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Wednesday: April 2, 2014 

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in South Africa (58)

Thursday
Nov082012

World leaders praise Julia Gillard's sexism speech at ASEM - (REPORT) 

(Video ABCNEWS Australia)

(HN, November 8, 2012) - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s now famous misogyny speech in parliament last month is still creating waves abroad, with the prime minister congratulated by other world leaders during an international summit.

Ms. Gillard says French President Francois Hollande and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, among other leaders, approached her at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Laos to commend the speech, in which she branded Opposition Leader Tony Abbott a misogynist.

The prime minister’s fiery 15-minute address to the Australian parliament early last month went viral worldwide, making news headlines and dominating social media.

“The president of France congratulated me on the speech, as did the prime minister of Denmark, and some other leaders, just casually as I’ve moved around, have also mentioned it to me,” Ms. Gillard told ABC radio on Wednesday.

Video of Ms Gillard’s outburst was watched more than 300,000 times on YouTube in just one day, and it made headlines in the US, India, Canada, UK and South Africa.

On one prominent American website, Jezebel, Ms. Gillard was described as a “badass motherf****r”.

Interviewed for the latest edition of Marie Claire magazine, the prime minister said her office had been besieged with emails and phone calls after the speech went viral on the internet.

“I’m taking it all with a bit of a wry smile,” she said.

“I’m certainly taking `badass’ as a compliment. I think that’s how it was meant.”

Ms. Gillard said she had heard that a Melbourne all-girls school had watched the speech during a class and “spontaneously broke into cheers and applause at the end of it”.

“So that touched me,” she said.

Ms. Gillard said what motivated her to make the speech was the “double standards and the lecturing” from Mr. Abbott.

-- This article first appeared on the Australian Times website via the AAP.

Monday
Apr162012

Nigeria: World Bank Presidency - US vs the World? (PERSPECTIVE) 

By Yemi Ajayi

(PHOTO: Dr. Jim Yong Kim, new World Bank President/Dartmouth College) *Since this article posted on Monday, the World Bank board voted to confirm Jim Yong Kim as the next World Bank President. He will start his tenure on June 30 when Robert Zoellick steps down from this same post.

The race for the World Bank presidency will enter the homestretch Monday when the bank's 25-member executive board votes on who succeeds its outgoing president, Robert Zoellick.

It is a defining race for the Bretton Woods institution (comprising the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) founded in 1944. It is also a race that has assumed the character of a clash between an arcane tradition and the quest for change in the way the international finance institution with the official goal of fighting poverty picks its president.

In the race for the World Bank presidency were initially three candidates: Nigeria's Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Colombian Minister of Finance, Jose Antonio Ocampo and a public health expert and president of Dartmouth College in the United States, Jim Yong Kim. The number was reduced to two last Friday with Ocampo's withdrawal for the post.

However, the candidates are merely instruments in a proxy war between Washington and its European allies, which has traditionally produced the president and the rest of the world that is clamouring for a paradigm shift in how the leadership of the World Bank emerges.

The clamour has pitted the rest of the world against the US, which is out to defend its tradition of producing the World Bank president since foundation.

(PHOTO: Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria/NigeriaMailOnline)For US President Barack Obama, he cannot afford to fail where his predecessors had succeeded. Losing out in the jostling for the post, especially in a crucial election year, is to hand the Republicans the ammunition to make a bid at undoing his attempt to renew his tenancy at the White House.

Withdrawing from the race last Friday, Ocampo, in a letter to the World Bank, said he was doing so because "it is clear that this is becoming no longer a competition on the merits of the candidates, but a political exercise."

"For me, as an economist and as a Colombian, it has been a great honour to participate in this first open competition for the presidency of the World Bank... to facilitate the desired unity of the emerging and developing economies around a candidate, today (last Friday) I am retiring from the race to support the minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who I wish the best of luck in this final stage."

If it were going to be a straight fight based on merit on a level playing field for the candidates, Okonjo-Iweala could start preparing her handover notes for her successor in Nigeria and return to the organization where she was managing director before her call to national duty last year.

Even though she was reluctant to join the race some weeks ago, her candidacy has gathered rave endorsements from the media at home and abroad, 35 former World Bank economists and managers, Africa and other developing nations since she threw her traditional headgear into the ring.

She is the official candidate of Africa and its allies who have canvassed the argument that someone with high-flying credentials and requisite experience like hers is better placed to make the World Bank deliver on its goals of helping developing nations to improve on their peoples' wellbeing.

Since March when Obama picked him as the US candidate for the post, Kim has come under global scrutiny. Despite his credentials and achievements, especially in public health, including his stint as a director of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization, he is considered as one who lacks the "appropriate finance and economic credentials" to lead the World Bank.

(PHOTO: Jose Antonio Ocampo of Colombia/Columbia Univ) In contrast, Okonjo-Iweala has institutional knowledge, hands-on experience in development economics and public finance and has proven to be reform minded. In her first appointment as Nigeria's Minister of Finance, she superintended over the country's historical debt relief, an exercise that earned her global accolades; spearheaded the reform of the public sector in Nigeria leading to greater transparency and the monetization policy of the federal government; and championed the creation of the Excess Crude Account that largely provided a buffer for Nigeria during the global economic crisis between 2008 and 2009.

Notwithstanding his diminished credentials, Kim, by some quixotic arrangement, is most likely to succeed Zoellick who bows out on June 30 after a five-year term during which the bank provided over $247 billion to help developing countries boost growth and overcome poverty. His being the US candidate, which some analysts have described as a "wrong call," guarantees him victory under the weighted voting system that Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are calling for a review.

Under the voting system, the US, which is the bank's largest shareholder, Europe and Japan control 54 per cent of the votes. The trio has formed an alliance which ensures that the bloc votes are delivered to the US' candidate. Europe is under obligation to back the US as repayment for its support in always ensuring that the headship of the International Monetary Fund, is held by the continent under an informal pact.

According to reports at the weekend, so far, US, Russia, Canada and Japan are lining up behind Kim alongside Spain, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia and South Korea. This follows a move last Friday by the US members on the World Bank executive board to block the board from transparently assessing the outcome of the interviews of the three candidates, which took place earlier last week.

With Ocampo's withdrawal for Okonjo-Iweala, his backers - Brazil and Argentina - may team up with the three African constituencies to vote for the Nigerian minister.

However, the straw poll held by the bank's board last Friday before Ocampo's withdrawal, showed that Kim was guaranteed 36 per cent of the votes, Okonjo-Iweala about five per cent and six per cent for Ocampo. The votes reflect the voting rights of the countries or regions backing each of the candidates.

The undecided were the European Union with 29.2 per cent; India, 4.6 per cent; China, 3.4 per cent; Switzerland, 3.0 per cent; Saudi Arabia, 2.4 per cent; and Asia, 9.5 per cent bloc votes.

Monday's decision by the bank's executive board was some three weeks ago clearly encapsulated for the members by the Financial Times. The newspaper in an editorial on March 27, in which it endorsed the candidacy of Okonjo-Iweala, said: "In this less than ideal world, Mr. Kim's appointment seems inevitable. But if the Bank's shareholders wanted the best president, they would opt for Ms. Okonjo-Iweala."

Will the board heed the voice of reason as the World Bank, for the first time in its 68 years of existence, chooses between candidates?

Well, if the Nigerian minister loses, as that fact cannot be discounted, given the high stakes politics, she can take solace in the immortal word of American journalist and writer, Damon Runyon, "The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong...."

--- This editorial originally appeared in AllAfrica HERE

Monday
Apr092012

Mr. Gay World Takes Africa by Storm as Controversy Continues on the Continent (NEWS) 

(PHOTO: A billboard advertises the Mr. Gay World finals at South Africa's Gold Reef City, Johannesburg, on Sunday/MABUTI KALI)(HN, April 9, 2012) - A 32-year-old New Zealand manager for a chain of stationery stores, won the title of Mr. Gay World during the final competition that ended late Sunday at the Gold Reef City resort in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The grand finale was hosted by local stars Soli Philander and Cathy Specific, who were joined onstage by the group African Umoja, and international performers such as Ukraine's top pop star, Kamaliya and guest artist Baby M from Japan, as well as local stars Terrence Bridgett and Alexander Steyn.

