africa_on_earthcc Hitchster

In view of topics in my last two posts, AGRA & Monsanto & Gates, Green Washing & Poor Washing and African Bloggers At The G20, there are a couple of articles at Pambazuka that have a lot to say.

Yash Tandon writes about the crisis of the global North in relation to the global South:

Western civilisation has been going through a deepening crisis over the last 120 years – to be precise since around mid-1880s when serious colonisation began of the African continent as a desperate attempt to get out of the crisis created by the limits to growth within Europe. The present systemic crisis – whose most recent manifestations are the global financial crisis and the ecological crisis – is only its latest manifestation. Western civilisation’s crisis is deeper than most people realise or willing to acknowledge.

… The ruling political and corporate elites in the West are losing control both in their own countries and over much of the South. Judging by the attempts made by them in recent months, it is evident that they have no clue about how to get out of the dual political-economic and ecological crises. They have serious problems of resource depletion and global warming which compound to create a situation not unlike what they experienced in the 1880s when they faced limits to growth in Europe.

The re-colonisation option does not look promising for the future, because although they are presently attempting to neo-colonise the South, this will meet with stiff resistance not only from the South but also from progressive peoples in the North.

It must be recognised that much of the South is still in the phase of consolidating the gains of national struggles. The vilification of these efforts as ‘failed states’ or as ‘terrorist states’ is misguided and dangerous. We must not fall into that trap.

Tandon provides a great deal more detail describing the historical problem and suggesting approaches to work towards solutions. Read the whole article: Political, economic and climatic crises of Western civilisation – Dangers and opportunities.

Another essay with a lot to think about is The global financial crisis: Lessons and responses from Africa by Demba Moussa Dembele. As the article summary describes:

The crisis provides fundamental lessons, says Dembele, the first being that markets do not have self-correcting mechanisms, and that market failures are not less costly than state failures. Secondly, “the collapse of the neoliberal dogma is a major blow to the international financial institutions. What is even more devastating to them is the reversal of most of the policies they had advocated for decades in Africa and in other ‘poor’ countries under the now discredited SAPs (structural adjustment programmes). The IMF and the World Bank are supporting fiscal stimulus – expansionary fiscal policies – in the United States, Europe and Asia.”

Thirdly, its clear that the state remains a central player in solving crises caused by markets, and is not the sole cause of economic and social problems in Africa that neoliberal policy has categorised it as.

Dembele writes:

One major lesson for Africa is that they should no longer trust the IMF and World Bank and for that reason they should not listen to their ‘advice’ anymore. This is why it is incomprehensible and even a shame to see African countries hold a meeting with the IMF in Tanzania with the aim of building ‘a new partnership’. In the statement issued after that meeting, African countries are calling on the IMF to extend its ‘experience and expertise’ as if African leaders and policy makers had not learned enough lessons from the experience of nearly 30 years of ruinous IMF policies from SAPs to PRSPs (poverty reduction strategy papers).

Another major illustration of the crisis of legitimacy of the neoliberal system is the strong recognition that the state is a central player in solving the crises brought about by unfettered markets, and it will remain a key actor in the development process, whether in developed or developing countries. Some may recall former US President Ronald Reagan’s assertion in the 1980s that the state was ‘part of the problem, not of the solution’. This signalled the era of massive deregulation and the assault on the state and public service and ownership. It opened the door to some of the most sweeping and devastating structural adjustment policies in Africa. African states came under vicious attacks as ‘predatory’, ‘wasteful’, ‘rent-seeking’, ‘corrupt’ and ‘inept’.

All these qualifications were intended to discredit the state as an agent of economic and social development and the experience of state-led development that took place in the post-independence period up to the late 1970s. Despite the remarkable achievements of that period, the IMF and World Bank used every possible negative example to blame the state for all Africa’s crises. They told African leaders that the state was the main, if not the unique, cause of the economic and social crisis in Africa Accordingly, the solutions they advocated included withering away the state by eliminating or limiting its intervention in the economic sphere. Hence the imposition of fiscal austerity programs, the downsizing of the civil service and the dismantling of the public sector with the privatisation of state-owned companies.

But the financial and food crises show that the state is an indispensable and indisputable agent of development and part of the solution to the current global crises. It is deregulation and market fundamentalism that are part of the problem.

Still in the name of ‘comparative advantage’, African countries were forced to give priority to cash crops at the expense of food production. The food crisis and Africa’s great dependence on food imports illustrate once again that the IFIs have misled African countries into adopting policies that are detrimental to their fundamental interests. The IMF and World Bank, which bear a great responsibility in the food crisis in Africa, are now all too happy to ‘assist’ African countries in proposing them ‘emergency loans’ to buy food from Western countries.

The same IFIs are behind the attacks against the state that translated into the destruction of the public sector to the benefit of foreign capital.

… privatisation translated into massive job losses and social exclusion. It may be argued that there is some correlation between the aggravation of poverty and the growing foreign control of resources and assets, because this control is associated with repatriation of huge profits and tax evasion. In a sense, privatisation can be assimilated to a robbery of national patrimony – including strategic sectors – through the transfer to foreign control of assets built throughout years of sacrifices by the people.

Therefore, reversing privatisation is necessary in order to restore people’s sovereignty over a nation’s resources. It is time for African countries to put back into public and collective hands the control of key sectors and natural resources. No genuine endogenous development is possible without control of a nation’s wealth. So Africa should learn from the lessons being given by capitalist countries, including the United States, which are nationalising their banks and financial institutions. But more importantly, African countries should learn from the examples of other southern countries, like those of South America and Asia, where governments are taking back what was sold off to multinational corporations.

There is much more detail, discussion, and documentation, read the whole article, The global financial crisis: Lessons and responses from Africa

I cringe when I hear about the G20 stimulus package using the IMF and the World Bank. Supposedly it is intended to help Africa get out of current problems caused by the collapse of global financial capitalism. So long as the IMF and World Bank continue their traditional practices, they will bring disaster. I think Naomi Klein offers some targeted advice to the US and specifically to the US Congress:

It should first of all demand an independent review of the role the IMF played in creating and deepening the crisis (for instance, by requiring that loan recipients deregulate their financial sectors and eliminate capital controls, as the IMF did during the Asian Economic Crisis). And it should demand that the IMF never require recipients of this loan money to make deep cuts to social spending (on health, education and pensions…) or to lay off public sector workers in the midst of the crisis. This is crucial because the IMF has been requiring exactly these types of budget cuts and layoffs in exchange for loans in Latvia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, causing massive unrest. Further, if governments decide that in order to meet the crisis, they need to do things like subsidize farmers (the major demand in the Greece protests, for instance), they must retain the flexibility to do that.

The reasoning is simple: Obama is on record demanding that other G20 countries spend money on economic stimulus. The trillion dollar G20 pledge was presented to us as a global economic stimulus package. But the IMF is well known for demanding the exact opposite from its loan recipients: deep budgetary austerity, tax increases, and bans on subsidies. That means that unless there are clear conditions attached to the new IMF money, the extra trillion dollars could actually lead to deep economic contractions, with the new money just going to useless financial sector bailouts in countries around the world, rather than into real economy investments. It’s also worth noting that some of the money is going to the World Bank so it’s an opportunity to make demands that the World Bank invest in green energy and infrastructure, as opposed to dirty energy, a bad habit of the bank.

Satellite view of Africa

Satellite view of Africa from google maps

Sokari has been covering the G20, and writes:

It is ironic when you think of the lack of African representation considering the West’s dependency on Africa and not the other way around. This has been from slavery through colonialism to the present. Resources such as oil, copper, gold, silver, chromium, coffee, cocoa and more recently cash crops for feeding the West. Unfair trade policies, low commodity prices, failure to adequately tax companies operating in Africa and the complicity of Western governments and banking institutions in providing tax havens for money stolen by African politicians. If aid is not in itself a business would it not be preferable for example to pay fair prices for Africa’s resources?

