Latest Developments, April 9

In the latest news and analysis…

Thatcher’s legacy
The Guardian reports on some of the ways that the news of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s death was met in South Africa, “a country where she found herself on the wrong side of history”:

“ ‘My gut reaction now is what it was at the time when she said my father was the leader of a terrorist organisation,’ [Dali Tambo, son of the African National Congress president Oliver Tambo] said. ‘I don’t think she ever got it that every day she opposed sanctions, more people were dying, and that the best thing for the assets she wanted to protect was democracy.’ ”

Publish what you pay
The Irish Times reports that the European Union has agreed on rules requiring “large companies and public-interest entities” in the extractive industries to report payments they make to governments around the world:

“The legislation, which is unlikely to enter into force before 2016, could have implications for companies such as Tullow Oil, which have a significant presence in Africa. The US introduced similar legislation last year. However, some NGOs had argued that telecommunication and construction companies should also be included in the directive.”

Arms for peace
The Associated Press reports that US President Barack Obama has issued a memo calling for the US to restart arms sales to Somalia in order to “promote world peace”:

“The move follows a decision by the U.N. Security Council, after an appeal from Somali officials, to partially suspend the arms embargo on Somalia for 12 months. The council preserved a ban on exports of a list of heavy military hardware, including surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank guided weapons and night-vision weapons.
The U.S. government has provided funds and training to African Union forces fighting al-Shabab in Somalia, and has also provided more than $133 million to Somalia since 2007 in security sector assistance, intended to help the country build up and professionalize its security forces. Obama’s memorandum on Friday opens the door for military-to-military relations, allowing the U.S. to provide equipment, training and other assistance directly to Somalia’s government and military.”

Word vs. deed
McClatchy has undertaken “the first independent evaluation of internal U.S. intelligence accounting of drone attacks,” which suggests the Obama administration is not doing what it says it is:

“Micah Zenko, an expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, a bipartisan foreign policy think tank, who closely follows the target killing program, said McClatchy’s findings indicate that the administration is ‘misleading the public about the scope of who can legitimately be targeted.’
The documents also show that drone operators weren’t always certain who they were killing despite the administration’s guarantees of the accuracy of the CIA’s targeting intelligence and its assertions that civilian casualties have been ‘exceedingly rare.’

‘The United States has gone far beyond what the U.S. public – and perhaps even Congress – understands the government has been doing and claiming they have a legal right to do,’ said Mary Ellen O’Connell, a Notre Dame Law School professor who contends that CIA drone operations in Pakistan violate international law.”

Going home
Reuters reports that France has taken a first, small step towards pulling its troops out of Mali, though it does not intend to withdraw all of them:

“Paris aims to complete the withdrawal of 3,000 soldiers this year and will keep a permanent 1,000-strong combat force in the former colony to support a U.N. peacekeeping mission of African forces.

‘It’s the start of the pullout,’ [army spokesman] Thierry Burkhard said. ‘The aim is to be down to 2,000 in July.’
Burkhard said that about 100 men from a parachute regiment that had been based in Tessalit, in the foothills of the Adrar des Ifoghas mountain range, had now left Mali.”

New weapon
The New York Times reports the US Navy is deploying a prototype “laser attack weapon” to the Persian Gulf:

“The laser will not be operational until next year, but the announcement on Monday by Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, the chief of naval operations, seemed meant as a warning to Iran not to step up activity in the gulf in the next few months if tensions increase because of sanctions and the impasse in negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program. The Navy released video and still images of the laser weapon burning through a drone during a test firing.
The laser is designed to carry out a graduated scale of missions, from burning through a fast-attack boat or a drone to producing a nonlethal burst to ‘dazzle’ an adversary’s sensors and render them useless without causing any other physical damage.”

History lesson
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki urges the international community not to take sides (or at any rate, not to supply arms to one faction or another) in the Syrian conflict:

“Accordingly, we oppose all transfers of weapons, to both the government and the opposition, and we are working to ensure that our airspace and territory are not used for such transfers.
Further militarization of the conflict will only increase the suffering of civilians and strengthen radical groups, including our common enemy, al-Qaeda. We have been mystified by what appears to be the widespread belief in the United States that any outcome in Syria that removes President Bashar al-Assad from power will be better than the status quo. A Syria controlled in whole or part by al-Qaeda and its affiliates — an outcome that grows more likely by the day — would be more dangerous to both our countries than anything we’ve seen up to now. Americans should remember that an unintended consequence of arming insurgents in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets was turning the country over to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.”

Unwanted help
The Telegraph reports that pop icon Madonna was stripped of her VIP status during her latest visit to Malawi, where she is involved in controversial charitable efforts:

“The country’s education minister accused Madonna of ‘exaggerating’ the extent of her charitable work in the country and a request by Madonna for an audience with President Joyce Banda was ignored.

‘She just came unannounced and proceeded to villages and made poor people dance for her. And immigration officials opened the VIP lounge for her just because previously she enjoyed the VIP status,’ the president told a journalist covering the visit.”

