Latest Developments, September 7

In the latest news and analysis…


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.


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.


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.”


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.

Latest Developments, July 27

In the latest news and analysis…

The UK has recognized the Libyan rebels as “the sole governmental authority in Libya” and unfrozen $150 million in oil revenues, measures the Gadhafi regime has termed “irresponsible” and “illegal.” On the other hand, the British and French seem to be opening the door for Gadhafi to stay in Libya as long as he gives up power, a position that is not popular with the International Criminal Court. Referring to the ICC’s insistence on Gadhafi’s arrest as “a monkey wrench into the diplomatic machinery,” James Dorsey says “it may well help to make the irony of the need for humanitarian help for Qaddafi-held areas of Libya that result from the international community’s own actions a reality.”

A power struggle appears to be underway between members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – a group of 34 rich countries that includes none of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) – and those on the outside over who gets to set global tax rules. The rich countries believe the OECD should retain that privilege, while their opponents want to see an increased role for the UN’s Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters. In a blog update, one of the authors of the Guardian piece wrote: “According to preliminary indications, things haven’t gone very well in Geneva this afternoon for developing countries – but we await further information.”

Greenpeace Argentina has released a report (in Spanish) accusing Canada’s Barrick Gold of destroying glaciers in Argentina and Chile and flouting national environmental laws in the process. Daniel Whalen of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs suggests such behaviour by Canadian mining companies is all too common. Given that Canada’s mining industry is the largest in the world, he argues “it is imperative that Ottawa hold its industries accountable to some approximation of environmental and human rights standards, both at home and abroad.”

Vedanta Resources, an Indian mining company which has its head office and is traded in London, faced protests at its annual general meeting over alleged human rights and environmental abuses, as well as its plans to set up an open-pit bauxite mine in an area considered sacred by local indigenous people. Among those protesting was asset manager Aviva Investors, “a small but vocal shareholder whose move to join the protest marks a more activist stance from institutional investors on social issues,” according to a Reuters report.

Diageo, the world’s biggest maker of spirits, has agreed to a settlement over American allegations it paid $2.7 million in bribes to officials in India, Thailand and South Korea to improve whiskey sales and get tax breaks. “Without admitting or denying the charges, Diageo agreed to desist from further violations and pay $11.3 million in disgorgement, $2.1 million in prejudgment interest and a $3 million penalty,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network has released a statement decrying proposed budget cuts to the US Agency for International Development and the State Department it claims would “roll back the huge progress that has been achieved in making U.S. foreign assistance more effective and accountable, impeding ongoing efforts to ensure that taxpayer dollars are getting into the hands of people who need our help.”  Meanwhile, New York University’s Richard Gowan warns that aid “retrenchment” is likely to become the norm in Europe over the next few years. “The question is whether this will be smart retrenchment – with governments, NGOs and international organizations actually working out how to introduce sensible reductions, evaluate what works, etc. – or a poorly-coordinated set of budget cuts justified by vague appeals to “the need for austerity”.”  Answering his own question, Gowan says all signs point to the latter.

Jonathan Glennie writes in the Guardian the English language has moved beyond “aid” – the preferred term is now “development cooperation” – but he is not convinced the shift represents more than semantics. “Rich countries (old and new) will still make decisions based on a mix of interest, ideology and altruism, just as they always have; it will take more than a progressive declaration to change the power mechanisms inherent in international relations.” Moreover, he points out that aid discourse over the last half decade has focused increasingly on efficiencies and cost cutting and he worries the new linguistic shift could mean it would no longer be only “aid concepts that are colonised and techno-fied, but the broader development agenda.”

Similarly, development experts Stephen Brown and John Sinclair point out the Canadian International Development Agency’s new open data initiative provides access to aid inputs but not to the outputs. So, for example, one can see how much money Canada gave to Haiti following last year’s earthquake, but not the actual impacts of those hundreds of millions of dollars. “If the government wants to show it is fully committed to aid transparency,” the authors argue, “it will join the International Aid Transparency Initiative. This would involve much more than quantitative information on some very selective inputs—it would also require more complete data on participating organizations, activities and budgets, as well as public access to actual documentation—all downloadable from the CIDA website.”

The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny walks his readers through the arbitrariness of World Bank country income classification and suggests an “attempt to make the income and [International Development Association] thresholds actually reflect something about the nature of countries independent of their relationship to the World Bank and its arcane concerns with civil works preference.”

As the Canadian government deliberates over setting appropriate immigration levels, the Embassy Magazine’s Jim Creskey supports the idea, put forth in a new book, “that Western governments should simply accept the inevitable and open their borders” and he argues for “putting the very important idea of people first before the abstract idea of national borders.”

