Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Moving

I have decided to move to TypePad.
From now on you will find Mzansi Afrika here.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Divisions in the ANCYL?

Another interesting development on the local political scene regarding the presidential succession debate. City Press reports that "the ANC Youth League is being rocked by divisions over whether President Thabo Mbeki should make himself available as leader of the ANC for a third term. The league's deputy president, Ruben Mahlaloga, has broken ranks with its leader, Fikile Mbalula, by distancing himself from a position paper by the latter." (More)

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Iraq insurgency: getting better or worse?

Something that I have been very curious to know, is whether the insurgency in Iraq is getting better or worse. In my opinion the best sources of information in trying to evaluate the situation is to rely on straight forward factual reports in the mainstream media, as opposed to opinion pieces and analysts who may be batting for the left or the conservatives, and more importantly straight from the horses mouth, US military press briefings.

According to the NYT in April 2005 - "Attacks on allied forces have dropped to 30 to 40 a day, down from an average daily peak of 140 in the prelude to the Jan. 30 elections but still roughly at the levels of a year ago. Only about half the attacks cause casualties or damage, but on average one or more Americans die in Iraq every day, often from roadside bombs. Thirty-six American troops died there in March, the lowest monthly death toll since 21 died in February 2004."

Towards the end of April 2005
AFP reported General Richard Myers, the most senior US military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the Iraqi insurgency wasjust as strong then as it has been a year ago. Myers said the number of attacks had increased slightly recently but maintained that was a poor measure of the insurgency, noting that half the attacks were thwarted. He also acknowledged that insurgents were capable of surging to higher levels of violence as they did before the January 30 elections.

From a
press briefing transcript on 15 July 2005 by Major General Joseph Taluto, commander of the Multinational North-Central Division. Areas under his command include Balad, Kirkuk , Tikrit and Samarra:

“I would say that the insurgency in North-Central Iraq is at about a similar level to pre-election, but it has changed in its complexion. Our assessment is that many of the former regime or Sunni Arabs that were opposed to the new government and the new political process have fallen away. I think that has reduced. I think the religious extremists, while they have not, in our view, in North-Central Iraq, grown, they have coalesced a little bit more with national religious extremists like Ansar al-Sunnah, getting involved with QJBR(long acronym-basically an Al Quaida group on Iraq) activities, and they are responsible for the spike in suicide bomb attacks in North-Central Iraq. Our attacks in direct fire and indirect fire have reduced over time. And going back to last year to this year, those types and forms of attack have been reduced significantly.

There [is]more cooperation or passing of information between a variety of [insurgent] groups. While direct fire and indirect fire have been reduced in North-Central, we're seeing more suicide vehicle- borne IEDs (improvised explosive devices) of late. So there's some trade-off there. Of course the suicide vehicle-borne IEDs are mostly against innocent civilians, against soft targets, Iraqi security forces, police and army soldiers in static positions. And so therefore, they're still trying to disrupt the process, they're still trying to intimidate people; they're trying to intimidate Iraqi security forces. I just think that we maintain pressure on the insurgency. I don't think it has grown. I don't know that I could say that it has been reduced significantly, because we still see these level of suicide attacks, but it doesn't mean it's done by a lot of people.”

From a
press briefing on 14 July 2005 by Brigadier General Donald Alston, Director, Strategic Communications, Multinational Forces in Iraq:

“Last week throughout Iraq , there were 23 VBIEDs (Vehicle borne improvised explosive devices). Of those 23 VBIEDs, six were suicide VBIEDs. And that number reflects the lowest number of suicide VBIEDs in 11 weeks.”

It looks like the best that we can say, give or take, is that the insurgency is roughly the same as it was a year ago. On the downside, the insurgency does seem capable of spiking at particular times such as during the January elections. From what I’ve been monitoring over the past 3-4 weeks or so, it also seems like activity seems to increase over the week-ends. This week-end for example has been pretty bad.
Reuters reports that today, a fuel truck bomb killed 70 people south of Baghdad.

“15 suicide bombers have struck within just over 48 hours in the capital and along the highway heading south in what al Qaeda's Iraq wing has declared is a new campaign to seize control of Baghdad. Iraq has often experienced several suicide attacks per day since the government took power in April. But U.S. generals have said the situation was improving, with just six suicide car bombs countrywide last week, the fewest in nearly three months. The sudden upsurge began on Friday, when 11 suicide car bombers struck U.S. and Iraqi military targets throughout the capital and on the highway heading south. Those attacks killed more than 32 people and wounded more than 100. On Saturday, apart from the Musayyib blast, strikes throughout Iraq killed at least 16 people, including three British soldiers in Amara in the south and one American soldier near Kirkuk in the north.”

According to an article in the
New York Times: “It was unclear why the insurgents decided to carry out the flurry of attacks this week, but many Iraqis had been anticipating a spike in violence tied to Sunday, the anniversary of the 1968 Baathist revolution that ushered Saddam Hussein's political party into power. Officials believe many of the leaders of the insurgency are Baathists.”

On the upside, military press briefings say that ordinary Iraqi’s are increasingly helping to fight the insurgency by tipping off a telephone hotline. “In the month of June, we saw more than 4,000 Iraqi citizens calling their coordination centers with information…. For example, they point out caches, almost eight out of the 10 caches we find now are pointed out to us by Iraqis.” Additionally, it seems that multinational forces are able to thwart at least half of all terrorist attacks. Also the Americans are making increasing if slow progress in better training and equipping the Iraqi Security Forces. About 20 percent of all counter-insurgency operations are being carried out by the Iraqi’s. However a great deal more needs to be done, and the US is unable to predict when the forces will be able to operate completely independently.

In conclusion, I have to say it is not easy to say for certain whether the US is winning the war or not. What does seem clear is that they are, give or take some spikes in insurgent activity, managing to contain the insurgency within certain parameters. Does this mean they are winning? From other articles that I have read, it seems that when the US troops go into certain hotspot areas on big operations they manage to quell the insurgency in those areas. But disturbingly, I have also read that insurgents are starting to operate again in Fallujah where they had managed to destroy the uprising their after their big operation. One solution would be to bring more troops into Iraq, but politically this might have even worse repercussions, I don’t know? Anyway this is not something the US is considering at this point. Their main mission now seems to be to get the Iraqi Forces strong enough so that they can eventually pull out.

At best US and Iraqi forces will succeed in completely wiping out the insurgency. As things stand now this is not yet something we can realistically hope for, for the time being. At worst we could end up with another Israeli/Palestinian situation, whereby even though one side has much greater military strength, the two sides are perpetually engaged in medium grade intensity warfare. My concern would be if the US buggered off at some point and left the Iraqi’s to deal with the mess on their own. They must finish what they started and bring lasting stability and democracy to the country.

