Latest Developments, June 25

In the latest news and analysis…

Green light for blue helmets
Reuters reports that the UN Security Council has unanimously approved the start of peacekeeping operations in Mali on July 1:

“The 15-member Security Council unanimously approved in April a mandate for the 12,600-member force, to be known as MINUSMA, but its deployment had been subject to a council review on Tuesday of Mali’s security situation. French troops will support the peacekeepers if needed to combat Islamist extremist threats.

Once the U.N. peacekeeping force is deployed, France will continue to handle counterterrorism and peace enforcement operations as needed in Mali, while the U.N. blue helmets will handle traditional peacekeeping duties of policing and trying to ensure new violence does not erupt.”

History dismissed
The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson comments on US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s description of her colleagues’ “demolition” of the Voting Rights Act as “hubris”:

“Perhaps she’s right; but it could also be said that the majority ruling was built more on resentment of a particularly petulant kind: grudging about the need to remember an unpleasant past and to be mindful of the marginalized; offended by the idea that anyone would consider certain parts of the country more racist than others, or, really, that anyone is particularly racist at all these days.

‘As applied to Shelby County, the VRA’s preclearance requirement is hardly contestable,’ Ginsburg wrote, and the same could be said about Alabama as a whole. Ginsburg quoted an F.B.I. investigation of Alabama legislators who referred to black voters as ‘Aborigines’ and talked about how to keep them from the polls: ‘These conversations occurred not in the 1870’s, or even in the 1960’s, they took place in 2010.’”

Dangerous liaisons
In the wake of last week’s deadly attack on a UN compound in Mogadishu, Inner City Press reports on allegations that the actions of one UN agency operating in Somalia may be putting the organization’s personnel in danger:

“Now Inner City Press has exclusively been provided by whistleblowers with detailed complaints about the UN Mine Action Service’s David Bax, including that he shares both genetic information and physical evidence from bombings with American intelligence services, including through shadow private military contractor Bancroft Global Development.
According to the whistleblowers, this combined with Bax and ‘his’ Denel contractors traveling armed around Mogadishu leads to a perception that they and the UN have taken sides, and helps to make them a target.”

Militarized border
Agence France-Presse reports that US lawmakers are pushing for a military “surge” along the border with Mexico to prevent illegal immigration:

“Twenty thousand new border patrol agents, hundreds of miles of fencing, billions of dollars in drones, radar and sensors: US lawmakers are proposing a militaristic remedy to staunch illegal immigrant flow from Mexico.

In Washington, the ‘border surge’ proposal is already being compared with the ‘surge’ of US war troop reinforcements that president George W. Bush ordered to Iraq in 2007.
‘That military reference makes sense because it is going to militarize hundreds of American communities in the Southwest,’ said veteran Senate Democrat Patrick Leahy.
He sneered that the border security modification ‘reads like a Christmas wish list for Halliburton,’ one of the nation’s largest defense and energy contractors.”

Gulf Intervention
Radio France Internationale reports on the French military presence in the Gulf of Guinea, off Africa’s west coast:

“Since 1990, France has maintained a ship on a near permanent basis in the region as part of Operation Corymb. Currently, the frigate Touche-Tréville is patrolling the area. This ship intervened to assist the oil tanker MT Adour, attacked near the Togolese capital Lomé on the night of Wednesday June 19 to Thursday June 20. Its crew has since been freed. The Navy stresses, however, that ‘Operation Corymb’s mission is to protect French citizens and interests in the region. At this time, this boat is not dedicated to the fight against piracy.’ ”

African debt redux
Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Hamid Rashid ask if the new enthusiasm for sovereign-bond issues in Africa is paving the way for “the world’s next debt crisis“:

“Signs of default stress are already showing. In March 2009 – less than two years after the issue – Congolese bonds were trading for 20 cents on the dollar, pushing the yield to a record high. In January 2011, Côte d’Ivoire became the first country to default on its sovereign debt since Jamaica in January 2010.
In June 2012, Gabon delayed the coupon payment on its $1 billion bond, pending the outcome of a legal dispute, and was on the verge of a default. Should oil and copper prices collapse, Angola, Gabon, Congo, and Zambia may encounter difficulties in servicing their sovereign bonds.

