Latest Developments, July 29

In the latest news and analysis…

As the Horn of Africa food shortage continues to intensify, most analysts agree that drought is an insufficient explanation for the extent of the crisis. Abdikarim Abdi Buh, writing for the Mogadishu-based news site Raxanreeb Online, blames both rebel group Al Shabab’s leadership and American foreign policy for how bad things have gotten. One the one hand, he believes Al Shabab’s refusal to allow food deliveries to starving people amounts to genocide, but on the other, he says the US government “has no long-term or comprehensive policy towards Somalia other than tactical policies which are geared towards hunting down few Al Qaida individuals.” He calls on “the international community to funnel food aid through the Al Shabab approved agencies to alleviate and mitigate the depth of the famine” while simultaneously trying to strengthen the disastrously week Transitional Federal Government (TFG). But the Rift Valley Institute’s Mark Bradbury argues it was “international support for the TFG that included the provision of weapons and training of its security forces, the assassination of al-Shabaab leadership and overt attempts to deploy aid in support of the TFG” that led to restrictions and violence against foreign aid workers in the first place.

Al Shabab leaders are said to fear foreign NGOs will provide intelligence necessary for further CIA drone strikes, which the US first admitted to carrying out in Somalia last month. But speaking at a security forum in Colorado, former US intelligence chief Dennis Blair “said the administration should curtail U.S.-led drone strikes on suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia because the missiles fired from unmanned aircraft are fueling anti-American sentiment and undercutting reform efforts in those countries,” according to Politico. In Blair’s words: “I think we need to change — in those three countries — in a dramatic way.”

At the same time, UK director of Islamic Relief Jehangir Malik writes in the Guardian his organization has mostly been operating within 50 km of Mogadishu, but “on a recent assessment visit to central and southern Somalia we found it safe and practicable for us to scale up our existing operation and help many more families further afield.” And Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs is encouraged by the significant role nearby wealthy Gulf countries and the Islamic Development Bank have taken on to help in the current crisis.

Meanwhile, less than two weeks after the US and its allies recognized the rebel Transitional National Council as the “legitimate governing authority” in Libya, witnesses say those same rebels have killed their top military commander and two of his aides. At today’s funeral, the dead man’s son reportedly cried out “We want Moammar to come back! We want the green flag back!” – an outburst described by Associated Press reporters as “a startling and risky display in a city that was the first to shed Gadhafi’s rule nearly six months ago.”

Citing fears of a “race to the bottom,” civil society groups are calling on East African governments to stop offering tax breaks as a way to attract foreign investment, arguing such “incentives hinder the entry of revenue and have no empirical results to prove their efficacy and impact to investment,” according to Uganda’s Daily Monitor. As the Guardian’s Felicity Lawrence writes, poor countries are actually ahead of their wealthier counterparts in terms of understanding the balance of power in international business: “Developing countries, dealing with corporations whose revenue often exceeds their own GDPs, have long been aware of their own lack of power. They are familiar with the way world trade rules have been written to benefit corporations and limit what any one country can impose on them…For an affluent country like the UK, it has come as more of a shock.”

A new study by the Greenlining Institute reveals that 77 of America’s Fortune 100 companies have subsidiaries based in tax havens and the number of said subsidiaries has increased by 44 since 2008. On the flipside, “low-tax jurisdiction” Barbados is suffering from the ailing global economy and is stepping up efforts to attract investment from Canada, a country whose companies account for 31 percent of foreign subsidiaries in Barbados and 78 percent of the international banks. “As an island nation, we don’t have natural resources unless you count sea, sand and sun. We import most of what we consume here, so it’s very important we bring in foreign exchange,” Invest Barbados CEO Wayne Kirton told the Globe and Mail.

In a piece entitled “Offshoring the boat people,” the Economist reports on a new deal between Australia and Malaysia, under which “Australia will send the next 800 boat people who sail into its northern waters to Malaysia. There they will join about 90,000 other asylum-seekers who have been waiting, some of them for years, to have their claims assessed. In return, Malaysia will send 4,000 certified refugees to Australia and receive compensation for the programme’s costs.” In other immigration news, the US State Department has denied entry visas to Uganda’s youth baseball team, the first African squad ever to qualify for the Little League World Series. And Al Jazeera reports Vietnamese children as young as 13 are being trafficked to the UK to work as cannabis-growing labourers and are then treated as criminals when British police raid such operations.

Earlier this week, Global Witness released a report entitled “Pandering to the Loggers: Why the WWF’s Global Forest and Trade Network Isn’t Working” in which the authors claim “the scheme has never, in Global Witness’s opinion, been adequately evaluated in terms of its rules, 
operation, membership and, crucially, its impact on forests.” In the accompanying press release, Global Witness accuses the World Wildlife Federation of “allowing companies to reap the benefits of association with WWF and its iconic panda brand, while they continue to destroy forests and trade in illegally sourced timber.” WWF has responded with a statement from the criticized certification program’s head, George White, who believes the private sector “can be a significant positive force” in protecting endangered forests: “By mainstreaming responsible forestry practices among the forest-related sector, GFTN creates market conditions that help conserve the world’s forests, while providing social and economic benefits for the businesses and people that depend on them.”

The Trade Justice Movement’s Ruth Bergan slams rich countries for their unwillingness to make even minor concessions to poor countries in the decade-old Doha round of world trade talks, which ostensibly aimed to “improve the trading prospects of developing countries.” Lamenting the fact that, to date, the rich countries have not even honoured “their commitment to tackling their own damaging practices,” Bergan argues “that serious and democratic debate on the purpose and powers of the WTO is long overdue.”