Andreas Derleth, 32, a German man who lives in New Zealand won the competition which included 24 other delegates from all over the world including:  Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, Mexico, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and the United States. Only three of them are from Africa and it's also the first time black Africans took part.

Founded in 2008, the Mr. Gay World competition was created as`a positive environment for gay men to share their stories. The winner would not only have the inner beauty of confidence, self-assurance, charisma and natural leadership abilities, but would also take care of his physical beauty.'

Prizes included $25,000 in travel vouchers to enable the winner to spread his message around the world.

Gay rights have been under pressure in many parts of the globe recently - Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East - but primarily in African nations where gay rights activists have been threatened and killed and where dozens of countries have passed laws banning homosexuality.  

Of particular concern in recent years have been attacks on lesbians sometimes called "corrective rapes."

(PHOTO: Lexus sponsors the Mr. Gay World contest, Johannesburg, SA/Mr. Gay World) Prominent African politicians ridicule gays and minor politicians grab headlines by proposing even tougher anti-gay laws.

In nations such as Uganda, Zimbabwe  and Ethiopia court battles and street clashes have defined the movement with strong feelings on both sides as the continent modernizes.

Therefore, many of the African participants faced the most intense discrimination and prejudice, though the location of the event took place in South Africa - the only country on the continent where gay marriages are allowed.

The bill of rights adopted after apartheid ended in South Africa in 1994 explicitly bans `discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation'. Same-sex couples can marry and adopt children in South Africa.

Originally, Africa was to be represented by South Africa, Namibia, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, as a lack of sponsorship and funding prevented delegates from Tanzania, Ghana and Kenya from taking part.

But relentless government pressure on the Zimbabwean delegate, Taurai Zhanje, forced him to withdraw from the competition fearing the publicity was making life difficult for his mother. 

Namibia's representative, Wendelinus Hamutenya, was attacked in early December and landed in hospital but his family accompanied him to the airport for a warm send-off when he left for the competition.  "Bring the trophy home,"  Hamutenya's mother said to him.

Though he lost, a disappointed Hamutenya said he would nonetheless return to Namibia to fight "for gay rights and human rights."

Since becoming Mr. Gay Namibia, Hamutenya has lobbied for a repeal of his country’s anti-sodomy law. And he says, politicians have been receptive to his arguments.

The Ethiopian delegate, Robel Hailu, is a student in South Africa and after his candidacy was announced on Ethiopian radio a media storm broke out and his father cut off all communications.

(PHOTO: Andreas Derleth beat out 24 other contestants to be crowned Mr. Gay World/Mr. Gay World) It wasn't just African gays who faced difficulties this year however. The Chinese contestant was unable to come to Johannesburg because of anti-gay pressure there, organizers said. 

Mr. Gay World includes an essay test on the history of the gay rights movement. But the swim suit competition counts for more, according to the judges’ handbook. The seven judges from around the world include journalists and an actor.

South Africans Charl van den Berg and Francois Nel were Mr. Gay World in 2010 and 2011 respectively, bringing home the honor of winning a world event twice in a row.

"We look for the best man, whether he’s white or black or any other color," said Tore Aasheim, one of the Mr. Gay World organizers, adding he hoped more contestants from Africa would participate in future contests.

---HUMNEWS

Friday
Mar302012

BRICS 4th Meeting: `Non-West, Not Anti-West' (REPORT)  

(Video via IBTIMES)

Top emerging economies, coming under the banner of BRICS, on Thursday criticized the West for financial mismanagement, called for a "merit-based" selection of the next World Bank chief, rued the slow pace of reforms in the International Monetary Fund, declared that dialogue was the only way to a peaceful resolution in Syria and Iran, but failed to go beyond motherhood statements and give the bloc a meaningful push.

The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries took baby steps towards facilitating intra-BRICS trade and investment in local currency, but failed to reach any agreement on a BRICS development bank. They signed an agreement to extend credits in local currencies under the BRICS Interbank Cooperation Mechanism.

However, the suggestion for a BRICS Development Bank was pushed to a later date, since there were major differences among the members.

Spreading themselves beyond economics, the BRICS members articulated an alternative political vision with regard to current international issues.

(PHOTO: BRICS summit handout of leader photo op; l to r, Brazil's Dilma Rousseff, Russia's Dmitry Medvedev, India's Manmohan Singh, China's Hu Jintao, South Africa's Jacob Zuma) "The views were more non-West, than anti-West", explained an official. While these were mainly broad-brush positions on current events, their importance lay in the fact that five emerging global leaders actually sat across the table to agree on these points.

In a statement at the end of the plenary session, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, "The world is passing through uncertain times. The rapid recovery of the BRICS economies from the financial crisis highlighted their role as growth drivers of the global economy. Our cooperation is intended to explore meaningful partnerships for common development, address global challenges together and contribute to furthering world peace, stability and security."

In its Delhi Declaration, BRICS members opposed violence as a way of resolving political crises in other countries. "Global interests would best be served by dealing with the crisis through peaceful means that encourage broad national dialogues..." On Syria, BRICS supported the Arab League and special envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan.

On Iran, they observed, "We recognize Iran's right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy consistent with its international obligations, and support resolution of the issues involved through political and diplomatic means and dialogue between the parties concerned, including between the IAEA and Iran and in accordance with the provisions of the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions."

The BRICS nations put their might behind Afghanistan, saying it needed "time, development assistance and cooperation, preferential access to world markets, foreign investment and a clear end-state strategy."  Israel was rapped on the knuckles for its settlement policy, but BRICS advocated direct negotiations with the Palestinians. The underlying theme was a repudiation of the western developed countries' approach, without actually getting into the details.

In an action plan, BRICS leaders agreed to meet before United Nations General Assembly meeting every September, much like the Non-Aligned Movement and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation meetings; regular gatherings of finance ministers, central bank governors, trade ministers, national security advisers, etc.

(PHOTO: BRICS handout of finance ministers shaking hands in cooperation)But underneath the camaraderie and the determination to strike a different path, serious differences exist. On the economic front, it would be a tussle between India and China, while Russia is pushing the political agenda, particularly on Iran and Syria, where BRICS supported the Russian viewpoint. India and Brazil pushed through their joint pitch for reform of the UN Security Council, which China has not been enthusiastic about, although Russia supports it.

While the BRICS joint statement blamed the Eurozone crisis for the state of the global economy, Indian officials saw this as a way of deflecting criticism of China manipulating its own currency, which also leads to a lot of distortions.

The BRICS development bank too has been kicked down the road, because India still has many reservations. The PM, in fact, preferred to focus on improving the World Bank rather than creating a new institution, as China does.

"We must address the important issue of expanding the capital base of the World Bank and other multinational development banks to enable these institutions to perform their appropriate role in financing infrastructure development," the declaration read.

Indian finance officials see the BRICS Bank idea primarily as a way of legitimizing the use of Chinese currency overseas. Second, they feel that any BRICS bank would essentially be a Chinese bank, because none of the other countries have the financial depth to fuel such an institution. India wants the global financial architecture to change, but at a much slower pace. South Africa supports the Bank, but Brazil cannot, because it already funds the Latin American development bank.

On the election of the next chief of the World Bank, the five countries did not even attempt to find a consensus candidate that could have been an alternative to the Korean-American chosen by the US.

The G20 received a unanimous thumbs-up as a forum for global financial governance and agreed to coordinate positions at the body. Russian president Medvedev said, "We confirmed all agreements on our cooperation in updating the international currency and financial system. One of the goals here is to renovate the IMF. We analyzed the situation in the world economics and came to an agreement on a further coordination of actions within our organization, including preparation for the next G20 summit."

South African president Jacob Zuma made a spirited call for including the development concerns of sub-Saharan Africa in the BRICS development plans. "We feel that Africa is being treated with respect. There is no feeling that people are looking down on our continent."

--- This article first appeared in the Times of India

Related:          BRICS nations stepping up innovation to improve healthcare: Study

Related:          BRICS: Not bound by ‘unilateral’ sanctions on Iran

Related:          BRICS countries call for World Bank Presidency voting review

Related:          Protests outside Hu Jintao's hotel

Thursday
Mar222012

Brazil Prepares for the UN Rio+20 Conference in June (REPORT) 

By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Senior Contributing Reporter, The Rio Times

(RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL) - Twenty years after the inaugural 1992 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development – the Earth Summit - was held in Rio, the city will once again play host to the event. Now Rio is gearing up for the “Rio+20” (June 20th to 22nd), and on March 9th Conference Secretary-General, Sha Zukang was in Brazil to discuss the logistics with Environment Minister, Izabella Teixeira.