Latest Developments, February 23

 

In the latest news and analysis…

Outside solutions
Oxfam’s Barbara Stocking has expressed disappointment over the Somalia conference in London, which UK Prime Minister David Cameron hailed as a “turning point.”
“While we recognise the huge efforts of the UK Government to make the conference a success, what we had hoped for was a recognition that 20 years of internationally imposed solutions have failed. However, what we’ve seen once again are externally driven solutions that haven’t worked, aren’t working and will not work.

What we got was the rhetoric of Somali inclusion but you cannot go forward with a new constitution and elections in such a troubled country without a wide and inclusive political engagement within Somali society.”

Madonna strikes again
The Guardian reports Madonna’s latest school-building scheme in Malawi has run afoul of education officials who say they have not been consulted.
“…John Bisika, Malawi’s national secretary for education, science and technology, told the Guardian: ‘We have had no written or verbal communication. We just read about it in the papers. I don’t understand how she can work like that. For someone to go to the papers and say, ‘I’m building schools’, without telling the government, I find it a strange way of working.’
He added: ‘When will she build these schools? How will we know where these schools are needed? We need to do this in a co-ordinated manner. I wouldn’t just go to the UK and start building schools.
‘We need to be approached and work out where the schools are needed, based on school mapping. If she doesn’t come through us, it will not happen. We can’t just see people building schools. Let’s do it properly.’ ”

Patent reform
Intellectual Property Watch reports that UN talks have moved one step closer to an international agreement concerning genetic resources, although substantial differences remain over “mandatory disclosure of origin in patent applications.”
“The Indian delegate said ‘none of us here’ want to give ‘the impression that we are against the patent system’ but ‘there is a lot of free riding that is going on,’ he said, and the companies are taking traditional knowledge and claiming that it is their own, to the detriment of local communities he said. For the integrity of the patent system it is important that such bad patents are not granted, he added.”

Corruption by another name
The Tax Justice Network reproduces the communiqué released at the inaugural meeting of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa.
“Illicit financial outflows constitute a major source of resource leakage from the continent draining foreign exchange reserves, reducing tax collection, dwindling investment inflows, and worsening poverty in Africa. The methods and channels of illicit financial outflows are many and varied including tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions, over-invoicing, under-pricing, and different money laundering strategies. This source of resource outflows is far bigger and higher in terms of scale and magnitude than the normal corruption channels, which are focused upon globally.”

Infantilizing nations
Michael Marder of the University of the Basque Country, Vitoria-Gasteiz sees parallels between European current events and earlier dark chapters in the continent’s history.
“The infantalisation and animalisation of entire nations, for course, is nothing new for Europe that has had a long tradition of portraying itself in terms of the beacon of humanity and that has invariably resorted to the idea of its ‘civilising mission’ throughout it colonial conquests and expansions. Now, almost four decades after the last European countries have withdrawn from the colonies overseas, the same rhetoric is being turned inward, retracing the new political economic continental rift between the North and the South of Europe. Exploitation is the one constant that remains after this shift: exorbitant interest rates and repayment conditions attached to the bailout package will make sure that the debtor countries organise their economies around the need to service their debt for the foreseeable future.”

Price of doing business
Duke University’s Christine Bader asks why more extractive companies are not taking preventive measures to avoid escalation of conflict with host communities.
“[Former UN special representative for business and human rights, John] Ruggie suggests that most companies aren’t yet adding up what he calls those “costs of conflict,” which might be dispersed across security, public relations, legal, and operational budgets, and therefore aren’t motivated to act.
Some companies worry that opening up lines of communication will open the floodgates for specious claims. But a Harvard University study concluded that ‘the mere existence of a quality grievance mechanism can improve a company’s relations with affected stakeholders and thereby reduce grievances, as it signals that the company is ready to be held accountable, to confront, acknowledge and learn from problems.’ ”

Oil opacity
The Economist takes on the extractive industry’s “many objections” to more stringent transparency requirements, such as those contained in America’s Dodd-Frank act.
“But businesspeople struggle to produce examples of how local restrictions on publishing confidential contract details could clash with transparency requirements elsewhere. Contracts in developing countries typically have a clause permitting disclosures that are required by the company’s home country and stock exchange. Nor does greater disclosure seem to hurt competitiveness. In 2011 Angola awarded several new deepwater oil concessions to firms covered by Dodd-Frank. No oil company has so far cited increased openness as a material risk in its [US Securities and Exchange Commission] filings.
The expense has been minimal for the few, such as America’s Newmont Mining, that already provide country-level reporting (none yet breaks the numbers down project-by-project). Exxon says that the new rules would cost $50m. That is a lot of money, to be sure, but only 0.1% of last year’s profits. Companies already collect for internal use the data they are being asked to make public.”

Know thyself
UC Irvine’s Mark LeVine argues that if American and European citizens really want to help their counterparts in countries like Syria, they must first become more knowledgeable about their own countries’ “foreign policy interests and practices.”
“And if they got such knowledge, it would demand a much larger transformation in the political culture and economic structures of their own societies, which have always been intimately tied to support for authoritarianism and corruption abroad.”