macedonia - 44%
Pakistan - 44%
Nigeria - 40%
Senegal - 38%
Romania - 33%
Philippines - 32%
[ Percentage of people who paid a bribe in the past 12 months ]

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

African Anarchists Get Organised

The Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation was replaced by a new, unitary organisation, the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front. On December 2, the members of the new ZACF held talks with Swazi comrades with a view to establishing a new unitary organisation in Swaziland.
Socialist Banner extends its comradely good wishes to the re-formation of the libertarian movement in Southern Africa .

The ZACF defines Anarchism as:

“…society organised without authority, meaning by authority the power to impose one’s own will ... authority not only is not necessary for social organisation but, far from benefiting it, lives on it parasitically, hampers its development, and uses its advantages for the special benefit of a particular class which exploits and oppresses the others”.
Errico Malatestal , Agitazione June 4, 1897

And Communism as:

“Common possession of the necessaries for production imply[ing] the common enjoyment of the fruits of the common production; and we consider that an equitable organisation of society can only arise when every wage-system is abandoned, and when everybody, contributing for the common well-being to the full extent of [their] capacities, shall enjoy also from the common stock of society to the fullest possible extent of [their] needs.”
Piotr Kropotkin , Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles,1887


We, the working class, produce the world’s wealth. We ought to enjoy the benefits.

We want to abolish the system of capitalism that places wealth and power in the hands of a few, and replace it with workers self-management and socialism.

We do not mean the lie called ‘socialism’ practised in Russia, China, and other police states - the system in those countries was/is no more than another form of capitalism - state capitalism.

We stand for a new society where there will be no bosses or bureaucrats. A society that will be run in a truly democratic way by working people, through federations of community and workplace committees.

We want to abolish authoritarian relationships and replace them with control from the bottom up - not the top down. All the industries, all the means of production and distribution will be commonly owned, and placed under the management of those working in them. Production will be co-ordinated, organised and planned by the federation of elected and recallable workplace and community committees, not for profit but to meet our needs. The guiding principle will be “from each according to ability, to each according to need”.

We are opposed to all coercive authority; we believe that the only limit on the freedom of the individual is that their freedom does not interfere with the freedom of others.

We do not ask to be made rulers nor do we intend to seize power “on behalf of the working class”. Instead, we hold that socialism can only be created by the mass of ordinary people. Anything less is bound to lead to no more than replacing one set of bosses with another.

We are opposed to the state because it is not neutral, it cannot be made to serve our interests. The structures of the state are only necessary when a minority seeks to rule over the majority.

We can create our own structures, which will be open and democratic, to ensure the efficient running of everyday life.

We are proud to be part of the tradition of libertarian socialism, of anarchism. The anarchist movement has taken root in the working class of many countries because it serves our interests - not the interests of the power seekers and professional politicians.

In short we fight for the immediate needs and interests of our class under the existing set up, while seeking to encourage the necessary understanding and activity to overthrow capitalism and its state, and lead to the birth of a free and equal (anarchist) society.

Full constitution of ZACF found here

“zabalaza” being the indigenous word meaning “struggle” in Zulu and Xhosa

Africa in the Oven

Climate disasters are heavily concentrated in poor countries. Some 262 million people were affected by climate disasters annually from 2000 to 2004, over 98 percent of them in the developing world - UNDP Human Development Report .
In rich developed countries one in 1,500 people was affected by climate disaster. The comparable figure for developing countries was one in 19 - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change .

Oxfam says global warming is altering the human food supply and threatening some of the world's poorest people with hunger. At the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Bali, the group argued developed countries should pay to address the problem, and costs could top $50 billion a year.

The United Nations predicts that in some African countries, crop yields could fall by half. Gains made in human development in Africa may be reversed if climate change is not checked.

“Ultimately, climate change is a threat to humanity as a whole. But it is the poor, a constituency with no responsibility for the current ecological debt, who face the immediate and most severe human costs,” says UNDP administrator Kemal Dervis

Among the threats to human development, that African countries may have to deal with, is breakdown of agricultural systems due to increased exposure to drought, rising temperatures and more erratic rainfall, leaving up to 600 million more people facing malnutrition.

