Latest Developments, March 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Non-European pontiff
Reuters reports that the Argentine cardinal who has become Francis I, the first ever Latin American pope, faces “sharp questions” about the role he played decades ago in his country’s Dirty War:

“ ‘History condemns him. It shows him to be opposed to all innovation in the Church and above all, during the dictatorship, it shows he was very cozy with the military,’ Fortunato Mallimacci, the former dean of social sciences at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, once said.
His actions during this period strained his relations with many brother Jesuits around the world, who tend to be more politically liberal.
Those who defend [Jorge] Bergoglio say there is no proof behind these claims and, on the contrary, they say the priest helped many dissidents escape during the military junta’s rule.”

Investor bias
Reuters also reports that Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has proposed a bill to “annul” his country’s investment protection treaty with the US:

“Correa, who won a sweeping re-election victory in mid-February, said over the weekend that the OPEC-member country could go bankrupt because arbitration tribunals always rule that Ecuador should pay damages to foreign investors when there is a dispute.
‘These (investment) treaties favor foreign investors over human beings. Anyone can take us to an arbitration tribunal without first going to a national court,’ he said on Saturday.

Ecuador has signed 23 investment protection treaties, which has allowed foreign companies to file 39 arbitration requests at the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), state-run media said on Monday.”

Shareholder battle
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Chevron is moving to block activist shareholders that want the US oil giant to settle a multibillion-dollar lawsuit over alleged environmental destruction in Ecuador:

“ ‘I’ve never had a case of a company playing such hardball tactics against its own shareholders this way,’ said Simon Billenness with Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

‘The feeling among institutional shareholders is we really have to draw a line in the sand here, because we can’t have companies using these tactics against shareholders in the future,’ he said.”

Changing tactics
The BBC reports that Guatemala is looking for bold new ways to deal with drug trafficking beyond what the country’s interior minister calls a “failed” military campaign:

“This idea, being put forward by Guatemala to decriminalise and regulate the international trade in drugs such as heroin and cocaine, is unequivocally condemned by Britain and other Western governments.

Guatemala is not yet clear on how decriminalisation would work. The idea of legal containers of cocaine being loaded onto ships in port might be far-fetched, but with the drugs trade undermining fragile states such as Afghanistan and Burma, its initiative for change is gaining support.”

Getting worse
Al Jazeera reports on the state of the Guantanamo Bay prison more than four years after US President Barack Obama promised to shut down the controversial facility on his first day in office:

“ ‘I think we need to understand what we mean when we talk about closure, we don’t mean transfer or prosecute which is what many of the critics of Guantanamo would like to see happen. When the US government talks about closing Guantanamo, they talk about moving some set of detainees to some other place where they continue to be detained without charge,’ [according to Georgetown University’s Jennifer Daskal].”

Unintended consequences
Makerere University’s Mahmood Mamdani calls the International Criminal Court “the single factor with the most influence” in Kenya’s recent presidential election:

“Whereas the 2010 referendum had a de-ethnicising effect on Kenyan politics, the involvement of the ICC had the opposite effect, re-ethnicising Kenyan politics, with more and more ethnicities organising politically and centrally. The result is that the country has re-divided into two large ethnic coalitions.

The ICC process has polarised politics in Kenya because the electoral process did not unfold on a level playing field. Led by individuals who stand charged before the ICC, one side in the electoral contest is, and so it can not contemplate defeat. The simple fact is that, if defeated, they would lose all.
Everyone knows that the worst thing to do in a contest is to leave your opponent without an escape route. If you do that, you turn the contest into a life-and-death struggle. You transform adversaries into enemies.”

Reporting differently
Cornell University’s Mukoma Wa Ngugi writes that “Western journalists have been left behind by an Africa moving forward”:

“For western journalism to be taken seriously by Africans and Westerners alike, it needs Africans to vouch for stories rather than satirizing them. I am not saying that journalism needs the subject to agree with the content, but the search for journalistic truth takes place within a broad societal consensus. That is, while one may disagree with particular reportage and the facts, the spirit of the essay should not be in question. But Africans are saying that the journalists are not representing the complex truth of the continent; that Western journalists are not only misrepresenting the truth, but are in spirit working against the continent. The good news is there have been enough people questioning the coverage of Africa over the years that Western journalists have had no choice but to do some soul searching. The bad news is that the answers are variations of the problem.”

Radical shift
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues that the language of development has changed drastically in the last few years:

“Three words: universality, sustainability and equality – like a non-violent French revolution, all are now unshakeably central to the post-2015 agreement. The absurd conceptualisation of countries as either developed or developing; the ruinous failure to integrate the environment into development; the self-serving attempt to relegate the distribution of wealth to an afterthought – all now consigned to the dustbin.
Where the [Millennium Development Goals] narrative implied we were marching boldly towards the ‘end of development’, to paraphrase Francis Fukuyama’s declaration, such a philosophy will be roundly rebuffed by the new [Sustainable Development Goals] narrative, which calls for profound action in countries that were once self-described as ‘developed’ as much as in much poorer countries.”

Latest Developments, April 16

In the latest news and analysis…

Kim prevails
Reuters reports that Jim Yong Kim has been chosen as the next World Bank president, thereby keeping alive the tradition that the US gets to decide who fills the position.
“The decision by the World Bank’s 25-member board was not unanimous, with emerging economies splitting their support. Brazil and South Africa backed [Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi] Okonjo-Iweala, while three sources said China and India supported Kim.