Pottermania

Wayne over at Commentary has an entry on the free market economics of Harry Potter and book prices in South Africa. What I find so interesting about the whole Harry Potter craze is just trying to understand – how the hell did it get so big? What is actually so fantastic about the books that seem to have caught the popular imagination, and would the books and films have caught on to this level without the power of the great media machine behind them? I can understand that children and even younger teens love the books, but adults also going so completely and totally gaga is a bit more difficult to grasp.

As well as the books themselves being so popular, the attempt to understand the phenomenon has spawned a huge body of literary and philosophical criticism and analysis. So not only are there Harry Potter books, there are books about the Harry Potter books.

In “Harry Potter's World: Multidisciplinary Critical Perspectives” – what an academic mouthful over a kiddies book - Tammy Turner-Vorbeck criticizes how children seem to be exploited by corporations seeking to cash in on the popularity of the books:


“Corporate consumerism is increasingly targeting child culture... The infringement on child culture is particularly evident in the mass marketing of the Harry Potter products...The proliferation of these items constitutes a blatant exploitation of the genuine excitement for children’s literature that stems from children’s true interests... Once a cultural phenomenon such as Pottermania takes hold, the majority of children are destined to find their first exposure not to the authentic items of child culture (in this case, the Harry Potter book itself). Rather, their first experience is often with the marketing spin-offs, which represent corporate America’s interpretation of the real thing.”

And what would any criticism worth its salt be without a gender perspective, Elizabeth Heilman writes:

“Males are represented more often, but they are also depicted as wiser, braver, more powerful, and more fun than females. It is not simply who is present, but, also, how characters are portrayed and what they do that matters.... The inferior position of females is further reinforced through characterizations that highlight their insecurities and self-hatred, especially as it relates to their looks and bodies.”

Of course, the philosophers have to get their five cents in too. In "Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts", David Baggett looks at the connections between literature, imagination, and morality:

“Good yarns, such as Rowling’s, appeal to both the head and heart, eliciting from us the right sorts of emotions, and providing us vivid moral paradigms that Aristotle thought were essential to moral education. More suggestive than dogmatic, they teach us to empathize with the sufferings of others, enhancing our capacity for seeing the world through another’s eyes.... A powerful imagination functions centrally in any commitment to morality, because so much of ethics consists in having the right kinds of emotional and intuitive responses to situations as they arise.” ......OK – whatever?

Naturally, the religious conservatives are concerned about the book’s potential to bring Satan’s influence into the lives of our children. Envoy, is a website aimed at “bringing Christ to the world”:

“In early December, Rome's official exorcist, Fr. Gabriele Amorth, warned parents against the Harry Potter book series. The priest, who is also the president of the International Association of Exorcists, said Satan is behind the works. In an interview with the Italian ANSA news agency, Rev. Amorth said "Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of the darkness, the devil." ….errr….no comment.

And then it goes from the sublime to the ridiculous where Harry Potter is seen alternatively as "the first literary hero of the antiglobalization movement" and as "a summary of the social and educational aims of neoliberal capitalism. Like Orwellian totalitarianism, this capitalism tries to fashion not only the real world, but also the imagination of consumer-citizens. The underlying message to young fans is this: You can imagine as many fictional worlds, parallel universes or educational systems as you want, they will still all be regulated by the laws of the market."

Being the cynic that I am, I am tempted to say that this is all really much ado about nothing. The Potter books have got kids reading again, and if I’m not mistaken this is actually a good thing. As for the huge materialist, consumerist spin-offs, well, unfortunately, that is the reality of the world we live in. I know how I would handle the situation if I were a parent, but people need to make their own choices. I do think that as a society we need to be consuming less and not more, but that is another topic in itself.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Quote of the day

"You’re right that Americans don’t have a sense of how the rest of the world views us. We’re one of the most expansionist countries in the world. We’ve been expanding for over 400 years and yet we always think of ourselves as just sitting back minding our own business. I’ve found some great quotes from 1817 when American politicians were coming back from Europe shocked that everyone thought we were an incredibly aggressive country just because we’d stolen Florida, picked a fight with the Brits, were yelling that we wanted Canada, etc. It’s a constant theme. Intervention? Expansion of influence? This is the history of America."
Robert Kagan


Kagan is a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a director of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). The PNAC sounds like one of those bad left wing conspiracy theories until you realise that it's actually true. Their website has been down for sometime now, but I have seen it with my own eyes. Wikipedia has a pretty accurate summation of what it's all about.

Plotting in Zimbabwe

Paranoid, deluded, living in wonderland, these are some of the adjectives that come to mind when the name “Robert Mugabe” is mentioned. This really takes the cake. According to Zimbabwe’s state run newspaper The Herald, the recent delegation of South African clergymen to Zim to assess the destruction of homes was nothing more than a plot to discredit the government by British spies. The Herald reports that:

“The abortive visit by a delegation of South African clergymen, led by Archbishop Njongokulu Ndungane under the auspices of the South African Councils of Churches on an alleged fact finding mission to assess the impact of Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order, was part of the large campaign by Zimbabwe’s detractors pushing for a regime change agenda in the country, it has emerged.

Impeccable Government sources said British intelligence services, through the Department for International Development (DFID) Central Africa, bankrolled the visit disguised as a fact-finding mission.

"The visit was prompted by appeals and funding by the local DFID, which is an arm of the British government," said a source.

The whole operation, the sources said, was allegedly masterminded in Zimbabwe through the British Embassy with MI6 local operative James Newman.”

Is Mbeki serious on corruption?

It gets murkier and murkier. Some major new developments concerning the oilgate controversy in South Africa are beginning to emerge. Just to go back in history briefly, here’s my little summary of the story so far just to put my readers who haven’t followed the scandal in the picture.

In May 2005 the Mail and Guardian newspaper broke the so called "oilgate" controversy. The paper alleged that the South African oil parastal, PetroSA, had given Imvume, a black empowerment company with close ties to the ANC, R15 million. Imvume then secretly forwarded about R11 million of the payment to the cash-strapped ANC a few months before the April 2004 elections. Further allegations emerged later on that Imvume, from the same PetroSA payment, had also paid money to relatives or companies connected to two cabinet ministers - then Minerals & Energy Minister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who has subsequently become South Africa’s deputy president, and Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya. A multimillion-rand hole remains in the parastatal’s books. PetroSA has gone through the motions to recover the debt by suing Imvume — but most of it remains outstanding.

The Mail & Guardian reports today that they have evidence that the ANC has misled South Africans about the Oilgate scandal.The M&G says it has documents that prove Imvume was effectively a front for the ruling party. The documents allegedly show how close the ANC and Imvume really were. They show that as early as 2001 ANC secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe and, to an extent, ANC treasurer Mendi Msimang were intimately entangled with Imvume boss Sandi Majali. The evidence suggests that together they hatched an ambitious project to raise millions of rands for the ANC by obtaining lucrative oil allocations from Saddam Hussein’s regime under the United Nations Oil for Food (OFF) programme. OFF was an exception to UN sanctions that allowed Iraq to export oil to pay for humanitarian needs. In turn Motlanthe and Majali, on behalf of the ANC, would extend political solidarity to the Iraqi dictator and campaign for the lifting of sanctions. The documents include a letter from Motlanthe to the Iraqis, confirming Majali as the ANC’s designated representative for this project.