The organizers are expecting representatives from 193 member states to attend, from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other stakeholders.

The Brazilian Rio+20 Commission, which was set up in 2011, is responsible for coordinating the hosting of the event. The conference itself is an intergovernmental process, directed by United Nations Member States and overseen by the UN.

The debates will focus on two principle themes: the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and the institutional framework for sustainable development, which will look at ways to strengthen the effectiveness of global sustainability resolutions.

(PHOTO: In Sept 2011, International Youth met in Mollina, Spain to decide what future they want/Human Impact Institute) According to the organizers, its objective is to renew political commitment to sustainable development, by assessing the progress made on the goals set at previous major summits – including the 1992 Earth Summit and the 2002 Johannesburg Summit – and identifying gaps in implementation.

On March 9th, Teixeira said the elections in other countries should not hinder the presence of heads of state at Rio+20, stating that 79 delegations have confirmed their presence so far. She also reinforced that the goal of the conference is to come up with concrete decisions, and not just to debate. “[Rio+20] is a conference for stamping documents and saying that we approve.”

The organizers say, “[It] should help define the sustainable development agenda for the coming decades.”

The event will be built up in three stages, the first of which runs from June 13th to 15th,in advance of the official conference dates. This will be a Meeting of the Preparatory Committee to unite government representatives from around the world and negotiate the documents to be adopted at the Conference.

During the second stage, from June 16th to 19th, a series of events has been scheduled for the participation of civil society. So called “major groups” who are registered with the UN, are invited to take part, including: non-governmental organizations, business groups, indigenous communities, local authorities, community groups, and the scientific and technological community, as well as individuals.

The third and final stage is the High Level Segment of the Conference, scheduled for June 20th to 22nd, in which Heads of State and Government of various United Nations member countries will meet to agree on the conference outcomes.

Riocentro conference center, in Barra da Tijuca, will host the intergovernmental agenda and other event locations have yet to be decided. The Sub-Secretary General for Energy and Technology at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, said at a public hearing at the beginning of the month that, “The conference itself is extraordinarily complex [to coordinate].”

However, he considers the event an important demonstration of Brazil’s commitment to being a key player in solving world issues, saying – “It is a renewal of our commitment to multilateralism as a legitimate way of solving global problems.”

- This article first appeared in The Rio Times

Sunday
Mar182012

Do Environmentalists Lack a Theory of Change? (PERSPECTIVE)

The Cape Town waterfront: Can affluence and a low carbon future co-exist in harmony? CREDIT: M BociurkiwBy Saliem Fakir

Environmentalists in South Africa are largely seen as lone and desperate voices. Often they are perceived to be white and middle-class, but that is changing slowly.

Environmentalists remain at the margins of the mainstream economy and outside of key decision-making channels. Where they cannot control the excesses and harm belched out of the belly of a gluttonous economy, they mop up the aftermath.

They're fire fighting battles range from dealing with issues such as acid mine drainage to rhino poaching and the prevention of shale-gas extraction to exposing heavy polluters.

Despite all of these noble efforts and media wars, environmentalists are losing ground. This is not only due to a lack of resources but also because environmentalists have a tendency to form alliances amongst themselves and only talk to each other.

Take, for example, nuclear energy. The anti-nuclear debate is largely confined to a few environmentalists – some lone figures and others trying to work as an organized formation without any real broad appeal.

Despite some public sympathy, in the more than fifteen years that this debate has been raging, environmental groupings have not been able to build a coherent coalition against nuclear power. 

Winning the nuclear debate requires a broad-based alliance that will have to involve labour, business lobbies, religious groupings, agencies and individuals that work within government, and the public in general.

It’s hard work and can’t be done alone.

To succeed one also needs a broader political programme - a theory of change for the development of a new political economy.

The idea of a new political economy can’t be invented on its own. It has to be worked out by engaging others outside one’s own fold.

A new political economy can only emerge out of a new value system that restrains our addiction to consumption. The growth in shopping malls all around South Africa is testimony to this surge in consumptive behaviour despite the fact that our populace is heavily indebted.

So who is to blame?

Economic models are based on lifestyle choices. The greater the wants, the bigger the size of the economy and rate at which it must grow. Add to this the fact that nations also compete with each other for power, wealth and status in the world.

These wants are not only shaped by the desire to satisfy basic needs, but also by projects of vanity. Thus capitalism thrives because it can exploit our essential needs through a mark-up on the sale of basic necessities and more so because it exploits the human weakness for addiction to a particular lifestyle. Our growth paradigm commits so-called “consumers” to spending more on things they don’t really need.

We live in a world where flawed ideas about modernity drive the growth of new technologies and innovations in ways that are not always best suited to the needs of the planet and all of its people.

All of this unhealthy consumption takes place in the name of finance, jobs and more taxes.

Financial flows from the government purse, investments from government employee pension funds (South Africa’s is among the largest in the world), the decisions of trade union investment arms and the deployment of surplus capital from finance houses and corporations all shape the nature of the economy, where it invests and how.

In the end, the “growth at all costs” approach is the default compromise position between capital, organized labour and government. While capital, labour and government may seem at odds with each other - as they wrangle over the proceeds of wealth creation and its distribution - they are less questioning of the prevailing economic paradigm and the direction it is hurtling us towards.

As a result, contradictions prevail.

Governments perpetuate the dual problem of environmental and labour exploitation as necessary evils by choosing development models that are at odds with their rhetoric of sustainability, poverty alleviation and labour rights.

Firms encourage management and shareholder greed by incentivising the focus on the bottom line such that they end up working against social wellbeing and the planet’s future. They may be investing capital for economic growth, but at the same time, don’t take responsibility for the damage they cause to nature, labour and society.

Trade union investment arms are also not absolved from perpetuating the prevailing system. These investment arms and pension funds could help to shape a new type of economy, if they would just apply their minds to it.

Environmentalists are not entirely innocent either. Many environmentalists are pleased to do philanthropic work or take care of the mop up job when disaster strikes. However, the reduction of environmentalism to a beneficiary of philanthropy and charity demobilises its political relevance and guarantees it’s continued complicity in the prevailing, highly destructive, global economic system.

In this role, environmentalism merely enables the current system rather than disabling it. Without a theory of change, environmentalism is neither able to advance mechanisms for change nor is it able to demonstrate how a transition to a new kind of economy would be better than the existing one.

Thus, instead of just shouting from rooftops, environmentalists require a new theory of change. This can’t be invented through idealising alone but will have to evolve through active engagement with other organized formations where people are encouraged to seek a new ethos and moral compass for the economy.

Without new notions of equality and alliances for change beyond the narrow confines of environmental groupings, new models of economy won’t emerge and environmentalism will continue to remain at the margins, doing its usual mop up jobs, rather than contributing to pro-active change.

How we win a new economic system is partly a function of resistance. It is also the outcome of a new ethic – the ethic of moderation and less affluent lifestyle choices.  Shifts in the way capitalism works will, in the end, largely depend on the transformation of individual consciousness.

This change has to manifest in the real economy. Growth that is wasteful produces greater inequality and weakens the path to inter-generational sustainability.

Thus, the goals of a low carbon future must be melded to goals for better social development. The fight against inequality has to become an intrinsic part of broader environmentalism and in this regard, present-day environmentalists must be challenged to reflect on how embedded and comfortable they are in the current economic system.

Unless we address the central issue - the morality of our economic system - we will continue to trudge along as if the environmental cause is on track, when clearly it is not.

-- Saliem Fakir is an independent writer based in Cape Town. This article first appeared on the website of the South Africa Civil Society Information Service (SACSIS).  

Tuesday
Mar062012

African wax material: All the rage, but where's the money going? (PERSPECTIVE)

Credit: Jennifer Micheals House of Style/NigeriaBy Melinda Ozongwu

*NOTE:  Africa Fashion Week begins today and runs March 7-10, 2012 in Johannesburg, South Africa. You can find a schedule and watch a live stream of the shows, HERE.     

The material that we call African print or wax is a multi-million dollar business. As African as these textiles are, the Dutch companies that produce and sell the majority of our fine wax and lace materials are benefiting off an African industry and potentially destroying its authenticity. And we, the African customer, are part of the problem.

