Wednesday, November 25, 2009

free access in Soweto

In Soweto more than half of the residents now get their power for free. They are helped in part by the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC) - a group of electricians who believe it is the people's right to have free power.The SECC pride themselves on maintaining safety standards at least as good as the power company.

"We are fighting for what the government said in 1994 [the first democratic elections].People shall have all the resources free of charge. Water, electricity, schooling and health. After we have voted for them they have changed...We are giving back what belongs to the people." says one of the crusading electricians .

Socialist Banner advocates that free access should be available for all a person's needs , food clothing and shelter .


Socialist Banner has reported previously on the great African land grab and once again the development has come to the news.

Ethiopia might seem an unlikely hotbed of agricultural investment. To most of the world, the country is defined by images of famine: about a million people died there during the drought of the mid-1980s, and today about four times that many depend on emergency food aid. But according to the World Bank, as much as three-quarters of Ethiopia’s arable land is not under cultivation. Since the world food crisis, Zenawi, a former Marxist[sic] rebel who has turned into a champion of private capital, has publicly said he is “very eager” to attract foreign farm investors by offering them what the government describes as “virgin land.” An Ethiopian agriculture ministry official recently told Reuters that he has identified more than seven million acres.

Ethiopia’s government denies that anyone is being displaced, saying that the land is unused — an assertion many experts doubt. “One thing that is very clear, that seems to have escaped the attention of most investors, is that this is not simply empty land,” says Michael Taylor, a policy specialist at the International Land Coalition. If land in Africa hasn’t been planted, he says, it’s probably for a reason. Maybe it’s used to graze livestock, or deliberately left fallow to prevent nutrient depletion and erosion.

The International Institute for Environment and Development suggests that as of earlier this year, the Ethiopian government had approved deals totaling around 1.5 million acres, while the country’s investment agency reports that it has approved 815 foreign-financed agricultural projects since 2007, nearly doubling the number registered in the entire previous decade. But that’s far from a complete picture. While the details of a few arrangements have leaked out, like one Saudi consortium’s plans to spend $100 million to grow wheat, barley and rice, many others remain undisclosed, and Addis Ababa has been awash in rumors of Arab moneymen who supposedly rent planes, pick out fertile tracts and cut deals.

The nations of the Persian Gulf are likely to see their populations increase by half by 2030, and already import 60 percent of their food. Self-sufficiency isn’t a viable option.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

climate change and war

Climate has been a major driver of armed conflict in Africa, research shows - and future warming is likely to increase the number of deaths from war.US researchers found that across the continent, conflict was about 50% more likely in unusually warm . Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences they suggest strife arises when the food supply is scarce in warm conditions. Warm years increased the likelihood of conflict by about 50% - and food seems to be the reason why.

"Studies show that crop yields in the region are really sensitive to small shifts in temperature, even of half a degree Celsius or so," research leader Marshall Burke, from the University of California at Berkeley, told BBC "If the sub-Saharan climate continues to warm and little is done to help its countries better adapt to high temperatures, the human costs are likely to be staggering."

If temperatures rise across the continent as computer models project, future conflicts are likely to become more common.And it will take a lot more than more money and the added investment offered up as solutions to avoid those future wars .

Friday, November 20, 2009

USA picky and choosey about corruption

From the pages of The New York Times we read " Several times a year, Teodoro Nguema Obiang arrives at the doorstep of the United States from his home in Equatorial Guinea, on his way to his $35 million estate in Malibu, Calif., his fleet of luxury cars, his speedboats and private jet. And he is always let into the country.The nation’s doors are open to Mr. Obiang, the forest and agriculture minister of Equatorial Guinea and the son of its president, even though federal law enforcement officials believe that “most if not all” of his wealth comes from corruption...despite a federal law and a presidential proclamation that prohibit corrupt foreign officials and their families from receiving American visas. The measures require only credible evidence of corruption, not a conviction of it. "

Former and current State Department officials said Equatorial Guinea’s close ties to the American oil industry were the reason for the lax enforcement of the law. Production of the country’s nearly 400,000 barrels of oil a day is dominated by American companies like ExxonMobil, Hess and Marathon.Since oil was discovered there in 1996, Equatorial Guinea has become the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, after Nigeria and Angola, with estimated revenues of $4.8 billion in 2007. But although petroleum has made the ruling Obiang family and its associates vastly rich, the oil and gas wealth has not been spread beyond ruling elites.

“Of course it’s because of oil,” said John Bennett, the United States ambassador to Equatorial Guinea from 1991 to 1994, adding that Washington has turned a blind eye to the Obiangs’ corruption and repression because of its dependence on the country for natural resources.He noted that officials of Zimbabwe are barred from the United States.“Both countries are severely repressive,” said Mr. Bennett, who is now a senior foreign affairs officer for the State Department in Baghdad. “But if Zimbabwe had Equatorial Guinea’s oil, Zimbabwean officials wouldn’t still be blocked from the U.S.”