Asked if anything positive will come out of this Summit – Not if one is thinking in terms of a major shift in policy towards Africa and Africans taking the initiative to come up with new strategies for development as I mentioned in my previous post. But I do agree with Bob one possible positive outcome may come from changes in Tax Haven laws whereby monies stolen by corrupt politicians is returned to the countries and access to tax havens is shut down.

Daudi is at the G20 too, and writes:

Relying on our current political leaders to draw up and implement a strategy to make Africa relevant in a positive way is a non starter. Indeed those who have succeed in making African relevant to international policy making have done so for increasing negative reasons, for example Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Bashir in Sudan. Ethan Zuckerman labelled the position taken by such political leaders as a strategy of, “If we act deranged enough, maybe they’ll just give us the country.

The burden rests on us, the ordinary citizens of Africa, to come up with a strategy that will increase our positive relevance to important global conversations and thus make it impossible to ignore Africa, Africans and the issues they feel important. I would love to hear your thoughts on what this strategy should adopt.

Also Michael Hudson points out something entirely missing in the US press when discussing the G20, or the US or global economy, in Financing the Empire:

The U.S. media are silent about the most important topic policy makers are discussing here (and I suspect in Asia too): how to protect their countries from three inter-related dynamics:

(1) the surplus dollars pouring into the rest of the world for yet further financial speculation and corporate takeovers;

(2) the fact that central banks are obliged to recycle these dollar inflows to buy U.S. Treasury bonds to finance the federal U.S. budget deficit; and most important (but most suppressed in the U.S. media,

(3) the military character of the U.S. payments deficit and the domestic federal budget deficit.

Strange as it may seem – and irrational as it would be in a more logical system of world diplomacy – the “dollar glut” is what finances America’s global military build-up. It forces foreign central banks to bear the costs of America’s expanding military empire – effective “taxation without representation.” Keeping international reserves in “dollars” means recycling their dollar inflows to buy U.S. Treasury bills – U.S. government debt issued largely to finance the military.

To date, countries have been as powerless to defend themselves against the fact that this compulsory financing of U.S. military spending is built into the global financial system. Neoliberal economists applaud this as “equilibrium,” as if it is part of economic nature and “free markets” rather than bare-knuckle diplomacy wielded with increasing aggressiveness by U.S. officials. …

… The U.S. media somehow neglect to mention that the U.S. government is spending hundreds of billions of dollars abroad – not only in the Near East for direct combat, but to build enormous military bases to encircle the rest of the world, to install radar systems, guided missile systems and other forms of military coercion, including the “color revolutions” that have been funded – and are still being funded – all around the former Soviet Union.

Pallets of shrink-wrapped $100 bills adding up to tens of millions of the dollars at a time have become familiar “visuals” on some TV broadcasts, but the link is not made with U.S. military and diplomatic spending and foreign central-bank dollar holdings, which are reported simply as “wonderful faith in the U.S. economic recovery” and presumably the “monetary magic” being worked by Wall Street’s Tim Geithner at Treasury and Helicopter Ben Bernanke at the Federal Reserve.

So the ultimate question turns out to be what countries can do to counter this financial attack.

AFRICOM, the US Africa Command, is the newest feature of this global military aggression, and expansion of military spending. There is a lot here to ponder, for Americans, if they ever hear about it, and for everyone else in the world.

SEKONDI, Ghana - The USS Nashville lies at anchor in Sekoni, Ghana, during a visit of Africa Partnership Station. Nashville, with an international crew, arrived in Ghana on February 20, 2009. The ship is on a five-month APS cruise to promote international cooperation on maritime security in West Africa. (Photo by Vince Crawley, U.S. Africa Command)

SEKONDI, Ghana - The USS Nashville lies at anchor in Sekondi, Ghana, during a visit of Africa Partnership Station. Nashville, with an international crew, arrived in Ghana on February 20, 2009. The ship is on a five-month APS cruise to promote international cooperation on maritime security in West Africa. (Photo by Vince Crawley, U.S. Africa Command)

AFRICOM’s floating headquarters, a sea base for the colonial administration of West Africa, is floating off the coast of Ghana. They have been doing some serious “partnering“, doing a variety of photo-op good works. AFRICOM’s Mary Yates has been talking up the drug menace to Ghanaian journalists and officials:

2009-03-04 Journalists asked to assist in fighting drug war
2009-03-04 Take drug war serious – Yates
2009-03-03 8% of Europes drugs pass through Ghana

As I have written before, AFRICOM regards Ghana as a very desirable location. And one way of both ingratiating itself, and pressuring the Ghana government at the same time, is using the drug issue. The US will pressure Ghana to do something about drugs, and offer lots of training and military supplies to fight the “war on drugs”, which has been a miserable failure from its beginnings more than 50 years ago.

From The Ghanaian Times:

Defence Minister Receives US Team
By Times Reporter
Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The Deputy Commander (Civil Activities) of the US Military Africa Command (AFRICOM), Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates, has led a high powered delegation to call on the Defence Minister, Lt Gen (Rtd) Joseph Henry Smith at his office at Burma Camp.

According to a statement from the Public Relations Directorate of the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF), the meeting which was held behind closed doors, was believed to have centered on strengthening the relationship between the two countries.

Besides, it explored ways of extending AFRICOM’s support to the Ghana Armed Forces to enable it to effectively police Ghana’s coastline to check illegal fishing, trafficking of narcotics and also safeguarding the country’s oil finds.

The statement signed by Lt-Col Dzotefe Mensah, of the Armed Forces Public Relations Directorate said the meeting also discussed the establishment of AFRICOM and its advantages to Ghana in particular and Africa in general.

Ambassador Yates was accompanied by the US Ambassador to Ghana, Donald Teitelbaum.

This means the pressure is really on.

This story is likely part of the same pressure on Ghana to let AFRICOM use it as a regional headquarters:

The World Bank has agreed to speed up payments worth $250 million to Ghana to help it cope with the international financial crisis, the bank’s representative said on Wednesday.

The World Bank has agreed with Ghana to front-load $250 million to the government out of Ghana’s allocation from the Bank, to enable it to cushion the effects of the crisis,” Ishac Diwan, the World Bank’s resident representative in Ghana.

Before the Presidential election the World Bank praised Ghana, WB: Ghana still best place to do business in West Africa. Then, when the new government came in, the World Bank was critical and said Ghana was broke, WB paints gloomy picture of Ghanaian economy. This new loan looks like an attempt at a bribe. Timed as it is, with AFRICOM’s Yates conferring with Ghana’s Defense Minister, it looks like a bribe to get Ghana to host AFRICOM, and, as a first requirement, send proxy soldiers to Somalia to fight for whatever the US thinks it is fighting for there. So far President Mills has been canny, and said only that he would consider the possibility. Ghanaians don’t need to die in Somalia for an ill conceived and fundamentally misguided policy. US/UN activities in Somalia are no more honest or well planned than the US invasion of Iraq.

It is only natural and appropriate that the Ministry of Defense would talk with Yates. It is usually smart to talk. I am hoping they are tough, canny, and patriotic enough at the Ministry of Defense, to refrain from giving up Ghanaian sovereignty. I have reason to think the current administration at the Ministry of Defense is tough and canny. They will need to be. The bribes of the recolonizers are enticing and the pressure is strong, and certain to get stronger.