I was once given six yards of beautiful Dutch wax material. It was a kaleidoscope of colour, rich with texture and print. It’s amazing how a few yards of material can be so powerful. If you’ve ever stepped in a room filled with rolls of Dutch wax, Ankara, Hollandaise or African fabric you know what I’m talking about. Wearing this heavily patterned, bold, rich fabric is a transformative experience. Since then I have worn African wax not in traditional attire but in beautifully constructed, modern pieces that are very much in trend. 

With celebrities like Beyoncé and Kelis wearing clothes by African designers like Lisa Folawiyo (Jewel by Lisa), as well as being introduced to our designers, a growing number of people are being exposed to the beauty and versatility of the African fabric. 

American designer Maya Lakes’ Boxing Kitten line is rich with African print and worn by celebrities like Erykah Badu, Rihanna and Solange Knowles. Her burlesque-inspired designs make good use of the vibrancy of the print and the structure of the material.

Arise magazine editor and author of New African Fashion, Helen Jennings points out that, “Having that calibre of celebrity wear designs by African designers, made from an African fabric, helps that fabric to be taken seriously alongside others such as silk, leather and satin.” 

So business ought to be booming for local manufacturers of African wax material, for local consumption and for the export market. But here’s the thing, Africa is importing wax material and other “African” textiles made solely by non-African manufacturers.

CREDIT: Jennifer Micheals House of Style/NigeriaThe popular “African print” textile manufacturer Vlisco aren’t hiding their origin. Their trademark is ‘Veritable Wax Hollandais’ meaning “Real Dutch Wax”. They aren’t lying about their brand; it isn’t one of those “Made in America” but really Made in Mexico things. It’s Dutch, and it’s manufactured exclusively in Holland. The company’s two other brands Woodin and Uniwax do produce in Africa as well as Holland, but they all fall under the same umbrella. 

The Vlisco company’s website has a meet-the-employees page with some very positive testimonials from staff, ranging from production managers to quality controllers. I’m no PR specialist but I know that a testimonial from an African would be good right about here. With over a dozen designers in the company not a single one is African. "We don't try to make our designs African," says Vlisco’s creative director Henk Bremer, "but there seems to be a click with Dutch design. I think it is because West Africans like innovation and novelty."

I would contest that statement. The first country Vlisco exported to was the former Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), they imitated their traditional handmade batik designs and saturated the market with them. Were those also Dutch designs? I highly doubt that you could look at any Vlisco print and see Dutch design. Wax material is as African as a tulip is Dutch.  

In 2006, 75% of the wax on the African market carried Vlisco designs (Source: Vlisco; click on 2006 in the timeline). The company disputed the figure, claiming they’d fallen victim to the copycats. (Counterfeiting is a real problem across Africa; copycats will duplicate any good product at half the price or even less.)

Forget the obvious Nike and Gucci imitations from India and China; we are seeing fake wood and metal plastic-coated beads that are made in China being used in locally made jewellery. And though certain African countries like Cameroon are enforcing their copyright laws, seized goods often reappear on the market making it an increasingly difficult problem to tackle.) 

Vlisco’s strategy in combating the copycats was to shorten turnaround times and rebrand. They also extended their product line to include accessories and shoes. Despite their efforts you can still buy replicas at a quarter of the price of the “original”, the only difference being that these are Made in China. By making their brand more visible, showing at fashion shows, increasing their advertising, and opening flagship stores on the continent they continue to flourish and grow despite the copycats. 

(PHOTO: Funky wax/ThisIsAfrica)But while Vlisco enjoys a €100-million annual turnover, what becomes of authentic African prints and fabrics? What becomes of our local textile industry? Vlisco were pushed out of Indonesia by a government that understood the need to protect their local industry. They did so by levying high import duties on textiles. That was in the 1900s. This is standard practice by countries all over the world when one of their industries is developing. But in 2012, our local governments don't appear to be doing much to protect our textile industries. Since individual brands don’t yet have the budgets to advertise like Vlisco, our governments shouldn’t only be protecting the local industry they should be supporting it, not selling off all our raw materials and leaving us with a poor foundation on which to develop high quality goods. 

Our countries are flooded with imports of second-hand clothing from all over the world, and our respective governments let this happen too. But the importation of second-hand clothes  is even more detrimental to our textile industries than anything a company like Vlisco could do. Our manufacturers can never compete with a pair of second-hand jeans that sells for $1. 

When design houses like Burberry and Michael Kors start showcasing African print motifs and African-inspired fabrics, these are stepping stones to the growth in mainstream popularity of our patterns and fabrics. But with things as they are right now, increased exposure to African fabrics equals increased sales only for non-African companies like Vlisco. 

(PHOTO: Used clothing bound for Africa/ThisIsAfrica) I am not a fan of supporting African products for no other reason than that they’re African products. It has to make sense, the products have to be of good quality and the prices have to be within reason. We might not be there with products in certain industries, but we are with textiles; we have beautiful prints of good quality. There is no denying the fantastic job Vlisco is doing for itself. If we can’t change much else, we should at least look at ourselves as consumers. We are paying premium prices for Dutch wax and missing something more authentic that’s right under our noses. And in doing so we continue to discredit our product, dilute its history and wreck the potential future of our craft.

I think it’s high time we took back our tulips. 

-- Reproduced with permission from This is Africa. You can follow Melinda Ozongwu on Twitter @melindaembrace

Saturday
Feb042012

Teapots, Nukes and the IAEA (COMMENTARY) 

By Imran Garda 

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran would not yield to the pressure of sanctions imposed by the West. [AFP]

A few months ago I had an email exchange with the former Deputy Director General of The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Bruno Pellaud. 

I had intended to weave this interview with the Swiss physicist into a larger report, but that didn't materialise. With IAEA inspectors recently concluding a trip to Iran and western powers still seemingly convinced that Iran is developing a bomb (watching the Republican Presidential Debates in the US you'd be forgiven for thinking they already have a nuclear arsenal and war is imminent); and with the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists plus fears that Iran may cut off the Straits of Hormuz in response to economic blockade - anxiety and tensions are escalating from multiple directions. This is why I felt this interview was too good to waste, because understanding some of the nuclear aspects of this standoff may be helpful, however overwhelmed they may be by the politics.

I began by highlighting to Mr Pellaud that, because the burden of proof was on the accusers and not the accused, Iran's accusers had reminded me of Bertrand Russell's teapot theory. Russell wrote: 

If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.

So why should Iran have to prove that it doesn't want a nuclear weapon? Why isn't it up to its accusers to prove their claim? And are we seeing a situation that could be resolved peacefully if there was the appetite for it from all parties, be it not for a global game of chicken, of poker-faces and hurt feelings? 

Here's an excerpt of the exchange:

IG: Is it actually possible for a nation to categorically prove that a nuclear programme is peaceful?

BP: Not in absolute terms. For sure, Bertrand Russell's teapot theory applies here also - on the impossibility of the accused party proving a negative, and the shifting of the burden of proof from the accuser to the accused.  Or of demonstrating the absence of a needle in a stack of hay.

Nonetheless, circumstantial evidence provided in full transparency will help the State to come pretty close to a solid proof. Firstly, through the absence of suspicious activities which do not belong by nature to a peaceful programme (e.g.  working on uranium in metallic form). Secondly, by being outright forthcoming, by offering more information and access than requested by inspectors. 

The accumulation of circumstantial evidence over the scope of activities, over the full extent of the country and over time put gradually the State in a position to prove the point categorically.

IG: What do you make of President Obama's claim that Iran is the only member of the NPT who has not been able to demonstrate that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes?

BP: Be it only for Russell’s teapot theory, this formulation is patently wrong. Some other countries haverecently been named rightly or wrongly in this connection: Myanmar and Venezuela in particular. Some countries have in the past engaged in non-peaceful activities – e.g. South Africa, Argentina and Brazil. Did those countries provide an iron-clad demonstration that they have renounced? I think so, but others may still believe differently - in the name of the “absolute truth” and of a more categorical proof.

President Obama should have said “that Iran is the only member of the NPT who denies to the IAEA the information and the access to facilities that would enable the IAEA to verify that its nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes”. Take note: “…the IAEA to verify”, not to ascertain, not to prove categorically. The obligation for the accused is to allow the accuser to do an appropriate verification job.

