Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Environmental Racism ? Or Capitalism ?

We read that Shell's Opolo-Epie facility gives the lie to claims from oil multinationals and the Nigerian government that they are close to bringing an end to the destructive and wasteful practice of gas flaring.The Opolo-Epie plant is set to join at least 100 other flares burning across the swamps, creeks and forests of this oil-producing region, filling the atmosphere with toxins, seeding the clouds with acid rain and polluting the soil. The process of burning off unwanted "associated gas" brought up when oil is pumped out of the ground has been illegal in Nigeria since 1984. The government has set three separate deadlines for stopping the practice – the latest of which falls due at the end of this year – but still it continues. Medical studies have shown the gas burners contribute to an average life expectancy in the Delta region of 43 years. The area also has Nigeria's highest infant mortality rate – 12 per cent of newborns fail to see out their first year.
"This is environmental racism," said Alagoa Morris, an investigator with a local group, Environmental Rights Action. "What we are asking for is that oil companies should have to meet the same standards in Nigeria that they do operating in their own countries."

In a country where more than 60 per cent of the people have no reliable electricity supply the gas flares, some of which have been burning constantly since the 1960s ,is equivalent to more than one third of the natural gas produced in the UK's North Sea oil and gas fields and would meet the entire energy requirements of German industry.( Worldwide, the gas lost to flaring could meet one third of the EU's natural gas needs each year.) Making use of the gas being burned could produce 8,000 megawatts of power – three times Nigeria's current output. A single small- to medium-sized flare could power up to 5,000 homes, shops, schools and clinics as well as pumps and filters for drinking water.

The pollution generated from this flaring has been measured at up to 50 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, with unknown quantities of the far more damaging greenhouse gas: methane. According to Chris Cragg, an independent oil and gas expert. "It is one of the largest single pointless emissions of greenhouse gas on the planet, with obvious implications for climate change that will not only affect Nigeria, but also the rest of the world."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The South African Freedom Day

South Africans mark Freedom Day on Tuesday and South Africa still has a lot to achieve before all South Africans are really free, the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) said on Monday.

"We cannot ignore the 58 percent of South Africans who live in poverty, who cannot really benefit from political freedom as they face a daily struggle to survive," spokesman Patrick Craven said in a statement.He said massive inequality had made South Africa the most unequal society in the world."Such inequality mocks our struggle to build a free, fair and equitable society. Neither can we celebrate freedom when our society is scarred by such high levels of crime and corruption."

He said there was a continued restructuring of the working class into a two-tier labour market.

"We suffer from the gross exploitation of workers, as capitalists seek new ways to enrich themselves at the expense of the working class and dodge around the labour laws." He explained that the first layer of workers enjoyed most of the rights contained in the constitution."They are covered by collective bargaining and enjoy better work security and better pay."

The second layer was of super-exploited workers without any rights or freedoms."For them, joining a union is a personal risk and upward job mobility is an illusion. It is a large and growing army of workers employed in low-paid, temporary, casualised jobs or employed through the enslaving labour broking system."

"The black working class, despite government provision of thousands of new houses, are still located far away from workplaces, forcing workers to spend a lot of the little wages they receive on ever-rising transport costs."

Workers bore the brunt of the recent capitalist crisis, caused by the greed of capital.In the first nine months of 2009 the country lost 959 000 jobs.

Craven said the only way for workers, their families and communities to win real and total freedom was for them to get organised in strong, fighting trade unions.And while Socialist Banner fully supports the efforts of the working class to unionize and resist the encroachments of capitalism , we need to heed the observations of Karl Marx and qualify the limits of trade unionism . Socialist Banner reminds the South African worker that only socialism will bring true emancipation from wage slavery and free the working class from capitalist exploitation.

"...the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto: “A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: “Abolition of the wages system! "

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Extracts from this article.

In 1960, South Korea was as poor as the African countries, but thirty years later, the country was wealthy enough to offer aid to Africa.

