Saturday, April 30, 2011

can't pay , can't have

"Finding food to put on the table for the whole family is becoming a nightmare. Commodities are unaffordable as prices increase day by day. People in Kony Paco [a slum] are cutting their meals and staying hungry because the money can’t buy adequate food. I have four children and we live in Kony Paco. We have one meal of cassava and beans every day in the evening and even then the food isn’t enough. There is no breakfast and lunch for my children because I cannot afford to buy food for three meals.Even house rents have shot up. I don’t know if I will raise the rent of USh20,000 [$8.30] for next month. There is no money even to pay my children’s fees next term.explained Christine Amony who ekes out a living by selling bananas in Gulu Town Street.

The Tourist Industry Profits, the People Don't

Despite the billions of shillings earned from tourism annually, communities around the world-famous Masai Mara Game Reserve still wallow in poverty. The poverty index is high and it is only a few people, hoteliers and tour proprietors who are reaping maximum benefits from the vibrant tourism industry.

"We are still waiting for the day when we will reap benefits from tourism. The situation is bad and it calls for urgent intervention," says Ben Kipeno, a community leader at Sekenani area of the reserve. Kipeno says it is only the Narok and Transmara County Council officials, hoteliers and tour companies’ proprietors who are pocketing millions of shillings, leaving behind too little to uplift the living standards of the locals who bear the brunt of human-wildlife conflict. "The locals who have conserved the ecosystem are spectators who just watch as the money is swindled," he says.

Sammy Nkoitoi, the chairman of Siana Wildlife Conservation Trust explains
"There is nothing to show of the billions of shilling accrued from tourism. There are no visible infrastructural developments like schools and health facilities that go along to ameliorate the hardships locals face...The annual migration of wildebeest from Serengeti in Tanzania to Mara has been named the seventh wonder of the world but the event which led to the increased tourist arrivals has not changed the living standards of the locals." He says people in the area die of treatable ailments because there are no health facilities and children have no access to education because there are few schools."Malaria, pneumonia and typhoid are claiming lives and there are a few and ill equipped schools in the place. To what benefit is this resource to the locals?" he wonders. Nkoitoi faults owners of lodges and camps in the reserve for not giving back to the communities yet they post millions of shillings in profits annually from tourism proceeds.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

'we export food in order to import food'

The price rises in global food has prompted certain countries to seek cheap and fertile farmland beyond their borders in order to guarantee food security for themselves. To achieve this goal such states are encouraging their domestic agro-businesses, tied to their national interests, to invest in countries like Ethiopia, Sudan, Madagascar, Tanzania and Argentina, to name a few. Capital invested in far-away farms will produce food cheaply, which will then be exported back to the country where the original capital came from. In this way, the volatility of the international food market can be avoided and national food security achieved. It is important to point out that some of these include states with dreadful human rights records such as Saudi Arabia.

To accomplish this goal, a key step is to convince developing nations to give up their fertile land to foreign investors. One of the baits designed for the purpose of persuasion is the promise of infrastructure and the sharing of information and technology in agricultural science. The other promise made to host nations is of capital gained from food exports, which can then be reinvested in the country. For underdeveloped countries, who face serious food insecurity, and who are often unable to feed their population, this may sound too good to pass by.

The government of Ethiopia promises this process will mitigate the nation's chronic food insecurity and allow domestic farmers to gain knowledge from the expertise of foreign agro-business. It also says dollars gained form exporting food can alleviate Ethiopia's endemic food crises. In Ethiopia, hundreds of foreign investors grabbing fertile land at incredibly low cost. The scale of the spree is unprecedented. Investors are describing the deal as 'green gold'. Ethiopia's untilled land, located in some of the most fertile parts of the country, is now being sold to foreign interests for less than its true worth. Foreign investors are given perks, tax holidays lasting years, and essentially they are exempt from any royalties. According to the government, these lands given to foreign investors were idle lands, ready to be gobbled up into the global food system without much disturbance. However, this view depends on one's definition of 'idle land'. Pastureland may seem idle, but its usefulness is undeniable. In an effort to rush through this controversial issue unimpeded, the government has sought to bypass all transparency. It is fully aware that an open discussion on the issue would expose the absurdities of its claim. Deals with foreign investors were approved backhandedly for this reason.

