Latest Developments, July 14

In today’s news and analysis…

South Sudan has become the UN’s 193rd member amid much hope and apprehension about its future prospects.

Canada is complicating preliminary negotiations for a multilateral treaty regulating the sale and transfer of conventional weapons by insisting on a number of exemptions. The Canadian delegation proposed the following addition to the draft accord: “Reaffirming that small arms have certain legitimate civilian uses, including sporting, hunting and collecting purposes.” To which Mexico reportedly replied that “victims don’t make that difference and neither should we.” Canada, whose Conservative government has scored considerable points with its base by promising to scrap the federal long-gun registry established by its Liberal predecessor, also proposed exemptions for ammunition and other “high volume items.”

Britain has suspended budgetary support to Malawi due to concerns over diminishing democracy and economic mismanagement. In making the announcement, the UK’s Department for International Development pointed to a number of indications of poor economic stewardship, including its assessment that “tobacco exports have deteriorated.” Given the fact that the UK trains and equips the counternarcotics police in Afghanistan, the British government apparently believes Malawian tobacco is good but Afghan poppies are bad.

Jayati Ghosh, warning of India’s “jobless growth” and increases in “fragile and unprotected” casual contracts, calls on the government to embrace employment creation for the young and educated in order to avoid “larger gaps between aspiration and reality in India’s labour markets.” To which, Bill Easterly tweets “Scary “jobless growth”! Wait, isn’t output growth > labor growth called “productivity growth” AKA “development”?”

The US is defending the CIA’s use of a fake vaccination campaign in Pakistan to obtain the DNA of some of Osama bin Laden’s relatives. “People need to put this into some perspective,” a U.S. official said. “The vaccination campaign was part of the hunt for the world’s top terrorist, and nothing else.” Meanwhile, the CIA is allegedly using a secret prison and rendition to buttress its counterterrorism efforts in Somalia. And Yemeni journalist Khaled al-Hammadi has tweeted today’s CIA drone strike in the south of the country was a “clear message that #US administration is supporting #Saleh’s regime & his family against pro-democracy” forces.

A new poll suggests the US is losing Arab public opinion, as data from Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates give America a lower approval rating than it had in the last year of the Bush Administration. And President Obama scored worse than the leaders of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France and Iran. “We are talking about expectations raised and expectations dashed,” according to James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, which commissioned the poll.  “Obama didn’t create the problem [of anger at US policies]. He created the expectations that the problem will be solved.”

In a new report on tax havens, Richard Murphy argues “whilst eliminating tax haven abuse is the right thing to do, such a policy must take into consideration the local populations of those places that have been tax havens, many of whom have worked in the financial services sector as it has been the only source of employment available to them.” And so, Murphy proposes “those locations willing to reform their tax haven practices should be given support to protect jobs and livelihoods as they pass through a period of transition in their economies.

Rupert Murdoch may be behind lobbying efforts to weaken the US anti-bribery legislation under which some would now like to see him prosecuted, and a pair of American telecom companies have been accused of involvement in a Haitian bribery scheme.

Saleem Ali makes a mining-free argument for returning to the gold standard. In his view, gold could restore a measure of financial discipline to the global economic system without sacrificing ecological considerations if “a nation’s gold reserves could remain “stored” in their natural underground state, rather than being mined, purified, and deposited in a Fort Knox–like vault.”

A new documentary chronicling a UN resettlement program in Nairobi’s biggest slum illustrates the distance that can separate international development workers from those they propose to help. And Hand Relief International’s Dr. Alden Kurtz has a similar, if decidedly cheekier, message  as Engineers Without Borders: the development industry would benefit from admitting to its failures.

Latest Developments, July 11

Flying and a wedding made last weekend another long one for Beyond Aid, so we have some catching up to do on the latest news and analysis…

The biggest news of the last few days was of course the birth of a new country. All may not be well between the Sudan Armed Forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, but South Sudan officially came into being on Saturday, even if maps may take a little time to catch up with the new reality. Map aficionados will appreciate the Guardian’s interactive political map of Africa, which shows the continent’s shifting borders since 1900. Its creators, however, apparently forgot about Ceuta and Melilla, the final European possessions on the African mainland, which may be too small for the map’s scale but deserved a mention in the accompanying text.

The UN declared in its annual progress report on the Millennium Development Goals that the objectives set over a decade ago are still attainable by the 2015 deadline. While there has been progress in many parts of the world, much of the reduction in those living in poverty has occurred in East Asia. So, even though there has been some good news out of India, 54 percent of its people still live on under $2 a day.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon marked World Population Day with a call for an end to global poverty and inequality: “We have enough food for everyone, yet nearly a billion go hungry. We have the means to eradicate many diseases, yet they continue to spread. We have the gift of a rich natural environment, yet it remains subject to daily assault and exploitation. All people of conscience dream of peace, yet too much of the world is in conflict and steeped in armaments.” The UN press release also points out that many wealthier countries are worried about low fertility and aging in a world where the population has doubled since 1968.