The African continent has struggled with chronic poverty and under-development since the advent of political independence more than fifty years, and many Africans view this problem as one of Africa's own making. African development experts and academics have blamed foreign aid for the continued and seemingly intractable development crisis confronting the continent. Africa's war on poverty is perceived as amounting to begging and submissiveness, leading to reforms that have made Africans poorer. The contention among many African experts is that the more the developed north co-operated with the south, the poorer Africa became. Foreign aid has generally benefited the ruling elites in Africa, by among other things, enabling and perpetuating corrupt governments' hold on power, and by extension, entrenching the pervasive underdevelopment. Poverty is a justification for aid, but it is seldom the main criterion used for allocating it.

Over the past five decades, foreign emergency assistance to Africa has helped to avert hardship for many of Africa's poor, but failed to promote any significant economic development.Providing assistance to Africa's poor is a noble cause, but the five decades long campaign of aid has turned out to be what one critic called “a theater of the absurd.” To-date, the record of western aid to Africa has been significant, amounting to more than $500 billion between 1960 and 1997, which is the equivalent of four Marshall Plans being pumped into Sub-Saharan African. And today, the national budgets of most Sub-Saharan African countries are dependent on foreign aid for up to eighty percent of the annual budgets. Apart from the relief aid and economic development, foreign aid assistance was also provided to support reforms and policy adjustment programs. And between 1981 and 1991 alone, The World Bank provided $20 billion towards Africa's structural adjustment programs. The purpose of the programs was to make public institutions, government agencies, and bureaucracies in Africa more transparent, effective, efficient and accountable. It is baffling that Africa still suffers from a poverty trap, considering the depth of governments' corruption and the missing billions in export earnings from oil, gas, diamonds and other resources.

The disadvantages of aid include the fact that funding provided is usually tied to the fact it must be spend in the donor countries regardless of the high cost of goods and services. Rather than create wealth, prosperity and economic development, most Africans have over the past few decades realized a net decline in their standards of living. Research shows that over the period that foreign aid was being pumped into Africa, the per capita GDP declined by an averaged of 0.59 percent annually, between 1975 and 2000. The Heritage Foundation in 1985 concluded that foreign aid is not the answer to Africa's economic troubles; and in fact, the organization maintained that aid was contributing to Africa's underdevelopment woes. It is now a popular belief that foreign aid has been found to do more harm, leading to the situation where Africans have failed to set their own pace and direction of development; free of external interference. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development admits that aid to Africa has not been successful and despite many years of policy reform, no Sub-Saharan country has completed its adjustment program or achieved any sustained economic growth. Similarly, a Heritage Foundation study found that foreign aid retards the process of economic growth and the accumulation of wealth. The Foundation argued aid dependency pulls entrepreneurship and intellectual capital into non-productive activities, thereby blunting the entrepreneurial spirits of many Africans.In 1976, Tanzania began the $220 million Mufundi paper mill factory project financed by the World Bank. The project turned out to be a total failure, yet for twenty years, Tanzanians paid the bill for that ill-thought out experiment. In the early 1990's, the UNDP spent $900,000 over a three year period trying unsuccessfully to show farmers in north-east Ivory Coast how to cultivate onions. Meanwhile, 90 miles north, in neighboring Burkina Faso, the farmers there were growing onions profitably under similar agricultural conditions, but without any foreign aid. The decades of financial and technical aid transfers to Africa have not fostered economic growth, rather, it has left seventy countries, primarily in Sub-Saharan African, poorer than they were in 1980, and 43 are worst off than they were in 1970. The United Nations Development Program describes the 1980's, the period of highest foreign aid transfer to Africa, as the “lost decade.” Over much of that decade, 100 countries mostly in Africa, suffered major economic decline or net stagnation, and the conclusion is that foreign aid failed to create economic growth in aid recipient countries. The old belief that aid transfer allowed poor countries to escape the poverty trap has been refuted, because research has proved that poverty, contrary to the popular belief, is not caused by capital shortage. In fact, studies show that there is no correlation between aid and economic development, rather, most aid recipient countries have become and remained more dependent of foreign aid. Additionally, a World Bank study showed that food aid budgets in developed nations were mainly guided by prospects for commercial exports of surplus from donor countries, and not determined in accordance with the needs and objectives of recipient countries' to reduce dependence on imported food. Donors reduce food aid budgets when the prospect for commercial exports are good, and increase them when the prospects are poor. A U.S 1997 General Accounting Office report, criticized USAID for having no strategies for the assessment of the impact of its programs in enhancing the food security, and further, the Agency could not determine whether food aid was an efficient means of accomplishing food security goals in aid recipient African countries. Poor policy choices in Africa have caused development there to first stagnate and decline over the past several decades.The public image of foreign aid is of Western beneficence; nevertheless, studies show in some cases, foreign worker remittance to their countries of origin far exceeds the annual aid transfers from some European countries. In 1998, the officially recorded remittance from the Netherlands to forty-two low-income developing countries exceeded U.S. $1 billion; a sum equivalent to 115 percent of Dutch aid to those countries.

