Latest Developments, January 23

In the latest news and analysis…

Mission creep
Le Monde reports being told by several military sources that the number of French troops on the ground in Mali is likely to be “considerably more than 3,000”:

“The mission’s anticipated duration remains unclear; officials will only say it will last ‘as long as necessary.’ There were 2,150 French troops deployed in Mali on Monday, with an additional 1,000 providing support.

In the second phase of the offensive, French forces will advance into the North. Rather than heavy bombardment, large numbers of helicopters will allow French forces to hold the ground. ‘Now is when the difficulties will begin,’ said a military official.” [Translated from the French.]

Hunger Inc.
The Independent reports that more than 100 civil society groups have launched a new campaign blaming a grain oligopoly for the hunger of hundreds of millions of people around the world:

“The new campaign challenges [this year’s G8 chair] David Cameron to take the lead in championing measures to stop tax-dodging by companies, prevent farmers from being forced off their land and ensure western nations live up to their promises on aid.

It says five multinationals – ADM, Bunge, Cargill, Glencore and Louis Dreyfus – control all but ten per cent of the world’s grain supplies.
The campaign’s chair, Max Lawson, Oxfam’s head of policy, said: ‘The stranglehold of a small number of companies on food supply is squeezing African farmers’ ability to feed themselves and their communities.’ ”

Buying access
The Globe and Mail reports that a Calgary-based energy company has agreed to pay the biggest foreign corruption fine in Canadian history over bribes paid to obtain oil and gas contracts in Chad:

“The plea by Griffiths Energy International Inc., a small privately held oil and gas company based in Calgary, stands to settle charges it faces under Canada’s Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act after a company investigation unearthed payments made in an attempt to secure lucrative energy properties in Africa.

It is illegal for Canadian companies to bribe foreign officials – transactions that were once viewed as routine business deals, particularly for resource outfits. The Griffiths case will mark the second conviction for the RCMP since it established teams dedicated to investigating foreign corruption.”

Dutch haven
Bloomberg reports that the Dutch parliament is looking into the Netherlands’ role as “a $13 trillion relay station on the global tax-avoiding network”:

“Last month, the European Commission, the European Union’s executive body, declared a war on tax avoidance and evasion, which it said costs the EU 1 trillion euros a year. The commission advised member states — including the Netherlands — to create tax-haven blacklists and adopt anti-abuse rules. It also recommended reforms that could undermine the lure of the Netherlands, and hurt a spinoff industry that has mushroomed in and around Amsterdam to abet tax avoidance.
Attracted by the Netherlands’ lenient policies and extensive network of tax treaties, companies such as Yahoo, Google Inc., Merck & Co. and Dell Inc. have moved profits through the country. Using techniques with nicknames such as the ‘Dutch Sandwich,’ multinational companies routed 10.2 trillion euros in 2010 through 14,300 Dutch ‘special financial units,’ according to the Dutch Central Bank. Such units often only exist on paper, as is allowed by law.”

Second fiddle
Radio France Internationale reports that, despite the personnel demands of the Mali intervention, the French military is maintaining a presence in another former colony, namely the Central African Republic:

“The military crisis has passed and soldiers, whether they be Central African or foreign, are less visible. The French army has been called to another theatre of operations, Mali, and in the streets of Bangui, French uniforms are now much more rare. ‘During last month’s crisis, we got up to 604 troops. The 240 that will stay here beyond the end of the week will carry out their original mission, providing logistical and technical support for the Central African Multinational Force. And of course, if the situation deteriorates again, they will ensure the protection of our citizens and our interests,’ said Lieutenant-Colonel Benoît Fine, commander of the French mission in the Central African Republic.” [Translated from the French.]

Questionable advice
Inter Press Service reports that Malawi’s new president’s apparent enthusiasm for the economic prescriptions of the International Monetary Fund is causing a popular backlash:

“According to John Kapito, head of the watchdog known as the Consumers Association of Malawi, [President Joyce] Banda has ‘transferred power’ to the IMF and the World Bank.
‘Like many leaders of poor countries, the problem with Joyce Banda is that she doesn’t think on her own. She is listening to everything that the IMF and the World Bank are telling her. She (agreed) to devalue the kwacha, agreed to remove subsidies on fuel without considering the impact of these decisions on the poor,’ said Kapito, who helped organise the latest demonstrations.”

Libyan arms
The Telegraph’s Richard Spencer writes about the large quantities of weapons that went missing from Libya after NATO military action helped topple the country’s long-time ruler, weapons that may have precipitated the latest foreign intervention, this time in Mali:

“Gaddafi, [Human Rights Watch’s Peter Bouckaert] said, had built up a vast arsenal of kit, with dumps in every city. Much of it has gone missing – far more than, say, disappeared after the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. He himself photographed men with 18-wheel trailers towing away the landmines from my field – he reckoned there were 120,000 anti-personnel mines and 30,000 anti-tank mines. He says they were sold to an international arms dealer and are still in circulation.
‘The weapons that went missing in Libya are perhaps the greatest proliferation of weapons of war from any modern conflict,’ he said.”