Today’s Business Day tells us that a new public opinion survey shows that 86% of 500 respondents feel President Thabo Mbeki’s dismissal of former deputy president Jacob Zuma sent a clear message on corruption to the rest of government. When asked if dismissing Zuma demonstrated Mbeki's commitment to a transparent government, 83% agreed and 11% disagreed. According to the poll, Mbeki’s approval rating rose from 48% in January to 83% after he fired Zuma.

I happen to disagree with the majority of respondents on the poll. I don’t think that Mbeki has sent a clear message to his government that corruption won’t be tolerated. The only message that he is conveying is that if you support my rivals or go up against me, then your corruption won’t be tolerated. Even though the government may be passing bills to make corruption more difficult, and have of late in terms of the National Anti-Corruption Forum been sending signals that they are hardening their attitudes on corruption, other than Zuma’s dismissal, they’re not doing anything particularly bold to stamp out corruption. And while government might be making more of an effort to fight corruption in local government, that probably has a lot to do with pressure to deliver basic services from the many violent community protests against poor service delivery. This, ahead of the next local government elections which will probably occur in around February 2006.

The people involved in the oilgate scandal are all close to Mbeki’s camp – I don’t see him taking any action against them. The NPA has said that it will not be investigating oilgate. The matter is being looked into by the Public Protector, Laurence Mushwana who says he will be releasing his report at the end of this month. In August last year, Mushwana was one of 179 members of parliament and former parliamentarians under investigation in connection with a R13m travel voucher scam. I’m not sure what the outcome of that was, but travelgate is a perfect example of how the president has failed to act against corruption in the ANC. As for the five implicated MP’s who gave up their seats voluntarily, the SABC reported last week that it had evidence that they were forced to resign by the ANC, according to thier plea bargain agreements they were supposed to keep their seats. Rumour has it that they were Zuma supporters, but obviously I can’t verify that.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Why?

"The first reason I became a suicide bomber was because my friend was killed. The second reason I did it is because I didn't want to go to school. I would become a martyr and go to my God. It's better than being a singer or a footballer. It's better than everything"

The words of would be Palestinian suicide bomber, 15 year old Hussam Abdo. He was arrested by Israeli troops before detonating his charge.

Yesterday on BBC World I saw at least five different interviews with an array of experts, analysts and politicians, all attempting to answer the same questions – why? Why were the terrorists seemingly ordinary young British Muslims? How could they have arisen from within our own society? How could they have bombed their fellow citizens?


Finding the answers to these questions is clearly going to become one the greatest dilemma’s of the 21st century. It is tempting to write off terrorists and suicide bombers as crazy animals with no respect for human life, but as much as you may believe this to be true, ultimately this way of thinking will get us nowhere. What we really need to do is try and understand the mind set of these young Muslims who are obviously in some kind of psychological state that makes them susceptible to being brainwashed by fanatics who distort their faith into the complete opposite of all that religion is meant to be. What is it about a person's state of being that would make a 15 year old choose death and mayhem over going to school?

In trying to gets to grips with this terrorist threat we unfortunately have to ask, what it is about Islam in particular that allows it to become a religious paradigm for violence in the way that it has? At the same time, just as importantly we need to look at ourselves, and we need to ask what it is about western policies and expansionism that have been the catalyst for the rise of radical Islam? Has it been partially responsible? What are the other factors? What is it about globalization and the 21st century way of being that is bringing out Samuel Huntington’s so called “clash of civilizations?” The 9/11 attackers didn’t just wake up one morning and decide that blowing up the World Trade Centre would be a fun thing to do on a sunny day.

I don’t know what the answers are, and I certainly don’t know what the solutions may be, but more than ever we need to somehow forge a climate of understanding and robust debate. Can we afford not to?

Two minutes silence for the dead

Today BBC World gave extensive coverage to the two minutes silence observed in memory of the bomb victims. Understandable, considering the terrible circumstances. The BBC presenter announced that many countries around the world would also be observing the two minutes of silence to show their solidarity.

It is worth noting that if we were to observe two minutes of silence for all the Iraqi civilians that have been killed by fanatic suicide bombers, and in the general cross-fire of war, we would probably be observing two minutes of silence on an almost daily if not monthly basis. Just yesterday around 24 Iraqi children were killed by a suicide bomber, in September last year, in a similar incident, a bomb blast in Baghdad killed at least 34 children. That's 58 children dead in two incidents, suicide bombs go off just about every day in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq. Since the US invasion in 2003, between 22,787 and 25,814 Iraqi civilians have been killed. How many minutes of silence is that worth?

Iraq is a war situation, so civilian deaths are more likely to occur, it's shocking for us when the terrorists take their frightening aggression into western countries - and understandably, from blogs to the mainstream media, I've been hearing a great deal of moral outrage against terrorists since the London bombings. All I am saying is, where is that same sense of moral outrage when it comes to the daily loss of life experienced by Iraqi children and other civilians?Judging by the western and mainstream media, we don't place as much value on Iraqi lives as we do on our own.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

G8 spin

Political analyst Kuseni Dlamini thinks that the G8 new deal on Africa is just a lot of spin.

"It seems that rich countries have been dishonest and intellectually fraudulent in deploying the language and discourse of the Marshall Plan when talking about their commitment to help Africa while simultaneously failing to back their rhetoric with he financial resources required to make an African Marshall Plan happen. Some critics argue that some rich countries have scored a lot in terms of good public relations by using Africa to project themselves as caring.

The failure to come up with radical commitments to turn Africa around is a missed opportunity, one that should have been used to offer a real, tangible and far-reaching “alternative to hatred”. The lack of bold, courageous and ambitious commitments from the G-8 shows the leadership deficit in global politics. With the right leadership, globalisation could be made a positive force. But to the extent that Africa continues to suffer a huge globalisation deficit as it falls by the wayside, globalisation will continue to have a credibility crisis.

To the extent that the rich industrialised countries do not embrace ethical and inclusive globalisation, and ruthlessly pursue their narrow selfish interests and ignore the plight of the poor and oppressed people in the Middle East and Africa, the world will continue to be a dangerous place for all of us."

What's good for the goose

I find it continually amusing to see how America plays by the rules "what's good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander". What's even more amusing is how conservatives hold the US up as a bright shining light of all that is meant to be good in the world, and are prepared to completely overlook all the hypocracies inherent in the US way.