Justice Department memorandum, dated Sept. 4, 2007, and obtained by The New York Times, said the government believed Mr. Obiang’s assets were derived “from extortion, theft of public funds or other corrupt conduct.” From April 2005 to April 2006, the memorandum said, Mr. Obiang funneled at least $73 million into the United States, using shell corporations and offshore bank accounts to launder the money and ultimately buy his Malibu estate and a luxury jet.The document identified several wire transfers by Mr. Obiang from 2005 and 2006, beginning with a bank in Equatorial Guinea, then going to the central Banque de France and landing in American accounts at Wachovia, Bank of America and UBS. In one six-week period in 2006, Mr. Obiang transferred $33,799,799.99 to the United States, it said, which was used to buy a Gulfstream V jet.Part of his wealth, the document said, comes from a “revolutionary tax” that Mr. Obiang placed on timber. Instead of sending the payments to the treasury of Equatorial Guinea, Mr. Obiang, who is considered likely to be a successor to his father, has “insisted that the payments be made directly to him,” it said.The memorandum said, the Justice Department believes that Mr. Obiang “may be receiving bribes or extortion payments” from the oil companies as a percentage of their contracts.
In 2004, a Senate panel accused Riggs Bank in Washington of having “turned a blind eye to evidence suggesting the bank was handling the proceeds of foreign corruption” in accepting hundreds of millions of dollars in deposits from Equatorial Guinea.In 2006, more than three-quarters of the population was living below the poverty line.

“There are many instances of corrupt foreign officials plundering the natural resources of their countries for their own use while their people starve,” Mr. Leahy ,the Vermont Democrat who wrote the law restricting visas, said. “The law states clearly that if you do that, you are no longer welcome in the United States.”

Unless you control access to oil wells , that is !!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

china and africa

Socialist Banner has carried several posts on the expansionism of Chinese capitalism in the continent so we are not at all surprised by the announcement that China has pledged to give Africa $10bn (£6bn) in concessional loans over the next three years.

We can understand the need for the Chinese to camoflage this as a form of humanitarian aid yet we are not at all convinced .

Last month a little-known Chinese company invested $7bn (£4.16bn) in a mining deal in Guinea, despite the international condemnation there has been for the country's military junta. In September the army in Guinea opened fire on demonstrators killing 150 people.Of course there are plenty of major Western companies operating in countries with oppressive governments.

The Egyptian independent MP Mustafa al-Gindi sees it as a battle between East and West for the biggest share of African spoils. He believes the old relationships in Africa are now being tested and he is hugely fearful of China's way of doing business.
"There is huge competition between East and West for Africa", he said. "And whatever they say, it is a fact that the Chinese come to Africa not just with engineers and scientists - they are coming with farmers. It is neo-colonialism.

"There are no ethics, no values, there is only one thing, 'I want the land and I don't mind how we get it'."

China is keen to invest billions of dollars of its foreign reserves. A lot of that money is tied at the moment to assets in the United States and to the weak dollar. Investment in new African projects offers a useful alternative.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Black Mercenaries

Doing the capitalists dirty work .

Watertight Security Services has been sending Ugandan security guards to Iraq since 2007. So far, more than 10,000 Ugandans have gone to work in the country. All eyes are now on Afghanistan.

Recruits at Watertight Security Services are desperate to escape from the poverty and unemployment that define their lives in Uganda.

Gun for hire!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

from theory to practice

As first previously reported on Socialist Banner here ,it now appears that capitalism will be exploiting Africa's geography .A sustainable energy initiative that will start with a huge solar project in the Sahara desert has been announced by a consortium of 12 European businesses.

The Desertec Industrial Initiative aims to supply Europe with 15% of its energy needs by 2050 and hopes hopes to start supplying Europe with electricity by 2015. Companies who signed up to the $400bn (£240bn) venture include Deutsche Bank, Siemens and the energy provider E.On. The initiative has gained the support of the German government of Angela Merkel, who has already expressed a desire to offset a dependence on Russian gas supplies.

Desertec Industrial Initiative aims to produce solar-generated electricity with a vast network of power plants and transmission grids across North Africa and the Middle East. The first stage will be to build massive solar energy fields across North Africa's Sahara desert, utilising concentrated solar power technology , which uses parabolic mirrors to focus the Sun's rays on containers of water. The super-heated water will power steam turbines to generate electricity 24 hours a day, 52 weeks of the year.The electricity will then be transported great distances to Europe, using hi-tech cables that suffer little conductive loss of power.

Socialist Banner notes that Desertec is keen to stress some of the power generated by the Sahara solar energy fields will also be used by domestic African consumers. However, with the little or no benefit going to local people from those countries gifted with oil resources , we cannot be blamed for an element of scepticism . We readSouth Sudan's semi-autonomous government has received nearly $7bn (£4.2bn) in oil revenue since it took over after a 2005 peace deal, but many question whether it is doing enough for its people.
"They say they are building new roads, but I think the ministers just pocket the money." says Akot, the driver .
"Misuse of public funds, favouritism in hiring and the existence of ghost names on government payrolls are examples of corruption that plague government offices," says the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs

There exists a viable alternative to capitalism as a world system of production for profit and uncontrolled and uncontrollable capital accumulation? It's where all the productive resources of the Earth have become the common heritage of the people of the world—"make the Earth a common treasury for all", as Gerrard Winstanley put it —so that they can be used, not to produce for sale on a market, not to make a profit, but purely and simply to satisfy human wants and needs in accordance with the principle of, to adapt a phrase, "from each region on the basis of its resources, to each region on the basis of its needs".

