Latest Developments, November 17

In the latest news and analysis…

Mali’s land rush
The Guardian reports on a new study that found foreign investment in Mali’s arable land, much of which has been worked for generations by farmers with no formal ownership rights, increased by 60 percent from 2009 to 2010.
“The bulk of these land deals – covering an area the report says could sustain more than half a million small farmers – were negotiated by just 22 foreign agri-investors. Less than 5% of west Africa’s largest country is arable.

The report levels significant blame on the World Bank, which it says has ‘shaped the economic, fiscal and legal environment of Mali in a way that favours the acquisition of vast tracks of fertile lands by few private interests instead of bringing solutions to the widespread poverty and hunger plaguing the country’.”

Zambia doubles up on miners
The Centre for Trade Policy and Development has welcomed the Zambian government’s proposal to double royalty rates on mining companies to six percent.
“Our analysis of the mining sector’s tax payments, its contribution to employment and supporting backward and forward linkages to local supply chains reveals that these are not commensurate to the levels of incentives and concessions that the government currently gives to the industry. The cost structure of most of the mining entities is weighted to promote shifting of profits outside the country through such schemes as transfer pricing, use of derivatives and thin capitalization,” according to CTPD’s Savior Mwambwa.

Air battle
Reuters reports that Nigeria is fining two British airlines for overcharging on flights between the two countries, claiming flights from the UK to nearby Ghana are considerably cheaper.
“’We are charging British Airways $135-million and Virgin Atlantic $100-million for abuse of a dominant position, fixing prices, abusing fuel surcharges and taking advantage of passengers,’ said Harold Demuren, director-general of Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
‘We have been investigating for the last six months. Lagos to London has the highest route yield in the world. Our market is open for exploration, not exploitation.’”

Generic pressures
The Inter Press Service reports that even though there are international mechanisms – such as the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and Public Health laid out in the Doha Declaration of 2001 – that theoretically enable poor countries to prioritize public health over intellectual property rights, important obstacles to generic treatments persist.
“Surprisingly, very few developing countries, including South Africa, have amended their Patent Acts to make use of the possibilities the Doha Declaration provided – mainly due to international pressure from the pharmaceutical industry, the United States and European Union, where many of the world’s patented drugs are manufactured, health experts argue.”

Green economics
The International Institute for Environment and Development’s Kate Munro says green economics has yet to “leap the chasm that divides it from mainstream economic thinking” but it is gaining political traction in “developing” countries.
“However as the [New Forests Company] project in Uganda illustrates, the wide range of activities that can fly the green flag currently includes development projects with major negative social impacts. Such cases risk leaving popular audiences in developing countries unconvinced that green economics really can provide solutions to the problems they face, such as poverty, inequity and a lack of social justice.”

Understanding the Western brain
Saleemul Huq of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh has some tips on how the Climate Vulnerable Forum should present its message if it wants to get the attention of policy makers in rich countries.
“The most important factor is the high level political strategy and messaging. Firstly, it is time to stop repeating that we are the most vulnerable and not responsible for the emissions that cause climate change. While this remains true, it is not new (we have repeated it ad nauseum) and so attracts no media attention. Nor does it find resonance among the developed countries, as they find the accusatory tone unpalatable. It is therefore time to drop the tone of “victimhood” and move on to a more positive message as follows:
Even though we are the most vulnerable and lowest emitters, we are nevertheless prepared to do what we can to reduce our own emissions of Green House Gases (GHGs) because every ton of carbon dioxide, regardless of whether it is produced in Bangladesh, China, or USA, causes the same amount of climate change. Therefore, reducing a ton of carbon dioxide contributes as much to the solution, whether it is done in Bangladesh, China or USA. We, as most vulnerable countries, are prepared to do our best to reduce our emissions and encourage and recommend other to do all they can do as well, whether or not there is any global agreement.”

Journalistic imperialism
Freelance journalist Stanley Kwenda writes about the experience of filming his own documentary for Al Jazeera after years of working as a fixer for foreign journalists telling stories about his native Zimbabwe even if they had “little or no knowledge of the local landscape or culture.”
“Africa’s story has often been about crises, about war, poverty and hunger but Al Jazeera has established a means through which other stories about Africa can be showcased. Those stories may be about Africa’s problems too, but in telling them ourselves it shows that we understand them and can work to find our own solutions.”

Hunger numbers
Oxfam’s Richard King writes about the dodginess of global hunger estimates and the Food and Agriculture Organization’s ongoing attempts to come up with way to get more reliable numbers.
“But all this will take time to overhaul, and will likely still result in indicators that are more suited to measuring recent chronic food insecurity rather than current acute hunger. For that, we may have to turn to more subjective indicators, such as those in the Gallup World Poll surveys recently analysed by [the International Food Policy Research Institute], in which people were asked: ‘Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy the food that you or your family needed?’ (yes or no). This is an imperfect alternative, not least because ‘food’ and ‘need’ are more abstract than counting calories and are likely to be interpreted differently depending on respondents’ location.”