AFRICOM & SOUTHCOM: Reliquaria from an Earlier Era – PDF by David Passage in the February 2009 issue of Foreign Service Journal contains advice that is right on target as budget policy and as foreign policy. He says it is time to rethink the US military command structure, which is bloated and out of date. When big budget cuts are necessary, the only practical way to make them is by cutting whole programs, not by making percentage across the board cuts that reduce functionality and efficiency everywhere. The US should delete AFRICOM and SOUTHCOM, eliminating those two programs from the federal budget.

President Obama faces a large number of very hard choices for the country. The US is involved in two expensive wars, the one in Iraq should never have been started. And these are not necessarily the most difficult or expensive problems he faces. Regarding the military:

And no pruning he might do can even begin to provide the resources needed to re-equip our armed forces with the hundreds of billions of dollars of materiel and munitions that have been expended in those current wars. Vehicles of all types are worn out; we are flying the wings off our aircraft and the rotors off our helicopters; and we are using much of our military equipment to within inches of its programmed life. And we have yet to calculate the ultimate costs of restoring the necessary capacity for other contingencies.

With respect to the Department of Defense, one of our biggest-ticket items, Pres. Obama could easily achieve significant savings by taking a hard look at restructuring our present geographic military command structure, with the explicit purpose of eliminating two major components: the U.S. Southern Command (responsible for Latin America and the Caribbean) and the newly established Africa Command.

The point of departure should not be a review of whether these two commands can be justified —for that simply invites proponents to make the best case for keeping them. Rather, the question should be how to handle residual functions the U.S. might wish to retain (and there shouldn’t be many) within a realigned geographic command structure that would consist of the European Command, Pacific Command, Central Command and a new Western Hemisphere Command. … WESTCOM.  …  EUCOM, PACOM and CENTCOM have clear, well-defined and unquestioned warfighting missions, as well as robust force structures to support them. AFRICOM and SOUTHCOM do not and should not.

AFRICOM is a particularly unfortunate creation.

Does Washington really want to project a military face toward a continent that already suffers from a surfeit of them? Do we Americans believe economic development and internal security structures (e.g., civilian and civilian-led police forces) should be built along military lines by armed forces? And is that what we want Africans to think we believe? If so, shame on us! We do not permit our military to train our own police and law enforcement personnel and do economic development work in the U.S. Why do we believe this should be done by our military in Africa?

Passage summarizes the history of SOUTHCOM, which should be a warning for the creators and proponents of AFRICOM.

If one wants to see what AFRICOM could become, one has only to look atwhat SOUTHCOM has been. Mercifully, a lot of lessons have been drawn from that experience, which, one hopes, is therefore unlikely to be repeated.

During the first four decades of its existence, SOUTHCOM supported our national interest in preventing Soviet-sponsored takeovers in the Western Hemisphere, such as occurred in Eastern Europe following the defeat of Hitler’s Germany. To be sure, the threat was real; we received a serious wake-up call in May 1948 when Sovietbacked insurgents briefly seized control in Colombia. The coup was undone within days, but fueled the conviction that Washington needed to strengthen Latin American militaries. “And the rest is history,” as the saying goes.

Over the next three decades, U.S.supported military regimes toppled elected civilian governments in virtually every country in Latin America —Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala —excepting only Mexico and Costa Rica.

And although U.S. policy began changing during the 1970s under President Jimmy Carter, our economic development assistance for Latin America actually declined during the 1980s, 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century. Instead, our military assistance grew, first under the guise of countering growing narcotics trafficking from Andean Ridge countries, and then — particularly after the 9/11 attacks —countering terrorism throughout the hemisphere.

In light of this history, here is the crucial question for President Obama’s national security team: Is a military response the right way (let alone the best or most cost-efficient one) to counter the twin threats of terrorism and narcotrafficking in Latin America? For that is now the primary rationale for having a four-star military command with Latin America as its sole area of responsibility

A military command is not the right or best way to address this, because the core of the problem is civil and political. So a military command is not only not the best way, it will by its nature work against that which it claims to support:

A principal deficiency suffered by virtually all developing countries, but particularly those in Africa and Latin America, is weak civil law enforcement institutions –- both the police and judicial branches. Police forces are, by and large, ill trained, poorly equipped, incompetently led and badly paid. The same can be said for the majority of judges and other law enforcement authorities. This is a prescription for corruption and abuse, so it should come as absolutely no surprise that that has been the result.

Washington’s response, regrettably, has been to look for ways our military, acting through SOUTHCOM and now AFRICOM, can ameliorate or rectify these problems. But is that the right, let alone best, means to help our Latin American neighbors or African friends with these structural problems? To see what AFRICOM could become, look at what SOUTHCOM has been.

And all the military training and military partnering is effort spent advancing in this pernicious direction.

Although our armed forces boast terrific civil affairs personnel, that’s not the face we should be seeking to portray to our neighbors, either in this hemisphere or in Africa. … SOUTHCOM is a relic from an earlier era the U.S. should wish to put behind it, while AFRICOM is the result of a manufactured need and never should have been created at all. There is simply no need for a standalone four-star command in either Latin America or Africa to achieve U.S. national security goals.

AFRICOM is highly unpopular in Africa. Sam Makinda has written an article about how Europe has been doing a much better job than the US with Africa policy, EU shaping policies without antagonism:

How has the EU managed to present itself in a way that is not antagonising to African states?

The simple answer is that European countries, which had colonies in Africa until the 1960s and 1970s, have learnt how to exercise influence without rubbing Africans, including dictators, the wrong way.

As a result, the EU is able to shape some of Africa’s political, economic and security policies without appearing to be doing so. In contrast, the USA utilises approaches that antagonise Africans and thereby invites their resistance.

A good example is the way the EU and the USA have pursued security policies on the continent. Working quietly, the EU helped shape the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) as well as the AU’s Common Defence and Security Policy (CDSP).

However, when the USA came up with the African Command (AFRICOM), it did so without consulting the AU and in violation of some of the principles that underpin the CDSP. The result is that many African states are opposed to AFRICOM, but they regard the CDSP and the PSC as their own products.

I do not think the European influence is necessarily benign. The EU has maintained a rapacious interest in African resources, and has been manipulative and exploitive. It has illegally fished out African waters, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea and off the Somali coast. Royal Dutch Shell has been the primary and longest termed polluter of the Niger Delta. And the EU has dumped toxic and nuclear waste in African waters. Even so, the EU has still managed Africa policy more effectively than the US. As Makinda points out in an earlier article:

Africans know that the militarization of political and economic space by African military leaders has been one of the factors that has held Africa back for decades. While African states are trying to put the culture of military rule behind them, the United States appears determined to demonstrate that most civilian activities in Africa should be undertaken by armed forces. To some African policy makers, this suggests that the U.S. Government lacks sympathy for what Africans so deeply want today, namely democratic systems in which the armed forces remain in the barracks.

David Passage’s suggestions make such good sense, I fear that no one will listen. I hope Obama’s team is capable of this historical understanding, and this kind of practical and strategic thinking. It would be very smart economic, military, and foreign policy to eliminate AFRICOM and SOUTHCOM.


Rice fields in Madagascar

Glenn Ashton of the The South African Civil Society Information Service has written a telling article about the new colonial land grabs in Africa titled Madagascar: the new land grab.

