Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A blind eye

Jimmy Mubenga died as three security guards restrained him with what is believed to be excessive force while being deported to Angola. Last month, a senior journalist at a radio station, accused by the ruling party of trying to incite rebellion, was shot dead in Luanda. In 2004, Mfulumpinga Nlandu Victor, an outspoken politician, was also shot dead in the capital. In 2007, the leader of the main opposition party, Isaías Samakuva, survived an assassination attempt unharmed. There are many lesser known cases of systematic abuse, detentions, torture, deaths, but none of these appear on the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office's (FCO) country profile. Unlike nearby Zimbabwe, Angola does not even feature in the UK's list of countries whose human rights record are of concern.

British business interests, particularly oil interests, are undoubtedly the underlying reason. Angola produces about 1.9m barrels of oil a day. One of the UK's largest companies, BP, has substantial interests there and describes Angola as one of its "six new profit centres". BP's involvement in the country began four decades ago: to date it has invested $8bn. Other British businesses operating in Angola include De La Rue, Lonrho plc, Crown Agents, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Standard Chartered and KPMG. According to Oxfam, British arms brokers were actively selling arms to Angola during the war.

The irony is that many British people take it for granted that our respect for human rights and justice is second to none. Often, when talking about dictatorships in other parts of the world, we assume we have a moral authority that other nations can only envy. The death of Mubenga while in the care of the British justice system suggests otherwise.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Letter from Zambia

Africa is a vast continent comprised of nations which because of their colonial past have different histories, just as they have variegated geographical landmarks that distinguish them. Thus African nations do not share many things in common except the forcible grouping together of tribes regardless of the interaction that existed before colonialisation.

In the attempt to create nations, different ethnic groups have been split between boundaries and the expression of nationalism has therefore not been through the medium of cultural or ethnic identity, but defined within the context of the country in which the language of the colonial master became the lingua franca.

It is imperative to note, therefore, that such a situation in which countries find themselves has made nation building and African unity a difficult task.
The political developments taking place in Zambia today are African in nature and therefore similar and comparable to political events taking place elsewhere. In Africa, parliamentary democracy defined through multi-party politics still remains a test case today. Political leaders in Africa are finding it hard to relinquish power through the medium of the ballot box. The current political scenario in Zambia may easily degenerate into political violence if left unabated. The Catholic church and some western NGOs have kept on to criticise the ruling MMD government both through the press and privately-owned radio stations. Radio ICENGELO – owned by the Catholic church has become the mouthpiece of the voiceless people on the Copperbelt.

The widening gap between the rich and poor is something the ruling MMD government of President Rupiah Banda does not seem to be concerned about. Indeed, privatisation of the Zambian economic sector can only succeed by strengthening the private- and profit-making social sector, otherwise than defending and safeguarding the economic upkeep of the peasants and workers.

Massive and periodic job losses in the formal and informal sector have come to characterise the economic policy of Zambia’s economic liberation ever since the MMD came to power in 1991 to date. During the leadership of Dr. Kenneth Kaunda education was subsidised by the state and every child had a right to free education from primary school to university level. Every year the UNIP government carried out massive recruitments of teachers, doctors, nurses, policemen and soldiers.

The change from one-party participating democracy to multi-party democracy saw the implementation of economic liberalism (defined as privatisation) under the MMD government of President Fredrick Chiluba. This entailed the liquidation of state-owned mining, industrial and financial companies. The privatisation of state-owned companies led to massive job losses – in most cases the retrenched workers have not yet received their retirement salaries.

But we cannot mop up the fact that the UNIP government had experienced economic decline from 1980 to 1991 – the MMD inherited a bankrupt economy as the case may be. But it must be emphasised that the manner in which privatisation was carried out by the MMD was less than transparent.
It was in an attempt to monopolise power that Kaunda introduced a one-party state in 1973 on the excuse that Zambia was facing tribalism under multi-party politics. He introduced the philosophy of humanism in order to weld the different ethnic groups together under “One Zambia One Nation”. He declared a state of emergency – political detentions without trial (political criticism was banned). It is a fact that both the ruling MMD and political opposition have shown no restraint in manipulating the masses through feeding them with prejudices against other tribes in order to win their support. Thus tribalistic sentiments in Zambia originate from politicians or political parties. The voting patterns that emerged from the previous three general elections depict tribal and regional allegiances in the sense that people voted on the basis of ethnic patronage.

Every economic gain achieved under the late President Levy Mwanawasa has been dissipated by the global economic downturn of 2009, making it possible for the PF leader Michael Sata to increase votes in the coming 2011 elections. General elections in urban areas of Zambia are determined by economic factors, especially for food prices, the cost of education and availability of employment. The ruling MMD has concentrated on building roads, hospitals, schools and subsiding peasant farmers. In rural areas where the party received massive votes, working class political consciousness is visibly absent in rural village communities. The failure of African leaders to relinquish power through the medium of the ballot box means that elections in Africa are conducted in a win-or-die situation. The experience of many African nations with regard to their armed forces have been sad in that they have stifled democracy with their intervention, purportedly in their attempt to correct the mistakes of their political bosses also had failed to adhere to the principle of democracy through perceived violations of the constitution. When military leaders come into power, they not only breach the constitution, they become traitors to the oath of allegiance they swore to the nation.