Latest Developments, September 22

In today’s latest news and analysis…

MDG blind spot
The Institute of Development Studies’ Richard Jolly offers some suggestions for reducing inequality, a problem he says is destructive for societies as a whole and is “largely overlooked” by the Millennium Development Goals.
“Inequalities fell when governments expanded social protection programmes like Brazil’s Bolsa Familia. Minimum wage legislation and policies allowing more people to access secondary and higher education also contributed to success. Successful countries used progressive taxation or channelled mining and oil revenues to fund inequality-reducing programmes.”

The price of secrecy
Reuters reports on the tax deal signed by Germany and Switzerland that would allow the former to collect more tax revenue and the latter to maintain its banking secrecy.
“This goes against European Union efforts to clamp down on banking secrecy and has prompted strong objections.
‘This quasi-tax amnesty is not only morally abject but also crazy from a fiscal policy viewpoint,’ Germany’s main union federation, DGB, said in a statement on Wednesday.
‘Tax evaders may remain anonymous and are even rewarded retrospectively and legalised,’ it said.”

Tax dodging
Christian Aid is worried that G20 officials preparing the agenda for November’s summit intend to “water down” efforts to tackle tax avoidance in poor countries.
“This would be a scandal. Tax dodging by some unscrupulous companies costs poor countries more than they receive in aid. In fact, it’s one of the biggest single factors keeping people poor.
The G20 acknowledges this, and has previously committed to help governments collect tax revenue to fund development.”

Teaching peace
Medical doctor and Independent blogger Sima Barmania chose World Peace Day to ask if peace is actually possible.
“There are indeed a ‘lot of nutters’ out there – but a significant part of their attitudes have been shaped by culture, education, and other socializing processes,” according to the US-based National Peace Academy’s Tony Jenkins. “Peace education – and how we facilitate it – plays a big role.”

Cameron the action hero
In his first speech to the UN General Assembly, British Prime Minister David Cameron celebrated the NATO intervention in Libya and suggested the UN must engage in less talk and more action.
“You can sign every human rights declaration in the world but if you stand by and watch people being slaughtered in their own country, when you could act, then what are those signatures really worth?
The UN has to show that we can be not just united in condemnation, but united in action, acting in a way that lives up to the UN’s founding principles and meets the needs of people everywhere…
The United Nations played a vital role authorising international action. 
But let’s be clear the United Nations is no more effective than the nation states that come together to enforce its will.”

Western intervention
British author Dan Hind interviews fellow-writer Greg Muttitt on Western intervention and the problem with trying to shape a post-conflict Libya without much understanding of the country’s culture and history.
“We should watch out for Western interpretations about what Libyan society is like. It is in the West’s interests for the Libyan political class to be weak and isolated, so it can be easily influenced from outside. That doesn’t mean that officials and generals have to sit down and work out a ‘divide and rule’ strategy. But everyone is tempted to see things in terms that suit their interests. Western policy-makers are no exception. There’s ample evidence of that in recent history,” according to Muttitt.

Land rush
The Guardian’s John Vidal writes about a new Oxfam report entitled Land and Power that relates specific cases, such as the forced evictions of over 20,000 Ugandans to make way for the UK’s New Forests Company, to draw attention to the issue of foreign interests buying up African land.
“It’s not acceptable for companies to blame governments for shortfalls in their operations. Investors, no matter how noble they purport to be, cannot sweep aside the needs and rights of poor communities who depend on the land they profit from,” according to Oxfam director Barbara Stocking.

Hunger as disaster
Hunger, which affects nearly 1 billion people worldwide and whose causes and possible solutions “go to the core of virtually all the major components of the functioning of the international system,” is the focus of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ new World Disasters Report 2011.
“The traditional, mainly Western-dominated approach to defining the world’s problems and solutions will weaken as new, more fluid configurations of state and non-state actors complicate the process by which collective action will be taken to deal with global issues. The power dynamics of the humanitarian sector – to date, a largely Western construct – will also change as greater capacity and stronger political clout emerge from other regions. At the same time, the growing primacy of state sovereignty around the world will determine the limits of humanitarian intervention and the approaches that will be tolerated by governments.” (p.183)

Open letter on Somalia
Oxfam presents a summary of the bullet points contained in an open letter it signed, along with 19 other NGOs, calling for Somalia’s belligerents and the international community to set aside their differences for the sake of those suffering from the country’s famine.
“The letter urged international governments to change their approach to Somalia and enhance diplomatic engagement with the parties to the conflict, to ensure the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid. It said donors should also remove any legal impediments on providing impartial assistance to people living in areas dominated by armed groups.”

iProtest
Al Jazeera reports on the efforts of activist Debby Chan to investigate reports of safety and labour rights violations after a series of suicides by workers at the Chinese factories of Apple supplier Foxconn.
“As consumers we should ask ourselves how certain products are made …. Corporate social responsibility is always window-dressing measures without enforcement mechanisms and remedies for workers. So the only way to stop labour rights violations is through campaigning. We hope that more consumers can pressure Apple and Foxconn,” according to Chan.