Global warming also poses health risks, with an additional population of up to 400 million people threatened with malaria, which is one of the leading killers in the tropics.

Semi-arid areas of sub-Saharan Africa, with some of the highest concentrations of poverty in the world, face the danger of potential productivity losses of 26 per cent by 2060.

UNDP warns that if the status quo prevails, an additional 1.8 billion people in Africa and other areas will face water stress by 2080, a trend that is worrying considering the fact that water scarcity has been one of the limiting factors to agricultural production.

Yet industrialised countries have only allocated about US$163 million towards helping the Least Developed Countries adapt to global warming - less than what Canadians spent on hair conditioner last year - says a new report by Oxfam. And just only less than $10 million of this has been dispensed so far .

However , lets not be under the impression that cash-aid will be a panacea for the problems that will face Africa in the future from climate chnge . Nor other such financial solutions proposed such as carbon taxes; a passenger levy on international air travel; revenue from carbon-allowance auctions; transaction levies in national and global carbon-trading schemes; and redirecting distorting fossil-fuel subsidies.

As December's Soicialist Standard states it is the capitalist economic system itself which is responsible for ecological problems. In fact, not only have workers no influence over the decisions taken by enterprises but those who do have the power to decide - the capitalists - are themselves subject to the laws of profit and competition. Capitalism can only function in the interest of the capitalists, no palliative, no rearrangement, no measure, no reform can subordinate capitalist private property to the general interest.

We can only “cure the planet” by establishing a society without private productive property or profit where humans will be freed from the uncontrollable economic laws of the pursuit of profit and the accumulation of capital.

A world in which the present system of rival States will be replaced by a world community without frontiers, the rationing of money and the wages system replaced by free access to the wealth produced, competition replaced by cooperation, and class antagonism replaced by social equality.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


South African mine workers are starting a one-day strike in protest at poor safety in the country's mines. About 240,000 workers are to take part in the 24-hour stoppage, the first countrywide strike by miners. About 40,000 workers are expected to join a protest march in Johannesburg .

"Workers are saying enough is enough. Safety is needed now," said Erick Gcilitshana, the health and safety head of the National Union of Mineworkers, which is organising the strike.

"Our safety records both as a company and a country leave much to be desired." Harmony Gold mine executive Patrice Motsepe has said

More than 180 workers have been killed this year in the country's mines, with another two dying in recent days, slightly fewer than 200 deaths in 2006. In October, more than 3,000 miners were trapped a mile underground at a Harmony Gold mine.

South Africa's Business Day newspaper, in an opinion piece, said mine supervisors "remain hostile to the introduction of new safety values into a traditionally conservative environment."

Yet the average miner still earns only $US500 per month. Fourteen years after the end of white rule, miners are still the poorest paid workers of the industrial sector.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

People Before Profits

The New York Times carries an interesting story about Malawi and food production in that country .

A senior civil servant in the Malawi's Agriculture Ministry, said the President told his advisers, “Our people are poor because they lack the resources to use the soil and the water we have.”

In the 1980s and again in the 1990s, the World Bank featured a faith in private markets and an antipathy to government intervention , pushed Malawi to eliminate fertilizer subsidies entirely. Its theory both times was that Malawi’s farmers should shift to growing cash crops for export and use the foreign exchange earnings to import food . The removal of subsidies had led to exorbitant fertilizer prices in African countries, but that the bank itself had often failed to recognize that improving Africa’s declining soil quality was essential to lifting food production. Over time, their depleted plots yielded less food and the farmers fell deeper into poverty.

“The rest of the world is fed because of the use of good seed and inorganic fertilizer, full stop,” said Stephen Carr, who has lived in Malawi since 1989, when he retired as the World Bank’s principal agriculturalist in sub-Saharan Africa. “This technology has not been used in most of Africa. The only way you can help farmers gain access to it is to give it away free or subsidize it heavily.” [Free access , is of course what Socialist Banner advocates to resources ]
Farmers explain Malawi’s extraordinary turnaround with one word: fertilizer.
Contrasted with the disastrous corn harvest in 2005 when almost five million Malawi's 13 million people needed emergency food aid , farmers produce record-breaking corn harvests in 2006 and 2007, according to government crop estimates. Corn production leapt to 2.7 million metric tons in 2006 and 3.4 million in 2007 from 1.2 million in 2005 . Instead of receiving charity , Malawi is feeding its hungry neighbors.