Just when colonialism was considered dead and buried, along comes neo-colonialism in its latest guise. Allied with its close relatives globalisation, free marketeering and lack of transparency, it is currently launching a new offensive on the disempowered population of this continent. …

Neo-colonialism is now garbed in new clothes. Powerful interests are presently seeking and gaining access to land in government-to-government deals as well as through private capital. These arrangements ostensibly offer to manage land that is not being economically utilised in order to improve food security. But for whom? …

The global food security focussed NGO, GRAIN, issued a report on this phenomenon in October 2008, where they cited more than 100 examples of this new neo-colonial land grab. These land grabs are primarily by nations that have insufficient natural capital or space – such as the desert-bound nations of the Middle East and overpopulated nations such as China and South Korea. They seek to improve the food security of those nations while undermining the ability of host nations to access similar benefits, through the alienation of prime agricultural land. The ecological impacts can also be significant.

Since the GRAIN report was published, the land grab has continued apace. The recent acquisition of a reported 1.3 million hectares (ha) of land in Madagascar by the South Korean company Daewoo Logistics Corporation on 99-year lease has raised eyebrows around the world. This land represents around half of that island nation’s arable land.

In Madagascar a reported 70% of the population suffer from food shortages and malnutrition. Nearly 4% are fed through aid programmes. Besides this, more than 50% of the population is below the age of 18. What hope is there for local youth when South African farmers are reportedly being recruited to run the highly mechanised and automated farms under the Daewoo lease? …

China is also actively seeking new land. Given its massive population and constrained access to farmland, China has moved aggressively into Africa with land interests in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda, Cameroon and Tanzania. …

Even the World Bank is continuing its role as a neo-colonial consensus agent by actively pursuing and financing access to ‘under-utilised land’ around the world through its International Finance Corporation.

Of course much of the land is “under-utilised” because African countries were following World Bank recommendations and requirements. Malawi used to provide free seeds and fertilizer to its farmers.

The results were impressive, but the subsidies ran afoul of the pro-market policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), which argued that subsidies were “crowding out” commercial sales and constituted undue government interference in the economy. Under considerable pressure from these financing institutions, the programme was phased out. The IMF also insisted that Malawi sell much of its national grain reserve to pay off the debts of the state-owned maize marketing agency.

Most Malawian farmers, however, were too poor to pay commercial rates for fertilizer and seeds. As a result, maize yields plunged. When drought struck in 2001 neither farmers nor the government had adequate grain stores to see them through, and more than a thousand people are estimated to have died. Then after the failed 2005 harvest left 5 million of Malawi’s 13 million people on the brink of starvation, the newly elected government of President Mutharika defied the donors and launched the subsidy scheme with its own funds.

Without the seeds and fertilizer, the land was “under-utilized.” People starved because they could not farm. This has been World Bank and IMF policy throughout Africa. As Ashton points out:

… international finance instruments run by the then G5 (now expanded to the G8), such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund used aid and so-called development finance instruments to further their interests.

It has been established by repeated research over decades that the smaller the farm the greater the yield. For more information read the article Small is Bountiful, and check the references listed at the end. There are economies of scale with big agriculture. Big agriculture allows the proceeds to be concentrated among a few people unrelated to the people actually living on the land. It is generally harmful to the land, due to the use of toxic chemicals needed to sustain monocultures, and due to unsafe genetic engineering. It is harmful to the people who live in its vicinity, depriving them of their livilihood and damaging their health.

Ashton continues:

Perhaps more sinister is the recent news of leasehold rights being acquired for approximately 400,000 hectares of land in the Southern Sudan from the family of former warlord Gabriel Matip. In a deal struck by US financier Philippe Heilberg, who has used a British Virgin Islands subsidiary of his Jarch Group to facilitate the deal, private interests have intervened directly in disputed territories. Co-directors of the group reportedly include ex-CIA operatives. Given the ongoing instability in that nation and the forced eviction of millions in the neighbouring Darfur region, this sort of land acquisition is perhaps a harbinger of an unsavoury trend in who gets to control the land in disputed territories.

I wrote about this in an earlier post: Jarch Colonial Holdings, and quote Heilberg: “You have to go to the guns, this is Africa”. His intentions are clear. The Jarch management contains people with connections to both the current and the previous US administrations. You can see their management listed on the Jarch LLC website.

Ashton concludes:

Activities to increase agricultural growth in Africa have also been severely compromised by questionable alliances. For instance AGRA, the African Union endorsed ‘Association for a Green Revolution in Africa,’ has seen the undemocratic and unsolicited intervention of supposedly neutral funders such as the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. The relationship between these funders and pro-genetically modified food interests (in what is now termed bio-colonialism) has served to actively undermine local agricultural collectives, NGOs and projects that aim to promote and share proven solutions to food insecurity and malnutrition.

This is perhaps the most dangerous manifestation of neo-colonialism as it operates behind a veil of philanthropy while (wittingly or unwittingly) undermining democratic structures and interests. The obscene profits accrued by capital over recent decades, instead of being taxed and distributed by state organs, are now in the hands of ill-informed and often ideologically biased do-gooders. For instance, given the technocratic origins of the Gates fortune, it is logical that undue emphasis will be placed on similar technocratic agricultural solutions.

These ‘solutions’ are imposed through slick public relations and the support of corporate aligned agri-business interests such as Africa-Bio and A New Harvest, both of which are linked to GM corporations such as Monsanto, the worlds biggest seed company and genetically modified seed distributor.

There is an urgent need to examine these new neo-colonial thrusts. Careful and objective analysis must be undertaken as to how food and land sovereignty is being compromised through naïve interaction with the new global powers of finance and trade. The interests of global capital need to be tempered by intervention and through more pragmatic approaches that take account of the historical relationships between land, community, food security and economic development.

It is ironic that while Africans have fought to cast aside colonial oppression and its concomitant heritage, we have instead opened gates (pun intended) to a new wave of colonial interests that threaten, yet again, to bypass the marginalised whilst enriching a well-connected minority.

It would be tragic to cast aside Africa’s recently won freedom for a yoke of a different design.

Under democratic governance the people who live on the land would determine how their land is used. As Vandana Shiva writes:

In a democracy, the economic agenda is the political agenda.

The US claims to support and foster democracy. This is a test. In fact, it is probably THE test. Without food, none of us survive.

Added January 31:

From the GRAIN website:


1. A summary and announcement – available online here:

2. The full report is available here:
Also available in PDF format:

3. The Annex to this briefing is a table with over 100 cases of land grabbing for offshore food production as presented in this report. It is available in a separate PDF file: .pdf

4. GRAIN has released a Google Notebook with full-text news clippings collected during the research for this briefing as a support to those who want to read more.

The notebook is only available online, and the news clippings are not in any order, but it can easily be searched. We are doing this because this is not always an easy subject to research on the internet, if you want a broad picture. People may add further clippings to the notebook as they wish, to further build this collective resource – if you would like to participate, please send an email to . GRAIN will not be maintaining nor be responsible for it. Most of the articles are at present in English. (A backup copy is available in PDF format from here: )

we gambled you pay, by Patriotboy

An article by Devilstower at DailyKos provides a history of the current US financial meltdown, and includes this piece of information:

The value of the entire U.S. Treasuries market: $4.5 trillion.

The value of the entire mortgage market: $7 trillion.

The size of the U.S. stock market: $22 trillion.

The size of the credit default swap market last year: $45 trillion.

As in three times the whole US gross domestic product … The unregulated and poorly reported credit default swaps may have actually passed $70 trillion last year, or about $5 trillion more than the GDP of the entire world.

Treasury Secretary Paulson is asking for $700 billion from the US taxpayer to try and cover the losses, without any review.

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

And as b asks at Moon of Alabama:

Who will finance this?

Paulson also wants to lift the US national debt ceiling to $11,315,000,000,000.00. (When Bush took office, the U.S. federal debt was some $5.6 trillion and on a downtrend.) The U.S. GDP is roughly 13.5 trillion so the US government debt at that ceiling will be some 83% of US GDP. In international ranking that puts the U.S. debt to GDP ratio somewhere between Cote d’Ivoire and Sri Lanka.

