Latest Developments, April 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Keeping secrets
The Independent reports that a US court has ruled American intelligence agencies need not inform the British parliament about possible UK involvement in “extraordinary rendition” of terrorism suspects.
“A judge in Washington DC granted permission for key US intelligence bodies, including the highly sensitive National Security Agency, to exploit a loophole in US freedom of information legislation which bars the release of documentation to any body representing a foreign government.

The Americans’ success in resisting the MPs’ inquiries will fuel the controversy over the cover-up of the role said to have been played by British intelligence operatives in spiriting away fugitives and suspects with ministerial approval to secret jails and authoritarian regimes, in particular to Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya.”

Debt forgiveness
Reuters reports that the Paris club of creditor nations has agreed to provide Guinea with $344 million in “debt relief,” though the $151 million in outright cancellation accounts for just one fifth of the debt owed by Guinea to Paris Club members.
“The Club said that Guinea’s government was convincingly implementing a reform programme, which could lead to final round of debt relief with its Paris Club creditors.
Guinea had more than $750 million in debt owed to Paris Club members at the start of the year in nominal terms.”

Foreclosure discrimination
Reuters reports that US financial giant Wells Fargo is being accused of not maintaining foreclosed homes in minority neighbourhoods, compared to predominantly white ones.
“The group used various statistics from its investigation to allege that properties in white communities were taken much better care of. For example, the group said that 56 percent of the foreclosed properties surveyed in the minority communities had substantial amounts of trash piling up, compared with 30 percent of Wells Fargo foreclosures in white neighborhoods that had the same problem.
‘I was just astonished by how poorly maintained so many of Wells Fargo properties were,’ said [the National Fair Housing Alliance’s Shanna] Smith. ‘When you drive through some of these neighborhoods of color, you would just be stunned by the overgrowth of weeds, often there’s no for-sale sign in front of the house, some look completely abandoned.’ ”

Nkrumah’s diary
GhanaWeb reports that a US court has ruled the 1960s diary of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, belongs to his native country, not the American businessman who had it in his possession.
“Possibly the most compelling entry in the diary (which is about the size of a small paperback and has a bookmark with the colours of Ghana’s flag stuffed in its pages), is one where Nkrumah, who had been Ghana’s head of state since independence from Britain in 1957, reflects on the abrupt end of his presidency. It makes clear that Nkrumah was worried about Ghana and Africa’s future. He wrote: ‘Things will not go well for Ghana’ and said his ‘vision’ for Ghana would now be ‘lost’.”

Corporate liability’s future
Lawfirm Foley Hoag’s Alexandra Meise Bay looks at the potential impact of a US Supreme Court case currently underway on corporate accountability for human rights abuses committed abroad.
“Given alternative court options emerging outside of the United States, even if the Supreme Court were to hold that the [Alien Tort Statute] no longer applies extraterritorially, corporations could still find themselves in lengthy litigations over alleged human rights abuses committed in third-countries. Ultimately, an end to the ATS is not necessarily an end to corporate liability.”

Capital floods
Boston University’s Kevin Gallagher argues the international community must take on “the ‘tsunami’ of speculative finance” that is harming poor countries.
“Some nations that probably should be deploying regulations on capital flows are not because such measures could be found to violate recent trade and investment treaties On the receiving end of all the capital flows are nations that may have signed on to the financial services commitments under the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS) at the WTO that limits the ability of nations to regulate cross border trade in financial services.
And/or a nation may be party to a ‘free trade agreement’ or bilateral investment treaty with the United States that requires that nations allow the transfer of all forms of capital – including stocks, bonds and derivatives – into and out of  all parties to the agreement ‘freely and without delay’.”

Disarmament wars
The Nation Institute’s Jonathan Schell writes about the problems inherent in using “force as a tool of disarmament.”
“Although the invasion of Iraq was a debacle, the policy underlying it has survived. Curiously, that policy may have escaped discredit in part precisely because its target was a mirage. Is a military action a true test of a disarmament war’s efficacy if the arms in question are missing?”

Full-cost pricing
The Earth Policy Institute’s Lester Brown writes that the key to a sustainable global economy is “to get the market to tell the truth.”
“If the world is to move onto a sustainable path, we need economists who will calculate indirect costs and work with political leaders to incorporate them into market prices by restructuring taxes.
This will require help from other disciplines, including ecology, meteorology, agronomy, hydrology, and demography. Full-cost pricing that will create an honest market is essential to building an economy that can sustain civilisation and progress.”

