Latest Developments, October 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Desert deaths
Agence France-Presse reports that dozens of migrants have been found dead in Niger:

“ ‘About 40 Nigeriens, including numerous children and women, who were attempting to emigrate to Algeria, died of thirst in mid-October,’ Rhissa Feltou, the mayor of the main northern town of Agadez, said
‘Many others have been reported missing since their vehicle broke down in the desert,’ he said.

These migrants often look to Europe as their final destination, a security source said, and use Libya as a jumping off point amid the relative chaos in the North African country since the fall of Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.
Humanitarian agencies say nearly 20 000 migrants have perished while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe over the past 20 years.”

Congressional first
The Guardian reports on the testimony given to US Congress by civilian victims of a drone strike in Pakistan:

“Their harrowing accounts marked the first time Congress had ever heard from civilian victims of an alleged US drone strike.

‘Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,’ [Rafiq ur Rehman] said, through a translator. ‘Some media outlets reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Others reported that the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All of them reported that three, four, five militants were killed.’
Instead, he said, only one person was killed that day: ‘Not a militant but my mother.’

Rehman said: ‘In the end I would just like to ask the American public to treat us as equals. Make sure that your government gives us the same status of a human with basic rights as they do to their own citizens. We do not kill our cattle the way US is killing humans in Waziristan with drones. This indiscriminate killing has to end and justice must be delivered to those who have suffered at the hands of unjust.’ ”

Nearly unanimous
Al Jazeera reports that virtually all UN member states have called on the US to end its embargo on Cuba:

“This came in a symbolic vote of the 193-nation General Assembly on Tuesday. The unenforceable resolution was 188-2. The United States and Israel voted against it, while Pacific island states of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau abstained.

‘Our small island poses no threat to the national security of the superpower,’ [Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez] said. ‘The human damages caused by the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba are incalculable.’

‘The United States is a deep and abiding friend of the Cuban people,’ [US envoy Ronald Godard] said.”

CAR troops
Reuters reports that the UN Security Council has voted to send an initial 250 soldiers to the Central African Republic to protect UN staff:

“The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday approved a proposal by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to send 250 military personnel to the capital Bangui and then increase the strength of the force to 560 troops so they can deploy to areas outside the capital where there is a U.N. presence.

France has a small force in Bangui securing the airport and its local interests. French diplomatic sources have said France would be ready to provide logistical support and increase its troop numbers to between 700 and 1,200 if needed.”

Oil anger I
Reuters reports that protests have shut down all but offshore oil production in Libya:

“Libya’s oil exports have dropped to less than 10 percent of capacity or 90,000 barrels per day, Reuters calculations show, as renewed protests this week halted operations at western ports and fields, supporting global oil prices.

Any imminent agreement to even partially resume exports appeared elusive.
[Oil Minister Abdelbari Arusi] paid an emergency visit to the western Sharara field on Monday and discussed pay increases with oil workers there. He was forced to leave without a deal, however, after local protesters refused to meet him.”

Oil anger II
Reuters also reports that the UK’s Tullow Oil has suspended drilling operations in Kenya over “popular impatience for a share of the spoils”:

“Backed by local politicians, demonstrators from Kenya’s poor, northern Turkana community marched on Tullow sites demanding jobs and other benefits, prompting one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s most experienced oil explorers to ‘temporarily’ halt work.

Kenya is revising outdated laws governing the oil and gas industry. A draft law could go to parliament in November.
Others are also updating industry rules. Tanzania is drawing up a new gas policy, but has yet to issue it as a debate rumbles on about how much gas should be sold to foreigners.”

Redefining poverty
Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica tells Al Jazeera that he rejects the label of “the poorest president in the world”:

“ ‘It seems that we have been born only to consume, and to consume, and when we can no longer consume, we have a feeling of frustration and we suffer from poverty, and we are auto marginalised.’

‘Those who describe me so are the poor ones,’ he says. ‘My definition of poor are those who need too much. Because those who need too much are never satisfied.’ ”

Terror threat
The BBC reports that South Africa’s ruling party is demanding an apology after US officials detained a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle and former cabinet minister because he was on a “terrorist watchlist”:

“[Tokyo Sexwale’s] detention at the JFK international airport was “an affront to the global anti-apartheid movement”, the [African National Congress] said.

Former ANC leader Nelson Mandela was only taken off the list by former President George W Bush in 2008.
Mr Sexwale was imprisoned along with Mr Mandela on Robben Island.

Another of Mr Sexwale’s lawyers, Leslie Makhabela, told South Africa media that US immigration officials had ‘alleged he posed a threat to international security’.”

