Latest Developments, November 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Fallout risk
Agence France-Presse reports that a top Mauritanian politician is warning that foreign military intervention in neighbouring Mali could have “devastating” consequences for the wider region:

” ‘This country which has for a long time been seen as a model of democracy is like a volcano about to erupt,’ national assembly president Messaoud Ould Boulkheir said a day after West African leaders gave the green light to sending 3,300 troops to northern Mali to wrest control from the Islamists.
‘If this volcano awakens, it will dump incandescent ashes over its neighbours,’ he told parliament.”

No air strikes
The Associated Press reports that France’s defense minister has said neither his country nor the EU would use military force to help reunite Mali:

“[Jean-Yves] Le Drian, speaking to reporters in Paris, reiterated France’s longstanding stance that it will not send ground forces in support of the planned international effort led by African troops in Mali. But this time, he sought to make clear that that would mean no French attacks from the air either.
‘As for air support, neither Europe nor France will intervene militarily,’ Le Drian told the European American Press Club. ‘When we say no troops on the ground, that means “troops in the air” too … But bringing in information, intelligence is another thing.’
Other officials have indicated that France could use drones to provide surveillance for ground forces from other countries that are deployed to Mali.”

Corruption pays
The Financial Times reports that European oil giants Shell and Eni have come under fire over a $1.1 billion payment they made last year for a deepwater oil concession off Nigeria’s coast:

“Global Witness says that if the multinationals knew the money would be paid to [Malabu Oil & Gas], the deal could test anti-corruption laws in the UK, US and Italy, ‘for the reason that a substantial monetary “reward” ended up being paid to a company controlled by an individual, who had arguably abused his public position to obtain OPL 245 in opaque circumstances during the Abacha dictatorship’.
The deal illustrates why proposed new EU transparency laws must require extractive industry companies to report payments to governments on a project-by-project basis, according to Simon Taylor, director of Global Witness. Details of the OPL 245 settlement would not have been made public were it not for the New York case.”

News wars
The Associated Press reports that the US military is bankrolling a pair of news websites as part of a “propaganda effort” in Somalia and North Africa:

“[], which launched in February, is slowly attracting readers. The military said that Sabahi averages about 4,000 unique visitors and up to 10,000 articles read per day. The site clearly says under the ‘About’ section that it is run by the U.S. military, but many readers may not go to that link.

The military said there are nine writers who work for Sabahi from Kenya, Tanzania, Djibouti and Somalia. The other site — — concentrates on Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania.
Africom says the websites are part of a larger project that costs $3 million to pay for reporting, editing, translating, publishing, IT costs and overhead. It believes the project is paying dividends.”

Man-made disaster
The Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Mark Weisbrot calls on the UN to make amends for causing Haiti’s ongoing deadly cholera epidemic:

“There hadn’t been any cholera in Haiti for at least 100 years, if ever, until some UN troops from South Asia dumped human waste into a tributary of the country’s main water supply. Since then, more than 7,600 Haitians have died and over 600,000 have gotten sick.

After the earthquake, there was much talk about ‘building back better’ in Haiti, with disappointing results. The very least that the international community can do is to fix the damage that its members themselves have caused since the earthquake. That means starting right now, with the urgency that any other country would expect in matters of life and death.”

Ending prohibition
The Open Society Foundations’ Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch argues that last week’s votes in favour of legalizing marijuana by two US states “will drive drug-policy debates worldwide”:

“Given that the US is the biggest backer of the international ‘War on Drugs,’ Colorado and Washington voters’ decision is particularly bold. Regulating marijuana – and the initiatives that could soon follow – has the potential to reduce violence at home and abroad, spare young people from undeserved criminal records, and reduce stigma among vulnerable people.”