Foreign aid serves a useful purpose when it is provided to alleviate temporary hardship as in cases of natural disasters such as droughts, but, experience in Africa has proved that aid recipients could easily construe foreign aid as a substitution to their own productivity. Across the continent, food aid has suppressed food production, undermining the prices of local produced foods. A World Bank finding on food import into Somalia in 1998 concluded that aid had methodically undermined Somalia's civil society. Somalia had become more dependent on imported food than any other country in Sub-Saharan Africa. The report noted that until food aid began to arrive in Somalia, the economy was predominantly an agricultural and pastoral economy. And up until the early seventies, Somalia was self-sufficient in food grains production; however, Somalia's share of food imported in total volume of food consumption rose from less than 33 per cent in 1979 to over 63 per cent in 1984. This sea change ironically coincided with the period of highest food aid distribution to that country. By increasing the supply of food aid, Somalia's domestic food prices were dampened, and the prices of local food crops were prevented from rising, thus reducing the incentives for domestic food crop producers. This exacerbated Somalia's food deficit.

Studies show that there is overwhelming evidence that foreign aid has helped to under-write the misguided policies of the corrupt and bloated government bureaucracies across Africa. The Oxford International Group study revealed that the external stock of capital held by Africans in overseas accounts, was between $700billion and $800 billion in 2005, and nearly 40% of Africa's aggregate wealth was stacked in foreign bank accounts in Europe, United States and Japan. A former U.S Ambassador to Ghana, Edward P. Bryan, admitted that foreign donors have allowed what he describes as “a small, clever class that inherited power from the colonial masters to take us to the cleaners.” It will take a lot of resources and time to turn Africa around. In March 1990, a Paris daily, Le Monde wrote, “Every franc given to impoverished Africans, comes back to France or is smuggled into Switzerland by African bureaucrats and politicians.” And critics contend that donor agencies knew or should have known the motivation and activities of corrupt African leaders who spirit away billions into Swiss Banks and other western bank accounts. Even famine relief aid is not spared. As early as the late 1980's, a former head of Medicine Sans Frontiers, Dr. Rory Branman, lamented the failure of aid to Africa, saying, “We have been duped.” The Western governments and humanitarian groups”, he said, have “unwittingly fueled and are continuing to fuel an operation that will be described in hindsight in a few years' time as one of the greatest slaughters of our time.” The World Bank admitted that in most cases Western donors knew that up to 30 per cent of the loans to African countries and governments went directly into the bank accounts of corrupt officials, yet The Bank considered these officials and their governments as partners in development.A major debilitating by-product of foreign aid to Africa is the culture of corruption that has taken root at every level of every government. Today, corruption has become the way of life in every country in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the theft, bribery and embezzlement of aid, and other government resources are so endemic, they are not considered as crimes. African politicians and government officials have engaged in corruption practices, and a 2004-2005 World Bank Report showed that $148 billion were embezzled out of Africa by politicians and bureaucrats; a significant amount of it being aid and loans earmarked for development activities to benefit Africa's poor. Without transparency, accountability, and good governance, Africa's future will continue to remain bleak.

