Latest Developments, September 26

In the latest news and analysis…

World Cup slaves
The Guardian reports that migrant workers from Nepal have been dying “at a rate of almost one a day” as Qatar prepares for the 2022 FIFA World Cup:

“The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of labourers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022.
According to documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha, at least 44 workers died between 4 June and 8 August. More than half died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents.

The overall picture is of one of the richest nations exploiting one of the poorest to get ready for the world’s most popular sporting tournament.”

Iron politics
Le Monde reports that Western intelligence agencies believe French, South African and Israeli mercenaries working for a “diamond king” are planning a coup in Guinea:

“The CIA document refers to Beny Steinmetz Group Resources, owned by diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz, which is in open conflict with the Guinean government over rights to part of Simandou, the world’s biggest untapped iron ore deposit.

According to the American document quoted by Le Canard Enchaîné, an Israeli security consultant who works closely with BSG helped to form a political front organization, the National Party for Renewal, ‘without doubt funded by BSG’. The party drew up a ‘memo seized by Guinean investigators’ that pledges to maintain BSG’s Simandou mining rights if the party is part of a future government.” [Translated from the French.]

The J word
La Croix reports that France, eager to gain international support for military intervention in the Central African Republic despite opposition from the US and Rwanda, is talking up the threat of radical Islam:

“French diplomats have caught on and are no longer hesitating to talk of ‘sectarian’ confrontations between Muslims and Christians. François Hollande spoke repeatedly in such terms at the UN General Assembly. ‘You are sure to get the Americans’ attention’ if you talk about a risk of jihad, of conflict between Chirstians and Islamists,’ said CCFD-Terre Solidaire’s Zobel Behalal.” [Translated from the French.]

Toxic neighbour
The Economist reports on the tensions between a Canadian-owned gold mine and surrounding communities in the Dominican Republic:

“The investment was presented by both the government and [Pueblo Viejo Dominicana Corporation, owned by Barrick Gold and Goldcorp] as including a clean-up of Rosario’s toxic mess and the installation of systems to keep local watercourses clean. But residents are suing PVDC, claiming that the new mine is poisoning rivers, causing illnesses and the death of farm animals.

PVDC says that, together with local people, it conducts regular, public tests on water and air.
But community leaders say they have no knowledge of such tests. The company has not answered requests to provide the dates on which they were conducted. Tests by the environment ministry, released only after a freedom of information request, found the water in the Margajita river downstream from the mine to be highly acidic, as well as containing sulphides and copper above legal limits.”

Blunt talk
In a Democracy Now! interview, independent journalist Jeremy Scahill discusses US President Barack Obama’s “really naked declaration of imperialism” at the UN General Assembly this week:

“I mean, he pushed back against the Russians when he came out and said I believe America is an exceptional nation. He then defended the Gulf War and basically said that the motivation behind it was about oil and said we are going to continue to take such actions in pursuit of securing natural resources for ourselves and our allies. I mean, this was a pretty incredible and bold declaration he was making, especially given the way that he has tried to portray himself around the world.”

Unfair planet
The Washington Post’s Dylan Matthews writes that the world is 17 times more unequal than the US (which is, in turn, more unequal than Tanzania), with no relief in sight:

“It’s another reminder that, while extreme poverty in the United States is very real, the biggest inequalities, by far, are at the global level. ‘The political instruments for reducing income inequality between the richest 10 per cent and the poorest 40 per cent of the world’s population do not exist,’ author Lars Engberg-Pedersen notes. ‘Progressive taxation, provision of social security, etc. are country-level instruments, and official development assistance comes no way near addressing global inequality.’ ”

Financial complicity
The Oakland Institute’s Alice Martin-Prevel calls the World Bank “an accomplice in global land grabs” and questions some of its fundamental assumptions:

“The report rekindles the assumptions that land registration would somehow give farmers access to low-cost credit to invest in their parcels, improve their yields, and that Africa has abundant ‘surplus land’ which should be delineated and identified in order to be acquired by land developers. (In its 2012 report Our Land, Our Lives, Oxfam debunked the myth of Africa’s ‘unused land,’ showing that most areas targeted by land deals were previously used for small-scale farming, grazing and common resources exploitation by local communities.) Not only are these postulations yet to be proven, but they also assume that customary rights and traditional landownership are part of an underefficient system that needs transformation. The report’s recommendations thus include proposals such as ‘demarcating boundaries and registering communal rights,’ ‘organizing and formalizing communal groups,’ and ‘removing restrictions on land rental markets.’ ”

African drones
Peter Dörrie writes in Medium that “the future of drone warfare, both with and without actual bombs, is in Africa and the future is now”:

“Drones, both armed and unarmed, have likely been active from the U.S. military’s only permanent base on the continent at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti for some years, as well as from more recently established bases in neighboring Ethiopia. Niger is home to the latest deployment of drones to the continent and from their base at Niamey — the Reapers can theoretically cover much of western and central Africa.

While governments may rave about the potential of drones, Africans are well aware of the ambiguous role that Predators and Reapers have played in Pakistan. Especially armed drones — and inevitable civilians lives lost — will produce backlash on the streets and give armed groups an opportunity to style themselves as the underdog fighting against the evil empire.
Then there is also the slippery slope of mission creep.”