Okonjo-Iweala congratulated Kim and said the competition had led to ‘important victories’ for developing nations, which have increasingly pushed for more say at both institutions.
Still, she said more effort was needed to end the ‘unfair tradition’ that ensured Washington’s dominance of the global development lender.”

National oil
The Canadian Press reports that Argentine President Cristina Fernandez has proposed a bill to nationalize an oil company currently controlled by a Spanish corporation.
“Fernandez said in an address to the country that the measure sent to congress on Monday is aimed at recovering the nation’s sovereignty over its hydrocarbon resources. She said the shares being expropriated will be split between the national and provincial governments.
The president complained that Argentina had a deficit of $3 billion last year as a net importer of gas and petroleum.”

G-77 awakes
Trinity College’s Vijay Prashad writes about the G-77’s resurgent feistiness in the context of the ongoing “crisis” that has engulfed the UN Conference on Trade and Development.
“[G-77 head Pisnau] Chanvitan’s statement complains that the G-77 has tried its best to be flexible with the negotiation, but ‘perhaps our constructiveness was viewed as weakness, and our accommodation viewed as capitulation’. The North has ‘regressed to behavior perhaps more appropriate to the founding days of UNCTAD, when Countries of the North felt they could dictate and marginalize developing countries from informed decision-making.’

Remarkably, Chanvitan noted that the preparatory conference has seen ‘behavior that seems to indicate a desire for the dawn of a new neo-colonialism’. Such language has not been heard from the G-77 in decades. ‘Perhaps, in our desire for consensus,’ Chanvitan notes, ‘we have accommodated too much and this good faith was misunderstood, and abused. Perhaps this should end now.’ ”

World Bank and water
Corporate Accountability International has released a new report criticizing the World Bank for promoting water privatization in poor countries.
“The report, Shutting the Spigot on Private Water: The case for the World Bank to divest, documents the failures of water privatization efforts. It states that ‘thirty-four percent of all private water contracts marketwide entered between 2000 and 2010 have failed or are in distress – four times the failure rates of comparable infrastructure projects in the electric and transportation sectors.’
Despite these failures, the World Banks is set to spend billions on privatization efforts. The ‘Bank’s private-sector arm is aiming to increase investments to $1 billion each year beginning in 2013,’ the group states.”

British tax avoidance
ActionAid’s Aida Kiangi criticizes proposed new UK laws that would make it even easier for British companies to get out of paying “their fair share of taxes in developing countries like Tanzania,” which are already feeling the effects of corporate tax avoidance.
“Research by ActionAid has revealed that 23 of the FTSE 100 firms now operate in Tanzania. Between them, these companies have 3,166 sister companies located in tax havens. Barclays has 174 companies registered in the Cayman Islands alone.

The sad fact is that both the Tanzanian and UK governments are encouraging damaging tax competition between countries. While this benefits big business, it means there isn’t sufficient revenue to invest in basic services and infrastructure. Tanzania has experienced strong growth rates over the last few years, but this simply hasn’t translated into improvements in the lives of the vast majority of Tanzanians.”

Africa reporting
The Guardian’s Afua Hirsch writes that despite efforts to present Africa in a less condescending light, Western media outlets still give too little voice to African journalists.
“At the height of Liberia’s civil war in 2003, for example, as rebels surrounded the capital Monrovia and US troops were drafted in, Liberian journalists looked on from their shelled out offices as the complex conflict they had spent the past decade covering was scooped up by western reporters. In Mali, the same thing is happening now.
The result of the continuing tendency to ignore Africans is a lamentable lack of specialist African coverage in the world’s media. An academic debate about this problem has been thriving for some time. In the meantime, however, informed consumers of African news have adopted a more proactive approach, using social networking to vent with immediate effect.”

Commodities bubble
Morgan Stanley’s Ruchir Sharma argues that the commodity boom is a much darker bubble than its high-tech predecessor, but a bubble nonetheless.
“The hype has created a new industry that turns commodities into financial products that can be traded like stocks. Oil, wheat, and platinum used to be sold primarily as raw materials, and now they are sold largely as speculative investments. Copper is piling up in bonded warehouses not because the owners plan to use it to make wire, but because speculators are sitting on it, like gold, figuring that they can sell it one day for a huge profit. Daily trading in oil now dwarfs daily consumption of oil, running up prices. While rising prices for stocks–tech ones included–generally boost the economy, high prices for staples like oil impose unavoidable costs on businesses and consumers and act as a profound drag on the economy.”

African globalization
In a Q&A with Africa is a Country, filmmaker Nuotama Frances Bodomo talks about space, place and globalization.
“I think we are used to ascribing human beings to sectioned portions of earth, giving them a place that is holistically and naturally theirs (the same way we are used to thinking that a person has a soul that cleanly lives in a body). But this understanding of home is culturally specific and has a history, which means that it changes and is changed over time. Something about a home-space feels obsolete nowadays. To organize ourselves in terms of nationality or homeland feels obsolete. But there is still a desire to have that. We haven’t quite made the paradigm shift. Something feels lost, but I can’t tell you what we have to replace it with.”