April 2009


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.

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nomonsanto

Green washing = Public relations designed to convince people that biotech, genetically modified foods and agricultural chemicals, are environmentally friendly.

Poor washing = Efforts to convince people we must accept a program such as genetic engineering to increase yields to end hunger, reduce costs, and improve livelihoods of farmers and poor people. Poor washing has created calls for a “new” Green Revolution, especially in Africa, although there is little evidence that genetic engineering and agricultural chemicals, or moving farmers off their land, will realize any of these claims. There is mounting evidence of genetic engineering doing serious harm. Forcibly displaced populations always suffer harm.

From Voices From Africa: African Farmers and Environmentalists Speak Out Against A New Green Revolution In Africa PDF:

In June 2008, the United Nations held a High-Level Conference on Food Security that gained much prominence in the midst of the food crisis and became a key venue to promote genetically engineered food as a solution to world hunger.

Despite the overwhelming opposition to genetic engineering and chemical-input based agriculture, the biotech industry—with assistance from rich donor nations, multilateral institutions, and the philanthropic community—has used the food price crisis to gain support for GM crops. The result of the biotech industry’s well-financed publicity blitz based on “green washing” (biotech is environmentally friendly) and “poor washing” (we must accept genetic engineering to increase yields to end hunger, reduce costs, and improve livelihoods of farmers), have been calls for a “new” Green Revolution, especially in Africa.

… AGRA is the biggest grantee of the Gates Foundation. With over $262 million committed, AGRA is poised to become one of the main institutional vehicles for changing African agriculture.

Key positions in AGRA are all held by people who owe their careers to Monsanto and the biotech industry:

In 2006, the Gates Foundation appointed Dr. Robert Horsch as the Senior Program Officer in the Global Development Program, which directly supervises the AGRA initiative. Horsch came to the foundation after 25 years on the staff of the Monsanto Corporation

Another major player hailing from the St. Louis biotech hub is Lawrence Kent of the Danforth Center, an institute that is heavily funded by Monsanto. … Unsurprisingly, on January 8, 2009, St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that the Gates Foundation has awarded a $5.4 million grant to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, to “help the center secure the approval of African governments to allow field testing of genetically modified banana, rice, sorghum and cassava plants that have been fortified with vitamins, minerals and proteins.”

Lutz Goedde, another hire from the biotech industry, is the former CEO and President of Alta Genetics, and is credited with making Alta the world’s largest privately owned cattle genetics improvement and artificial insemination company. All three are working for the Gates Foundation, funding projects aimed at the developing world.

No African farmers, none, have been consulted for the foundation’s agricultural strategy. None of the reviewers or the external advisory board members is a farmer from Africa.

AGRA and the Gates Foundation speak about “land mobility” which means moving farmers off their farms so the land can be used for large scale mechanized agriculture. But there is no mention of where these people will go and live, and how they will be reemployed. What this means is thousands of displaced people moving to slums around the cities, which will grow and will be filled with unemployed people. This is politically and socially destabilizing. It breeds crime and political violence. This kind of policy also hits women particularly hard, because in western models such as corporate agriculture, their traditional rights to land are ignored. Women are the majority of agricultural workers, and will become even more impoverished and disenfranchised, not that it will bother AGRA or Gates or Monsanto, as they say:

Over time, this will require some degree of land mobility and a lower percentage of total employment involved in direct agricultural production.

People in Africa are taking action and speaking out.
From: A Statement by Friends of the Earth—Africa at the Annual
General Meeting held at Accra, Ghana, 7-11 July 2008
:

Members of FoE Africa from Ghana, Togo, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Nigeria, Mauritius, Tunisia and Swaziland met for five days in Accra, Ghana reviewing issues that confront the African environment. A particular focus was placed on the current food crisis and agrofuels on the continent.

FoE Africa groups deplored the characterization of Africa as a chronically hungry continent; and rejected the projection of the continent as an emblem of poverty and stagnation and thus as a continent dependent on food aid.

FoE Africa reiterated the fact that the agricultural fortunes of the continent have been dimmed by externally generated neoliberal policies including Structural Adjustment Programmes imposed on the continent by the World Bank, IMF (International Monetary Fund) and other IFIs.

FoE Africa expressed disgust at the manner by which the burden for solutions to every crisis faced by the North is shifted onto Africa. Examples include the climate change and energy crises wherein the burden has been inequitably placed on the continent. Africa is forced to adapt to climate impacts and she is also being targeted as the farmland for production of agrofuels to feed the factories and machines in the North.

FoE Africa resolved as follows:

1. Africa contributed very little to climate change and the North owes her an historical debt to bear the costs of adaptation without seeking to further burden the continent through so-called carbon finance mechanisms.

2. Africa must no longer be used as a dumping ground for agricultural products that compete with local production and destroy local economies.

3. Africa must not be opened for contamination by GMOs through food aid and/or agrofuels.

4. Africans must reclaim sovereignty over their agriculture and truncate attempts by agribusiness to turn the so-called food crisis into money-making opportunities through price fixing, hoarding and other unfair trade practices.

5. We reject the promotion of conversion of swaths of African land into monoculture plantations and farms for agrofuels production on the guise that some of such lands are marginal lands. We note that the concept of marginal lands is a cloak for further marginalizing the poor in Africa through their being dispossessed and dislocated from their territories.

6. Africa has been subsidizing world development for a long time and this has to change and African resources must be used for African development to the benefit of local communities.

FoE Africa calls on all communities of Africa to mobilize, resist and change unwholesome practices that entrench servitude and exploitation on our continent.

Signed:
FOE Ghana; FOE Togo; FOE Nigeria; FOE Cameroon; FOE Sierra Leone; FOE Tunisia; FOE Swaziland; FOE South Africa; FOE Mauritius

There is much more in the report, you can read the whole document here: Voices From Africa: African Farmers and Environmentalists Speak Out Against A New Green Revolution In Africa PDF

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.

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