Although this issue of land-grabbing by foreign interests is new to Ethiopia, it is no stranger to other parts of the developing world. The history of foreign agro-business intrusion in some Latin American and Caribbean countries is enlightening to say the least. In northeastern Brazil, the region was extensively farmed by foreign agricultural interests for centuries. Unfortunately this region has nothing to show for it now. Today the region is the poorest part of the country with the least food security and one of the highest malnutrition rates in Latin America. Contrary to the promises made by companies that farmed Brazil's fertile soil, the outcome has been very grim. In his famous book 'Open Veins of Latin America', Eduardo Galliano, commenting on Brazil's northeast, says, 'Naturally fitted to produce food, it became a place of hunger. Where everything had bloomed exuberantly, the destructive and all dominating plantation left sterile rock, washed out soil, and eroded lands.' Are Ethiopia's own fertile lands headed for the same fate? What makes the current foreign agricultural adventure in Ethiopia any different?

Employment offered by these farms is purported to be a benefit for local communities. Never mind that the main reason why locals seek this work is primarily because the agro-businesses have forced them to abandon their old pastoralist way of life. Take away this option of survival and people are left with no other choice but to accept slave wages working on foreign farms. In a way the agri-business creates the labour surplus for itself and manages to keep wages extremely low. The wage paid to workers, on average about $1.50 (25 Birr) for a day's work, is nowhere near enough to survive without additional food aid. According to a recent documentary, some farm workers in southern Ethiopia complained they were getting paid seven birr per day, instead of the 25 birr initially promised. That is about 50 cents a day in dollar terms. By these estimates the lives of these workers were considerably better before the introduction of foreign agri-business. Instead of food security, food insecurity is created, perhaps even serious malnutrition. To add insult to injury none of the produce from these farms will be available to local markets. However, there is talk of selling some of the produce to aid agencies. The World Food Program intends to buy some of this grain in order to assist hungry people. Ironically, this group of intended food aid recipients will include those working to produce it in the first place !!

The people of Ethiopia are being asked to believe absurdities such as 'we export food in order to import food' as a viable economic option to guarantee national food security. However, the most basic comprehension of economics tells us this is nearly impossible. Given Ethiopia's dwindling currency exchange, what sense is there in purchasing grain from the international market, while exporting domestic grain? Can exported grain used as a cash-crop generate enough capital to be able to import food affordably and sustainably? If Indian, Saudi, and Chinese companies are extending their reach beyond their national borders to secure national food security for their domestic economy, why can't Ethiopia do this within its own lands?

Taken from here

Saturday, April 09, 2011

swaziland inequality

The Swazi economy has all but collapsed - with devastating consequences for the poor. Swaziland is Southern Africa's second-smallest economy after Lesotho. Swaziland ranks as one of the most unequal societies in the world. The royal family consumes about 5 per cent of the annual budget while 70 per cent of Swazis live below the poverty line of US$1 per day. This reality exists despite the fact that Swaziland qualifies as a middle-income state due to a flattering per capita GDP. Swaziland is therefore not poor in strict economic terms. However, the country's glaringly skewed politics of distribution certainly are. The Swazi economy is therefore characterised by massive concentration in the hands of a tiny minority with land in the hands of a few (largely members of the royal family who are unable to use it for productive purposes). The economy is largely agro-based, with semi-feudal relations frustrating its development potential, as the majority produce for their landlords rather than for national or for their own benefit.

At the time of Swaziland's independence in 1968, the royal minority inherited a highly skewed colonial economy. The edges of the skewed nature of the economy were further sharpened through a royal 'bourgeoisification' process, with the establishment of a 'royal fund' through the vehicles of Tibiyo and Tisuka TakaNgwane. To date, royalties from mining as well as land held by the monarchy for the Swazi nation (utilised by the major sugar and forestry estates), accrue to the royal family through these institutions, and not to the state, lesser still to the people. This system is designed to ensure that the parasitic royal family maintains their huge, highly unproductive and unfettered share from government in the form of the Swazi National Treasury (SNT), an entity separate from central treasury. There has been the deliberate design of the Tinkhundla royal regime to monopolise national resources and allocate these for their own narrow interests, to the exclusion of the suffering majority of the people.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Swazi economy is characterised by huge unequal distribution of income and living conditions, regional disparities in income and living conditions, skewed property income and land ownership, inequality in upward mobility and favouritism in social opportunities, unequal access to safe and clean water and sanitation facilities, massive rural and urban poverty and landlessness.

The enormity of the current crisis is spoken for when one looks at the facts surrounding Swaziland: life expectancy is now at 31.88 years, 30 per cent of all children are orphaned or vulnerable due to living with a critically ill parent, only 6 per cent of the national budget is allocated to health and 2.4 per cent to social services, 69 per cent of the population live in extreme poverty, 25 per cent of the population live on food aid donations and unemployment is estimated at over 40 per cent.