Now Paulson wants $700 billion in emergency finance from where?

Who in this world can and will lend $700 billion for an emergency plan when the total lending to the U.S. in one year is only about $500 billion?

Did Paulson talk with China, Russia and the Saudis about this?

With this new debt and debt to GDP ratio the U.S. does no longer deserve an AAA rating. That will have to be cut down two or three notches.

Mike Whitney writes at CounterPunch:

The problems cannot be resolved by shifting the debts of the banks onto the taxpayer. That’s an illusion. By adding another $1 or $2 trillion dollars to the National Debt, Paulson is just ensuring that interest rates will go up, real estate will crash, unemployment will soar, and foreign central banks will abandon the dollar. In truth, there is no fix for a deleveraging market anymore than there is a fix for gravity. The belief that massive debts and insolvency can be erased by increasing liquidity just shows a fundamental misunderstanding of economics. That’s why Henry Paulson is the worst possible person to be orchestrating the so called rescue project. Paulson comes from a business culture which rewards deception, personal acquisitiveness, and extreme risk-taking. Paulson is to finance capitalism what Rumsfeld is to military strategy. His leadership, and the congress’ pathetic abdication of responsibility, assures disaster. …

No one has any idea of the magnitude of the deleveraging ahead or the size of the debts that will have to be written down. That’s because 30 years of deregulation has allowed a parallel financial system to arise in which over $500 trillion dollars in derivatives are traded without any government supervision or accounting. These counterparty transactions are interwoven throughout the entire “regulated” system in a way that poses a clear and present danger to the broader economy.

… deregulation in a nutshell; a system that allows Wall Street banksters to create credit out of thin air and then run weeping to Congress when their swindles backfire.

The debts are enormous and the pain will be substantial, but the problem cannot be resolved by crushing the middle class or destroying the currency.

Obama came out against the Paulson plan today, although his intentions are still not entirely clear. He said a number of important things in regard to the financial meltdown, including: No blank checks. This should help put some spine in the Congressional Democrats. Also from Obama’s statement:

We cannot underwrite continued irresponsibility, where CEOs cash in and our regulators look the other way. We cannot abet and reward the unconscionable practices that triggered this crisis. We have to end them.

• Taxpayers should be protected.

• Build a regulatory structure for the 21st Century.

In the US as in Ghana: country broke or no broke, we all dey inside. It is important to remember it is we, and policies need to be for the benefit of all of we, not the borrow and borrow and spend and spend policies that make the rich richer and all the rest of we poorer.

Graphic: yellow is demand, green supply.

Asia Times just published the article The rise of the new energy world order by Michael T Klare. Klare writes:

The combination of rising demand, the emergence of powerful new energy consumers, and the contraction of the global energy supply is demolishing the energy-abundant world we are familiar with and creating in its place a new world order. Think of it as rising powers/shrinking planet.

This new world order will be characterized by fierce international competition for dwindling stocks of oil, natural gas, coal and uranium, as well as by a tidal shift in power and wealth from energy-deficit states like China, Japan and the United States to energy-surplus states like Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. In the process, the lives of everyone will be affected in one way or another – with poor and middle-class consumers in the energy-deficit states experiencing the harshest effects. That’s most of us and our children, in case you hadn’t quite taken it in.

Here, in a nutshell, are five key forces in this new world order which will change our planet:

  • Intense competition between older and newer economic powers for available supplies of energy.

Until very recently, the mature industrial powers of Europe, Asia and North America consumed the lion’s share of energy and left the dregs for the developing world. . . . But that ratio is changing . . .
. . .
In this new stage of energy competition, the advantages long enjoyed by Western energy majors has been eroded by vigorous, state-backed upstarts from the developing world.

  • The insufficiency of primary energy supplies.

By all accounts, the global supply of oil will expand for perhaps another half decade before reaching a peak and beginning to decline, while supplies of natural gas, coal and uranium will probably grow for another decade or two before peaking and commencing their own inevitable declines. In the meantime, global supplies of these existing fuels will prove incapable of reaching the elevated levels demanded.
. . .
. . . So expect global energy shortages and high prices to be a constant source of hardship.

  • The painfully slow development of energy alternatives.

. . . alternatives, which now contribute only a tiny percentage of the world’s net fuel supply, are simply not being developed fast enough to avert the multifaceted global energy catastrophe that lies ahead.
. . .
In global warming terms, the implications are nothing short of catastrophic: Rising reliance on coal (especially in China, India and the United States) means that global emissions of carbon dioxide are projected to rise by 59% over the next quarter-century, from 26.9 billion metric tons to 42.9 billion tons. The meaning of this is simple. If these figures hold, there is no hope of averting the worst effects of climate change.

When it comes to global energy supplies, the implications are nearly as dire. To meet soaring energy demand, we would need a massive influx of alternative fuels, which would mean equally massive investment – in the trillions of dollars – to ensure that the newest possibilities move rapidly from laboratory to full-scale commercial production; but that, sad to say, is not in the cards.

Instead, the major energy firms (backed by lavish US government subsidies and tax breaks) are putting their mega-windfall profits from rising energy prices into vastly expensive (and environmentally questionable) schemes . . .

  • A steady migration of power and wealth from energy-deficit to energy-surplus nations:

In the case of oil and natural gas, the major energy-surplus states can be counted on two hands. Ten oil-rich states possess 82.2% of the world’s proven reserves. In order of importance, they are: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Russia, Libya, Kazakhstan and Nigeria. The possession of natural gas is even more concentrated. Three countries – Russia, Iran and Qatar – harbor an astonishing 55.8% of the world supply. All of these countries are in an enviable position to cash in on the dramatic rise in global energy prices and to extract from potential customers whatever political concessions they deem important.

The transfer of wealth alone is already mind-boggling.
. . .
Russia is now the world’s leading supplier of natural gas, the second largest supplier of oil and a major producer of coal and uranium. Though many of these assets were briefly privatized during the reign of Boris Yeltsin, President Vladimir Putin has brought most of them back under state control – in some cases by exceedingly questionable legal means.

  • A growing risk of conflict.

Will energy-deficit states launch campaigns to wrest the oil and gas reserves of surplus states from their control – the George W Bush administration’s war in Iraq might already be thought of as one such attempt or to eliminate competitors among their deficit-state rivals?

The high costs and risks of modern warfare are well known and there is a widespread perception that energy problems can best be solved through economic means, not military ones. Nevertheless, the major powers are employing military means in their efforts to gain advantage in the global struggle for energy, and no one should be deluded on the subject.
. . .
One conspicuous use of military means in the pursuit of energy is obviously the regular transfer of arms and military-support services by the major energy-importing states to their principal suppliers. Both the United States and China, for example, have stepped up their deliveries of arms and equipment to oil-producing states like Angola, Nigeria and Sudan in Africa and, in the Caspian Sea basin, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The United States has placed particular emphasis on suppressing the armed insurgency in the vital Niger Delta region of Nigeria, where most of the country’s oil is produced; Beijing has emphasized arms aid to Sudan, where Chinese-led oil operations are threatened by insurgencies in both the South and Darfur.
. . .

In this new world order, energy will govern our lives in new ways and on a daily basis.
It will determine when, and for what purposes, we use our cars; how high (or low) we turn our thermostats; when, where, or even if, we travel; increasingly, what foods we eat (given that the price of producing and distributing many meats and vegetables is profoundly affected by the cost of oil or the allure of growing corn for ethanol); for some of us, where to live; for others, what businesses we engage in; for all of us, when and under what circumstances we go to war or avoid foreign entanglements that could end in war.