In Iran, the refusals to respond to IAEA’s requests and the systematic attempts to conceal information have marked the relationship with the IAEA since the early nineties. Accepted by the highest officials of the Islamic Republic in 2003, the obligation to provide early information to the IAEA about new facilities has been contested by Iran since 2007 with fallacious legal arguments (an obligation that has been accepted by all other States). Furthermore, Iran refuses to join the more than 100 countries that open the doors to any relevant facility that the IAEA may wish to inspect. Hiding activities and facilities goes counter to proving categorically that the programme is peaceful.

One example.  And one counter example. In late 1993, South Africa “demonstrated” that its nuclear programme had been dismantled by granting the IAEA full access to all corners of the former programme. Comparing that with a huge tree, the IAEA verified at random a large number of branched activities (not all) – walking up the trunk, the branches, the twigs and then to the leaves, with the complete help of all the South Africans met by inspectors. On this account, the IAEA Director General Hans Blix concluded - with a very high degree of confidence - that South Africa had fulfilled its commitment. In early 2003, Hans Blix concluded that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction left, after conducting a vast verification campaign during which the Iraqis tried systematically to deny access, to refuse information, to hide people and facilities, to lie about minor things and to mislead the inspectors - AS IF they had much to hide. Among other things, this behaviour led the Americans to believe wrongly that Hans Blix was wrong…

- Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons License 

Wednesday
Jan182012

World Bank Report Projects a Difficult Year Ahead (NEWS BRIEF) 

The World Bank cut its global growth forecast in both developed and poorer nations by the most in three years, in its twice-yearly report issued late on Tuesday, saying that a recession in the euro region threatens to exacerbate a slowdown particularly in several major developing countries.

“Europe appears to have entered a recession, and grown in several major developing countries (Brazil, India and to a lesser extent Russia, South Africa and Turkey) has slowed,” the bank said as it updated forecasts made last June.

The world economy  will grow 2.5 percent this year, down from a June estimate of 3.6 percent, the   Washington-based institution said. The euro area may contract 0.3 percent, compared with a previous estimate of a 1.8 percent gain. The U.S. growth outlook was cut to 2.2 percent from 2.9 percent.

“The world is different than it was six months ago”, said Andrew Burns, head of the bank’s global economics team and lead author of the report. “This is going to be a very difficult year.”

Two major reasons for the projected global slowdown are noted in the report: Europe’s debt crisis has worsened and several big developing countries have taken steps to prevent growth from fueling inflation.

Economies in developing countries will continue to out-pace those of wealthier, developed countries, according to the World Bank, but the Bank also lowered its forecasts for growth in these countries to 5.4 per cent in 2012 and 6 per cent in 2013 – this is down from previous estimates of 6.2 per cent and 6.3 per cent respectively.

School Girls in Oecusse, Timor-Leste. Photo: Barbara Ratusznik/World BankThe report also noted that “the downturn in Europe and weaker growth in developing countries raises the risk that the two developments reinforce one another, resulting in an even weaker outcome”. – It also said that while Europe is moving toward long-term solutions to its debt problems, the markets remain skittish.

It also noted the failure so far to resolve high debts and deficits in Japan and the United States and slow growth in other high-income countries, and cautioned those facts could trigger sudden shocks in the global economy.

The 2012 forecast for Japan was cut to 1.9 per cent growth from 2.6 percent in June. China’s growth will slow to 8.4 percent this year, the same as an interim revised projection released in November.

In addition, political tensions in the Middle East and North Africa could disrupt oil supplies and add another blow to global prospects, the World Bank noted of the challenges facing the economy.

“Although contained for the moment, the risk of a broader freezing up of capital markets and a global crisis similar in magnitude to the Lehman crisis in 2008 remains,” the World Bank said.

Should that happen, it said developing countries are more vulnerable than they were in 2008 because they could find themselves facing reduced capital flows and softer trade.

Slower global expansion is already showing through softer trade figures and lower commodity prices, according to the World Bank.

“No country or region will escape the consequences of a serious downturn”, said the World Bank, adding that developing countries must now plan how to soften the impact of a potential crisis.

- HUMNEWS Staff, Agencies

Tuesday
Nov292011

Climate Change: The North Must Pay for Mitigation Strategies (PERSPECTIVE)

By Imraan Baccus

(HN, November 29, 2011) - As Durban welcomes the world for the COP 17 meeting, the air is filled with some of the excitement that we all felt during the World Cup last year.

But the debates around environmentalism and the need to take serious action against climate change are often tending to the superficial. There is a lot of self-righteousness and Hallmark style sentimentality around, when what we need is a clear look at the realities of the situation.

Climate change is a reality and for a low-lying country like Bangladesh, it could be a very serious problem. There is no doubt that serious action needs to be taken and that it needs to be taken quickly. But when the debate slips, as it often does, into a sort of 'We are the World' sentimentality it forgets some essential facts. One of these facts is that it is North America and Western Europe that have caused this problem. They industrialised first and they became rich countries. 

Here in Durban this morning, a debate around the North, civil society and who should be paying for clean energy alternatives emerged in a civil society discussion. What is clear is that the current crisis was caused by the North's industrialisation over the last two hundred years and they are therefore the ones with the moral responsibility to sort it out. They are also the ones with the resources to be able to afford clean alternatives to fossil fuels. When it is suggested that we must all sacrifice in the fight against climate change there is a slippage into the assumption that we are all equally responsible when that is clearly not the case. We are not all equally responsible and the industrialised North needs to pay climate reparations along with reparations for colonialism and slavery.

When green technologies and energy sources are more expensive, countries in the global South must not be forced to use them. Venezuela has a right to use its oil to meet the needs of its people. The rich countries in the North can afford to shift to clean energy and if it is necessary for the global South to follow suit, then this must be subsidised by the North. Some governments in Latin America have made this point very strongly and the logic of their argument is clear. But countries in the South cannot allow themselves to be bullied into shifting towards technologies that they cannot afford when the masses of their people remain in poverty.

There is also a longstanding colonial tendency to assume that modern civilisation rightly belongs in the white West but should not corrupt the rest of the world. This romantic nonsense is just a ploy to keep the people in the global South in their place, and their countries attractive playgrounds for the global elite. All countries have the same right to modernise and to meet their people's needs.

When environmentalists in the global South echo this colonial language that says that the natives are best left to their traditional ways they are often feted in the North. The Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva is a good example of this. But we should not forget that many progressive Indian academics and activists are extremely critical of her romantic anti-modernism, which they see as being deeply complicit with colonial ideas about the noble savage. Marxists, who are committed to modern forms of economic development, are often appalled by her ideas.

The fact that China and India are now rapidly industrialising is sending all kinds of shock waves through the West, which is rapidly losing its position of dominance over the rest of the world. When the language of environmentalism is used in the North to question the rapid advance of India and China it often masks a desire to reserve industrialisation, and the economic power it brings, to the West.

But the discomfort that many of us feel with the green agenda on the global scale is also replicated at home.

Many black South Africans are deeply suspicious of the green agenda and there is good reason for this. Conservation was historically used to evict Africans from their land and the practise of evicting people in the name of 'eco-tourism' has continued after apartheid. So called 'eco-estates', in rural areas and in cities', are very often nothing other than zones in which the more extreme edge of white privilege uses a green language to make its exclusionary privilege seem like some sort of ethical commitment. 

It's not unusual for middle class environmentalists that want to get rid of unsightly pollution, rubbish dumps or industrialisation in their areas to also want to get rid of poor African people from these areas. There is often a clear connection between environmentalism and racism in South Africa and its quite unusual for the green agenda to take questions of social justice seriously. In fact its quite clear that for many white people, and some wealthy black people too, the language of environmentalism is attractive because its gives its users the appearance of holding the ethical high ground without them having to question their own privilege with regard to other South Africans – most of whom are black and poor.

Of course there are some real attempts to link environmental questions to social questions. Here in Durban the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and the work of people like Des D'sa and Bobby Peek is deservedly famous. The struggle against pollution in South Durban is a struggle lead by working class black people and it demands a clean environment for the people of Wentworth, Merebank and the Bluff. It does not see poor or working class black people as 'pollution', which is often a key assumption in much white environmentalism and much middle class black environmentalism.