Warlord fever
New York University’s Keith Stanski writes that Western enthusiasm for “manhunts” for so-called warlords has a history that long predates the Kony 2012 video.
“The era of large U.S.-led militarized humanitarian missions as seen in Somalia has passed, but the underlying political logic persists: U.S. military assistance to Uganda has grown in recent months, even as the Obama administration recently deployed 100 U.S. special operation forces to the region in October, a development for which Invisible Children claims some credit.

‘Nothing is more powerful,’ Invisible Children notes at the outset of their initial film, ‘than an idea whose time has come.’ Blaming complex problems on the individual responsibility of a single warlord has a record of leading to disaster. It starts with a missive, and then gets some press. Then come public pressure, debate, manhunt and often war. This familiar pattern, dating back to the 19th century, is creaking into gear once again. That’s the real lesson of ‘Kony 2012.’ ”

Latest Developments, September 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Libya

Embassy Magazine’s Scott Taylor suggests NATO propaganda has exaggerated the role of mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa fighting among Gadhafi loyalists in Libya and may bear some of the blame for the violent backlash against dark-skinned Libyans: “Fully one-third of the Libyan population is dark-skinned and come from sub-Saharan Africa. And in pre-war prosperous Libya, migrant workers from central African countries performed most menial labour jobs. With emotions running high and Gaddafi loyalists still battling in several cities, many dark-skinned males have been summarily executed by rebels for no other reason than they are black.” Taylor does not deny the presence of some foreign mercenary troops but wonders if NATO’s support for the rebels makes its soldiers much different. With the fighting still not over, he says “it is as yet impossible to calculate how many Libyans were killed in the name of protecting Libyans.”

Meanwhile, Moammar Gadhafi is deposed but defiant and apparently still in Libya, and the embarrassments are beginning to pile up for his foreign opponents. Especially in the UK where allegations are swirling regarding renditions to Libya and a deal in which the man thought to be behind the Lockerbie boming was sent home in order to facilitate an oil contract for BP.

Somalia

As Somalia’s famine spreads, the Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaefer and Morgan Roach worry about the impact of alleged food aid theft on American taxpayer dollars and are calling for congressional oversight to prevent such misdeeds. So far, the US has given just over $60 million in humanitarian assistance to Somalia, which amounts to roughly 40 cents per taxpayer.

Aid

The Center for Global Development’s Vijaya Ramachandran and Julie Walz suggest that, since American troops are already engaged in “development” projects in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, it makes sense to give them the tools to be more effective.  Especially given talk of integrating the national defence, diplomacy and development budgets. As things stand, if one is to believe a former Pentagon logistician, the amount the US military spends annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan is greater than the US Agency for International Development’s program budget. The Pentagon, however, disputes the retired brigadier general’s math.

A trio of researchers from MIT and the World Bank looked into the impacts of incentivized aid, whereby the size of grants provided to Indonesian villages depended on their progress toward reaching a number of health and education objectives. They found that such incentives led to improvements in health, but not education.

A new European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad) report entitled “How to spend it: smart procurement for more effective aid” suggests that despite decade-old pledges by wealthy donor countries to untie aid, roughly 20 percent of development assistance requires recipients to spend money in donor countries. Moreover, because of the nature of the tendering and procurement system, a further 60 percent of aid contracts end up going to donor-country companies. In other words, 80 percent of aid is either formally or informally tied, making it “boomerang aid: a financial flow that is only channelled to developing countries on the books.” According to the report, “ tied aid disallows developing countries from taking full responsibility of their own development. It puts purchasing decisions in donors’ hands instead, often resulting in the purchase of inadequate goods or failed services.”

Human rights

Bard College’s Ian Buruma looks at the impacts of culture and religion on women’s rights. He argues that, as is the case with both the Taleban and disgraced former IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn, “culture comes to the rescue of the powerful more often than it protects the weak.” He believes culture needs to be subordinated to laws that protect those at risk. But while recognizing there are places where such goals are distant ones, he cautions against overzealous outside interference: “As for women in Muslim countries, there may not be much that people in the West can do to improve their lot. But it is unlikely that much good will come from bombing them.”

Globalization

Oxfam’s Duncan Green asks: “When did talking on the subject of ‘globalization and development’ start to feel so retro?” He describes an investigation into who benefits from globalization and how to spread those benefits around more equitably as “a very last-decade kind of gig.”

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports the World Bank is in “very early stage” discussions with China to collaborate on exporting low-end manufacturing jobs to Africa, as the Asian giant adjusts to a shrinking workforce and an increased emphasis on producing higher-value products. World Bank President Robert Zoellick said shifting 5 million jobs to Africa would increase manufacturing employment on the continent by 50 percent.One of the possible methods for the transition would be the creation of industrial zones, a tactic that has proved controversial in Haiti, for example. Zoellick also sees potential for Chinese assistance in agriculture.