Because it is tied with geo-politics, trade and banking, foreign aid cannot be classified purely as gift-giving. During its first four decades, victory in the Cold War was the compelling and pre-eminent drive in the regime of aid giving. Today, experts have identified the predominant motives for aid giving as strategic socio-political, mercantile, and humanitarian and ethical. Official aid is seldom the tool of altruism alone, because the direction of foreign aid is dictated by political and strategic considerations, much more than the economic needs and policy performance of the recipient. However, the motives behind aid never come in fixed and stable proportions. Perhaps the one safest generalization to make is that foreign aid, when used alone or in combination with other policy instruments, has a unique ability to allow the donors to demonstrate compassion, while simultaneously pursuing a variety of other ulterior motives and objectives.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Black Empowerment - or - Crony Capitalism

The Economist carries an article on South Africa's Post-Apartheid policy of “black economic empowerment” (BEE).

Instead of redistributing wealth and positions to the black majority, it has resulted mainly in “a few individuals benefiting a lot,” President Jacob Zuma says.The richest 4% of South Africans — a quarter of whom are black — now earn more than $80,000 a year, 100 times what most of their compatriots live on.

The idea of legislating for black economic empowerment was originally promoted by big white businessmen to ward off post-apartheid calls for nationalisation. If a few well-connected black people were given chunks of the action, big business would, they hoped, be left alone. In that sense, BEE has been a roaring success, as whites still own the bulk of the country’s wealth. Whites still hold three-quarters of senior jobs in private business whereas blacks have 12%, the exact reverse of their share in the working population. Among the 295 companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), blacks account for just 4% of chief executive officers, 2% of chief financial officers and 15% of other senior posts. In non-executive ones, they do a bit better, accounting for just over a quarter of board chairmen and 36% of directors.

Monday, April 05, 2010


UNICEF estimates 40 percent of under-five children in the arid Sahel are chronically malnourished because they lack the vitamins and minerals needed to bolster their immune systems and mental skills. Another estimated 300,000 die every year from malnutrition.

“Rice is a poor source of essential vitamins and minerals, either because these compounds are not present in rice, especially when it is polished [white], or they cannot be absorbed by humans,” UNICEF nutrition specialist Roland Kupka told IRIN. “Diets that are primarily based on polished rice may thus lead to deficiencies in iron, zinc, vitamin A, and thiamine [B1] deficiency, which in turn impair growth, immunity, and mental development among children.”

Rice does little to boost nutrition, unlike vegetables.

The director of Africa Rice Centre, Papa Abdoulaye Seck, told IRIN “Rice is a strategic commodity… We can do business with rice. Imagine if the US$2 billion dollars [2006 estimate] that Africa spends on rice imports every year were reinvested in the agricultural sector - do you think Africa would now have 265 million starving people?” asked Seck, referring to an estimate from UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Friday, April 02, 2010

Blood and Treasure

The tragic and often bloody conditions of the Congo is rarely out of the news and it is often commented upon . Socialist Banner read this about the Democratic Republic of Congo .

One of the world's richest countries is also one of its poorest.As far back as Congo's history is recorded, the wealth from this vast natural treasure house has flowed almost entirely overseas, leaving some of the planet's best-endowed land with some of its poorest people. It is often heard, "We wouldn't have so much trouble if we weren't so rich."