If the green agenda is to have a future in South Africa it must face up to the historical responsibility of the North when it comes to climate change and it must find ways to, as has been done in South Durban, link environmental questions to social questions. In Latin America mass movements have been built that successfully link environmental questions to social questions but there in South Africa it remains a field that is dominated by white and middle class interests and often carries a deep hostility to poor black people.

Buccus is Research Fellow in the School of Politics and at the Democracy Development Programme. The views expressed are his own and should not be attributed to any of his institutional affiliations. This commentary first appeared on the website of the South African Civil Society Information Service (SACSIS).

Tuesday
Nov222011

The Bad Host: Africa's Biggest Polluter Hosting Cop17 (PERSPECTIVE)

By Glen Ashton

(HN, November 22, 2011) - If we had to choose a country to host the COP17 international climate change negotiations and broker a consensus deal to manage the increasingly urgent matter of human induced climate change, we could not do much worse than choose South Africa.South African fur seals asleep in Cape Town harbour: annual, sanctioned hunts of this endangered species continue. CREDIT: M. Bociurkw

It is not that South Africa won’t be a gracious host. This is a nation renowned for its hospitality and its open, welcoming nature, across all cultures in this multifaceted society.

South Africans are certainly excellent negotiators as well. The country has vast experience reaching negotiated settlements between diametrically opposed sides. This is illustrated both in the recent history of the country as well as in the role it has played in the creation of the African Union and the resolution of numerous conflicts across the continent.

The reason South Africa is an abysmal choice is because of the hypocrisy inherent in having Africa’s biggest and most recalcitrant polluter oversee the world’s most important global climate change negotiations.

The only worse choice to chair COP17 would be the United States. Yet even that is moot. South Africa is so deeply compromised by its requirements to maintain positive perceptions for investment, to appease the Washington consensus and its neo-liberal economic policies, that we cannot realistically hope for this particular tail to wag the dog of international climate change negotiations.

South Africa proclaims its intent to shift to a lower carbon economy yet remains stubbornly committed to development of its coal and other non-renewable energy resources. Its view is so profoundly compromised it perceives natural gas as akin to renewable energy, as outlined in the recently release National Development Plan (NDP). 

If anything, the NDP reveals the absence of a properly considered, integrated energy policy. It emphasises the failures of South Africa’s recent energy white paper, inordinately influenced by major energy consumers and producers. 

South African economic development is founded on the market and corporate friendly lassiez-faire regulation of its emissions and dirty energy. It is responsible for more than 40% of Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions and is the worlds 12th largest emitter, yet only the worlds 25th largest economy. Brazil, with a GDP nearly four times greater than South Africa emits less, as do France, Italy and Indonesia.

South Africa’s emissions are directly linked to its coal addiction. The greatest local emitter is the secretive parastatal electrical utility Eskom, almost entirely reliant on coal.

The second significant emitter is Sasol, South Africa’s massive oil-from-coal industry. Sasol was originally state-owned but was privatised in 1979. Its Secunda plant is the world’s biggest single point source of CO2 emissions. 

The extent to which the South African state, through Eskom, subsidises energy is neatly illustrated in its incestuous relationship with BHP Billiton, the Australian owned transnational. Billiton pays less than it costs Eskom to produce power in an irrational sweetheart deal. 

South Africa committed to a 34% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 and a 45% by 2025. CREDIT: M BociurkiwBilliton’s Mozal aluminium smelter in Mozambique presently pays around 10% domestic consumers are charged in South Africa. Eskom has consistently refused to provide figures for Billiton’s power costs in South Africa. Attempts to gain transparency remain deadlocked in court. Billiton’s role is not insignificant, consuming up to 10% of Eskom’s total capacity. Billiton should be paying for new power plants, not the public.

Eskom has refused to provide any sort of transparent breakdown of costs for its power generation and supply networks in order to enable independent analysis of its operations. This is unacceptable behaviour by a national utility, but Eskom’s corporate arrogance is well established. Further, Eskom has obstinately blocked access to grid infrastructure thus thwarting entry by independent power generators.

South Africa’s failure to adopt renewable energy, despite numerous promises, is just as remarkable. The renewable energy white paper of 2003 committed to 4% of renewable energy (1650MW) by 2013. Not only is this target unattainable, the only installed renewable energy project to date - the Darling wind farm - is tiny (5.2MW), foreign-funded, privately managed and completed despite persistent state indifference.

Eskom’s only planned renewable projects, a 100MW concentrated solar plant and a similar capacity wind farm are only on the cards because their funding of US$240 million was offset against the World Bank’s US$3.4 billion loan granted to build Eskom’s massive coal power station at Medupi. That Eskom’s only renewable projects are the result of World Bank conditionalities demonstrates Eskom’s obstinate reluctance to pursue renewable energy options.

Besides paying lip service to renewables, the SA government committed to a 34% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 and a 45% by 2025 during the run-up to the Copenhagen COP15 negotiations. Clearly, considering Eskom’s commissioning of two massive coal power stations, these reduction commitments are now unattainable except through statistical manipulation. 

Eskom’s influence on government policy has undermined any meaningful mitigation of its catastrophic generation policies. Lobbyists from within Eskom and the nuclear industry reactivated the nuclear programme, shelved in 2008 because it was considered unaffordable.

On the other hand the open market has indicated willingness and capacity to immediately install over 11 000 Megawatts (MW) of wind generation capacity in the Western Cape Province alone. This has been stymied by government policy decisions to cap wind energy at 4 800 MW. Even this capacity is dependent upon a state-run tender system, with further negative implications.

As if all of these background shenanigans are not enough, the host country’s position as co-ordinator of negotiations is utterly compromised by having both Eskom and Sasol represented on its COP17 negotiation team. The unreality of it all is Kafkaesque. 

The fact that Eskom, Sasol – and consequently the South African government – remain fixated on false solutions like “clean coal technology,” (a contradiction in terms) and “carbon capture and storage,” (another non-starter in terms of practicality and cost) demonstrates the degree to which the host nation’s perspectives are fundamentally compromised.

South Africa cannot, in any way, be taken seriously as an honest broker in the COP17 negotiations. Any failure to broker a fair and binding deal in Durban is symptomatic of the incestuous relationship between Eskom, Sasol and the South African Government, acting in concert as proxies for the polluters of the world.

Ashton is a writer and researcher working in civil society. Some of his work can be viewed at www.ekogaia.org This commentary first appeared on the website of the South African Civil Society Information Service (SACSIS)

Wednesday
Nov162011

Nigerian Leads List of Africa's Wealthiest (REPORT)

(HN, November 16, 2011) - A billionaire from oil-rich Nigeria leads the Forbes Magazine 2011 list of wealthiest individuals in Africa.Africa's richest individual, Aliko Dangote. CREDIT: Dangote Group

With a fortune estimated at $10.1 billion, Aliko Dangote made his billions from a stake in the pan-African, publicly-traded company, Dangote Cement. At just 53-years old, he also has interests in flour milling, sugar refining and salt processing. Dangote now accounts for a quarter of the Nigeria Stock Exchange's total market cap. 

Dangote is among 16 billionaires identified by Forbes as Africa's 40 wealthiest individuals. Egypt clocked in with the most billionaires, at seven - and primarily from the Sawiri and Mansour families. None of the 40 wealthiest are female, Forbes said.

Documenting the true extent of wealth on the continent is almost impossible, with many dictators concealing their wealth offshore. In China and Russia, wealthy individuals have been known to threaten journalists who publicly document their wealth.

Even though it is home to Africa's wealthiest man, Nigeria has extreme poverty. These women are at a UNICEF-supported feeding centre in Katsina. Credit: M BociurkiwAccording to Forbes, Dangote's fortune "surged 557% in the past year, making him the world's biggest gainer in percentage terms and Africa's richest individual for the first time."

Dangote's base - Lagos - is set to become the most populous city in Africa, in already the most-populous nation in Africa - but one with extreme poverty, with the poverty rate above 70 percent, according to UN Habitat. According to Forbes, Dangote recently bought himself a $45 million Bombardier aircraft for his birthday.

Number Two on the list of Forbes' most wealthiest Africans is South African diamond magnate Nicky Oppenheimer. With an estimated fortune of $6.5 billion, he recently deepened his pockets by selling the family’s remaining stake in diamond miner DeBeers.

Number Three is Nassef Sawiris, who runs Orascom Construction Industries, Egypt's most valuable publicly-traded company, and is said to have a net worth of $4.75-billion.

