Latest Developments, January 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Françafrique lives
91 days after declaring France’s neocolonial relationship with Africa dead, French President François Hollande announced that his country was taking military action in former colony Mali:

“At stake today is the very existence of our ally Mali, the security of its population and that of French citizens. There are 6,000 of them in Mali.
I have, therefore, in the name of France, answered the plea for help from Mali’s president, which has the support of the nations of West Africa. As a result, the French armed forces gave their support this afternoon to Malian units for the fight against these terrorist elements.
This operation will last as long as necessary.” [Translated from the French.]

Deep roots
350.org co-founder Bill McKibben discusses the global significance of the indigenous protest movement that began in Canada last year under the banner #IdleNoMore:

“[First Nations] are, legally and morally, all that stand in the way of Canada’s total exploitation of its vast energy and mineral resources, including the tar sands, the world’s second largest pool of carbon. NASA’s James Hansen has explained that burning that bitumen on top of everything else we’re combusting will mean it’s ‘game over for the climate.’ Which means, in turn, that Canada’s First Nations are in some sense standing guard over the planet.

Corporations and governments have often discounted the power of native communities — because they were poor and scattered in distant places, they could be ignored or bought off. But in fact their lands contain much of the continent’s hydrocarbon wealth — and, happily, much of its wind, solar and geo-thermal resources, as well. The choices that Native people make over the next few years will be crucial to the planet’s future — and #IdleNoMore is an awfully good sign that the people who have spent the longest in this place are now rising artfully and forcefully to its defense.”

Importing cholera
Foreign Policy has published an account, drawn from former Associated Press correspondent Jonathan Katz’s new book, of his investigation into how the UN turned Haiti’s biggest river into an “artery of disease”:

“In two years, more than 7,800 Haitians have died of cholera. One in five people in a nation of roughly 10 million has fallen seriously ill with the disease, while the unusually virulent strain has spread across the Caribbean, into South America, and the United States.
The United Nations has made grandiose, if seemingly empty, promises to fight and eradicate the disease, but refuses to consider its own accountability in starting the epidemic. Aid workers and donor governments have lost a critical opportunity — to demonstrate that they took Haitian lives and welfare as seriously as their own.”

Funding abuses
The Guardian reports that the UK plans to give millions to Ethiopian “special police” accused of human rights violations, including summary executions, in the country’s restive Ogaden region:

“The Guardian has seen an internal Department for International Development document forming part of a tender to train security forces in the Somali region of Ogaden, which lies within Ethiopia, as part of a five-year £13m–15m ‘peace-building’ programme.
The document notes the ‘reputational risks of working alongside actors frequently cited in human rights violation allegations’. DfID insists that the training will be managed by NGOs and private companies with the goal of improving security, professionalism and accountability of the force, but Human Rights Watch has documented countless allegations of human rights abuses.”

Mining maze
Bloomberg reports on the difficult road to compensation faced by thousands of South African ex-miners suffering from silicosis:

“ ‘Whether we are able to bring Anglo American and other parent companies to the table or not will have a significant impact on the size of any final award or settlement,’ [the plaintiff’s lawyer Richard] Spoor said by phone yesterday. ‘The question of the parent company liability is a very difficult area of law because of the principle of limited liability.’

Mergers, acquisitions and delistings over the years have left former workers with nowhere to go to seek compensation, Spoor said. Gold Fields Ltd. was created in 1998 by combining the assets of Gencor and Gold Fields of South Africa Ltd. AngloGold was formed when Anglo American’s South African business bought out minority shareholders of its gold units in 1997.
Anglo American ceded control of AngloGold in April 2004 when the gold miner bought Ghana’s Ashanti Goldfields Ltd., creating AngloGold Ashanti.
Gold companies including AngloGold deny liability.”

Tax-shy telcos
The BBC reports that Indian tax officials have raided a facility belonging to Finnish phone giant Nokia:

“According to some media reports, officials said they were looking to recover tax payments totalling as much as 30bn Indian rupees ($545m; £340m).

The raid on Nokia comes just days after Indian tax officials asked the UK’s Vodafone to pay more than $2bn in back taxes.”

Banning fake vaccines
The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny calls on the US government to declare it will never again use public health interventions to gather intelligence, as it famously did in Pakistan where there has been a recent spate of violence against vaccine providers:

“Such a declaration has been proposed in a letter sent to President Obama this Monday signed by the deans of America’s top public health schools.  I suggest this could be modeled on –and inserted into– Executive Order 12333 which mandates that ‘No element of the Intelligence Community shall sponsor, contract for, or conduct research on human subjects except in accordance with guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services,’ and bans engagement in or conspiracy towards assassination and actions intended to influence United States political processes, public opinion, policies, or media.”

Diluting responsibility
The Guardian reports that “opaque supply chains” are part of the reason that Bangladesh’s booming garment industry keeps experiencing deadly factory blazes, the latest of which claimed 111 lives:

“Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, says a convoluted and opaque supply chain is largely to blame for the lack of compliance with international labour standards. ‘Often the factory that gets the order is fully compliant,’ she says. ‘But multiple subcontracts make a mockery of so-called ethical sourcing. When an accident happens, the buyers can simply deny responsibility.’
After the Tazreen blaze, retailers said they had not authorised production at the factory. Walmart and Sears said in separate statements that suppliers had subcontracted production without informing them.”

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