Latest Developments, March 20

In the latest news and analysis….

Expendable country
Reuters reports that the European Central Bank is prepared to let Cyprus “succumb to financial meltdown” but believes it can save the eurozone:

“Cyprus propelled the 17-nation bloc into uncharted waters on Tuesday by rejecting a proposed levy on bank deposits as a condition of a 10 billion euro ($12.9 billion) EU bailout.
Without the aid, much of it to recapitalize Cypriot banks, the ECB says they will be insolvent, and it requires banks to be solvent for them to receive central bank support.

By stressing that it stands ready to provide liquidity ‘within the existing rules’, the ECB is standing firm.
The central bank is not ready to bend for Cyprus.”

Food shortage
Oxfam has blamed the French military intervention in Mali for skyrocketing food prices and shortages that are fuelling a “serious food security crisis” in the country’s north:

“A separate market survey in the same area revealed that in January 2013 the price of basic foodstuffs went up by as much as 70 per cent as a result of the military operation. By February, these abnormally high prices, far greater than the five year average, had still not stabilised. Oxfam‘s survey found that cereals like sorghum, millet and corn are no longer available on the market. While the availability of certain cereals is now improving, the continued closure of the Algerian border is preventing access to other key products in the diet of northern Malians, such as pasta, oil, sugar and rice.
Fuel shortages and rising fuels prices and conflict-related damage have also affected the water and electricity supply in the town of Gao.”

Intervention debate
The Washington Post reports that top US military commanders cannot agree on whether or not foreign intervention in Syria is advisable:

At a separate hearing held by [Senator Carl] Levin’s [Senate Armed Services] committee Tuesday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked NATO’s military chief, Adm. James G. Stavridis, whether it is time for the United States to ‘help the Syrian opposition in ways that would break what is a prolonged civil war.’
‘My personal opinion,’ Stavridis said, ‘is that would be helpful in breaking the deadlock and bringing down the Assad regime.’
But there is no consensus. On Monday, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dismissed the role of military action during a talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ‘I don’t see a military option that would create an understandable outcome, and until I do, my advice would be to proceed cautiously,’ he said.

Questionable past
Agence France-Presse reports that French police have raided the home of IMF head Christine Lagarde over events that took place during her time in ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy’s cabinet:

“The investigation concerns Lagarde’s 2007 decision to ask an arbitration panel to rule on a dispute between disgraced tycoon Bernard Tapie and the collapsed bank Credit Lyonnais.
The arbitration resulted in Tapie being awarded around 400 million euros ($499 million) – an outcome that triggered outrage among critics who insisted the state should never have taken the risk of being forced to pay money to Tapie, a convicted criminal.”

Fraying monopoly
Reuters reports that US President Barack Obama is looking to shape global guidelines on the use of drones as unmanned technology spreads to more and more countries:

“ ‘People say what’s going to happen when the Chinese and the Russians get this technology? The president is well aware of those concerns and wants to set the standard for the international community on these tools,’ said Tommy Vietor, until earlier this month a White House spokesman.

Obama’s new position is not without irony. The White House kept details of drone operations – which remain largely classified – out of public view for years when the U.S. monopoly was airtight.

Villagization inquiry needed
Human Rights Watch is calling on the World Bank to allow an investigation into its Ethiopia program, which is “shadowed by controversy” over reports of forced relocations:

“Despite the human rights risks that ‘villagization’ presents for the World Bank’s project, it has not applied its own safeguard policies. Its policy to protect indigenous people has not been applied in Ethiopia because the government does not agree that it should apply. Nor has the World Bank applied its policy on involuntary resettlement, which requires consultation and compensation when people are resettled.”

Viva Palma
The Center for Global Development’s Alex Cobham and King’s College London’s Andy Sumner make the case for the “Palma Ratio” as an alternative to the widely used Gini coefficient for measuring countries’ inequality levels:

“[Chilean economist Gabriel Palma] found that the ‘middle classes’ – more accurately the middle income groups between the ‘rich’ and the ‘poor’ (defined as the five ‘middle’ deciles, 5 to 9) – tend to capture around half of GNI – Gross National Income wherever you live and whenever you look. The other half of national income is shared between the richest 10% and the poorest 40% but the share of those two groups varies considerably across countries.
Palma suggested distributional politics is largely about the battle between the rich and poor for the other half of national income, and who the middle classes side with.
So, we’ve given this idea a name – ‘the Palma’ (brilliant eh?) or the Palma Ratio. It’s defined as the ratio of the richest 10% of the population’s share of gross national income (GNI), divided by the poorest 40% of the population’s share. We think this might be a more policy-relevant indicator than the Gini, especially when it comes to poverty reduction.

Defining aid
The Guardian reports that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has a very inclusive concept of overseas development assistance:

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s development assistance committee (OECD-DAC) defines what counts as ODA. Only spending with “the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries” is eligible. But the list of specific activities that can count as aid has grown to include administrative costs and spending on refugees in donor countries, estimated costs of students from developing countries, and programmes to raise the profile of development. Some argue this growing list has diluted the meaning of foreign aid and made it harder for the public to understand where their money is going. Both grants and loans (if they have a grant element of at least 25%) can count, and ODA can be given to developing countries or multilateral institutions such as the World Bank.