Forbes acknowledges that much of Africa's private wealth is in the hands of current and former dictators. Among them it identifies two Nigerians: the late Sani Abacha, Nigeria’s former military ruler, who had stashed away at least $3 billion in offshore accounts; and, Nigeria’s former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, worth at least $12 billion.

Indicative of the inequality gap represented by the Forbes Africa list is that only six nations on the continent are represented: South Africa, with 15 wealthiest; Egypt, 9; Nigeria, 8; Morocco, 5; Kenya, 2; and Zimbabwe, 1.

- HUMNEWS staff

Saturday
Sep172011

Outsourcing to private security contractors threatens rights, UN panel warns (REPORT)

Faiza Patel, Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries. CREDIT: UN(HN, September 17, 2011) A UN watchdog group is calling for greater regulation of mercenaries and private military and security companies by both host and contributor countries to ensure respect for human rights and accountability for any abuses committed.

“Outsourcing security creates risks for human rights,” panel Chair-Rapporteur and Pakistani lawyer Faiza Patel told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in presenting reports on Iraq, South Africa and Equatorial Guinea.

The three countries present different aspects of the problem, with Iraq a major theatre of operations by private military and security companies; South Africa a major source of people with extensive military skills and experience unwilling or unable to find jobs since the end of apartheid in 1994; and Equatorial Guinea the scene of a 2004 coup attempt involving mercenaries.

Aside from Patel, the panel included experts from Chile, Spain, Poland and South Africa.

The panel noted in its report on Iraq that incidents involving private military and security companies there had dropped since the killing of 17 civilians and wounding of 20 others in Nissour Square in Baghdad by employees of the United States security company Blackwater in 2007.

But it added that Iraq continues to grapple with the grant of legal immunity extended to private security contractors by US authorities after the 2003 invasion, preventing prosecutions in Iraqi courts while the case against the alleged perpetrators is still pending in US courts.

“The Working Group is deeply concerned about the lack of accountability for violations committed between 2003 and 2009 and recalls that the victims of such violations and their families are still waiting for justice,” the report said, calling on Iraq to clarify urgently whether a provision it signed with the US in 2009 removing immunity of some private foreign security contractors covers all contractors employed by the US Government and is applied in Iraqi courts.

(Blackwater no longer works in Iraq, but other private contractors continue to protect the U.S. Defense Department and private companies).

On South Africa the panel noted that legislation passed in 1998 has not had a significant impact on the private military and security industry, and new laws adopted after the attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea, in which several South African mercenaries were involved are not yet in force.

“While such legislation seeks to address some of the problems encountered previously, it remains to be seen whether the new legislation will effectively regulate the provision of security services in areas of armed conflict,” it said, calling for accountability mechanisms for private military and security companies at the domestic level as well as effective remedies for potential victims of human rights violations involving such companies.

The report on Equatorial Guinea noted that the 2004 coup attempt was the most widely reported incident clearly involving mercenaries, some of them employees or former employees of private military and security companies from several countries, illustrating “possible close and disturbing links” between mercenaries and such companies.

The panel used harsh wording when referring to the administration of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who took power in 1979 by ousting a predecessor who had ruled for 11 years.

This makes the monitoring of such links all the more necessary, it said, calling on the Government to adopt laws to regulate the activities of such companies and their employees.

Turning to an armed attack on the presidential palace in Malabo, the capital, by alleged mercenaries in 2009, the panel regretted the authorities’ lack of transparency and lack of cooperation extended during its visit to the country.

“The Working Group urges the Government to provide explanations as to how the four men on trial for their alleged involvement in the attack were brought back from Benin to Equatorial Guinea,” it said, strongly condemning their execution after a summary trial “that severely lacked due process and was carried out so promptly as to deny the four men all possibility of appeal.”

It urged the Government to make available to the public full information on all judgments rendered in the criminal cases relating to the attack.

“Since all mercenaries should be held accountable for their actions, the Working Group recommends that anyone who is accused of involvement in a mercenary-related incident be tried by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal and in compliance with international human rights standards,” the report concluded.

“The Working Group also recommends that anyone accused of involvement in a mercenary-related incident be treated in accordance with international human rights standards, in particular the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

- UN News Service, HUMNEWS staff

Saturday
Aug202011

Employing the Poor: What Can South Africa Learn from India? (PERSPECTIVE)

A construction site near Cape Town. Job growth is slowing in most sectors in South Africa. CREDIT: M Bociurkiw/HUMNEWSBy Saliem Fakir

(HN, August 20, 2011) One can take a cynical view of the world. In the absence of a fundamental restructuring of the economy, all we end up doing is tinkering with the art of state philanthropy both on the side of social safety nets and as far as job creation goes.

If the market is unresponsive to job creation due to its interest in rent seeking, then our government will have to continue doing what it has been doing for the last 10 years: escalate the level of public sector employment. This is more than the private sector is willing to commit to.

The public sector in South Africa is witnessing the largest growth in jobs relative to other sectors. According to the Labour Force Survey for the first quarter of 2011, the state, at all three tiers of government, employs about 1.9 million people or 14.1% of the working population. This is up from 1.7 million in 2008 or 12.6% of the working population.  

As job growth is slow in other sectors, it appears that the state is, by default, becoming the employer of last resort.

So serious is the situation that the state has had to, as of this year, create a special jobs fund to incentivise the private sector to employ more people who are mainly young black job seekers.

Whether it will work remains to be seen.

If South Africa is to go in the direction of the state being the employer of last resort and extend this beyond the professional class, we should be mindful of the lessons being learnt in India at present.

India has similar challenges to South Africa. It is also a country where a minority cashes in on economic growth while the majority trails behind barely making it from one day to the next. India’s problems are structural. Ownership and economic power is one-sided.

Close to 300 million people are excluded from the benefits derived from the country’s booming economic growth. 

Structural problems such land ownership, inequality, the inability of the poor to gain access to credit, wage disparities and barriers to entry into the job market still persist.

India’s problems are also exacerbated by its history of religious conflict, ethnic, caste and class divisions that reinforce the structural patterns, which continue to plague the country’s ability to create an economy that includes its poor in a meaningful way.

India has faced high growth but a slow down in employment growth.  For instance, at average growth rates of 6.7% in India in the 1990s, the rate of growth of employment was only 2.7%. Moreover, this still doesn’t tell us whether employment creation was permanent or not.

This gap between economic growth and the number of jobs created is an ongoing challenge for both India and South Africa, as it perpetuates the “growth with no jobs” scenario. Or to put it more starkly: growth accompanied by the destruction of jobs.

Where South Africa has used various grants and public works programmes and Brazil the Bolsa Familia, India has crafted a macro-intervention that is not too far off, yet somewhat different.

India came up with what is called an employment guarantee scheme or the employer of last resort. An explicit admission, at least, that capitalist industrial economies are unable to ensure total inclusivity into the mainstream economy.

Full employment schemes have been worked out before. One of the early pioneers was the economist John Pierson. In the 1940s, Pierson designed the US government’s employment of last resort scheme. Thus, India’s scheme was tailored using an old idea, but within an emerging economy context.

In 2005, India enacted the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). The law guarantees 100 days of employment per year to a member of a household on a rural public works project. The scheme was initially targeted at 200 of India’s 600 districts, but was later expanded.

The cost to the Indian government was estimated to be about 1.3% of GDP. The wages set under the MGNREGA are according to the minimum wage standards of the country.

The main areas of target have been labour intensive work in environmental programmes like watershed management (similar to South Africa’s Working for Water programme), soil erosion prevention and similar initiatives.

India opted for the MGNREGA as it found that non-guaranteed public works wage schemes did not create a sustainable situation for individual or family oriented economic progress. Neither did it create greater inclusion into the mainstream economy. Its successes with regard to this were, at best, minimal.

Under India’s MGNREGA, the work secured on public works programmes is casual and manual. In rural areas, it is meant to fill a seasonal unemployment problem.

Work has to be provided within 15 days of a person requesting employment and it should be located within 5km of the distance from the project. If the work is beyond the 5km zone, the employee is given a travel and living allowance.

If no work is provided, the job seeker qualifies for an unemployment allowance, which is usually set at a third of the minimum wage.