Countries contemplating joining the bandwagon of sovereign-bond issuers would do well to learn the lessons of the all-too-frequent debt crises of the past three decades. Matters may become even worse in the future, because so-called ‘vulture’ funds have learned how to take full advantage of countries in distress. Recent court rulings in the United States have given the vultures the upper hand, and may make debt restructuring even more difficult, while enthusiasm for bailouts is clearly waning.”

GM dispute
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa’s Million Belay and the African Biodiversity Network’s Ruth Nyambura reject the UK environment minister’s claim that Africa needs genetically modified crops:

“It is a myth that the green revolution has helped poor farmers. By pushing just a few varieties of seed that need fertilisers and pesticides, agribusiness has eroded our indigenous crop diversity. It is not a solution to hunger and malnutrition, but a cause. If northern governments genuinely wish to help African agriculture, they should support the revival of seed-saving practices, to ensure that there is diversity in farmers’ hands.
But GM crops pose an even greater threat to Africa’s greatest wealth. GM companies make it illegal to save seed.”

Growth for some
King’s College London’s Andy Sumner looks into the “winners and losers” of global growth between 1990 and 2010:

“Third, one can say that 15% of global consumption growth from 1990 to 2010 went to the richest 1% of global population. At the other end of the distribution, the 53% under $2 in 1990 benefitted from less than an eighth of that global growth; and the 37% on less than $1.25 a day benefitted by little more than a twentieth of that growth.”

Latest Developments, October 2

In the latest news and analysis…

Secret meetings
The Washington Post reports that the White House has held a series of meetings to “consider for the first time whether to prepare for unilateral strikes” in North Africa as a result of a perceived increase in the threat of terrorism:

“ ‘Right now, we’re not in position to do much about it,’ said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official involved in the talks. As a result, he said, officials have begun to consider contingencies, including the question of ‘do we or don’t we’ deploy drones.

In addition, the U.S. military has launched a series of clandestine intelligence missions, including the use of civilian aircraft to conduct surveillance flights and monitor communications over the Sahara Desert and the arid region to the south, known as the Sahel.”

American justice
Reuters reports that US Supreme Court judges “seemed skeptical” as they listened to arguments for allowing American courts to hear cases relating to human rights abuses committed overseas by foreign corporations:

“But in oral arguments in one of the court’s biggest human rights cases in years, some justices suggested they might not close U.S. courts to similar claims against individuals, including those who take refuge in the United States, or to claims involving U.S. companies.

More than 150 lawsuits accusing U.S. and foreign corporations of wrongdoing in more than 60 foreign countries have been filed in U.S. courts in the last two decades, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”

Running interference
The Globe and Mail reports that a Canadian cabinet minister is being accused of “threatening the integrity and independence of the penal and parole systems” in the wake of comments made following the repatriation of Omar Khadr who spent a decade in detention at Guantanamo Bay after his capture at the age of 15:

“[Public Safety Minister Vic] Toews’ remarks are controversial because while he was the government minister tasked with overseeing Mr. Khadr’s repatriation, he is also the minister who presides over the Correctional Service of Canada.
Mr. Toews also appoints and renews the adjudicators for the National Parole Board – the same patronage appointees who are charged with determining any given individual prisoner’s liberties.
Now these same officials who must now try to figure out whether to allow Mr. Khadr out of prison and onto parole in coming months, or whether to lock him up until his sentence expires in 2018.
Lawyers for Mr. Khadr wonder whether Mr. Toews’ remarks too clearly telegraph to his officials what he would like to have happen.”