The reluctance of the ruling MMD to accept the PF and UPND as viable future political options is a bad omen for multi-party politics in Zambia.

Socialism is the only practical political alternative to capitalism and our message to the workers of Zambia remains the same – the creation of a classless moneyless and stateless society.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

water rights

At present, there are 2.6 billion people living without safe sanitation, which means countless communities where people are exposed to their own and others’ faeces. Excreta is then transmitted between people by flies or fingers and also finds its way into water sources, resulting in a public health crisis.

In Africa, diarrhoea kills almost one in five children before their fifth birthday.

According to the 2009 census, an estimated one in five Kenyans uses the bush as a toilet - access to piped water covers only 38.4 percent of the urban population and 13.4 percent of rural residents. With Kenya’s population projected to grow by up to one million people per year, existing water and sanitation facilities will be stretched further. Rapid urbanization has meant more informal structures with little or no water and sanitation services are springing up. Slum conditions may make the settlements a breeding ground for tomorrow’s pathogens. Already, health problems such as malnutrition, diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid fever are common, especially when water is mixed with industrial and sewage effluent.

Friday, October 01, 2010

profit before people

The UK daily newspaper , the Independent , exposes the cant and hypocrisy of the British foreign policy. The UK Government is courting the regime of the indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir by declaring that relations with Sudan have entered a "new epoch". Britain welcomed a trade delegation from the country which has near pariah status, for the first time since warrants for President Bashir's arrest were issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, over atrocities in Darfur. Khartoum's high-level delegation met British government officials and business leaders to encourage investment in a country still targeted by US sanctions. The change has already seen complaints that UK diplomatic missions have been reduced to commercial agencies to drum up business.It comes after a visit by Henry Bellingham, the new minister for Africa, to Khartoum in July to boost trade and business ties. He told reporters there that Britain would be a "candid friend" to the regime in Sudan.

The "Opportunities in Sudan" networking event brought a delegation including senior members of Mr Bashir's NCP party together with British counterparts including the UK ambassador to Sudan, Nicholas Kay. Representatives of major British oil, engineering, agriculture and banking companies who attended this event were told that Sudan was full of "untapped natural resources" and that there was "a lot of money to be made". A brochure for the meeting and "networking reception" said Sudan is "endowed with rich natural resources, including oil, and has been emerging as a major oil producer". Those listed as attending on a document handed out at the event included mining companies, investment banks and security firms.

While in opposition the Tory party called Darfur the "world's worst humanitarian crisis" and senior officials including Mr Hague, the current Foreign Secretary, and Andrew Mitchell, now the International Development Secretary, backed the campaign to get UK companies to disinvest from Sudan. In a foreign policy advisory in 2007 Mr Mitchell wrote of the need to "change national and international business behaviour in the face of manifest gross violations of human rights".But now a Foreign Office spokesman insisted that British companies were "free to pursue legitimate commercial opportunities in Sudan" The British Government's new commercial priorities have outraged human rights groups. The ongoing crisis in Darfur which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more as well as the North-South arms race ahead of a vote on secession are summed up in the investment booklet as small "exceptions" in "peripheral regions". Evidently we are happy to work with Sudan's Islamist regime as long as it restricts itself to killing its own people. Many Sudanese are risking their lives to create a pluralist society, but the international community is sanctioning the actions of Bashir's genocidal government.

African Narodnik

From a book review in this month's Socialist Standard

Africa’s Liberation. The Legacy of Nyerere. Edited by Chambi Chachage and Annar Cassam. Pambazuka Press. 2010.

If Julius Nyerere, President of Tanzania from independence in 1961 till 1985, had been a late 19th century Russian he would have been labelled a “Narodnik”, i.e. someone who thought that a basically agricultural country could move straight to socialism, on the basis of local communal villages, without having to pass through capitalism. The Russian Marxists denied this, but the Narodniks never got a chance to implement their ideas.

Nyerere did, with the Arusha declaration which adopted “Ujamma” (“socialism and self-reliance”) as the official state policy of Tanzania. As predicted by Marxists it failed. In fact one of the contributors to this tribute to Nyerere on the 10th anniversary of his death in 2009, Issa Shivji, once described the result as the development of a “bureaucratic bourgeoisie” in Tanzania. Today the present Tanzanian government openly embraces (is forced to) capitalist development.

This said, Nyerere comes across as sincere and principled, as genuinely wanting a society of social equality, democracy and without exploitation, and unlike nearly all the other historic African independence leaders power did not go to his head. However, the fact that he was sincere and incorruptible shows that the problem in Africa (and elsewhere) is not bad leaders but capitalism. Not even a saint can made capitalism - which African countries are currently obliged to accept – work in the interest of all.

It only remains to add that Tanzania in 1967 could have passed directly to socialism but only with the rest of the world following a world socialist revolution. Given that this did not happen, capitalism developed in Tanzania, as in Russia.