Reuters reports that a plan by Cyprus to put genetically modified food on separate supermarket shelves has angered the US. Damn - how can those nasty little Cypriots think they can make their own decisions about how to run their supermarkets? Washington responded to this highly subversive activity by warning Cyprus that the move could harm bilateral ties. In a letter to the Cypriot parliament our modern day masters said that these actions would stigmatise biotech goods and could contravene Cyprus' obligations as a World Trade Organisation member. Incidently, America is the leading developer and producer of agricultural biotech products.

Strange how when it comes to sticking to WTO rules, the US is quite happy to ignore its own obligations. Last week, Brazil said it was going to ask the WTO for permission to penalize the United States for its failure to comply with a WTO ruling against U.S. subsidies for cotton growers. In March this year, the WTO upheld a ruling condemning government help for cotton producers in the United States, saying that many U.S. programs include illegal export subsidies or domestic payments that are higher than WTO rules allow. The WTO gave Washington a June 30 deadline to end its illegal export subsidies and domestic payments. Brazil is currently trying to negotiate with the US, but if the negotiations fail, they want the WTO to penalise the Americans.

Well, one thing is for sure, I'm sure the US would love South African supermarkets where GM foods are hardly labelled at all. This despite being one of the leading GMO growers in the world.

Single monetary union for SADC

It seems that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is definitely embarking on the journey to create a single monetary union for the region by 2016. The SADC agenda is to create a free trade area by 2008, a SADC customs union by 2010, a common market by 2015 and a monetary union by 2016 with a single currency and central bank.

South Africa's Reserve Bank governor, Tito Mboweni says that important economic targets still have to met to make the single monetary union a reality - no kidding. These include, reducing inflation in all SADC countries to single-digit figures by 2008 and to 5% or less by 2012. The budget deficit of SADC countries has to be 5% or less of gross domestic product by 2008 and 3% or less by 2012. This is to force governments in the region to strengthen their tax collection and stop reliance on central bank borrowing, according to Mboweni. (More)

Photo of the day

For obvious reasons I could not resist posting this classic picture of our "esteemed" Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala- Msimang.


Source

She is pictured here with the Treatment Action Campaign's Zackie Achmat, with whom she is in a state of perpetual war due to her department's failure to provide anti-retrovirals to HIV/AIDS infected South Africans.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Jewish Agency report

The Jewish Agency has just completed an interesting study which shows that next year Israel will overtake the US to become home to the largest Jewish community in the world. Of the 13 million Jews living in the world today, 5.28 million live in the United States and 5.25 million in Israel.

For the first time in 2,000 years, Israel will host the world's largest Jewish community. The Israeli Jewish population grows at a faster rate than the Jewish population in the United States, where mixed marriages are increasingly common. Israel and the United States between them are home to nearly 80 percent of the world's Jewish community. In third place comes France, with around 494,000 Jewish residents, the report added. In 15 years time, the report estimated, Israel will be home to more than 40 percent of the world's Jewish community.

Friday, July 08, 2005

G8 promises on Africa

Tony Blair at the G8 summit has just announced the following concerning Africa:

A $50 billion increase in aid – he did not specify over how many years.

A new deal in trade – no details given.

Universal access to aids treatment – no details given. Does this mean as the statement implies that all poor people will be given free anti-aids drugs?

The commitment of more peace keeping troops to Africa – no details given.

To drop the debt of the world’s poorest countries – no details given. Does this mean that all their debt will be completely dropped?


I will comment more on this a bit later

Looking for answers

Some interesting analysis from the Financial Times via Business Day. The basic premise is that although military force might have it's place in fighting terrorism, political solutions are also needed. Likewise, this analysis states, political solutions aren't enough on their own.

"...the fight on the ground against terrorists can only ever be half an answer...It would be equally naive to say that politics holds all the answers. The brutal and...fascist ambitions of the extreme jihadists stretch way beyond reasoned argument or political accommodation. Their ideology is indifferent to justice for the Palestinians, to peace in Chechnya, freedom and selfdetermination for Iraqis or self-government in Afghanistan. Force is an insufficient response to these people...

The role of politics is to starve them of recruits, to deprive them of the oxygen provided by a widespread perception of injustice and oppression in the Islamist world. If a settlement, say, between Israel and the Palestinians would not deter the present generation of terrorists, it might well set their sons and daughters on a different path.

What this demands of governments is the resolve to confront the complex, seemingly intractable challenges that most of the time it is more convenient to ignore. It requires nation-building, mediation, conflict resolution, sustained aid flows, political courage and a willingness, sometimes, to compromise. It means sacrificing what may seem like today’s strategic and commercial interests to tomorrow’s imperatives — the spread of freedom and democracy among them."

South Africans injured in London

Two South Africans were injured in the London bomb blasts. One is in a critical condition, and the other is seriously injured. The identities of the man and woman cannot be released until their families have been informed. The Mail & Guardian has more.

Truth

"The Bush administration’s “war on terrorism” reflects a major failure of leadership and makes Americans more vulnerable rather than more secure. The administration has chosen a path to combat terrorism that has weakened multilateral institutions and squandered international goodwill. Not only has Bush failed to support effective reconstruction in Afghanistan, but his war and occupation in Iraq have made the United States more vulnerable and have opened a new front and a recruiting tool for terrorists while diverting resources from essential homeland security efforts. In short, Washington’s approach to homeland security fails to address key vulnerabilities, undermines civil liberties, and misallocates resources."
(More)

Has the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan made the world a safer place. Judging from yesterday's bombings I don't think so - not yet, maybe not ever. History will be the judge. What other choices did America have after 9/11? And, if Bush had not gone to war, would yesterday's bombing still have taken place? They may have happened anyway. We just don't know. Is the insurgency in Iraq getting better or worse? Those on the left will say it's getting worse and cite evidence to support their views. Those on the right will say the situation is improving and cite evidence to support their views. The only truth we can really know for certain is that we don't know what the truth really is. For all that we live in age of unprecedented access to information, our views become shaped by the political slant or agenda of the media that we choose to read or watch. The stories, facts and versions of reality are filtered through the world view and biases of the journalists and analysts that bring us the news.

One thing that I do believe though is this - Bush did not go to war with Iraq out of the goodness of his heart or because he wanted to bring "freedom and democracy" to a couple of Arabs living under a dictatorship. Throughout history men have gone to war for reasons of winning territory, wealth, and power. War is an expensive , ugly business. Are we now suddenly to believe that George W Bush is some sort of morally superior Mother Theresa, and that America is the first nation in history ever to go to war to "make the world a better place". I don't think so. America went to war for the same reasons as men usually go to war - to spread the sphere of their political influence, and do what they think is best for America. What's best for America is not the same as what's best for the rest of the world. Africa is a prime example.

Country's do not have morals, they have interests. I for one donnot believe that America is the first country in the history of the world to deviate from this way of being.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Final London update

London emergency services have confirmed over 33 fatalities. They are not able to confirm how many fatalities from the bus explosion. The police confirm 4 bombs or devices, and say that they had received no warning beforehand, and that so far they have received no claims of responsibility. The press conference is currently ongoing, but this is probably my last update for the day.