The introduction of such a scheme has led to policy shifts in several areas. The first is creating the political demand for the right to work. Secondly, it forces state allocations to be made in the right place and with the correct audience because of legal obligation. Thirdly, the scheme allows some transition into the mainstream economy as those covered by it can borrow from banks or micro-finance institutions. Fourthly, the scheme expands household enterprises and builds assets. And finally, the right to work, in a sense, also forces more rapid deployment of funds and the building of infrastructure, which acts as a positive stimulus on the economy of rural areas.

This is the case because the state is in one way or another legally obligated to provide employment.

However, there are also challenges and problems that come with such macro-economic interventions, as India currently runs the largest programme in the world.

India’s employment guarantee scheme faces the same constraints as our proposed Basic Income Grant, which other centrally managed grant systems also face.

These programmes require good co-ordination and planning. Local demand from recipients has to be persistent and organized. And, local authorities have to be capable and properly governed.

Thirty years of prior experience in the State of Maharashtra has shown that while such schemes provide relief for the poor they have not led to fundamental shifts in the economy.

The level of poverty in the State of Maharashtra, compared to other states, remains persistent. Demand for unskilled wage work under the scheme has not subsided but rather increased, which further points to systemic problems within the economy.

The design of such a scheme has to answer two fundamental questions: Does it provide relief during difficult times or does it push people further behind the poverty line?

Given the complexities of implementing such a scheme without a fundamental restructuring of the economy, it is likely that such schemes will serve more as state welfare rather than a bridge into the mainstream economy.

One can tell a lot about whether a MGNREGA-like scheme will succeed by looking at what the poor are able to own in terms of land and other assets as well as the quality of educational and health services they have access to. In this respect, the MGNREGA and similar schemes are no silver bullet solution. 

Thus, in all this there is a crucial dilemma that cannot overlooked: this is the general problem of boxing poverty as a welfare issue, as well as the settling in of policy complacency and not doing enough to change the structure of the economy. If MGNREGA-like schemes are to succeed as transition tools, then economic restructuring must also happen simultaneously.

Fakir an independent writer based in Cape Town. This article is republished with permission from the South Africa Civil Society Information Service (SACSIS).

Monday
Jun272011

South Africa's Youth Face a Grim Future (PERSPECTIVE)

The glitz of Cape Town's waterfront seems a far distance from South Africa's marginalized youth. CREDIT: HUMNEWSBy Danny Schechter

"Don't know much about History ..."

Durban, South Africa: I got into South Africa before I got there.

I did so through meeting a young woman whose given name was Pony in the tradition of South Africans who call their daughters "Beautiful" or "Truth" or some other creative appellation.

She was on her way home to a small country town after a year spent in Cuba where she is in a course teaching scientific sport. She was one of a number of scholarship students traveling on the plane with me from Madrid. Cuba has adopted the systematic training system, or Sports Institutes used in East Germany, and put it to good advantage in its award-winning, state-backed athletic program. Now they are sharing their knowledge with other Third World countries.

Pony, in her late teens, was one of a large number of foreign students attracted to the idea, and was selected by the Cuban Embassy in Pretoria for the five-year opportunity beginning with a immersive Spanish language course. She now speaks Spanish pretty well, and knows all the Cuban revolutionary songs and slogans like "Patria O' Muerte, Veneceremos" ("Fatherland or Death, We Will Win"), that tens of thousands of Cubans echo at huge rallies. She laughed when I chanted one at her as we unexpectedly sat next to each other on the large Iberia jet.

As it turned out, I knew more about Cuba's role in supporting South Africa's liberation struggle, a gesture of solidarity that led to Fidel Castro being cheered the loudest of all foreign heads of state who attended Nelson Mandela's inauguration as the first president of a Democratic South Africa. I covered the scene in a film, "Countdown to Freedom," that I made about the historic l994 election.

Cuba's foreign policy has put a premium on backing revolutionary movements since 1960, and was the only country in the world to openly help South Africa militarily by sending its own troops - "internationalist volunteers" - to Angola, where they defeated the apartheid army in a crucial battle that accelerated the process of political change in South Africa. Many Cubans died alongside Angolan soldiers and South African liberation fighters in a war that has been largely forgotten.

Cuba has, in the years since, mellowed in its revolutionary ardor and is in the process of reforming its top-down Socialist economy.

After 19 years of "freedom," post-apartheid South Africa has also cooled its commitment to "struggle politics" and has become more of a "normal" African state, albeit an advanced one economically. It is now battling corruption within the ranks of its government and the ruling African National Congress (ANC), while coping with enormous challenges to create a new society so that youngsters like Pony who are very ambitious and eager to learn will have a future.

She admitted to me she doesn't know as much about politics or her own history as she would like, and says that's true of many in her generation. That's in part because the real history is not taught in any detail in the schools, or shown with any regularity on South African TV stations that are more into selling than telling by pumping out sports and popular culture.

Kids know more abut Mandela than the movement he led, an expression of the celebrity worship that dominates youth culture. On TV there, Oprah is better known than such lionesses of the freedom fight as Albertina Sisulu, revered by many as the Mother of the Nation, who died a month ago.

When I asked a young, white South African girl who the ANC leader and Mandela's law partner Oliver Tambo was, she asked, "You mean the airport guy?" Johannesburg's principal airport was renamed for Tambo after years of honoring Afrikaner leaders. (This is all more anecdotal evidence for why South Africa needs its own History Channel of the kind being proposed by producer Anant Singh.)

In Durban, where streets are being renamed for other liberation heroes, vandals have blacked out the new street names with paint to protest the change. I was told that people are pissed off because it screws up the GPSs in their cars. (I was thrilled to see a highway named after my old friend and London School of Economics colleague, the journalist and feminist heroine Ruth First.)

As it turns out, Pony was flying home on June 16th, the annual Youth Day holiday marking the anniversary of the Soweto uprising of l976 where kids Pony's age and younger revolted against forced instruction in Afrikaans. (South Africans were scandalized when an iconic picture of a young man carrying a victim of that police massacre was mocked on Facebook. In the new one, the child who had been shot in the original was smiling and carrying a bottle of beer.)

At least Youth Day is commemorated, as it was this year with concerts and hip-hop shows. In Soweto, there was a riot when local kids felt excluded and fought their way into a stadium while private cops maced and beat them to the horror of many onlookers. The event turned into chaos when all many of the kids wanted to do was "krump," the latest street-dance craze.

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma hardly made the ceremony a priority, showing up three hours late after most of the crowd had left in the company of Julius Malema, the controversial head of the ANC's Youth League. Malema claims to be a youth leader, but he is more like a demagogic politician who has learned that the more outrageous his statements, the more "militant" his pose, the more publicity he gets. Sadly, the media can't get enough of his provocations.

He and his league are certainly not doing much of a practical sort to improve education or create jobs for tens of thousands of unemployed and perhaps unemployable young people who cheer his rhetoric while being stuck in lives of crime and desperation.

Here in Durban, one newspaper says "The youth today mistake nastiness, name-calling. crass materialism and the sale of political office to the highest bidder for revolutionary thought." Some of those demanding more youth leadership are being dismissed as "Gucci revolutionaries."

Their demand to nationalize the mines without compensation, a demand rejected by the ANC, is seen as radical to some, but analysts think it is a ploy to shakedown patronage payments out of worried business leaders, some of whom have already made them. A bigger problem would occur if this demand was ever realized, because the government has a poor record of running industries in the so-called "para-statals" like ESCOM, the electricity monopoly with its frequent mishaps.

A new book, "Zuma's Own Goal" (Africa World Press), picturing the president playing soccer on the cover, details the miserable failures of the ANC's poverty-reduction strategies, arguing its continuing loyalty to neo-liberal policies are responsible for a still-widening gap between rich and poor.

South Africa was rebranded though last year's World Cup, which brought the country so much world attention and its people so much good cheer.

But now, the people are left with enormous debts to pay off for the construction of fancy stadiums that are barely used. The global financial crisis has now hit home, with poverty up and foreign investments down.

The "Rainbow Nation," the hope of so many with the fall of apartheid, faces enormous challenges from structural economic issues that are increasingly intractable, even as protests mount.

My new friend Pony may be oblivious to this swirl of contradictions, but is bound to be affected by them.

--- News Dissector Danny Schechter produced the "South Africa Now" TV series and directed several films about Nelson Mandela. "Don't Know Much About History" is a line from an R&B classic, "Wonderful World," sung by Sam Cooke. Published with permission by Reader Supported News.