This leads to a final observation: the most pressing decision facing the next president and Congress may be how best to accelerate the transition from a fossil-fuel-based energy system to a system based on climate-friendly energy alternatives.

I recommend you read the entire article. This is the world we are living in. Voting, and how we vote in each and every election where we can vote is critical. These facts do not bode well for democracy anywhere.

There is a big Africa India economic conference coming up next week. It will be interesting to see what comes out of this.

The largest ever India-Africa conclave, being held in New Delhi from 19-21 March 2008, is expected to highlight Africa’s potential as an investment venue . . .

Their Excellencies the Vice Presidents of Tanzania and Ghana and 37 African Ministers are among the 925 delegates who will participate in ‘The India Africa Project Partnership 2008

The conference will focus on four main areas: technology, agriculture, human resources and energy. One hundred and thirty one projects worth over US$10 billion will be discussed.

The conference will enable Indian investors to interact with key people from more than 35 African countries on one platform. Africa is already an important trade partner for India.

Of the world’s 100 largest economic entities, 51 are corporations, and only 49 are countries.

There are basically three forms of dirty money. One is criminal money: from drug dealing, say, or slave trading or terrorism. The next is corrupt money, like the fromer Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha’s looted oil billions. The third form, commercial money – what our finest companies and richest individuals hide from our tax collectors – is bigger. The point – and this is crucial – is that these three forms of dirty money use exactly the same mechanisms and subterfuges: tax havens, shell banks, shielded trusts, anonymous foundations, dummy corporations, mispricing schemes, and the like, all administered by a “pinstripe infrastructure” of mainstream banks, lawyers, and accountants. (p. 225)
. . .
In this parallel secret universe the world’s biggest and richest individuals and firms, News Corporation, Citigroup, and, yes, ExxonMobil – can quite legally cut themselves loose from pesky full taxation and grow explosively, leaving smaller competitors, who pay their full dues along with the rest of us, choking in their dust. This undermines the very notion of capitalism: the big companies’ advantage has nothing to do with the quality or price of what they produce. If you are worried about the power of big global corporations, don’t always attack them directly, but attack bank secrecy instead. This is the clever way to take on the big fish, using a net that would also snag the Sani Abachas, the Mobutus, the North Koreas, the terrorists, and the drug lords.
. . .
Africa’s Gulf of Guinea will produce 20 or so billion barrels of oil in the next decade, worth perhaps a trillion dollars . . . If half of global trade finance flows through offshore structures, and soon a quarter of America’s oil imports will be coming from Africa . . . we have a systemic and fast-growing problem on our hands.

The dirty world of tax havens is no grand conspiracy, but a decentralized global terrain tucked away in the interstices between states. It is a problem of fragmented global political and economic architecture. National politicians cannot solve this one: only a coordinated international response will do.
(Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil, by Nicholas Shaxson, p.225&227, ISBN 978-1403971944)

So far there isn’t much sign anyone wants to do anything about this. In fact for the last several decades we have been moving globally in the opposite direction. But all countries would be well advised to consider the problem of money flow, at least if they want to maintain any sovereignty at all, even the large countries. Of course the people running most countries benefit from the globalized money flow.

And now corporations can behave even more like states, with their own foreign and military policies, hiring the the growing ranks of corporate spies and militaries. “These companies rival and possibly surpass the capabilities of intelligence services of most nations. . . . Such capacity for covert operations has never before been in private hands–and for rent.” This does not bode well for anyone anywhere in the world.

Capitalism without democracy is gangsterism. When capital is global, democracy needs to be global too, or it is threatened everywhere. Democracy can take many forms, and can adapt to cultures and history. But more people need to have their say in how their resources are monitored and distributed.

In Mali, this machine can turn the local nut into fuel.

The New York Times had an article today about growing Jatropha curcas in Mali for use as biofuel, Mali’s farmers discover a weed’s potential power.

. . . jatropha is being hailed by scientists and policy makers as a potentially ideal source of biofuel, a plant that can grow in marginal soil or beside food crops, that does not require a lot of fertilizer and yields many times as much biofuel per acre planted as corn and many other potential biofuels. By planting a row of jatropha for every seven rows of regular crops, Mr. Banani could double his income on the field in the first year and lose none of his usual yield from his field.

Poor farmers living on a wide band of land on both sides of the equator are planting it on millions of acres, hoping to turn their rockiest, most unproductive fields into a biofuel boom. They are spurred on by big oil companies like BP and the British biofuel giant D1 Oils, which are investing millions of dollars in jatropha cultivation.
. . .
But here in Mali, one of the poorest nations on earth, a number of small-scale projects aimed at solving local problems — the lack of electricity and rural poverty — are blossoming across the country to use the existing supply of jatropha to fuel specially modified generators in villages far off the electrical grid.

“We are focused on solving our own energy problems and reducing poverty,” said Aboubacar Samaké, director of a government project aimed at promoting renewable energy.

If jatropha can be grown in conjunction with food crops, as the article implies, in a manner that actually facilitates local development, that would be a great boon. The article also describes huge plantations of jatropha for biofuel:

Countries like India, China, the Philippines and Malaysia are starting huge plantations, betting that jatropha will help them to become more energy independent and even export biofuel.
. . . farmers in India are already expressing frustration that after being encouraged to plant huge swaths of the bush they have found no buyers for the seeds. (And who paid for the seeds for the crop, and to put the land into cultivation? Are these farmers now in debt based on someone else’s speculation?)

For more information on the jatropha plant in Africa there is an article here from a biofuel corporation. And another document with a bit more information about some of the questions, and about storing and processing here: PDF: Jatropha investment in Africa:

. . . biofuel has been accused of having a negative energy payback . . . but there is great variation in the energy paybacks for various biofuels.
Jatropha is a perennial, yielding oil seed for decades after planting, and it can grow without irrigation in arid conditions where corn and sugar cane could never thrive.
. . . the oil . . . burns without emitting smoke.

As the pdf document points out, jatropha needs to be handled and processed quickly, with attention to certain factors such as guarding it from moisture, or the product will be damaged and degraded, and not necessarily usable. Some of the questions about its practicality have not been resolved.

Added April 2008: I crossed out the lines above because the link is dead. I found some information about the processing in another location. This article is about 3 years old, and is rather naively optimistic about jatropha’s potential yields, but it does contain some general information that is useful to know about processing jatropha.

From Jatropha in Africa:

1) Jatropha oil is hydroscopic – absorbs water and needs nitrogen blanketing on steel tanks. One issue that is quite clear is because Jatropha is high in acid, it has the tendency to degrade quickly, particularly if not handled properly through the supply chain.

2) Right from the time of expelling, the oil needs to be kept in storage conditions that prevent undue degradation. Exposure to air and moisture must be minimized – hence the need for nitrogen blanketing on the tanks.
. . .
Seeds degrade as soon as they are picked and so careful storage and handling is required. In the warm humid atmosphere in countries such as Ghana the degradation of seeds can be rapid. (end 2008 addition)

Other things I’ve been reading lately may or may not be relevant to this issue.

Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels could change the nature of grasslands and decrease their usefulness as grazing pastures, say researchers . . . Woody shrubs . . . thrived.
. . .
The main reason why these woody shrubs out-compete grasses in conditions of high carbon dioxide, says Morgan, is because their method of photosynthesis is better suited to high levels of the gas.

The major concern, he says, is that woody shrubs . . . are unpalatable to most domestic livestock, so domination by these types of plants would render land poor for grazing.

. . . there is already evidence of shrub encroachment in many grasslands of the world.