Death tolls
The Associated Press reports that US military deaths in Afghanistan have reached 2,000, a number that is dwarfed by the number of dead Afghan civilians:

“Tracking deaths of Afghan civilians is much more difficult. According to the UN, 13,431 civilians were killed in the Afghan conflict between 2007, when the UN began keeping statistics, and the end of August. Going back to the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, most estimates put the number of Afghan civilian deaths in the war at more than 20,000.”

Unequal trade talks
Inter Press Service reports that a former Jamaican prime minister, P.J. Patterson, has concerns about ongoing talks for an “Economic Partnership Agreement” between Caribbean states and the European Union:

“ ‘The concept of proportionality has been thrown out of the window. Indeed, some are more equal than others. Inequality is evident – no visas are required for entry in most of our countries – while we need a Schengen Visa or UK Permit to step foot on European soil.’
Patterson said the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) will need to address without further delay ‘such issues as investment, competition policy and government procurement to avert the danger of undertaking obligations or conferring rights on others that do not yet exist within the Community but already fall within the framework of the EPA’.”

Big deal
The New York Times reports that the board of Anglo-Swiss miner Xstrata has approved a takeover bid that would “create a behemoth in the world of mining and minerals”:

“First announced in February, the proposed transaction would unite Glencore, a giant commodities trading house, with Xstrata, its longtime mining partner. Together, the two would create an international mining company with both significant physical assets and an enormous trading operation that has invaluable insights into global demand for minerals.
The talks have drawn in many of London’s top deal makers, generating big fees for the bankers involved if the transaction is approved.”

Gray wave
The Guardian reports that legally enforceable rights specific to people over the age of 60, who will outnumber those under 15 by 2050, remain a rarity in today’s world:

“[The International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics’ Laura] Machado said there is a split between rich and poor countries on the need for a legally binding international instrument on ageing along the lines of the UN convention on discrimination against women.
‘It is clear there are two groups with very different positions,’ she said. ‘The EU especially does not consider such a convention on older persons necessary, whereas the Latin American bloc wants a legally binding instrument that will pave the way for laws at the state level.’ ”

Jobs, jobs, jobs
Inter Press Service reports that the latest edition of the World Bank’s annual World Development Report marks something of a shift from the institution’s traditional fixation on economic growth:

“ ‘The conventional wisdom is to focus on growth as a precondition for continued increases in living standards and strengthened social cohesion. But … the impact of growth on poverty reduction varies considerably across countries,’ the report notes.
‘If growth indicators captured the intangible social benefits from jobs, from lower poverty to greater social cohesion, a growth strategy and a jobs strategy would be equivalent. But a growth strategy may not pay enough attention to female employment, or to employment in secondary cities, or to idleness among youth. When potentially important spillovers from jobs are not realized, a jobs strategy may provide more useful insights.’ ”

Latest Developments, March 26

In the latest news and analysis…

NATO secrecy
The New York Times’ C.J. Chivers writes that NATO is withholding information regarding civilian casualties of its Libyan campaign.
“In previous statements, [NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh] Rasmussen had said that there were no ‘confirmed’ civilian casualties caused by NATO in the entire war. That ringing denial overlooked two points: NATO’s definition of a ‘confirmed casualty’ is a casualty that has been investigated by NATO; and because the alliance has refused to look into credible allegations of the scores of civilian deaths that independent investigations have found it caused, it is impossible for the official tally to rise above zero.”

Nominee controversy
The Financial Times reports the US nominee for World Bank president is “under fire” over a 2000 book he co-edited, which was highly critical of “neoliberal” economic policies.
“But colleagues of Dr [Jim Yong] Kim and officials at the US Treasury said that when taken in context he was simply arguing that the distribution of gains from economic growth decides whether it makes life better for the poorest. They pointed out that such criticisms were widespread in the late 1990s and the World Bank had since changed its practices to take account of them.
‘Jim Kim is a brilliant man and fully understands the need for economic growth. What we have said in the book is that economic growth, in and of itself, is insufficient and will not automatically lead to a better life for everyone,’ said Joyce Millen, one of the co-editors of Dying for Growth, and associate professor of anthropology at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.”