Gold is only one of a half-dozen or more lucrative minerals to be found in Congo, and together they constitute what may be the worst case on Earth of what has come to be known as the "resource curse" . As inevitably as oil drew the United States into Iraq, it is the temptations of this wealth—more than ethnic rivalries, the legacy of colonialism, or anything else—that has turned Congo into the horrific battleground it has been in recent years. A country with a lavish array of natural riches and a dysfunctional government is like a child heiress without a guardian: Everyone schemes for a piece of what she's got. Multinational corporations prefer a government weak enough not to tax and regulate heavily but strong enough to guarantee order.A failed state fails its people in many ways, and one of them is that, in a world of powerful corporate players, a weak and corrupt government has no bargaining power.

Congo has been in the grips of a fiendishly complex and brutal war whose exact toll no one knows. It may well be in the millions if you count those who died because fleeing their homes or living in packed, disease-ridden refugee camps cut them off from adequate food and medical care. Women and girls by at least the tens of thousands have been gang-raped by government soldiers and rebel militias. This has not been a civil war driven by ideology, but rather a multisided free-for-all driven by plunder.The warring militias assume that multinational corporations would have few scruples about dealing with warlords if the stakes were high enough. They turn out to be right.Congo has virtually no public health system, and AngloGold Ashanti,the world's third-largest gold mining company, a multinational company spending millions prospecting for gold in the desperately poor community, have largely ignored pleas for help.While spending millions of dollars prospecting, it has made only small contributions to a local hospital, schools, a soccer tournament, and the like, keeping at arm's length a coalition of local groups and churches lobbying for this desperately poor community. "Of everything we've put in our list of demands and grievances," says Richard Magabusini, an elected chief .
AngloGold Ashanti recently finalized a series of agreements with the government. Four other multinationals—based in London, Canada, and South Africa—have likewise concluded closed-door agreements over mining rights. No one will ever know what Congolese government officials may have reaped from these deals in the way of quietly promised jobs, favors, or money under the table, in a country where such rewards are routine. As the company takes its slice of the African cake, only a tiny percentage of the proceeds from those 2.5 million ounces of gold is likely to stay in Congo—and even then, much of what does will probably leak into high officials' private bank accounts.More than 97 percent of Congo's gold leaves the country without ever being taxed, according to one recent estimate by the Ministry of Mines. AngloGold Ashanti mined more than $1.5 billion worth of gold in neighboring Tanzania between 2000 and 2007, but only 9 percent of that money has remained in the country as taxes or royalties. Where do the profits go instead? A good chunk comes to the United States, for even though the company is based in South Africa, its largest single shareholder—hedge fund billionaire John Paulson—lives on the Upper East Side and summers in the Hamptons. He owns 12 percent of the company, and a number of other Americans have shares.

The big money in gold mining comes to those who can afford to dig massive mines and build refineries to process the ore. But those who cannot, an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 people in Congo's northeast—including some 10,000 children—dig for gold literally by hand, much the way men did in California in 1849. Sometimes, risking great danger in the hope of richer ore, these freelance miners slip into abandoned, partly flooded underground mines with rotted roof supports and hack out new tunnels. Health and safety regulations are in long-forgotten law books only, and no one even records the number of miners maimed or killed each year.

In the 60s, many Americans boycotted Californian grapes to help farmworkers unionize; in the '70s and '80s, many boycotted South Africa to help the anti-apartheid movement. In the late 1990s there was the push to ban "conflict diamonds," which led to the 2002 agreement, now signed by some 75 countries, to boycott diamonds produced by armed rebel groups in Africa and elsewhere. Shouldn't we help war-torn Congo by boycotting "conflict minerals"? Unfortunately, it's not clear that a boycott would do much more than put tens of thousands of miserably paid miners out of work. Take the rather toothless conflict diamonds accord (which came about only because the international diamond cartel saw "blood diamonds" undercutting its inflated prices): It already applies to Congo, but makes no practical difference since the country's diamonds, like the overwhelming majority of its other exports, don't come from areas currently at war.The real problem is not conflict minerals, but the fact that Congo's long-suffering people reap only a tiny share of their country's vast wealth.