Jatropha is a woody shrub and might be advantaged by this climate change. I’m not sure what the implications are for food or fuel, though I can guess at a few. There are some suggestions on how to control this change:

. . . a possible way to lessen the transformation of grasslands is to use controlled burning, which kills shrubs but not grasses, and to prevent overgrazing, which weakens grasses and allows woody plants to move in.

I think the question to ask about jatropha is, does the crop provide direct advantage to the local farmers and their community rather than promising some trickle down advantage later, a promised advantage that will likely never arrive. And, are the farmers still able to feed themselves and their communities, and profit from growing food?

Full Spectrum Dominance

Full spectrum dominance is not the method of a democracy. Full spectrum dominance IS imperialism. It is at direct odds with democratic principles. When a country espouses democracy, this should be the approach of last resort, if at all. It may be an appropriate approach for a military organization. The military has a more narrow and specific mission. However, the US has a civilian government. A democratic government should avoid wars when possible, and only engage as a last resort. Although it has migrated away from democratic institutions and principles, the US still preaches democracy. With luck it will alter its direction and return to democratic principles. It still has the tools. The military needs to support and uphold the principles of democratic government, at home and around the world.

Full-spectrum dominance” is the key term in “Joint Vision 2020,” the blueprint DoD, Department of Defense, will follow in the future.

Full-spectrum dominance means the ability of U.S. forces, operating alone or with allies, to defeat any adversary and control any situation across the range of military operations.
. . .

Joint Vision 2020 addresses full-spectrum dominance across the range of conflicts from nuclear war to major theater wars to smaller-scale contingencies. It also addresses amorphous situations like peacekeeping and noncombat humanitarian relief. Key to U.S. dominance in any conflict will be what the chairman calls “decision superiority” — translating information superiority into better decisions arrived at and implemented faster than an enemy can react.

The development of a global information grid will provide the environment for decision superiority.

In fact Joint Vision 2020 involves the dominance of space.

Control of Space (CoS) is the ability to ensure un-interrupted access to space for US forces and our allies, freedom of operations within the space medium and an ability to deny others the use of space, if required.
. . .
Global Engagement (GE) is the combination of global surveillance of the Earth (see anything, anytime), worldwide missile defense, and the potential ability to apply force from space.
. . .
Full Force Integration (FFI) seamlessly joins space-derived information and space forces with information and forces from the land, sea, and air.
. . .
Global Partnerships (GP) augment the military’s space capabilities by leveraging civil, commercial, and international space systems. This operational concept results from the explosive growth of commercial and international space capabilities.

After reading this I thought that for the military, full spectrum dominance is the obvious goal in any military scenario. The problem is that the present US government, the Bush administration, sees every scenario as a military scenario. A military approach or “solution” should be the last resort. For Bush, it is the first choice. And full spectrum dominance is not just about scenarios, it is about controlling the whole globe, imperial control of the whole world, from and including space.

The Bush administration has been following an economic policy designed to make the US the economic equivalent of Argentina in the 50s and 60s, spending huge amounts of borrowed money that do not contribute to increases in productivity or infrastructure, a rich country making itself poor. The result has weakened the country and severely weakened the military. The Bush war on science has damaged the US scientific and technological edge. The stature of the US as a global leader has been severely damaged by the unprovoked occupation and destruction of Iraq. And because of all the money wasted in Iraq, the US is farther away from any positive accomplishment or constructive goal.

The US needs to find a political solution to its relationship with just about every country in the world. And it needs an internal political solution to its own dreadful behavior.

Because of oil, and a number of other extractive resources, but mostly the oil, the US has set its sights on full spectrum dominance in Africa. At the same time celebrity condescension and “humanitarian” ad campaigns portray Africans as afflicted and helpless. By painting Africans as people unable to help themselves, the celebrity humanitarian narrative, and the media attention it gets, make it much easier for nations, specifically the US, to engage in imperial acquisition in the name of humanitarian aid and development. And that is exactly the purpose of the Africa Command, and why it keeps describing itself in terms of diplomacy and humanitarian aid. (Pay no attention to the fact that by pouring arms into Africa throughout the cold war, and by backing terrorist organizations in Africa, the US contributed more than its share to the destabilization and suffering in many African countries. This continues through the present.

Those days are gone, as a friend says. Although the US can, and it looks like it plans to, make things very unpleasant in the short term. African countries now have people who can and will push back effectively.

To see a few of these people, and a more positive and productive vision, check out TED Global 2007 (TED = Technology, Entertainment Design) and listen to some of the speeches by Africans at TED Themes – Africa the next chapter. I’ll probably write about these again.


August 14, 2011: To date President Obama has continued and expanded these Bush policies, and has expanded the ongoing militarization of Africa through the Africa Command.

In Ramblings of an African Geek, Kwasi provides as neat and clear an explanation of the background and the issues of ODF and OOXML for Ghana and other developing countries as I have seen anywhere.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) will be voting on this September 2, so it is currently a matter of interest and importance. I’ve included an excerpt, but it is worth reading the whole article, particularly if you may need to explain some of this at some point, or have the opportunity to ask questions.

Excerpt from:
Background information on ODF, OOXML and why It matters in the developing world

Developing countries are still building the vast majority of their IT infrastructure. This means that they do not have a massive base of old documents in a restricted format. Those documents are on paper. Their offices are still being computerized. Their people are still learning how to use those computers. If you are going to teach someone to use an office suite anyway, what difference does it make if that suite is MS Office, or Google Writer? What difference does it make if those legacy paper documents go to ODF or OOXML? Either way the work has to be done and the money has to be spent.

The problem is, what happens when you lock yourself into a company’s proprietary format because they are giving you free stuff and claim the format is open, then they start charging you for it and you realize all those alternatives they assured you existed can’t fully open your documents and you are stuck with them and their licence fees?

In an earlier post he tells us more about why open source is important in Ghana as well as the developing world, particularly in Africa. As he says, money is the most often cited reason but it is not necessarily the most important. From a presentation he has posted:

Problem: At this point in time Africa is overwhelmingly a consumer of other people’s ideas and technology.

Why is this a problem?

Well, it isn’t if we have no issues with playing in second place for all time. Assuming we have a problem with that though, we will not achieve parity while we are dependent on outside brain power to solve all our problems while we sideline local talent and ability.

How does the Open Source movement help us to address this?

The free flow of information gives us a huge chance to level the playing field.
Lowers the barriers of information access.
Gives us a look at their tools and their processes.
This we can use to leverage those tools as we use them, and to create our own.

In other words, this is about more than just getting cheaper consumer goods.
Its about contributing back to the global share of information as equals.

India and Brazil have indicated they will vote in favor of ODF rather than OOXML. And Slashdot has a number of articles with good discussions in the comments. Two of them are here and here.

The Economist has a rather nice article about investing in Africa this week, The sunny continent. It is mostly about two businessmen, Mo Ibrahim and Sam Jonah, and their thoughts and plans about the future.

Mr Ibrahim . . . is ebullient about the potential for mobile phones and mass entrepreneurship to deliver even more dramatic growth and poverty reduction in future, in Africa as well as elsewhere. He recently established a $150m fund to invest in African business.

