Latest Developments, April 19

In the latest news and analysis…

Yemen drones
The Washington Post reports the CIA is seeking permission from the White House to launch drone strikes in Yemen against targets whose identity it does not know.
“Securing permission to use these ‘signature strikes’ would allow the agency to hit targets based solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior, such as imagery showing militants gathering at known al-Qaeda compounds or unloading explosives.
The practice has been a core element of the CIA’s drone program in Pakistan for several years.

‘How discriminating can they be?’ asked a senior U.S. official familiar with the proposal. Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen ‘is joined at the hip’ with a local insurgency whose main goal is to oust the country’s government, the official said. ‘I think there is the potential that we would be perceived as taking sides in a civil war.’ ”

Wrong place, wrong time
The Associated Press reports that the US has released two apparently innocent Chinese Uighur men from the Guantanamo Bay prison to El Salvador, making them the first detainees released or transferred in over a year.
“Their release brings the prisoner population at the U.S. base in Cuba to 169, including three more Uighurs who officials are eager to resettle in a third country.
Uighurs at Guantanamo posed a huge diplomatic headache for the U.S. government. Twenty-two of them were captured at the start of the Afghanistan war and shipped to the base in Cuba because officials suspected they had links to al-Qaeda. But it turned out they were not terrorists and had merely fled their homeland in search of opportunities and freedom abroad.

U.S. courts and officials blocked efforts to settle the men in the United States and the prisoners were left in limbo.”

Embassy protests
The Kuwait Times, meanwhile, reports that family members of two Kuwaiti nationals still held at Guantanamo Bay without charge have begun holding daily two-hour protests outside the American embassy in Bayan.
[Khalid Al-Odah, the father of one of the detainees] said the current president is even worse than the previous one. ‘In fact, during Bush’s regime most detainees were released, but now only a few were released and they were even sent to a third nation and not their home country. Obama only talks much, but he is not practically helpful,’ he charged.
‘Our lawyer there is still working on the case, but there is no result yet. The American government won’t allow a fair trial for them, and this is illegal and against human rights. We are also dealing and meeting with different NGOs and international organizations to help us in this injustice. We need support from the public, as the Kuwaiti government is not active,’ concluded Al-Odah.”

Financial accomplices
Inter Press Service reports that Swiss banks are increasingly under the microscope in Europe over their alleged role in tax evasion and money laundering.
“If ‘private banks (are) accomplices of tax evasion and money laundering they should be prosecuted by German justice, even if the banks have their headquarters abroad, and the crimes mentioned are also committed abroad,’ [German opposition leader Sigmar] Gabriel said.

The legal conflicts with Switzerland on tax evasion also highlight the futility of the decades-long international fight against tax evasion, mostly within the framework of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and its associated Financial Action Task Force (FATF).”

Dying languages
Al Jazeera reports that Australia has the world’s highest rate of  “language extinction,” with only about 10 percent of its indigenous languages still spoken regularly.
“The suppression of indigenous languages was an intrinsic part of the often violent methods employed by the British against the Aboriginals when conquering the continent. The resulting extreme marginalisation of the Aboriginal people can still be seen in modern Australia, where Aboriginals were neither allowed to vote in elections nor to settle freely until the 1960s. Even today, various government policies target Aboriginal communities but do not apply to other Australians.”

Intensifying protests
Manuela Picq, most recently a visiting professor and research fellow at Amherst College, writes that violence related to mining projects is not new in the Americas, but the “extent and intensification” of the protests are.
“The smaller and larger indigenous mobilisations taking place simultaneously across Latin America are inevitably local, in that they contest projects in their communities, but they cannot be trivialised as isolated or anecdotal incidents. These mobilisations are of international relevance because they have successfully mobilised thousands of peoples, indigenous and non-indigenous, over long periods of time and across territories, crafting political demands, and often forcing governments to reframe policies. Most importantly, indigenous mobilisation has been able to bring environmental politics to the streets, turning natural resources, water, and consultation into public political issues. The growing constellation of mobilisations across the region points towards deeper societal changes in the making.”

Ending Françafrique
Le Nouvel Observateur asks France’s 10 presidential candidates what measures are needed to put an end to Françafrique, the name given to the perceived neocolonial nature of the relationship between France and its former African colonies.
“Françafrique, that collection of influence networks and shady connections between African heads of state and French politicians dating back to the 60s, is the manifestation of the permanent hold of French imperialism over its former colonies. Françafrique is also and especially the pillage of wealth and exploitation of workers in Africa by Total, Bouygues, Bolloré and many others. We will only be able to put an end to it when we tackle the unbridled domination of the economy by these capitalist groups,” [wrote Workers’ Struggle (Lutte Ouvrière) candidate Nathalie Arthaud.] (Translated from the French.)

Defending renationalization
The Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Mark Weisbrot argues that Argentina’s unorthodox economic policies, highlighted most recently by a move to renationalize a Spanish-controlled oil company, do not deserve the bad press they get.
“It is interesting that Argentina has had such remarkable economic success over the past nine years while receiving very little foreign direct investment, and being mostly shunned by international financial markets. According to most of the business press, these are the two most important constituencies that any government should make sure to please. But the Argentinian government has had other priorities. Maybe that’s another reason why Argentina gets so much flak.”