Latest Developments, July 13

In today’s news and analysis…

South Sudan looks set to join the UN, as the Security Council has recommended the world’s newest country for membership. According to the UN charter, the primary requirement is to be a “peace-loving” state.

Human Rights Watch has released a new report on abuses committed by Libya’s rebel troops. “Whatever happens, they couldn’t be any worse than Col. Gadhafi,” Canadian foreign minister John Baird said while officially recognizing Libya’s National Transitional Council last month. Only time will tell.

The EU is trying to fix its own fish stocks. But what about Africa’s?

Insurance broker Marsh has launched a policy to cover corporate corruption investigations under US and UK anti-bribery laws.

The New York Times explores the tortuous route to US legislation regarding conflict minerals, as companies hold their breath in anticipation of tangible rules from the Securities and Exchange Commission. Tiffany & Company, the self-proclaimed “world’s premier jeweler,” reportedly thinks gold should not be subject to the legislation and mandatory disclosure on use of conflict minerals “would violate the First Amendment.”

Jonathan Glennie believes we should recognize the limits of corporate social responsibility and move toward global regulation. “The point is to change incentives, and voluntary measures don’t do that,” he writes in the Guardian. “Only legal sanction or consumer action is strong enough, and consumer action is too erratic to rely upon.”

There is more to cracking down on tax havens than simply recovering revenue, according to Richard Murphy who argues the fight is necessary for the functioning of modern capitalism. “Tax havens are important with regard to tax. But their pernicious impact is much more significant than that. Their use to create opacity, to undermine the effectiveness of regulation and to ensure that owners are unaccountable corrodes all faith in the market itself.”

When it comes to recent food crises, price volatility is not the main problem, according to a new Foreign Affairs article. High prices are the real danger. “Food price levels are at historic highs, but food price volatility, although high these past few years, is not out of line with historical experience and is generally lower than it was in the 1970s.” The authors argue that high prices hurt consumers, while high volatility hurts producers, and that there is a positive correlation between high prices and political unrest but a negative one between volatility and unrest. As a result, they believe world leaders should focus on lowering trade barriers, increasing yields and reducing waste rather than imposing export controls and giving subsidies.

Of course, not everyone agrees. Nick Cullather argues food prices are actually too low and leading to the ruin of farmers and the agricultural sector more generally. “The global economy includes the global countryside, and the return of prosperity will have to begin there,” he writes. Vandana Shiva, for her part, sees high-tech solutions as part of the problem. She decries the hunger and desperation among India’s food producers and attributes their difficulties to “the capital and chemical-intensive, high external input systems of food production introduced as the Green Revolution.”

A Wellcome Trust blog post asks if global health inequalities represent the biggest bioethical challenge of our time. The author provides a summary of a recent conference on the subject, during which a number of global health programs were deemed “highly unsuitable for developing countries, focussing on the introduction of new technologies or disease-specific programmes, rather than on strengthening local efforts to secure effective, high-quality, inclusive health systems.”

A new study out of the Netherlands suggests there is little truth to the common perception that immigrants take advantage of the welfare state in rich countries. Instead, they tend to return to their country of origin if they lose their job.


Latest Developments, July 4

It has been a long weekend on both sides of the world’s longest shared border. To mark the occasion, here is a list of international human rights issues for Canada to address and a July 4th reminder of what unfettered economic interests can do.

Now, some news and analysis from the last few days…

The UK’s new anti-corruption legislation came into effect, aimed at cracking down on bribes paid to foreign officials by companies with a substantial British link. Global Witness warns the new act, which may only produce 1.3 additional prosecutions per year, will be of little use without sufficient enforcement.

The Isle of Man and Guernsey have agreed to the automatic exchange of tax information with the European Union. The EU appears less interested in its own political transparency, however, as 20 of its member states are challenging a court ruling that would require the disclosure of positions taken in the all-important working-group stage of policy making.

On the Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog, Lawrence Haddad and Calestous Juma highlight five priorities for the new head of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, while Gary Younge points to Portugal, Greece, and Haiti as evidence of the increasing irrelevance of national governments.

A dispute over Pakistan’s Shamsi airbase raises questions about national sovereignty, and trouble at the world’s largest refugee camp highlights the plight of those who have fled their country.

The Overseas Development Institute makes recommendations for increased effectiveness of European development cooperation,  while Counter Balance slams the European Investment Bank for funding controversial mining operations in Africa.

Drawing on the examples of Tunisia, Senegal and Mauritius, Sheila Bunwaree argues against putting too much stock in global index rankings. And speaking of Mauritius, the tiny island nation accounted for 42 percent of foreign direct investment into India last year, suggesting much of the FDI is rather indirect. Not to mention exempt from capital gains tax. Rumours that India wants to renegotiate its tax agreement with Mauritius sent stock tumbling in Mumbai last month.