Mining claims
The CBC reports that a coalition of human rights groups has filed for Canada’s highest court to hear a lawsuit against a Canadian mining company for its alleged contributions to a massacre of civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“The groups allege that Anvil Mining Limited provided logistical support to the Congolese military who raped and murdered people as it crushed a rebel uprising in 2004, killing as many as 100 people in the port city of Kilwa.
That support allegedly included planes, trucks and drivers instrumental in ending the conflict. The port was key to the operation of a copper mine, the exit point for $500,000 worth of copper and silver every day.”

German apology
The Namibian reports on the growing pressure on Germany’s parliament to make amends for crimes committed in its former colony – now called Namibia – during the early 20th Century.
“More than 100 German NGOs have now signed the ‘No Amnesty to Genocide’ appeal to the German parliament joining the demand for a formal apology for the genocide and reparations.
The Left Party’s motion was debated in the Bundestag last Thursday, and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Green Party had also introduced similar motions, the latter of which [No Amnesty to Genocide’s Christian] Kopp said made no mention of payments of reparations.
Instead, said Kopp, the SPD and Green Party in their motions simply focus on demanding for the revival of the reconciliation initiative in the context of intensive development aid, and initiative he said was from the start unilaterally implemented with limited success so far.”

Private security boom
The BBC reports on the growing presence of foreign private military firms in and around Somalia.
“Another rapid growth area is the business of armed contractors hired to protect ships in Somalia from on board – a practice officially sanctioned for British ships by Prime Minister David Cameron in October.
Prof Chris Kinsey, a security expert at King’s College London, says Britain’s private security firms were “following the cash cow” much like they did in Iraq in 2003.

He predicts the recent discovery of oil in the region will generate even more work as “huge capital assets” like tankers and drilling ships need protection.”

Internet inequality
The Atlantic reports on new findings that suggest the “lion’s share” of online content still comes from the US and Europe.
“ ‘Many commentators speculated that [the Internet] would allow people outside of industrialised nations to gain access to all networked and codified knowledge, thus mitigating the traditionally concentrated nature of information production and consumption,’ [the Oxford Internet Institute’s Corinne Flick] writes. ‘These early expectations remain largely unrealised.’ ”

Speed kills
The Brookings Institution’s Kevin Watkins writes that Western actors bear some of the blame for the huge number of fatal road accidents in poor countries.
“The global nature of the crisis is epitomised by the road linking Kenya’s capital Nairobi to the port of Mombasa. Upgraded into an eight-lane superhighway with support from the World Bank and other donors, speed is up and journey times are down.
Pity they forgot about the children, hundreds of whom cross the road to get from their homes in the sprawling slum of Kibera to primary school. ‘It makes me scared every single day,’ Mary Kitunga, 12, told me.

Car companies talk about road safety, but people come a distant second to profit when they spot a market opportunity. That’s why major multinational companies operate one set of vehicle standards for the US and another for Brazil.”

The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie makes a case for moving beyond aid and its one-way approach to sharing solutions.
“In 2010 Nigel Crisp, a former chief executive of Britain’s National Health Service, published an extraordinary book called Turning the World Upside Down: The Search for Global Health in the 21st Century. Like this [Global Health Strategies Initiatives] report, he argues that the solutions to global health problems are now at least as likely to come from unexpected sources in the developing world as from the west. But he goes a step further, bringing out lessons that rich countries can learn from poorer ones, and treating health similarly in rich and poor countries alike.
Crisp’s talk of ‘co-development’ rather than rich-poor international development resonates in this era of shifting power, and with a blog I wrote a few years ago arguing something similar. When western audiences start to look to poorer countries for solutions in health and in other sectors, they will finally have moved on from the era of aid.”