Latest Developments, November 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Business crimes
The Financial Times reports that authorities in Switzerland are investigating whether a Swiss company’s purchase of gold from a “militia group” in eastern Congo constitutes a war crime:

“The legal proceeding is the strongest yet by Switzerland against one of the companies key to the country’s multibillion-dollar gold industry. It is the first time that anyone has attempted to deploy against a business the charge of ‘pillage’ – to describe stealing and illegally removing natural resources in the context of war – since the aftermath of the second world war.

The decision was prompted by a complaint from a Swiss non-profit organisation, Trial, following a nine-year investigation. It claims Swiss gold refinery Argor-Heraeus knowingly bought nearly three tonnes of gold sold by an armed group in eastern Congo via traders in neighbouring Uganda in 2005.”

US expansionism
Foreign Policy reports that the US is considering a new marine force off the coast of West Africa:

“The new force, still in notional stages, would be based on a Navy ship floating in and around the Gulf of Guinea, according to Marine officials and a briefing slide from an Oct. 30 speech delivered by Lt. Gen. Richard Tryon. The slide includes a map in which a single ship is based in the gulf, and Marines have the ability to perform missions from it as far inland as Algeria to the north, and Kenya and Tanzania to the east.”

Secrecy empire
The Guardian reports that the Tax Justice Network has released the latest Financial Secrecy Index and called the UK “the most important player in the financial secrecy world”:

“Britain, in partnership with Her Majesty’s overseas territories and crown dependencies, remains ‘by far the most important part of the global offshore system of tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions’, the Queen will be told tomorrow in a letter from tax experts and campaigners.
The monarch, who acts as head of state for UK-linked jurisdictions as far away as the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Jersey and the Isle of Man, will receive a copy of the Tax Justice Network’s (TJN) two-yearly index of financial secrecy, which paints an unflattering picture of Britain and its close ties to many leading tax havens.”

Surveillance deal
The New York Times reports that the CIA is paying US telecom giant AT&T “more than $10 million a year” to help with overseas spying:

“The cooperation is conducted under a voluntary contract, not under subpoenas or court orders compelling the company to participate, according to the [US government] officials.

The company has a huge archive of data on phone calls, both foreign and domestic, that were handled by its network equipment, not just those of its own customers.

AT&T has a history of working with the government. It helped facilitate the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program by allowing the N.S.A. to install secret equipment in its phone and Internet switching facilities, according to an account by a former AT&T technician made public in a lawsuit.”

Risky countries
The BBC reports that the UK has decided people from its biggest former colonies won’t have to pay a “security bond” for the right to visit the ex-metropole:

“The aim of the scheme was to reduce the number of people from some ‘high risk’ countries – including India, Pakistan, and Nigeria – staying in the UK once their short-term visas had expired.
Visitors would have paid a £3,000 cash bond before arrival in the UK – forfeited if they failed to make the return trip.”

Redefining aid
The Guardian reports that the rules regulating what donor countries can describe as development assistance are “up for grabs for the first time in decades”:

“The development assistance committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the club of rich countries, defines and polices what its members can count as official development assistance (ODA). Only spending with ‘the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries’ as its main goal is eligible, but in practice the rules, set in 1969, have allowed donors to count a wide range of activities. The UK, for example, counted £3m worth of pension payments to former colonial officers as ODA last year.”

Oversimplifying Africa
Africans in the Diaspora’s Solome Lemma argues the “Africa rising” narrative that seems to have replaced its racist predecessors carries its own risks:

“The state is often presented as a barrier, a liability ripe with corruption and inefficiency that can be leapfrogged by technology and enterprise. At most, the state’s value is to facilitate an investment-friendly environment for business. Where there is a problem, business can resolve it.
The World Bank and IMF have waged a sustained assault on African public services over several decades, and have never been called to account for the profound and lasting damage they have done.

As the priorities and spaces of activists and institutions converge, we should however ask ourselves: which Africans are gaining entry to institutional and mainstream development spaces and why? Is this change indicative of tangible shifts in power or is it simply a cosmetic facelift? On the continent or in the diaspora, we have insights into a different and constantly shifting picture of our communities, and that complex mosaic is still missing from most narratives.”

Home states
Oxfam’s Alex Blair discusses efforts to get the US and Canadian governments to do more to ensure mining companies based in their countries behave abroad:

“By holding companies responsible for their actions abroad, home states can help put an end to the human rights abuses in Latin America that are threatening the local people’s livelihood and way of life.
[The Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo’s Dora Lucy Arias] described a request from an elderly indigenous woman in Colombia: ‘They have been dealing with the impact of mining in that area for 30 years, and what she asked me to transmit to the world is that not everyone wants to just have more and more things in their house… Many people have a different view of what a good life is, and what they would like to be able to do is continue to be able to live their life on their land and continue to produce food.’
‘She asked me to talk about the war against the ability of small farmers to exist.’ ”

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