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Children of the Tobacco Fields

From November's Socialist Standard

We all know that tobacco harms those who smoke it. Few are aware of the damage it does to those who pick and process it.

The “children’s organisation” Plan International recently issued a report about children in Malawi, some as young as five, who toil up to twelve hours in the tobacco fields for an average daily wage of 11p. (Hard Work, long hours and little pay).

The finding that has attracted most attention is that these children are being poisoned by the nicotine “juice” they absorb through the skin – and also ingest, as they have no chance to wash hands before eating. Many of the ailments that plague them -- headaches, abdominal and chest pain, nausea, breathlessness, dizziness – are symptoms of Green Tobacco Sickness.

But much of their suffering has nothing to do with nicotine. All have blisters on their hands. All have pains – in the shoulders, neck, back, knees – caused by overexertion of their immature muscles. About a third of the children are coughing blood, which suggests TB.

Many of the children examined had been beaten, kicked or otherwise physically abused by estate owners or supervisors. Many of the girls had been raped by them. One boy had deep knee wounds as a result of being made to walk across a stony field on his knees as punishment for “laziness”.

Who owns the estates?
Who are these estate owners?
Commercial tobacco farming in Malawi began late in the 19th century, when it was the British colony of Nyasaland. White settlers seized much of the best arable land for plantations of tea, coffee, tung trees (for their oil, used as a wood finisher) and – mostly -- tobacco. Even today the majority of owners of large estates are descendants of the colonial settlers, although now there are also black owners.
In 1948 some tung and tobacco plantations (estates) were taken over by the Colonial Development Corporation, funded mainly by the British Treasury. After Malawi gained formal independence in 1964, these came under state ownership. Later they were reprivatised. Another recent change is the direct acquisition of some estates by international tobacco companies.

The estates were established on land stolen from traditional peasant communities. The process began in colonial times but continued even after independence, under the Banda regime. Land theft impoverishes local communities and compels those worst affected to offer themselves – or their children! – to the estate owners as wage slaves.
Tobacco is also grown on many small family farms. Here too, children work and suck in nicotine juice, alongside their parents.

The tobacco cartel
Malawi’s tobacco market is dominated – through subsidiaries -- by two international corporations, Universal Corporation and Alliance One International. These corporations operate a cartel, refusing to compete and colluding to keep tobacco purchase prices low. This in turn intensifies the pressure on farm owners to minimise costs by exploiting cheap or free child labour – a practice that the corporations hypocritically claim to oppose.

Representatives of the corporations sit on several committees that advise the government of Malawi on economic policy. By this means they ensure that their interests are served and block any initiatives to diversify the economy and reduce the country’s dependence on tobacco.

The main reason why child labour is so prevalent in Malawian agriculture is the poverty – in particular, land hunger -- of most of the rural population. This reflects not any absolute shortage of land but rather the highly skewed pattern of land ownership. Large tracts of land lie fallow on the big estates.

A pathetic contrast
How does Plan International propose to help the children on the tobacco farms?
Well, it will “educate farm owners and supervisors” and persuade them to provide the children with protective clothing. Taking the tobacco companies’ PR at face value, it will urge them to “scrutinise their suppliers more closely”. It will not, however, support a ban on children picking tobacco because that is “unrealistic” – as indeed it is if you refuse to challenge underlying social conditions.

But what a pathetic contrast such “realism” makes with Plan International’s “vision” of “a world in which all children realise their full potential in societies that respect people’s rights and dignity”!

Environmental degradation
Besides ruining people’s health, tobacco degrades the environment. The tobacco monoculture that dominates much of Malawi depletes the soil of nutrients. It also causes extensive deforestation, as trees are felled to provide firewood for curing the tobacco leaves, and this in turn further erodes the soil. Water sources are contaminated. After over a century of tobacco cultivation, all these processes are already far advanced. (For fuller analysis, see the chapter by Geist, Otanez and Kapito in Andrew Millington and Wendy Jepson, eds. Land Change Science in the Tropics: Changing Agricultural Landscapes, Springer 2008.)

Tobacco in socialist society?
Will tobacco be grown in socialist society? On a small scale, possibly, by addicts for their own use. But it’s hard to imagine socialist society making planned provision, within the framework of democratic decision-making, for tobacco production. People aware of all the harm caused by tobacco will surely prefer to halt cultivation of this noxious weed. They will seek to restore soil fertility, reverse deforestation and enhance local food supply.

Even if, for the sake of argument, we suppose that the decision is made to continue producing tobacco, will it be implemented? Will the free people of socialist society, no longer spurred on by economic necessity, voluntarily poison themselves just to feed others’ addictions?