Latest Developments, October 2

In the latest news and analysis…

Lived poverty
Results from Afrobarometer’s poll of over 50,000 people in Africa suggest the continent’s rapid economic growth is doing little to reduce poverty:

“This data, based on the views and experience of ordinary citizens, counters projections of declining poverty rates that have been derived from official GDP growth rates. For the 16 countries where these questions have been asked over the past decade, we find little evidence for systematic reduction of lived poverty despite average GDP growth rates of 4.8% per year over the same period. While we do see reductions in five countries (Cape Verde, Ghana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe), we also find increases in lived poverty in five others (Botswana, Mali, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania). Overall, then, despite high reported growth rates, lived poverty at the grassroots remains little changed. This suggests either that growth is occurring, but that its effects are not trickling down to the poorest citizens (in fact, income inequality may be worsening), or alternatively, that actual growth rates may not match up to those being reported.”

Out of the club
Reuters reports that Gambia is quitting the Commonwealth, a group of 54 mostly ex-British colonies, calling it a “neo-colonial institution“:

“ ‘The government has withdrawn its membership of the British Commonwealth and decided that the Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism,’ read a statement broadcast on state television.”

Sugar rush
Oxfam has released a new report alleging the sugar needs of big Western food and beverage companies are fuelling land grabs around the world:

“This includes a fishing community in Pernambuco State, Brazil fighting for access to their land and fishing grounds, after having been violently evicted in 1998 by a sugar mill, which provides sugar to Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. In Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil indigenous communities are fighting the occupation of their land by sugar plantations supplying a mill owned by Bunge. Coca-Cola buys sugar from Bunge in Brazil but says it does not buy from this particular mill. In Sre Ambel District in Cambodia, 200 families are fighting for land from which they were evicted in 2006 to make way for a sugar plantation. The plantation has supplied Tate & Lyle Sugars, which sells sugar to franchises that manufacture and bottle products for Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. Associated British Foods, through their ownership of Illovo, Africa’s biggest producer of sugar cane, has also been linked in media reports to land conflicts in Mali, Zambia and Malawi.”

Asia pivot
Al Jazeera reports on a new military agreement between the US and South Korea for “tailored deterrence” against North Korea:

“South Korean defence ministers agreed on Wednesday to review the timing and transfer of wartime command control of their combined forces on the Korean peninsula from US military to South Korea, a joint statement said.
While South Korea is scheduled to take over wartime operational command in 2015, there have been calls in the government for it to be postponed while North Korea continues to push ahead with its nuclear weapons and long-range missile programmes.
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel listened ‘very seriously’ to their apprehensions.”

Counterproductive closures
Al Jazeera reports that plans by UK banking giant Barclays to shut down remittance sending to Somalia over terrorism fears could backfire in a number of ways:

“ ‘No one is going to let their loved ones starve to death. Money will be sent no matter what,’ said Mohamed Ibrahim, chairman of the London Somali Youth Forum.
‘The money will be sent through underground channels, which are hard to monitor, and only result in criminalising the hardworking members of the community.’
Another worry for community leaders is the account closures could be used by al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabab as a recruitment opportunity.
‘If you cut off people’s only income, they will find other ways of making a living and al-Shabab will surely take advantage and offer an alternative source of income,’ Ibrahim said.
In the UK, the remittance industry is also one of the biggest employers in the Somali community, providing jobs directly to hundreds of people. Barclays’ move will instantly render them unemployed.”

Fossil fuel binge
The World Development Movement’s Alex Scrivener uses Borneo to illustrate the harmful effects of British institutional investments on communities half a world away:

“Throughout East Kalimantan, there are many communities like Segading that have been devastated by coal mining.
The shocking truth is that 83 per cent of the coal production of East Kalimantan is extracted by companies with a link to Britain’s financial sector. For example, Bumi plc, which owns big stakes in both Bumi Resources and Berau Coal, raised £707 million on the London Stock Exchange when it floated in 2010. Much of this money will have come from big institutional investors such as pension funds, which supposedly invest on behalf of ordinary pension scheme holders across Britain.
It’s time to call time on the British banks’ fossil fuel binge. We need urgent regulation to control the flow of money to fossil fuel companies so that banks and pension funds are held to account for the impact of their investments.”

High price
Agence France-Presse reports on the ongoing protests in Romania over a Canadian-owned project that promises to become Europe’s largest open-pit gold mine:

“Gabriel Resources hopes to extract 300 tonnes of gold with mining techniques requiring the use of thousands of tonnes of cyanide.
It promises 900 jobs during the 16-year extraction period, as well as economic benefits.
But academics and environmentalists say the [Rosia Montana] mine is an ecological time bomb and threatens the area’s Roman mining galleries.”

Law avoidance
Global Witness refutes arguments opposing legally binding rules for companies regarding the trade in conflict minerals:

“Instead of legislation, [Forbes’s Tim Worstall] advocates a voluntary, industry-led scheme which focuses on ‘fingerprinting’ minerals at processing plants to combat the conflict minerals trade. Any argument for voluntary measures to address the problem is seriously flawed. A decade and a half of UN and NGO reports exposing the links between conflict and minerals in eastern DRC failed to compel companies to look more closely at their supply chains. It is only since the US introduced legislation that companies have significantly changed their behaviour.”

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