Speaking out
Reuters reports that a Yemeni cabinet minister has broken ranks by criticizing US drone strikes in her country and calling for “more effective strategies”:

“[Human rights minister Hooria] Mashhour also said she wanted to see a fair trial for anyone suspected of involvement ‘in terrorist activities’.
‘This is our idea, to do this through the judiciary. But the United States said that it’s in an open war with them and they declared the US as an enemy. The (US) declared (militants) as enemies who could be targeted wherever they are found.
‘All we are calling for is justice and reliance on international regulations with regard to human rights and to be true to our commitment to our citizens in that they all deserve a fair trial,’ Mashhour added.

Advertisements

Latest Developments, May 11

In the latest news & analysis…

Clash of Civilizations 101
Wired reports that a US military course, which has since been cancelled, taught officers that “total war” against the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims would be necessary to protect America from terrorists.
“In the same presentation, [Army Lt. Col. Matthew A.] Dooley lays out a possible four-phase war plan to carry out a forced transformation of the Islam religion. Phase three includes possible outcomes like ‘Islam reduced to a cult status’ and ‘Saudi Arabia threatened with starvation.’

International laws protecting civilians in wartime are ‘no longer relevant,’ Dooley continues. And that opens the possibility of applying ‘the historical precedents of Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki’ to Islam’s holiest cities, and bringing about ‘Mecca and Medina[‘s] destruction.’ ”

A more serious debate
Writing about the African edition of the World Economic Forum currently underway in Addis Ababa, Global Pacific & Partners’ Duncan Clarke decries the simplistic “leitmotif” of corrupt African politicians that dominates discussions of the continent’s economy.
“We need within Africa therefore to discern the deeper histories and underlying structures that moulded our economic worlds, plus the myriad forces that shape it today, let alone the unknown that will determine our lot tomorrow. There is more complexity in contemporary underdevelopment than flawed leadership allied to predation and visible political deficiencies. A more serious debate is needed.
Today there is an overabundant discourse on leadership, especially in the theatre of the talk shop, which somehow passes for sage insight or even sound economic analysis, providing a weak diagnostic framework for complex economic historiographies and contemporary realities.”

African growth
The Guardian reports that the Africa Progress Panel, led by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, has concluded that Africa’s rapid economic growth is creating greater inequality.
“Although seven out of 10 people in the region live in countries that have averaged growth of more than 4% a year for the past decade, Annan’s study found that almost half of Africans were still living on incomes below the internationally accepted poverty benchmark of $1.25 a day.

‘It cannot be said often enough, that overall progress remains too slow and too uneven; that too many Africans remain caught in downward spirals of poverty, insecurity and marginalisation; that too few people benefit from the continent’s growth trend and rising geo-strategic importance; that too much of Africa’s enormous resource wealth remains in the hands of narrow elites and, increasingly, foreign investors without being turned into tangible benefits for its people,’ [wrote Annan in his foreword to the report.]”

Fear & loathing
A Center for Economic and Policy Research blog post examines the yawning gulf between foreign aid workers and those they are ostensibly in Haiti to help.
“And [this dynamic of fear and distrust] tragically emerged as a major reason for wasted opportunities and lives lost in the initial days and weeks after the 2010 earthquake, heightened by exaggerated media reports of ‘looting’ and potential chaos. The U.S. government, which secured a leading role for itself in the emergency relief effort, prioritized a military response over a non-military one, and generally treated the Haitian population as objects of fear to whom aid should be delivered, rather than active participants who could perhaps best act in the rescue and relief operations in their own communities.
This dynamic of fear and distrust, which estranges aid workers from the local population, may also help to explain the incredible disconnect that some in the NGO community seem to exhibit in their behavior, as documented by Michele Mitchell in her film “Haiti: Where Did the Money Go?” Mitchell records NGO staff dining at a posh restaurant where steak costs $34 and wine sells for $72 a bottle, across the street from an IDP camp where the very people these aid workers are supposed to serve struggle for daily survival.”

A dangerous policy
Former CIA officer Robert Grenier argues the US is repeating in Yemen mistakes it made in Pakistan.
“I do not claim deep knowledge of developments in Shabwa Province, but when I hear significant numbers of tribal militants being referred to as al-Qaeda operatives, and [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], a small organisation dominated by non-Yemenis, being alleged to have political control of significant parts of Yemen, I react with some scepticism, and some suspicion.
One wonders how many Yemenis may be moved in future to violent extremism in reaction to carelessly targeted missile strikes, and how many Yemeni militants with strictly local agendas will become dedicated enemies of the West in response to US military actions against them.”

Drone journalism
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism calls on Western media to provide more balanced reporting on the US drone war as it enters “a new phase” in which host-government cooperation has been withdrawn.
“Part of the justification for the US carrying out drone strikes without consent is their reported success. And naming those militants killed is key to that process. Al Qaeda bomber Fahd al-Quso’s death was widely celebrated.
Yet how many newspapers also registered the death of Mohamed Saleh Al-Suna, a civilian caught up and killed in a US strike in Yemen on March 30?
By showing only one side of the coin, we risk presenting a distorted picture of this new form of warfare. There is an obligation to identify all of those killed – not just the bad guys.”

Corporate warfare
Global voices reports on “unrest” in Guatemala involving community opposition to the construction of a hydroelectric dam by a Spain’s Hidralia Energia.
“In late April 2012, allegations of land mines placed around the hydroelectric company to protect it from any disruptive actions triggered a series of protests where citizens expressed their concern and demanded that the company be expelled from the community. Protesters denounced the mined field at the offices of the police, and later demanded protection and action from the army.”