Author Archives: Rob

Is development and poverty alleviation only about ‘economic potential’?

UN DAILY NEWS from the
9 May, 2011 ==================================================

A major United Nations conference aimed at devising a new strategy to help the world’s poorest countries unlock their economic potential and accelerate development opened today in Turkey, where of heads of State and senior officials from international organizations are among 7,000 participants in attendance.

The Fourth UN Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in Istanbul will assess the implementation of the Brussels Programme of Action – the outcome document adopted at the last such conference, held in 2001 – and try to reach agreement on a new set of support measures for the 48 nations classified as LDCs.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the opening session that LDCs should not be seen as “poor and weak” but countries with “vast reservoirs of untapped potential” that are home to nearly 900 million people or 12 per cent of the global population.

“Investing in LDCs is an opportunity for all,” said Mr. Ban. “First, it is an opportunity to relieve the world’s most vulnerable people of the burdens of poverty, hunger and needless disease. This is a moral obligation.

“Second, investing in LDCs can provide the stimulus that will help to propel and sustain global economic recovery and stability. This is not charity, it is smart investment.

“Third, it provides a massive opportunity for South-South cooperation and investment. The world’s rapidly emerging economies need both resources and markets.”

The Secretary-General pointed out that LDCs “represent a vast and barely touched area for enterprise… for business. We have here, this week, all the ingredients for success… for a genuine partnership for development.”

Outlining some of the challenges facing LDCs, Mr. Ban noted that the countries suffer disproportionately from preventable diseases and are most vulnerable to natural disasters, environmental degradation and economic uncertainty.

They are also the least secure, with eight of the 15 UN peacekeeping missions operating in LDCs. Over the past decade, least developed countries produced 60 per cent of the world’s refugees.

Mr. Ban called for a successful conclusion to the Doha Development Round of multilateral negotiations, saying there was little point in helping LDCs to grow food and other commodities, manufacture products and develop services if they cannot trade fairly in the global marketplace.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the conference, Mr. Ban stressed that the gathering must come up with a practical and far-reaching programme of action which will spur LDCs’ productive capacity through trade, improved agriculture, financing for development and addressing the consequences of climate change.

“Here in Istanbul, where continents and cultures connect and converge, let us build a strong bridge – a bridge that will enable the least fortunate and most vulnerable members of our human family to cross to the land of prosperity and security,” he said.

The President of the General Assembly, Joseph Deiss, described the conference as a unique opportunity to make a real difference for the development of LDCs and called for the renewed and stronger support of the international community.

He said the plan of action that will be agreed in Istanbul “must empower the least developed countries to transform their economies and society by helping to create an enabling national and international environment for social and economic development and enhancing productive capacities.”

But Mr. Deiss pointed out the quality of institutions and policies at the national and regional levels must be sound to facilitate development in LDCs.

“Rule of law, respect of human rights and democracy must be strengthened. The fight against corruption has to be intensified,” he said.

“Eradicating poverty and reducing vulnerability in the least developed countries is a duty that we have towards the million people living in these countries. This will in turn contribute to making the world safer, more prosperous, more dynamic, more democratic and more united.”

The drawbacks of intervention in Libya


The drawbacks of intervention in Libya

Concerns over oil markets, geopolitics and refugees might be behind no-fly zone decision, scholars argue.
Asli U. Bâli and Ziad Abu-Rish Last Modified: 20 Mar 2011 16:34
The no-fly zone could involve on Libyan runways, radars, and anti-aircraft artillery installations carrying the potential for significant collateral damage against civilians and civilian infrastructure [GALLO/GETTY]

The Libyan uprising is entering its fourth week. The courage and persistence of the Libyan people’s efforts to overthrow Gaddafi have been met with ongoing regime brutality ranging from shoot-to-kill policies to the indiscriminate use of artillery against unarmed civilians.

In addition to the current no-fly zone, the UN Security Council unanimously issued a resolution imposing tough measures against the Libyan regime including an arms embargo, asset freeze, travel ban and a referral of the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court for investigation.

The desire to act in solidarity with the Libyan people demands that we assess the available options against the core principle of legitimacy that any intervention must satisfy: Do no harm (that is, do not do more harm on balance by intervening).

The likelihood that coercive intervention would satisfy this principle is severely constrained when evaluated against the historical record, logistical realities, and the incentives and interests of the states in a position to serve as the would-be external interveners.

Put simply, coercive external intervention to alter the balance of power on the ground in Libya in favor of the anti-Gaddafi revolt is likely to backfire badly.

The attendant costs would, of course, be borne not by those who call for intervention from outside of Libya but by the Libyan people with whom we hope to show solidarity. In what follows we argue that embracing the call for solidarity requires a much more careful appraisal of the interventionist option, precisely because the potential risks will be borne by Libyan civilians.

Mixed motivations

Of the arguments against intervention, the most straightforward draws on an assessment of the long history of external intervention in the Middle East and North Africa.

There is no need to rehearse that history here since the failure of such past interventions to advance the humanitarian welfare or political aspirations of local populations is well-established. But because the possibility of intervention is debated in some circles as if the starting point is a clean slate, it is important to begin by recalling this dismal history. For instance, the imposition of a no-fly-zone on Iraq did little in and of itself to shift the balance of power against the Saddam Hussein regime, but it did result in the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

Further, the no-fly zone served as a predicate for the subsequent invasion and occupation of Iraq insofar as the ongoing use of this coercive measure against the regime from 1991 until 2003 was cited in support of the argument that there was “implied authorisation” to forcibly topple the regime.