South Africans in London

There are said to be something like a million South Africans who live in the UK, I think around 200 000 or so as a very rough estimate in the London area. So far no reports of South African casualties. The Mail & Guardian has a round-up of eyewitness reports from South Africans in London. From Vanessa Haupt:

"People are scared, as we don't know what is happening. The news on the radio has just confirmed that explosive devices have been found and there is an unconfirmed number of deaths and hundreds of injuries. "Certain areas in central London have been evacuated and the entire Tube network and zone-one buses have been shut down. We've all been advised to stay in our buildings and most of us don't even know how we're going to get home tonight."

Speculation in the blogosphere

Athena over at the blog Terrorism Unveiled has some excellent commentary and analysis (assuming of course that it is al qaida since we have not yet had official confirmation of this):

"This will certainly give a boost to al-Qaida morale, because being able to attack a large superpower with coordinated attacks during a summit meeting when security and targets are even more hardened is a sign of success. Rather than attacking during the Live8 concert series, whose members terrorists would want just as dead, the attack fell during the G8, which has an important effect on those on the far left. In other words, rather than alienating the important part of the public that gives terrorist sympathies (meaning those who will claim they are merely freedom fighters), terrorists have "protested" the same entity as them---G8 summit. And of course, not all Live8 participants are of the far left and have sympathies with terrorist groups, but surely there are a number. Now this will also force questions if London can handle the security needed for the Olympic games."

Instapundit has a concise round-up of what other bloggers are saying

More analysis on London

Some more breaking analysis from Mike Hough at South Africa's Institute for Security Studies.

"An Al-Qaeda attack in London was long expected as it had often been threatened. As to who was to blame and what their motive was, "there was a range of possibilities". Hough said there were 600 incidents of terror last year. That was a sharp rise from the average of about 200 a year before. Another new aspect of international terror was sympathisers acting on their own. This was the case with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's branch of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. "It is a hallmark of modern terrorism that no one takes responsibility for such acts or only after an interval." As such he believed the attack was aimed at disrupting public life. The shut down of the city's tube and bus system as well as heightened security alerts throughout Europe afterwards would support this view. Hough said he would not assume the attacks were meant to disrupt the G8 summit that started in Gleneagles in Scotland on Thursday. If Al-Qaeda or fringe anti-globalisation activists wanted to do that they could have staged attacks closer the venue."
(Sapa)

London update

The British Home Secretary has just confirmed 3 tube train blasts and 1 bus blast. The media are reporting 7 explosions. The Home Secreatary Charles Clarke says they still do not know who is responsible. The BBC reports the death toll at two, however CNN says 10 people, while Sapa is quoting an Italian official as saying 50 people have been killed. BBC news is now saying "many casualties". This is where the news starts going crazy with speculation.

Al Qaida?

Sapa reports that a group calling itself "Secret Organization - al-Qaida in Europe" has posted a claim of responsibility for the series of blasts in London - this according to the German magazine, Der Spiegel. The magazine said that the group posted its message on a Web site popular with Islamic militants, which it did not name. It said the group claimed the explosions were in retaliation for Britain's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

London Bombings

Tony Blair has just recently confirmed that the seven explosions in London are the work of terrorists. So far it is not yet known who is behind this well orchestrated attack, but obviously most speculation is centering around Al Qaida. Reuters tell us that the blasts "bear similarities to last year's Madrid bombings and suggest an attack in the style of al Qaeda".

Here is a round-up of what some of the political and security analysts have been saying thus far:

ROLF TOPHOVEN, DIRECTOR OF THE TERRORISM RESEARCH INSITUTE IN ESSEN, GERMANY
"London is a centre of Islamist propaganda in Europe. There have been permanent, massive threats since the involvement of the British government in the Iraq war. Let's not forget that the main enemy for the Islamists is the United States, and that's not just since Sept. 11, 2001 and Tony Blair is the closest ally of George W. Bush, so from that point of view it makes sense to hit the closest ally of the USA. This is another parallel with Madrid."


SEBESTYEN GORKA, SECURITY ANALYST:
"The first thing that's very obvious is the synchronised nature of the attacks, and that's pretty classic for al Qaeda or al Qaeda-related organisations. If we're talking about several attacks on one day, then there's a good likelihood we're talking about a known quantity here...The similarities to Madrid are clear."


CHRIS BELLAMY, TERRORISM EXPERT, TO SKY NEWS:
"It has the coordination and the simultaneity of one group in particular, although it's too early to say. What we may be talking about here is not suicide bombers but just packages left on trains. It is the softest of targets. We've expected something like this for some time"


ANJA DALGAARD-NIELSEN, DANISH INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDIES (DIIS)
"It's shocking. It's always problematic to guess at such an early stage but coordinated bombs, that's the trademark of the networks that subscribe to al-Qaeda's ideology. The IRA has not carried out such attacks against civilians for ages, at least not without prior warning."


MJ GOHEL, ASIA-PACIFIC FOUNDATION, ON CNN
"The chances are that it could be an al-Qaeda type operation... Al-Qaeda and its friends do seem to like attacking the transport systems around the world."


You can get ongoing and up to date coverage at the BBC online. BBC World TV is saying that there are unconfirmed rumours that a suicide bomber may have been involved.

It could only happen to Bush

George W. does it again. He really should be more careful when playing with bicycles.

"US President George W. Bush on Thursday laughed off questions about a bicycle mishap the previous day when he ran into a policeman at the Group of Eight leaders' summit.
Bush had to be treated for scratches on his hands and arms after he went for a spin on his bicycle and collided with a policeman guarding the summit venue in Gleneagles, Scotland, according to his spokesman.


Asked about his injuries during a morning press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is hosting the event, Bush said he was ready to get back in the saddle. "I feel good, yes. Ready to go," he told reporters. "It's a beautiful day for a bike ride," he joked, adding: "So was yesterday, I thought." The policeman fared slightly less well. He was taken to hospital with a minor ankle injury." (Sapa)

Mbeki vs Zuma

"Mbeki’s plot to oust Jacob Zuma, considered fair by some, foul by others, backfired horribly. Using selective justice to expose Zuma via the corruption charges against Schabir Shaik resulted in unintended consequences that nearly split the ANC apart. Had this same justice been applied equally to those implicated in the Travelgate and Oilgate scandals, and many others before, the pro-Zuma faction would hardly have a case. Had the National Prosecuting Authority investigated others in the party with equal alacrity, this lack of urgency would not be as suspect as it is.