Latest Developments, August 15

In the latest news and  analysis…

With Switzerland’s currency looking like a safe bet to investors and getting stronger by the day, there is growing concern the franc could become a threat to the Alpine nation’s economy: “It’s the curse of the diligent student,” Bank Sarasin’s Ursina Kubli told the Globe and Mail. “It’s being punished for doing its homework very nicely in recent years.” But Global Financial Integrity sees Switzerland in a less flattering light, as an important part of a worldwide network of tax-friendly regimes where individuals stash “US$12 trillion of assets in jurisdictions other than their own countries of residence that are not declared in their own countries of residence; the lost tax revenue annually from such undeclared assets is estimated at US$255 billion,” in addition to avoidance by corporations and other organizations. The Washington-based financial transparency advocates argue the recent tax deal Switzerland has made with Germany and another anticipated one with the UK involves “handing over money and some account information without making substantive changes to a system that puts tax collection and law enforcement officials at a disadvantage.” The solution, as GFI sees it, is a global agreement “to end tax haven secrecy.”

A deal has been struck to end a dispute in Gaza between Hamas and the US Agency for International Development that looked like a role reversal from aid-threatening rows elsewhere that saw Somalia’s Al Shabab – and Sudan’s government before them – accusing Western aid agencies of political interference. This time around, it was USAID who decided to stop humanitarian assistance because of perceived meddling by the host government.

The World Health Organization is looking into the emergence of a mysterious non-fatal illness that seems to be striking Angolan schoolchildren: “Although the cause of these outbreaks still remains unknown, this may be related to exposure to irritant chemicals.” Angola’s economy has grown rapidly since a decades-long civil war ended in 2002, due mainly to oil and supporting industries that account for roughly 85% of GDP. But it remains mired near the bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index rankings, behind Haiti and Uganda.

The UN is calling for investigation of possible war crimes in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan state, which sits on the border of newly independent South Sudan. But a Guardian editorial entitled “United Nations: Weak leaders wanted” strongly criticizes current secretary Ban Ki-moon for, among other things, his seemingly selective attention to evidence of serious human rights violations: “The myopia of powerful governments is clearly shown in their preference for weak candidates for UN secretary-general. Occasionally they misjudge their man, with interesting results. With Dag Hammarskjöld, it was peacekeeping. Kofi Annan’s staff devised the millennium development goals. This time – with the quiet reappointment of secretary-general Ban Ki-moon this summer – they got what they wanted. Mr Ban presides over the slow decay of the UN secretariat, an institution that should be working, as Hammarskjöld said, on the edge of progress.”

New York University economist Nouriel Roubini writes that global capitalism as currently practiced is doomed: “To enable market-oriented economies to operate as they should and can, we need to return to the right balance between markets and provision of public goods. That means moving away from both the Anglo-Saxon model of laissez-faire and voodoo economics and the continental European model of deficit-driven welfare states. Both are broken.” Among his prescriptions are “stricter supervision and regulation of a financial system run amok.”

James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations is “depressed” to see Western pre-eminence slipping to the point where countries that are home to over 80 percent of the world’s population could soon account for half its wealth. But while the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson concedes “it’s natural for people to worry about their daughter or son finding a good job in a depressed Western economy, and for them not to care that billions of people have been lifted out of the very worst poverty as a result,” he is a firm believer in linear human progress and sees the rise of the world’s most populous countries as another big step in the right direction. “The more wealthy countries there are, the more wealth they will make together, which in turn will lift more people out of poverty and make them more free, reducing the chances of great wars, the kind that kill tens of millions, possibly including your daughter or son, or you.” And the Economist happily announces the BRIC countries are embarking on a path that could fundamentally alter the world of aid: “The establishment donors’ aid monopoly is finished.”

Following up on his recent rejection of the view “that history is something to be left to historians,” the Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie looks at the recent history of measuring poverty. Concerning the World Bank’s practice of dividing countries into low-, medium- and high-income countries (LICs, MICs and HICs) and the apparent trend towards upward mobility, he cautions against a too-linear view, pointing out that “of the 26 countries that went from LIC to MIC status in the last decade, 18 had been MICs in the past but had relapsed to LIC status, mostly in the early 1990s.” On the other hand, membership in the UN’s Least Developed Country club has been depressingly stable.

Focusing mainly on Oprah Winfrey’s philanthropic activities, Cambridge University’s Priyamvada Gopal writes about “how billionaire benevolence is closely tied to the big neoliberal political manoeuvres of our time.” While Gopal stresses she does not question the sincerity underlying what she terms “humanitarian privatisation,” she worries about the combination of ignorance and “missionary zeal” the mega philanthropists display: “The billionaire “humanitarianism” of Winfrey, Gates and Murdoch is deeply compromised not only by its failure to acknowledge the causal relationship between extreme wealth and great poverty but by participating in an ideological assault on the welfare state. It posits itself as the only way to change the world – from above and with a wealthy few firmly in control.”