Eyeing resources
Inter Press Service reports on growing concerns over Canada’s changing relationship with Africa:

“As the Canadian trade minister and his delegation head to West Africa early next year to unearth opportunities in the extractive resource industry and infrastructure sector, the [Canadian Council for International Cooperation] is also continuing to seek the strengthening of Canadian companies’ corporate social responsibility policies, especially in relation to African mining activities.
“This has very rarely been beneficial for African countries,” [the CCIC’s Sylvie] Perras argued. “We say that it creates jobs, or it creates revenue, but when we look at it more closely, it’s not necessarily the case.”
Mineral-heavy countries have not spurred economic development for their local populations, according to a CCIC backgrounder, as high unemployment rates, debt and poverty are widespread in mining communities.”

Questionable priorities
Satirical newspaper The Onion draws on the salacious media treatment of former CIA head David Petraeus’s resignation to question the American public’s news priorities:

“As they scoured the Internet for more juicy details about former CIA director David Petraeus’ affair with biographer Paula Broadwell, Americans were reportedly horrified today upon learning that a protracted, bloody war involving U.S. forces is currently raging in the nation of Afghanistan.

Sources confirmed that after reading a few paragraphs about the brutal war, the nation quickly became distracted by a headline about Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash’s alleged sexual abuse of a 16-year-old boy.”

Latest Developments, May 23

In the latest news and analysis…

Money, power, sex
The Daily Maverick provides a roundup of the first day of the OpenForum 2012 conference in Cape Town, the focus of which is the “paradox of unequal growth.”
“[London School of Economics’ Thandika] Mkandawire was particularly wary on the subject of foreign investment in Africa, sounding a note of caution: ‘Democracies which rely on external funding are choiceless democracies. No representation without taxation!’ He also pointed out that the ‘rebranding’ of Africa carried its own dangers, since it appealed to the ‘herd instincts’ of investors who might pull out of Africa as suddenly as they arrived, spooked by what he calls the ‘CNN factor’ – the impact of the image of Africa presented by international broadcasters.
Nkosana Moyo, vice president of the African Development Bank, was more obdurate on the topic. ‘We are letting ourselves by defined by others. Why do I care what the Economist thinks about me?’ he asked. Moyo also suggested that the West’s concerns about China’s activities in Africa were extremely hypocritical given the West’s history on the continent, but seemed to hint that China’s intentions were just as harmful: ‘Africans don’t seem to realise that there is no difference between China and the West,’ he said.”

UK government hearts Shell
Amnesty International has announced it is among a group of NGOs that has submitted freedom of information requests in the hopes of finding out why the UK government has intervened on behalf of Shell against Nigerian plaintiffs in a US Supreme Court case.
“ ‘While the UK Government claims to support the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as a matter of policy, it undermines that support by attempting to block judicial remedies for human rights abuses committed by a UK company in another country. The Government argues that the US may not legitimately exercise jurisdiction in this case but ignores the possibility that universal jurisdiction for gross human rights abuses committed by corporations is an important element of an international solution to holding companies accountable for their human rights impacts,’ [said Amnesty International’s Peter Frankental.”

Mine control
South Africa Resource Watch reports that the Lesotho Congress for Democracy has called for the government to become the majority shareholder in all mining companies operating in the country.
“[Former Lesotho trade minister Mpho] Malie also spoke about mining companies taking advantage of the ‘relaxed’ laws of Lesotho.
‘Foreign companies operating our mines are in a hurry; they want to maximise their profits when we are still asleep. We need to review the laws before it is too late because if we delay, we will be left with nothing as a country,’ Malie said, adding the current government led by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, had allowed matters to get out of hand.”

Opaque deal
Reuters reports that Swiss-based commodities giant Glencore’s decision to become the majority owner of a Congolese copper mine is likely to raise a few eyebrows.
“But Tuesday’s deal, with two related, privately controlled groups – High Grade Minerals (HGM) and Groupe Bazano – whose ownership is not disclosed by Glencore, is also likely to revive debate over the opacity of deals in one of Africa’s most promising but also most challenging mining destinations.
Glencore, a lightning rod for campaign groups since its listing last May, earlier this month faced calls for greater transparency around its deals in Congo.”