Mr Jonah is a larger-than-life hail-fellow-well-met Ghanaian, who made his first fortune by selling Ashanti Goldfields, a Ghanaian mining company, to South Africa’s mighty AngloGold . . . He is now doing well in private equity. As evidence of his bullishness, Mr Jonah is trying to raise $250m to build long-distance roads across Africa—the lack which is one of the most obvious failures in the continent’s infrastructure. His goal is to find 50 successful African business people, each willing to invest $5m in the fund, and then to use multilateral funds to leverage the money into the billions.
. . .
There is increasingly a pro-African mood in the global business community nowadays, says Mr Jonah.
. . .
. . . much of the “help” Africa has had from outside has been of the wrong sort. By way of illustration, Mr Jonah points to three once impoverished European countries—Spain, Portugal and Greece—that might have stayed poor had they not been “rescued by their sugar daddy, the European Union.” The point, he says, is that richer European countries invested in these poor countries, “not as charity, but because they saw a win-win opportunity.” The same is now true of Africa, he argues. With a handful of headline-grabbing exceptions, “everyone in Africa is now getting their act together, with free markets and democracy.”

This is where Mr Jonah and Mr Ibrahim are somewhat at odds with each other. Last year Mr Ibrahim endowed an annual prize for leadership in Africa, which will recognise a retired African leader who did a good job in office. Mr Ibrahim, one of Africa’s first home-grown philanthropists, believes this prize will help raise the standard of leadership across the continent.

I have read elsewhere, I think it might have been in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago, that if Africa had received the same kind of investment eastern Europe did after the fall of the Berlin wall, there would have been even more to show for it. The United States has mostly engaged in military assistance, that has destabilized and impoverished its targets.

Many of the top U.S. arms clients –Liberia, Somalia, the Sudan, and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DRC) — have turned out to be the top basket cases . . . in terms of violence, instability, and economic collapse.

The US is always claiming to be businesslike. It should act a bit more businesslike.

Business investment can have its downside, think Enron as just one example, and some of my friends think Jonah is a crook. I know very little about Ibrahim. But both men are on the right track in what they are saying. I hope the optimism and investment continue and pay off.
(If the Economist link does not let you in and you would like a copy of this article, or others I cite, email me at crossedcrocodiles, on gmail, I can email a copy.)

J. Peter Pham writes:

More often than not, American perspectives on Africa were framed almost exclusively in terms of preoccupation over the humanitarian consequences of poverty, war, and natural disaster. Alas, as noble as these moral impulses have been, they lacked the “staying power” needed to sustain a long-term commitment. Rightfully, many of our African friends viewed us as well meaning, but unreliable.

The American public at large may believe US involvement in Africa has been mostly humanitarian. That perception is being fed most recently by celebrity condescension. It is misleading. The US government’s actual involvement with Africa has been a policy of arming and fueling conflicts for decades. US policy has been quite the opposite of what J Peter Pham describes in his article on Selling AFRICOM. US policies have not been well meaning, certainly not in their effects, but rather, violent and manipulative. If the “noble” “moral impulses” Pham describes existed, they were quickly buried. The problem was never with noble moral impulses, the problem was always the behaviour that occurred instead, arming the worst authoritarians, and promoting discord.

As William Hartung and Bridgit Moix wrote in 2000:

The reality, however, is that the problems facing Africa and her people — with eleven armed conflicts under way, political instability, and the lowest regional rate of economic growth worldwide — have been fueled in part by a legacy of U.S. involvement in the region.

Throughout the Cold War era, from 1950 to 1989, the United States delivered over $1.5 billion worth of weaponry to Africa. Many of the top U.S. arms clients –Liberia, Somalia, the Sudan, and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DRC) — have turned out to be the top basket cases of the 1990s in terms of violence, instability, and economic collapse.
. . .
During the 1990s, the U.S. supplied over $227 million in arms and training to African nations. In addition, U.S. special forces have trained troops from 34 of Africa’s 53 nations under the Joint Combined Exchange Training program, including forces fighting on both sides of the Congo’s civil war.
. . .
Meanwhile, even as it fuels military build-ups, the U.S. continues to cut development assistance to Africa and remains unable (or unwilling) to promote alternative, non-violent forms of engagement. While the U.S. ranks number one in global weapons exports, it falls dead last among industrialized nations in providing non-military foreign aid to the developing world.

And in 2004 we learn:

Since the beginning of the war on terrorism in 2001, the United States’ top 10 sources of oil imports have experienced a 350 percent increase in U.S. military aid and training. In 2003, the United States plans to provide these countries with $58 million in military assistance. In fiscal year 2001, their military assistance totaled $12.2 million.

A large part of the increase is explained by Washington’s rewarding of regimes like Algeria and Nigeria for their ability to cloak domestic repression in the rhetoric of the “war on terrorism.”

. . . Washington’s desire for Nigerian oil and territory triggered deeper military relationships. During the reign of Gen. Sani Abacha military ties were frozen. But since his death in 1999, the thaw has been quick. That year, Nigeria purchased $74,000 in U.S. weaponry. By 2001, the United States delivered thousands of times that-a total of $3.1 million. Military aid also skyrocketed, from $90,000 in 1999 to more than $4 million for 2003.

How increased military aid will improve human rights and efforts toward democratization is unclear.

How increased military aid will improve human rights and efforts toward democratization remains unclear with AFRICOM. If the US wants to help Africa, it needs to listen to Africans. Pham is rather blatantly disinclined to listen, for example, calling the testimony of Dr. Wafula Okumu “rather incoherent and self-contradicting“. Although if you read the testimony with an open mind, you will learn a lot about African points of view. Dr. Okumu was certainly clear and coherent. I think it was the message that Dr. Pham did not like.

It is not possible to work cooperatively unless you are willing to listen to the people you are “cooperating” with. I don’t see any sign that the US has a clue about this when it talks about AFRICOM.

The US needs to stop arming repressive governments, and stop arming and inciting opposing factions. There is almost nothing I read in the US press or see or hear in the US media, that indicates people in the US are willing to listen or learn from Africans, or change the US approach to Africa away from the emphasis on military assistance. AFRICOM just offers more of the same militarization and destabilization the US has been offering Africa for decades, as a “payment” for taking away the natural riches of the continent.

Ghana oil discovery, map of potential finds, from Vanco, 2002
Click on image above to enlarge, or click here for the original.
For a map of the Tullow find (to the left above) see the previous post.

As The Economist points out in Into Africa:

After lagging behind the rest of the globe in the 1990s, African output growth has averaged 5% a year since 2001, while the world has averaged just 4.2%. Strong commodity prices have, of course, played a vital part in this. The continent has 8% of the world’s oil reserves; more of America’s oil imports now come from Africa than from the Persian Gulf. . . . The continent has 23% of the world’s land, but only 12% of its farmland; there is scope to bring more territory under cultivation.

Many talk about the “resource curse” that has bedevilled Africa. If an economy has vast natural resources, a government can tax them easily; as a result, there is little incentive to produce the kind of regulatory environment that would encourage the development of a wider tax base. The availability of a “cash cow” such as an oil sector also encourages corruption.

. . . the volatility of African equity returns was no higher than that of Latin America over the period 1995-2006. There may yet come a time when African equities are hot stocks.

Ghana needs to protect her agriculture, and diversify. And when The Economist, or any western voice, talks about putting more land into cultivation, countries should be careful about what they plan to cultivate. Every country should plan to feed itself first, try to minimize environmental damage and create sustainable agriculture. The vision of the US right wing, of Africa as a continent sized sugar plantation growing bio-fuel for the US petrol appetite, would be comic, except that it is part of their reason for creating AFRICOM.

Ghana needs to beware. Oil, and other extractive resources can make a country much poorer, described succinctly in an article in Foreign Policy:

Collier’s model shows that producers of oil, timber, and minerals would on average see their gross domestic products rise by 10 percent in the first seven years, only to have them crash two decades later to only 75 percent of where they started. Sudden cash flows in unprepared countries, he says, lead to unsustainable public consumption, rising inflation, soaring inequality, trade protectionism, and a real danger of civil war.

« Previous PageNext Page »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 70 other followers