Meanwhile, the king has an estimated personal fortune of US$200 million. The Swazi monarchy is estimated to be wealthier than the country as a whole. The health and education budget for members of the royal family using expensive institutions outside the country continues to skyrocket, whilst education and health facilities in the country continue to deteriorate and collapse. Social expenditure, national development and the interests of ordinary people suffered as royal projects such as state-of-the-art royal villas and clinics received priority funding. This explains the deepening inequalities in income and opportunities for the poor majority, particularly for women and those living in rural areas.

For a long time, the royal regime openly flirted with the apartheid regime, benefitting from the sanctions against apartheid South Africa and acting as a sanctions buster, collaborating with the Pretoria regime and other such global forces. Swaziland was seen as an alternative destination, with apartheid South Africa products being branded as originating from Swaziland.

from here

Friday, April 08, 2011

More on Land Grabbing

Investment by big agribusinesses and foreign governments in the farmland of developing world countries is not the answer to increasing food production and reducing poverty in poor nations, a global conference on land grabbing heard.

Olivier de Schutter, the UN’s special rapporteur on the Right to Food, rejected arguments that collaboration and investment with big businesses is the only way food production can rise sufficiently to feed the world’s growing population. The private sector is driving a change towards large scale industrial agriculture in areas such as Africa. This is pushing out small scale farmers who can’t compete on price, deepening local poverty and driving deforestation and environmental degradation, he said. A key problem is that most developing world governments, particularly in Africa, lack laws to regulate market competition and control abuses of power by dominant multi-nationals, says de Schutter. In addition, many companies and governments looking to buy up foreign land target countries with weak governance, which often have food security problems of their own.

Ian Scoones, joint convenor of the Future Agricultures Consortium, a collaboration of African and UK scientists based at the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex University, explained that the international community should be “very concerned” about the increased rush for land in Africa. The impact of international land deals on farmers and poor communities often “remains hidden”, he said.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Angola and corruption

Calculations provided by the Washington-based anti-corruption advocacy group Global Financial Integrity (GFI) suggest funds worth nearly a sixth of Angola's entire annual budget - $6 billion US - flowed illicitly out of the country .

The bulk of the flows was channelled abroad by a mechanism known as "trade mispricing." In this case, the way it typically works is that Angolan importers pretend to pay foreigners more for imports than they actually spend. The difference provides cash that can be discreetly put into banks or other assets abroad. Oil producers seem especially susceptible to this and other kinds of corruption and capital flight. Angola is Africa's largest oil producer after Nigeria and a strategic supplier of crude to the United States. Because of the role of trade mispricing, the figures also highlight the extent of commercial graft, which exacerbates the persistent problem of capital flight and hampers the country's chances of attracting non-oil foreign investment. The GFI calculations suggest an unaccounted $5.8 billion left Angola in 2009 -$4.6 billion through trade mispricing, and the rest probably via official corruption or criminal activities traced through balance of payments data.

The secretive governing elite at the top of the ruling MPLA party has long been accused of graft on a grand scale and of plundering the oil wealth of a nation where the vast majority of its 18.5 million inhabitants live in squalor and poverty.There is a tight oligarchy around President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has been in that office since 1979, making him one of Africa's longest-serving leaders.

On Transparency International's latest Corruption Perceptions Index, Angola ranked 168th out of 178 countries. And though most residents of the capital are all but destitute, more than one consulting firm ranks Luanda the world's dearest destination for foreigners.

GFI estimated that in 2009 $27.5 billion flowed illicitly out of Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer and a country with eight times Angola's 18.5 million population.

As socialists we would like to say that the existence of corruption or how much there is of it in governments is not important to the working class. What is important is why it exists and the answer is because it is an inevitable part of capitalist society. Social inequality, poverty beside riches will guarantee its continued existence.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

south african inequality increases

Inequality in South Africa has worsened to the point where it is now the widest in the world, Congress of SA Trade Unions General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said.

"The workers' share of national income was 56% in 1995, but by 2009 had declined to 51%. There is no official poverty line for South Africa, yet the Minister of Finance has acknowledged that 50% of the population lives on 8% of national income," Vavi said. He added that on average, the poorest 10% of earners received 1,275 rand a month, which was 0.57% of total earnings, while the top 10% received 111,733 rand, which was 49.2% of the total.

The number of South African billionaires had nearly doubled, from 16 in 2009 to 31 in 2010, when the country's 20 richest men enjoyed a 45% increase in wealth.

"Pine Pienaar, CEO of Mvelaphanda Resources, made 63 million rand in 2009, which means he earns 1,875 times as much as the average worker.We must reject the notion that workers must be modest in their demands, tighten their belts and concede to ideas such as wage pacts, wage freezes and the youth wage subsidy. We must say to neoliberal think tanks and research institutes that to argue that workers must tighten their belts whilst a minority of people who do not even lift a finger to produce anything but know how to squander profits is criminal."