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.”

Latest Developments, December 21

In the latest news and analysis…

Corporate liability
Lawfare reports the Obama administration has filed a brief with the US Supreme Court supporting Nigerian plaintiffs in the Kiobel lawsuit against oil-giant Shell, arguing corporations can be held liable under federal law for abuses committed abroad.  
“The brief –signed by State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh and (somewhat surprisingly) by Commerce General Counsel Cameron Kerry in addition to Solicitor General Don Verrilli – argues that the question of corporate liability under the Alien Tort Statute is governed by federal common law, not by international law, although international law “informs” the issue.  And the brief goes on to argue that under federal common law, corporations may be held liable for violations of both domestic and international law: “[C]orporations have been subject to suit for centuries, and the concept of corporate liability is a well-settled part of our ‘legal culture.’”  The brief states that the United States is not aware of any international law “norm” that would prohibit corporations from being sued for violations of international law.”

Agence France-Presse reports a provincial branch of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party has voted in favour of a resolution calling for land expropriation and mine nationalization. 
“ ‘All productive land must be nationalised. Compensation must not be paid on the land itself but on improvements. The price must be determined by the state through the state evaluator,’ the party’s Limpopo provincial chairman Soviet Lekganyane was shown as saying by the eNews channel.

‘We reiterate our call for nationalisation of mines and other key strategic sectors like Sasol and ArcelorMittal,’ Lekganyane was quoted as saying by the Sapa news agency, referring to major oil and steel activities.”

Air battle
The Associated Press reports that an EU court has upheld a law charging airlines flying to Europe for their carbon emissions but a US trade group, Airlines for America, is vowing to continue fighting the “unilateral” and “counterproductive” measures. 
“The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg dismissed arguments that imposing the European Union’s cap-and-trade carbon credits program on flights to and from European airports infringes on national sovereignty or violates international aviation treaties. U.S. and other non-European airlines had sued the EU, arguing that they were exempt from the law.”

Selling development
The Institute of Development Studies’ Spencer Henson raises some concerns over NGO efforts to “sell development” by promoting the idea that buying certain products will benefit poor people half a world away.
“First, it is very much based on the notion of benevolence of the (powerful) rich towards the (powerless) poor. UK consumers can decide how to spend their money at Christmas whereas the poor have little money to spend on anything. Further, as a wealthy donor the consumer can decide who is ‘deserving’ of their charity, however they might judge this.
Second, and more importantly, efforts to sell development do little or nothing to challenge the very reasons that people are poor…and the need for benevolence by the rich in the first place. Thus, how is it that such global inequality exists, and what can be done about it? The act of buying a goat, a charity Christmas card or a handicraft fails to challenge the status quo. Some would even argue that buying development perpetuates the very systems that make people poor in the first place.”

IFI reform
PIMCO’s Mohamed El-Erian argues the economic convergence that is changing the previously Western-dominated global order is unpredictable and requires “deep reform of the multilateral system” and its institutions.
“Multilateral institutions, particularly the IMF, have responded by pumping an unfathomable amount of financing into Europe. But, instead of reversing the disorderly deleveraging and encouraging new private investments, this official financing has merely shifted liabilities from the private sector to the public sector. Moreover, many emerging-market countries have noted that the policy conditionality attached to the tens of billions of dollars that have been shipped to Europe pales in comparison with what was imposed on them in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.”

Food speculation
The Guardian speaks to a food expert whose research predicted the Arab Spring and forecasts high food prices will trigger global riots and revolutions in the next two years unless something is done to rein in speculation. 
“[The New England Complex Systems Institute’s Yaneer Bar-Yam] believes the time has come for global regulators to step in and manage the global market. Their first task would be to guarantee transparency and make public information previously shrouded in secrecy – such as who holds the biggest stakes in global commodities. Transparent accounting practices would have made the disappearance of $1.2 bn worth of customer money from the books of MF Global less a matter of sleight of hand and more a matter of international crime.
The second part of the speculation solution hinges on a return to traditional position limits in commodities, limits enforced by international laws geared to stop bankers, hedge funds and sovereign wealth funds from going long on the world’s food supply and, in effect, gambling on hunger.”

Charter cities
Oxfam’s Duncan Green expresses concern over the life-size radical experiment with charter cities Honduras is about to undertake. 
“On the basis of the Economist piece, at least, the Trujillo charter city looks like a mess. The government is going to bypass constitution, laws etc, outsource the lot to private interests and rely for good governance on a commission of overstretched VIPs. If the hyperactive [Center for Global Development president Nancy] Birdsall is typical, they will have so many other commitments that they really are not going to be able to invest the time to micromanage a potentially chaotic period of institution-building. I emailed Nancy about this and she replied that yes, there are big risks, but the world needs more experiments like this not least because ‘we don’t know in the development community how to ‘produce’ good governance’. She points out that there are resources, e.g. to pay at least one aide per member of the transparency board. But that still seems like a pretty skeletal arrangement and many of the criticisms I quoted in my original post apply in this case too. Got a bad feeling about this one.” 