Twitter inequality
The Globe and Mail reports on the potential human rights implications of proposed changes by Twitter that would allow corporate clients to view content the authors themselves could not access.
“Inequal access to information creates an imbalance of power. This is especially important to those who posted publicly with the expectation that they’d be able to see, control and prune their postings later on. Remember that in many parts of the world, political research isn’t just policy-testing and mud-slinging; it’s a matter of life and limb for oppositions, activists and dissidents. A Twitter feed can paint a very detailed portrait of someone’s life, their activities and associations, even if no individual tweet is particularly revealing. Now, Twitter users have two options: Submit their histories for corporate or political analysis, or delete them and lose everything.”

Better Life Index
The Guardian reports on the relaunch of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Better Life Index, which aims to go beyond GDP by comparing countries according to what people “think is important.”
“It’s counted as a major success by the OECD, particularly as users consistently rank quality of life indicators such as education, environment, governance, health, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance above more traditional ones.

One of the major criticisms of the index was that it didn’t include inequality – and that’s changing with the relaunch with new indicators on inequality and gender plus rankings for Brazil and Russia. A couple have been removed too: Governance has been renamed civic engagement, employment rate of women with children has been replaced by the full integration of gender information in the employment data and students’ cognitive skills (e.g. student skills in reading, math and sciences) has replaced students’ reading skills to have a broader view.”

Envisioning sustainability
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie maps out his vision of the future, in which sustainable development is development, not just a “subset” of it.
“The most important change would be the involvement of rich countries as well as poor. Sustainable development tackles affluence and excess, not just poverty, and it is the high-income countries that most need to alter their resource use (with a gradually increasing burden of responsibility on middle-income countries, especially the largest ones). Financial transfers will therefore reduce in importance relative to other areas of action (such as trade and regulation). Aid agencies might develop new roles as whole-of-government enforcers of development policy coherence.”

Secular fanaticism
Columbia University’s Hamid Dabashi calls for “a radical reconfiguration of ethical principals” that transcends the religious and ethnic differences that divide people today.
“The principal facts on the ground – beaconing those visionaries – are the wretched of the earth, the masses of millions of human beings roaming the globe in search of the most basic necessities of life and liberty or else for fear of persecution. Muslims and Africans face the same ghastly discrimination in Europe as Latin American illegal immigrants do in the United States, Afghan refugees do in Iran, Palestinians (now joined by Africans) do in Israel or Philipino or Sri Lankan labourers do in the Arab world.
That fact is the ground zero of principled moral positions.”

Latest Developments, December 15

In the latest news and analysis…

Park eviction
The Guardian reports on allegations that members of Kenya’s Samburu community have suffered violent abuse since being evicted from land sold to a pair of US-based charities.
“The London-based NGO Survival International said the Samburu were evicted following the purchase of the land by two American-based charities, the Nature Conservancy and the African Wildlife Foundation.
The groups subsequently gifted the land to Kenya for a national park, to be called Laikipia National Park.

A community leader, who did not wish to be named, described police harassment as enormous. He said police beat people, burned manyattas or traditional homesteads and carried out arbitrary arrests during the period leading up to and including the eviction last year. He said they also confiscated many animals and the intimidation has continued.”

State sues investor
Reuters reports that Brazilian prosecutors are suing Chevron and Transocean for $10.6 billion and are seeking to suspend their Brazilian operations over a November offshore oil spill.
“The case will add to already-large legal headaches for both companies. Chevron has already faced years of litigation over alleged pollution by Texaco, a company it bought, in Ecuador’s Amazon region decades ago.
Chevron was ordered by Ecuadorean courts in February to pay damages of $18 billion. The suit is now under appeal in Ecuador, and the dispute is also being reviewed by an international arbitration tribunal. Transocean was the rig operator in the giant four-billion-barrel Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.”