Moreover, Mbeki’s attempts to centralise control through co-option, nepotism, cronyism, and black economic empowerment have unleashed a resistance to black minority elitism reminiscent of our opposition to white minority domination, especially when government fails to deliver services to the poor. The silence on HIV/AIDS and Zimbabwe worsens the situation. And the conspiratorial, cliquey, secretive and power-hungry style of leadership is what the rank and file will no longer tolerate. "

Some insightful analysis from Rhoda Kadalie.

Money,money,money

Forget trying to win the lottery, I want to be a manager at Eskom.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Mbeki on Zim

Yesterday I speculated that President Mbeki pays lip service in terms of creating the impression of being seen to be doing something about Zimbabwe in order to curry favour with the G8. SABC news radio reports today that Mbeki has agreed with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to wait for a report on Zimbabwe by the UN's special envoy before taking any course of action. This implies that Mbeki intends to do something concrete.

If indeed, Mbeki does get more involved in trying to resolve the Mugabe crisis on his return from Gleneagles, it will be due to one reason, and one reason only – pressure from the G8, and he will probably try to do as little as he possibly can in terms of finding a balance betwen letting Mugabe remain in power unscathed, and to be seen to be appeasing the G8.

Neo-liberal critics believe that Mbeki is a puppet of the West, and that Nepad does not go far enough to address global inequalities.

Colour coded poverty

"SA is not alone in facing perpetuated inequality. Powerful social and economic forces around the globe have created small oases of private affluence surrounded by deserts of urban decay. Whether in São Paulo, Los Angeles or Jakarta, most urban citizens are caged in vast zones of poverty. The rural poor, meanwhile, languish in destitution. SA’s privileged citizens, however, have more reason than their international peers to fear entrenched injustice. The established middle classes elsewhere may find it all too easy to close their minds to the poverty outside their walls. Such complacency would be dangerous in SA, where apartheid’s legacy is an excluded citizenry that is black, and an established middle class that remains largely white. Social injustice that is colour coded is harder to ignore or justify. In generations to come it may lead to a new politics of racialised conflict."

Professor Anthony Butler writing in today's Business Day.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Black Looks

Black Looks is one of my favourite blogs - other than being visually exciting, it's a great source of African stories, and stories concerning African women - from a left leaning and critical perspective. The women behing the blog is Nigerian born Sokari Ekine. Why am I writing about her now when I've been a regular on her site for a while? Well, Black Looks has been discovered by the BBC and is the subject of an online feature on their news website. It's great to read about the person behind the blog. Congratulations Sokari!

Aids orphans and poaching

Finally at this late stage, the Department of Social Development, is drawing up a plan to deal with aids orphans in South Africa. There are around 85 000 child headed households in the country which translates into around 1 million aids orphans. This number is projected to rise to around 5 million by 2015.

Many aids orphans fall between the cracks of society, they are often ostracized by their communities, and I can’t even imagine the psychological scars that must be incurred by having to grow up alone, without the emotional support of parental love and affection. They are also at risk of malnutrition, physical and sexual abuse, exploitation and exposure to HIV infection, many are being used as labourers and either never attend school or drop out. This is happening in our midst and as a society we don’t seem to care.

One day these children are going to grow up, a second so called “lost generation” following on the heels of the youth who lost out on their education due to the apartheid struggle. They will be uneducated, most likely unemployed, maybe socially maladjusted and may well be forced into crime to survive.

South Africa does not currently have any regulations in place that specifically address the needs orphans and vulnerable children. One of the major challenges in tackling the orphan crisis is the lack of human resources in the public social services and NGO sectors, as well as the fact that existing staff are poorly paid.

What makes the staff shortage even more upsetting is the fact that so many medical professionals are poached from South Africa, and other African countries by the rich countries who can afford to pay them more. African countries then have to get expensive technical expertise from overseas, usually in the form of aid, and that money goes back to the donor country taking a huge percentage of aid budgets. It is completely pointless for the West to give aid to Africa if they then systematically rob them of the skilled people who have the ability to prevent and treat disease. A recent report by the British Medical Association (BMA) says that two-thirds of the doctors and 40 % of the nurses who entered the British job market last year were trained outside Britain, many of them in Africa.

"In 2003, 5,880 work permits were granted to doctors and nurses from South Africa, 2,825 from Zimbabwe, 1,510 from Nigeria, and 850 from Ghana. Matching the criticism from the BMA was the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which reported that 55,000 foreign nurses, including 16,000 from Africa, had been recruited in Britain since 1999. Such recruitment provides a considerable saving for the British economy. The BMA said it would have cost the British government 1.95 billion pounds, or 3.4 billion dollars, to train the same number of doctors and nurses who came from sub-Saharan Africa since 1999. The figure far exceeds the 560 million pounds given to African hospitals over the same period by the international development ministry.” (More)

Amazingly, in Birmingham, the second most populous city in the UK, there are now more nurses from Malawi than in Malawi itself.

Perceptions

Politics is all about perceptions. It doesn’t matter what the truth is, it’s about what people perceive the truth to be – thus according to the masses, Zuma is innocent until proven guilty

Morgan Tsvangirai, head of Zimbabwe’s MDC is being quoted in today’s papers as saying that President Thabo Mbeki is "coming on board" and he appreciates that there are no longer any excuses for him to remain lethargic on helping to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis. Tsvangirai, who held an hour-and-a-half meeting with Mbeki in Pretoria on Sunday, said his meeting with the president had not been "more of the same".

Somehow, I don’t think so Morgan. It’s all about perceptions. And whose perceptions is Mbeki wanting to influence ahead of the G8 summit in Scotland? If you watch when Mbeki makes statements about getting involved in Zimbabwe to “solve” or influence the Mugabe problem, it’s usually just before he’s about to meet with some G8 or western bigwig. Just before Bush’s visit to South Africa a few years ago, Mbeki was making bold statements about facilitating a meeting between Zanu-PF and the MDC – ultimately nothing substantial transpired. Who was Mbeki wanting to appease when he fired Jacob Zuma? He was sending a message to the West that he would not tolerate corruption, yet I suspect that there are others close to Mbeki who may be corrupt but he does nothing. It’s all one giant political chess game.

With all the corruption going around, Mbeki chose to institute a long process that would lead to the downfall of his greatest political rival, Jacob Zuma. This is not to say that Zuma isn’t corrupt, but Mbeki managed to find Zuma’s Achilles heel – a fondness for lavish living beyond his means and he successfully exploited this behind the scenes to try and bring Zuma down. In the meantime, Mbeki has miscalculated – perhaps in the process of centralizing his power he overestimated his own power within the movement. We know that Mbeki has never been a man of the people, as William Gumede points out in his book “The Battle for the Soul of the ANC” Mbeki is one of the few ANC struggle leaders who never had a freedom song written about him, and in South Africa this says a lot. Mbeki it seems has completely lost touch with the masses, a big mistake in a movement with a proud history of mass based participation. Mbeki may have thought he was bigger than the ANC, in reality the movement is bigger than him. He took a political gamble, he thought he could control the ANC in terms of his concentrated power at the top - in the presidency, and in the ANC’s National Working Committee and the National Executive Committee, but he failed to predict the power of the masses and thereby ended up having to face an internal rebellion from the ANC provinces and the branches.