Joseph Stiglitz touches on the problems posed by this apparent lack of solidarity when he argues for an overhaul of the global financial system, which he says is bad for rich and poor, but especially the poor: “If you just focus on nationalities, you cannot be self-regulated. This kind of valuation focuses on individual units, but not the whole system.” Similarly, George Soros argues the eurozone’s biggest problem is trying to find national solutions to continental problems.

The US has announced it will withhold $800 million in military assistance to Pakistan, while it has delivered only two percent of the agricultural aid it pledged at the 2009 G8 summit in L’Aquila, according to a new report by anti-poverty group ONE.

Senegal announced it would extradite former Chadian president Hissène Habré, who is accused of being responsible for at least 40,000 deaths during his reign in the 1980s, back to his native country. But the Senegalese government had a change of heart after the UN expressed concerns the man who once enjoyed French and US backing in a war with Gadhafi’s Libya could be subjected to torture upon his return. The case has long been controversial in Senegal, as many there feel the pressure to try Habré comes from outside the continent, thereby fuelling the perception that African rulers are held to account far more than their counterparts from wealthier countries.

Such objections might be calmed by the release of a new Human Rights Watch report – authored by none other than Reed Brody who has played a lead role in the campaign to try Habré – calling for former US president George W. Bush to be investigated over the use of torture during his administration. The report also names his vice-president Dick Cheney, former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and ex-CIA director George Tenet. “The US has a legal obligation to investigate these crimes,” according to Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth. “If the US doesn’t act on them, other countries should.” Roth added: “When the US government shields its own officials from investigation and prosecution, it makes it easier for others to dismiss global efforts to bring violators of serious crimes to justice.”

Also, following the European court of human rights rulings against Britain in a pair of cases involving UK abuses in Iraq, Human Rights Watch’s Clive Baldwin says an independent body, rather than the military itself, should investigate allegations of serious wrongdoing.

Canada has announced it will boycott the UN Conference on Disarmament until North Korea’s chairmanship ends next month, at which point it will push for changes that go beyond the rotating presidency. The US, on the other hand, does not believe a controversial chair can cause much damage in a consensus-based organization. The requirement of a consensus is one of the aspects Canada would like to see changed.

In a Guardian piece on the UK’s Department for International Development’s newfound enthusiasm for turning to the private sector to help reduce world poverty, a department official opines: “We suspect that the development community as a whole hasn’t looked hard enough at non-state provision of services.” The author characterizes the comment as “quite bold given that developing countries were very much forced to look at “non-state provision of services” in the 1980s when the World Bank and the IMF introduced its structural adjustment programme, which actually reversed development progress in some countries.” It is, however, more difficult to dispute the DFID official’s assertion that NGOs are not accountable to the public either.

Latest Developments, June 29

In today’s news…

Two World Bank economists argue the best way to reduce corruption and ensure Africa benefits from the current commodity boom is for governments to transfer portions of the resulting revenues directly to their citizens. Of course, government corruption is not the only obstacle to translating mineral wealth into societal benefits. After a three-year dispute, Canada’s First Quantum Minerals has just agreed to pay $224 million in tax arrears to Zambia. The Reuters piece says: “According to the World Bank, copper is responsible for 70 to 75 percent of export earnings but the mining industry as a whole only contributes about 10 percent of Zambia’s tax revenue.”

In the wake of last week’s guilty plea by  another Canadian company, Niko Resources, for bribing a Bangladeshi official, Transparency International finds itself in the unusual position of praising Canada…sort of. In the same breath, the organization points out that Canadian law defines prosecutable foreign bribery cases excessively narrowly and calls for the revival of proposed improvements that died in 2009 when the minority government ended the parliamentary session prematurely.

As the US and Switzerland struggle to come to an agreement on dealing with tax avoidance, the Tax Justice Network suggests some Swiss media and banks are too cozy to allow a meaningful public discussion on the impacts of tax evasion. Perhaps a quick trip to Vienna is in order.

As things stand, US sanctions on Sudanese oil exports will not apply to South Sudan when it officially declares independence on July 9. Unless South Sudanese oil exports, which account for 98 percent of the government’s budget, pass north through Sudan. Which is the only way the pipelines run.

Le Monde Diplomatique’s Serge Halimi argues the current debt crisis represents a threat to democracy as much as the economy and asks (in French) if there is an alternative to “shock therapy.” Another article in the same publication provides the example of Ecuador’s 2008 constitution which stipulates public debt must not impact national sovereignty, human rights or environmental protection; public debt can only be incurred to improve infrastructure or to invest in projects that will pay for themselves; public debt refinancing is only an option if the new terms are advantageous to Ecuador; and the nationalization of private debt is prohibited.

The World Bank tweets: “The time to act is now. The world’s poor will suffer first and most from #climatechange.,” while the UK House of Commons environmental audit committee slams the global lending institution’s energy policies, which may actually be making climate change worse.

Andrea Wechsler argues in Global Policy that “global governance arrangements must reach beyond the limited concept of intellectual property to knowledge as such and, thus, address global knowledge governance.” But a number of civil society organizations worry a new set of principles on Internet policymaking raises “cybersecurity and intellectual property rights to a level of importance that is comparable with internationally recognized individual human rights such as freedom of expression.”