Latest Developments, November 10

In today’s latest news and analysis…

Beyond aid
The Overseas Development Institute’s Alison Evans reviews UK Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell’s speech on taking a multi-faceted approach to promoting development and she suggests the country “has a lot more to do on its beyond-aid agenda.”
“Mitchell noted the positive ranking of UK funding and policy on climate change in the latest Commitment to Development Index 2011. The same could be said on development-friendly investment and, of course, aid.  What he didn’t mention, however, is that in the very same index, the UK continues to be ranked amongst the bottom four (out of 22 OECD countries) on security (largely reflecting the continued export of military hardware to poor and undemocratic regimes); on technology (mainly regarding spending on research and development and intellectual property rights issues); and, worst of all, on migration (which reflects how easy – or not – it is for people from poor countries to immigrate, access education or find work, send money home, and even return home with new skills and capital). This is the dark side of UK policy on development and it is not heading in the right direction.
As Mitchell celebrates the powerful alchemy of public, private and voluntary sector commitment to development in the UK, he needs also to focus his energy on making UK policy as a whole development-friendly.”

Mining politics
Bloomberg reports the decision by South Africa’s ruling Africa National Congress to suspend Julius Malema is being welcomed by mining executives who had been made nervous by the Youth League leader’s push for nationalizing the country’s mines.
“In April 2010, Citigroup Inc. valued the country’s mineral resources at $2.5 trillion, the most of any nation.
Malema has lobbied the ANC to adopt a policy of nationalization, saying South Africa’s black majority hasn’t benefited adequately from those riches in the 17 years since the end of white-minority rule. Last month, he led thousands of young supporters on a 62-kilometer (39-mile) march between Johannesburg and Pretoria, calling for nationalization and jobs. A quarter of South Africa’s workforce is unemployed.”

Roma deportations
Al Jazeera reports that a European rights watchdog has declared that France’s expulsion of over 1,000 Roma immigrants last year constituted an “aggravated violation of human rights.”
“A Council of Europe committee has now condemned the move as a violation of its social charter – a document that sets out ‘social rights’, such as the right to fair working conditions and to housing. France is a signatory.
France claimed the expulsions were ‘voluntary’ repatriations only.
The committee dismissed the argument, saying ‘the so-called voluntary returns were in fact disguised forced repatriations in the form of collective expulsions’.”

Cleaning bill
Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development  have called on Shell to pay $1 billion as a “first step” toward cleaning up Nigeria’s Niger Delta.
“In 2008, two consecutive spills, caused by faults in a pipeline, resulted in thousands of barrels of oil polluting the land and creek surrounding Bodo, a town of some 69,000 people. Both spills continued for weeks before they were stopped. No proper clean up has ever taken place.
‘The situation in Bodo is symptomatic of the wider situation in the Niger Delta oil industry. The authorities simply do not control the oil companies. Shell and other oil companies have the freedom to act – or fail to act – without fear of sanction. An independent, robust and well-resourced regulator is long overdue, otherwise even more people will continue to suffer at the hands of the oil companies,’ said Patrick Naagbanton, CEHRD’s Coordiantor.
Shell, which recently reported profits of US$ 7.2bn for July-September, initially offered the Bodo community just 50 bags of rice, beans, sugar and tomatoes as relief for the disaster.”

G20 food inaction
The Inter Press Service reports that the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, believes the lack of substantive progress on global food policies at last week’s G20 summit was the result of lobbying from commercial interests, especially in biofuel-producing countries.
“Back in 2008, a note released by the World Bank’s development prospects group spotlighted how biofuels were responsible for a full 75 percent of the then skyrocketing food prices.
But in spite of strong evidence that biofuels and agrofuels are ‘one of the major drivers of speculation on the commodities markets and one of the major reasons why we have such high pressure on land in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa,’ according to De Schutter, the G20 completely bypassed the issue.”

Legal empowerment
Namati’s Vivek Maru calls on the international community to establish a global fund for “legal empowerment” in order to ensure laws and policies apply as much in practice as in theory.
“Legal empowerment is a public good: it renders governments more accountable, and makes development more equitable. But unlike public health, for example, states have a natural disincentive to support legal empowerment, because it constrains state power – which is all the more reason for a multilateral financing mechanism.
Social movements in India, the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere are demanding institutions that promote greater citizen participation and oversight. The challenge of responding to those movements does not belong exclusively to a handful of governments. It belongs to all of us.”

Sector equality
The European Network on Debt and Development’s Alex Marriage argues the European Commission’s recently proposed corporate transparency rules need to target more than just mining, oil and gas, and logging companies.
“Evidence presented in [an upcoming] report finds that extractive commodities are only a small part of the problem and accounted for just 5% of the trade mispricing activity taking place between the EU and third countries in 2007. This clearly suggests country-by-country reporting is needed in all sectors.”