I spent last Thursday at the ANC National General Council, and before the announcements came through about Zuma’s reinstatement to ANC structures, I had the chance to wander around and speak to branch members and just ask them questions to try and get a sense of what ordinary people were feeling. I spoke to two people from the Soweto branch and they warned me that there was going to be a rebellion and that Mbeki was in for a big surprise, they also said that they were going to be pressing for a speedy trial, that they would be disappointed if Zuma were found guilty, but wanted the due course of the law to be followed and they would support the outcome either way (I might cynically add, depending on if they can discredit the judge afterwards). It’s all about perceptions. I was told that Zuma is one of us, he comes from a rural background, he dances and sings with us, he listens to us, and he understands us, and he understands the ANC. Mbeki, on the other hand, I was told, thinks he is up in the sky and better than all of us, he doesn’t know what’s going on in the ANC, he has forgotten about the importance of the ordinary people to the ANC, is virtually a foreigner, he lived most of his life overseas and he doesn’t understand what’s going on in South Africa.

This would seem to be true of Mbeki in a certain sense. In pandering to the Western agenda, Mbeki has indeed lost touch with his domestic constituency. He may need to do some serious backtracking, and if his personality will allow it all, he needs to start diluting that urbane and sophisticated image that he has cultivated to impress the west, when he is home, and start going around to kiss babies and dance at local community rallies. He needs to reach out to his people.

In spite of all the division within the ANC, being at the meeting, I did not get the impression that this will be the straw that breaks the camels back of the alliance. The ANC is bigger than Mbeki, people truly love the movement, it is their political and historical home and they will keep the movement together. This is what various delegates told me, but it is also what I sensed, in the excitement, in the singing and the dancing, and the atmosphere. If anything, the ANC will spit Mbeki out, the current divisions seem to be seen from within the movement as a difficult obstacle in the process of maturing from a liberation movement to a political party. There may be a severe problem, but it will be overcome.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The reality of war

"Several thousand soldiers have been wounded in action in Iraq. Thousands of others have been injured in war related events. They have lost arms, legs, eyes, ears, pieces of their brains. Some will spend the rest of their lives in wheelchairs. These soldiers -- all volunteer warriors - have returned home to heal their wounds and consider life, forever scarred and changed." (Source)

Over the week-end I watched the movie Born on the Fourth July. I first saw it years ago on circuit, but it was really interesting to see it again, particularly because one can't help drawing parallels between the film, and the current situation in Iraq. Briefly, the movie is based on the true experiences of a Vietnam war veteran who is paralysed from below the waist down due to his war injuries. Upon his return to the US, he became victim to neglect in the veteran medical care system which suffered at the time from budgetary cutbacks. The movie then chronicles his life as moves from proud patriot, to disillusionment, and finally becomes an anti-war activist, all the while trying to deal with the symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome.

The film got me wondering what the current situation is like concerning veterans returning from the present Iraqi war, especially those vets suffering from dehabilitating wounds. What I managed to find out, is that although America seems to be taking better care of it's vets now than it did after Vietnam, it is not doing all it could, and all it should be doing to help those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.


Jeremy, 24, a Seargent and Army Ranger from the 3rd Battalion, 75th Regiment was injured April 3, defending the Hadithah Dam and awarded the purple heart and bronze star with valor. He is completely blind, his brain is held together with titanium plates, he suffers seizures and some brain damage. He sees nothing but darkness.

According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, "The Senate got into a bipartisan snit over funding for veterans this week, Republicans and Democrats both raising alarms over a $1 billion shortfall for the Department of Veterans Affairs this fiscal year. On Wednesday, the Senate approved $1.5 billion in emergency funding for the VA. But the funding issue raises questions about the VA's ability to handle an increased workload as a result of the war."

The numbers of vets requiring assistance from the VA is continuing to grow, "Since the US-led invasion of Iraq began, an average of 474 US service members a month have been wounded, injured, or become ill in the war zone. As of last week, the Defense Department put the total at 13,074. But the total number of vets who still need help is much larger than that, and it's growing. As of February, VA officials reported, 85,857 of the 360,674 veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who had separated from active duty, 24 %, had sought healthcare from the VA. This included treatment for both physical injuries and mental health problems."

Interestingly, during the wars of the 20th century, the ratio of wounded to killed in action was about 3 to 1. In Iraq that ratio is more than 9 to 1. To Bush's credit, he has hiked spending for veterans' medical care by more than 40 percent. More veterans are enrolled in healthcare services, the waiting time for care has been shortened, and the backlog of disability claims has been reduced.

However, American Social service agencies say that vets of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts are now showing up in the country's homeless shelters. "While the numbers are still small, they're steadily rising, and raising alarms in both the homeless and veterans' communities. The concern is that these returning veterans, some of whom can't find jobs after leaving the military, others of whom are still struggling psychologically with the war, may be just the beginning of an influx of new veterans in need...Part of the reason for these new veterans' struggles is that housing costs have skyrocketed at the same time real wages have remained relatively stable, often putting rental prices out of reach. And for many, there is a gap of months, sometimes years, between when military benefits end and veterans benefits begin." (
More)

Another thing that struck me, is that wounded soldiers don't seem to be getting very much coverage in the mainstream media. Although news sites like CNN and Fox track the dead, no-one is really telling the stories of the maimed and the psychologically dysfunctional. I did find this
photo essay via one of the war vet sites.


Sam, 21, an army paratrooper and combat engineer with the 82nd Airborne Division, was gravely injured May 18 in Baghdad when a bomb blew up during a munitions disposal operation.


These are the people that pay the ultimate sacrifice, the cannon fodder of empire.

Trade not Aid

How Africa is losing out from the current hypocritical global trade system:

It is estimated that African cotton-producing countries (including Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Togo, Kenya and Mali)in 2004 lost up to $400 million in potential export revenue as a result of western cotton sunsidies. In 2003, Malian cotton farmers received just 33 cents per kilogram for their cotton, whereas subsidised US cotton producing corporations received $1.45.

The Mozambican sugar industry, which employs 26,000 people, is in jeopardy due to the EU subsidies and tariffs. This is despite the fact that Mozambique can produce cane sugar for between $108 and $144 a tonne, whereas European beet sugar costs $577 a tonne to produce. The EU gives subsidies to its big sugar companies, such as British multinational Lyle and Tate, of $990 million a year.

The EU imposes import tariffs of more than 200% on non-EU cane products. This impacts harshly on sugar-producing African countries like Mozambique, Ethiopia, Malawi and Zambia. On top of this, European overproduction of sugar results in 5 million tonnes being dumped on world markets, driving prices down, in many cases to below the cost of production in Third World countries. A small amount of sugar is bought from poor countries at preferential prices, as a result of a 2001 agreement, but the EU wants to slash the price it pays by 40%.