It is selling more corn to the World Food Program of the United Nations than any other country in southern Africa and is exporting hundreds of thousands of tons of corn to Zimbabwe. In Malawi itself, the prevalence of acute child hunger has fallen sharply. In October, the United Nations Children’s Fund sent three tons of powdered milk, stockpiled here to treat severely malnourished children, to Uganda instead. The bumper harvests also helped the poor in Malawi by lowering food prices and increasing wages for its farm workers.

Farmers in Malawi’s southern and central regions said fertilizer had greatly improved their ability to fill their bellies with nsima, the thick, cornmeal porridge that is Malawi’s staff of life.

The United States, which has shipped $147 million worth of American food to Malawi as emergency relief since 2002, but only $53 million to help Malawi grow its own food, has not provided any financial support for the fertilizer subsidy program. United States Agency for International Development has focused on promoting the role of the private sector in delivering fertilizer and seed, and saw subsidies as undermining that effort. The World Bank criticized the government for not having a strategy to eventually end the fertilizer subsidies .

The government moved this year to give its people a more direct hand in their distribution.
Villagers in Chembe gathered one recent morning under the spreading arms of a kachere tree to decide who most needed fertilizer coupons as the planting season loomed. They had only enough for 19 of the village’s 53 families.
“Ladies and gentlemen, should we start with the elderly or the orphans?” asked Samuel Dama, a representative of the Chembe clan. Men led the assembly, but women sitting on the ground at their feet called out almost all the names of the neediest, gesturing to families rearing children orphaned by AIDS or caring for toothless elders.

For Socialist Banner this is an indication of what is possible when people are permitted to take control of their own lives and put need before the profits demanded by world capitalism . A new world is indeed possible .

Saturday, December 01, 2007

India joins the scramble for Africa

A delegation from Chad, which met external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee and minister of state for commerce Jairam Ramesh, has expressed willingness to allow India to participate in oil exploration in the country. India has offered Chad training in various sectors, including the petroleum sector, in exchange for participation in oil exploration in the West African country.

The Chad government, which wants Indian expertise in setting up a fertiliser plant, a cement factory and technical know-how in the dairy and leather industry, is only too willing to trade with oil blocks. Sources said the Chad government in response to the Indian interest has said it will look at giving oil blocks to India.

Chad also has a huge reserve of minerals, including uranium. “Yes, we have uranium reserves. We have already signed contracts with three companies for carrying out exploration activities. There are more blocks, and I would invite Indian companies,”

India is looking at raising its oil and gas imports from energy-rich Africa. To meet its growing domestic demand, the country is planning to import nearly 38 per cent more crude oil from the region in the next three years. The Petroleum Secretary said India wants to acquire more oil and gas fields as well as other energy projects like refineries, petrochemical plants, and pipelines in the region.

To unlock Chad's oil wealth, a 1,000 mile pipeline from Chad through Cameroon to the coast was constructed. The project was backed by the World Bank, which lent money and support on condition Let's use oil revenues to benefit all that much of the revenue from the oil wealth would go to poverty alleviation programmes.
This was written into Chad's laws.The particulars of the agreement (actually the law) were that 80 per cent of oil revenues would be spent on development projects, particularly in the social sector. The money would be kept in a Citibank account in London.
It looked like a foolproof deal. Barely two years later in 2005, the Chadian government changed the law and gave itself more discretion to spend the oil revenue as it pleased. As is to be expected in the circumstances, some of the money was used to purchase arms to shore up efforts to beat off a rebellion against the government. So on July 14, 2006, the World Bank and Chad signed a memorandum of understanding (another agreement) under which the Government committed 70 per cent of oil revenues to poverty reduction programmes.

But some top oil producers, which include Angola, Chad and Nigeria, did not make any gains in GNP , prompting the World Bank to conclude that mineral resources "do not always determine success".