Investor sues state
The Inter Press Service reports on a protest outside a World Bank tribunal that is hearing a lawsuit brought by a Canadian mining company against the government of El Salvador for refusing to grant permits for a project along the country’s main water source.
“Pacific Rim, which has insisted long insisted that it would use the most up-to-date environmental technology and methods to ensure the integrity and health of the river, brought its suit under an “investor-state” provision of the 2005 Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA).
That provision allows corporations to sue governments over actions that allegedly reduce the value of their investments.

DR-CAFTA is an agreement strictly between the U.S. and Central American countries. Because Pacific Rim is based in Canada, which is not party to DR-CAFTA, it created a U.S. subsidiary in Nevada in 2009 to press its case before the tribunal, after it could not persuade the Salvadoran government to back the mining plan.”

Investment regulation
A new report released by the Bretton Woods Project warns of the dangers of international financial flow volatility and argues poor countries must take measures to guard against foreign investment surges and stops.
“Even more effective would be policies in rich countries to tackle the risks from capital flows at their source. This includes better overall financial regulation, but consideration should be given to specific capital flows policy in source country. More regional and international coordination on capital account regulation, particularly enforcement of rules, would help developing countries deal with financial flows more effectively. Ultimately, a more ambitious global framework agreement could reinforce mutually consistent management techniques across source and destination countries.”

Mining fraud
The Financial Times reports on resentment in Ghana resulting from the perception that foreign mining companies are getting rich off the country’s resources and giving little back in return.
“One lawyer employed by a gold miner in the 1990s told the FT that the company he worked for systematically falsified its accounts to underestimate profits, thereby depriving the state of millions of dollars in taxes.
There are growing suspicions in government circles that similar tax fraud, known as transfer pricing, has been exercised systematically by companies in the sector.”

Illicit financial flows
A new report released by Global Financial Integrity estimates “developing” countries lost $903 billion to illicit financial outflows in 2009 (which is actually lower than the 2008 figure), capping a decade in which they lost $8.44 trillion.
“It would be encouraging to find that the 2009 reduction in illicit outflows occurred because of stronger governance within countries and more transparent financial dealings between countries. There is little indication that this is yet the case. The need for combined global effort to curtail illicit financial flows is more urgent than ever. We are pleased to note that the G20, OECD, World Bank, and others are beginning to take this issue much more seriously.”

An important distinction
ECONorthwest’s Ann Hollingshead draws a distinction between the concepts of “ill-gotten money” and “illicit financial flows,” which have markedly different economic impacts on poor countries.
“The [World Bank] authors study what they term ‘ill-gotten money,’ which they define as ‘money derived (illegally acquired) from crime and tax evasion.’ This includes not only illicit cross-boarder transfers and assets held abroad, but also illicit transfers and assets held and transferred domestically. The difference between this concept and illicit financial flows is important. The economic effect of a criminal activity alone is quite different than the economic effect of a criminal activity with a corresponding transfer of cash internationally. Or the economic effect of an illicit cross-boarder transaction where the underlying activity itself was not illicit.”

Legal corruption
The New York Times reviews Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig’s new book, Republic, Lost, in which he explores the idea of legal corruption.
“There is, in his view, one thing holding back America, a legal but corrupt system of campaign finance. ‘Practically every important issue in American politics today is tied to this ‘one issue,’ ’ he writes. Mr. Lessig’s agenda (invoking Thoreau) is to attack ‘the root, the thing that feeds the other ills, and the thing that we must kill first.’
Existing campaign finance reforms, particularly donor disclosure and contribution limits, have done as much harm as good, leading to ‘a corruption practiced by decent people’ and legitimizing what Mr. Lessig calls ‘a gift economy.’ Disclosure of the identities of contributors has made the venal routine. The system ‘normalizes dependence,’ Mr. Lessig writes. ‘There’s is no shame in the dance.’ ”