In 1990, many Senegalese made a living growing tomatoes. After the introduction of ``free trade'', prices farmers got for their crops were halved and production tumbled from 73,000 tonnes in 1990 to just 20,000 in 1997. The market was flooded with cheap bottled European tomato products, which caused local factories producing tomato paste and other value-added products to close.

In Ghana, the local poultry industry collapsed, impoverishing 400,000 small farmers, after the market was flooded with cheap, subsidised EU and US frozen chickens, which sell at half the price of fresh local chooks. In 1992, local farmers supplied 92% of the market; by 2001 their share had plummeted to just 11%. Ghana's attempt to raise tariffs to prevent this dumping has been blocked by the IMF and WTO. The EU gives annual subsidises its poultry producers of $52 billion a year. Cameroon and Senegal have also had their markets flooded with cheap EU chickens.



Earlier this year, Christian Aid released a study that revealed that the last 20 years of trade ``liberalisation'', a condition for aid, loans and debt relief, have made sub-Saharan countries a massive $272 billion worse off than they otherwise would have been. The figure represents the income lost as a result of being forced to open their markets to heavily subsidised imports from rich countries.

This amount is about the same as sub-Saharan Africa has received in aid during the same period. It could have paid off much of the region's $300 million debt, or allowed all of its children to go to school and be vaccinated against major diseases, Christian Aid notes. In 2000 alone, sub-Saharan Africa lost income worth $28 billion, enough to halve the number of people living on $1 day, based on United Nations estimates. While in 2000, Africans lost almost $45 per person due to trade liberalisation, aid per person was just $20.

The Christian Aid study found that contrary to promises of the advocates of free trade, when poor countries phase out measures such as tariffs, quotas and import duties designed to protect their local industries and consumers, imports climb sharply and local producers are priced out of the market by cheaper, often subsidised, Western goods. This also depresses prices.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Eight women, one voice.

"In July, eight men representing the major industrialised nations of the world - the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and Russia - will meet at Gleneagles for the G8 summit. Their decisions will have huge implications for millions of people living in poverty in Africa. Here in words and pictures, South African photographer Gideon Mendel, profiles eight women who's lives have been profoundly affected by some of the key issues the G8 has the power to control - HIV/AIDS treatment, water privatisation, debt, the free market. Their lives are very different but they all want one thing - and end to poverty and unfair trade in Africa. "

The pictures of the eight African women and their stories can be seen here.

I think it's important to understand the context of the global capitalist system and how brutally unfair it is. What is this bullshit about "free" trade? According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), its 30 member nations spent $279.5 billion, or nearly 226 billion euros, on farm supports, up from $256.7 billion in 2003. That doesn't even begin to cover the billions of dollars additionally spent on tariffs. What is this system that demands free trade from developing countries and yet continues to protect it's own markets? What is this system that blames all of Africa's problems on corruption, yet doesn't take into account the destruction of livelihoods and the ensuing poverty that the current form of globalisation is imposing on the developing world?

Aid and loans are tied up to conditions such as structural adjustment which means local government's have to cut back spending on healthcare and education, enforces water and other privatisation and trade "liberalisation". As the libertians among us have pointed out, aid is a system that is wide open to abuse and corruption. Why not then allow for a free trade system that will enable poor people to benefit directly from local agricultural production bypassing government intervention in the aid/loan distribution process?

Friday, July 01, 2005

The business of aid

"The aid business is booming. As Africa’s crisis has deepened and its problems have multiplied, so the number of foreign NGOs has risen. There were a few hundred in the 1960s. There are thought to be well over 25,000 today, their staff swelling the continent’s army of outsiders. They don’t come cheap. An estimated $4bn is spent annually on recruiting some 100,000 expatriates.

The result is that there are more foreigners working on development issues in Africa than there were in the 1950-1970s era of independence. They are helping to run everything from ministries to mines, working as behind-the-scenes policy-makers or performing heroics on the frontline in the battle against poverty.

This in itself need not be cause for concern, were it not for another fact: as foreigners go in to take up short-term contracts, skilled Africans are leaving, in their droves, to work abroad – some 70,000 a year."
(More)

and www.ngowatch.org

In South Africa, a recent post-graduate dissertation suggests that our teachers are being lured to England by unscrupulous British recruitment agencies. According to the dissertation, the marketing strategies of the British recruitment agencies are highly questionable. By fast-tracking the teachers, agencies are not acting in the best interests of schools or of the recruited teachers, who can expect to earn up to 12 times the remuneration of their South African colleagues. (More)

Greed

No wonder we have major service delivery problems, and people embarking on violent service delivery protests in South Africa. The salaries that municipal managers get paid are absolutely outrageous. And yes, I know there are other issues to consider, lack of capacity, socio-political history and all the rest of it. But with people creaming the system like this it can be difficult to take governments stated intentions to rectify service delivery problems seriously.

According to Business Day newspaper:
"Several municipal managers earn more than cabinet ministers. Excluding the maximum 20% a year performance bonus, the Johannesburg metropolitan municipal manager earns R938576, the executive director of finance R917037 and chief operations manager R879807. Ekurhuleni’s manager earned R905929 a year, Tshwane’s R862000, Motsweding district municipal manager R574998, Kungwini’s R550000, Nokeng Tsa Taemane’s R542000, West Rand’s R750000, Randfontein’s R530900, Westonaria’s R286540, Mogale’s R745069, Merafong’s R600000 and Lesedi’s R478240.Sedibeng’s manager earns a salary of R767658 plus a performance bonus of R150000 giving a total of R917658 a year. Emfuleni’s manager earns R774852 plus a bonus of R150000. Midvaal municipal manager earns a basic annual R615511 plus a bonus of R122567."

Maybe we need some sort of legislation to govern municipal salaries. I know you need to attract people from the private sector but salaries like this are unacceptable, especially when so many of the municipalities are situated in poor and struggling communities.

In the meantime, at their National General Council currently taking place, the ANC has identified moral decay related to self enrichment as a major problem affecting the party. Speaking at the Council meeting, ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe said that "All the paralysis in our programmes, all the divisions in our structures, are in one way or another a consequence of this cancer in our midst". Motlanthe added that the ANC was seeking to deepen a consciousness of the problem among its members to shield them from “susceptibility to temptation”. I think it's great that the ANC has come out and acknowledged this problem at an important party conference, but unfortunately, politics is not therapy where change can be affected through self acknowlegment. The ANC must ACT to root out corruption in local government.

Incidently, the total outstanding debt of our 284 local municipalities was R36bn in 2003, a 13% rise compared with the previous year. The debt is likely to be much higher now, though the 2004 and 2005 figures are not yet available.

Cartoon of the day



(Source)