While humanitarian considerations are often invoked in defense of intervention, humanitarianism is far from the only issue on the table. Other reasons that have been adduced in favor of intervention in Libya include vindicating international norms, re-establishing the leadership of the US in the region, preventing spill-over of the refugee crisis into Europe, and the stabilisation of world oil markets. The Libyan people are struggling to change their regime on their own terms and there is no reason to presume an overlap between these various logics of intervention and their interests.

The historical record clearly establishes that an external regime change intervention based on mixed motives – even when accompanied with claims of humanitarianism – usually privileges the strategic and economic interests of interveners and results in disastrous consequences for the people on the ground. Indeed, the discord currently evidenced among Western powers concerning intervention in Libya is precisely based in their doubts as to whether their strategic interests are adequately served by such a course.

The incongruence between the interests of external interveners and those on the ground in Libya is already apparent. Beyond their eleventh hour timing, serious mobilisations for intervention on the part of Western powers were issued only after most Western nationals had been safely evacuated from Libya.

The fact that outside powers were unwilling to act while their nationals were on Libyan soil demonstrates their understanding that treating the regime with coercion may lead to civilian deaths either directly as a result of an intervention or indirectly through reprisals against civilians identified as opponents.

Furthermore, the evacuation channels made available to Western nationals – airlifts across the Mediterranean – were not and are not being offered to Libyan civilians nor African migrant workers trapped in Libya. If the humanitarian welfare of civilians in Libya were paramount, they, too, would have been offered this secure escape route. Instead, once Western nationals were safely out of harm’s way, coercive measures were adopted without any effort to protect or evacuate the civilians that were left behind in Tripoli and beyond.

No-fly zone, local calls, and solidarity

To be clear, we are not categorically rejecting any and all forms of intervention irrespective of the context. Instead, we reject forms of intervention that, on balance, are likely to produce more harm than benefit. This is a context-specific determination that requires an assessment of the forseeable consequences of particular proposed interventions. With respect to the context in Libya today we are critical of current proposals for intervention in light of the identities and interests of would-be interveners and the limited understanding of intra-Libyan political dynamics on which they rely. There are circumstances under which a no-fly zone might conceivably serve a humanitarian purpose.

In particular, if air strikes were the principal means by which the regime was inflicting civilian casualties, there would be a much stronger case for a no-fly zone. Though the military situation within Libya remains unclear, the empirical evidence that is available suggests that Gaddafi’s artillery poses a more serious threat to both civilians and rebels than air strikes.

In addition, the regime’s aerial assaults have primarily employed helicopter gunships, which would be difficult to counter through a no-fly zone because they fly lower and are harder to target than warplanes.

Further, the no-fly zone imposed through the UN Security Council involves attacks on Libyan runways, radars, and anti-aircraft artillery installations with the potential for significant “collateral damage” against civilians and civilian infrastructure. A no-fly zone that risks killing Libyans would also run the risk of strengthening the regime’s hand by enabling Gaddafi to style himself as an anti-imperialist defender of Libyan sovereignty.

Rather than persuading elements of the military and air force to defect, such a move might produce a counter-productive rally-round-the-flag effect in parts of Libya still under the control of the regime.

The fact that for logistical and political reasons a no-fly zone poses a serious risk of backfiring is an important consideration. But it is not the only reason to question whether heeding local calls for a no-fly zone necessarily represent an act of solidarity.

Fragmentation risk

Furthermore, a response to calls emanating from one region may risk fragmenting the country. The fact that we know so little about the domestic context among non-regime actors in Libya is precisely the reason that the types of external intervention currently taking place are likely to backfire.

The desire to act in solidarity with local Libyans struggling for their liberation is important. But without a clear sense of the consequences of a particular intervention – or the interests and diverse actors likely to be impacted – there is no way to satisfy the do-no-harm principle. Notwithstanding the provenance of the no-fly zone – whether within Libya or the Arab League – and their attendant “authenticity” or legitimacy, we cannot justify intervention unless we can appraise its likely consequences for the civilian population with whom we are allegedly acting in solidarity.

This difficulty is further compounded by the fact that neither the Western nor Arab powers currently calling for intervention have a record of privileging particular domestic partners based on the interests or aspirations of local populations. There is little reason to expect that Libya will be exceptional in this regard, particularly in light of the mixed motives of any potential intervener.

We do not argue that the international community has no obligation to support Libyan civilians. To the contrary, we strongly believe there is such an obligation, but that current coercive options pose serious risks to the Libyan population with little concomitant benefit in terms of humanitarian protections.

The interests of potential external interveners are not well aligned with those of Libyans on the ground beyond that of regime change.

Further, the identities of involved in the process of intervention reinforce concerns about such proposals. Many members of the Arab League are currently undertaking repression of democratic uprisings against their rule. The legitimacy and representativeness of any call they issue should be called into question by their own internal anti-democratic practices.

As Saudi troops operate in Bahrain to shore up the defenses of an authoritarian ruling family against its own people, the bankruptcy of calls for intervention in Libya by members of the GCC and the Arab League is evident.

Members of the Group of 8 are also compromised by their ambivalence towards democratic demands met with repression by their regional allies and their own long history of brutal interventions and direct support of authoritarian regimes.

ICC referral ‘counter-productive’

Libyans have already made great inroads on the ground and without external support towards a goal of regime change in which they will determine the day-after scenarios for their country.

To date, measures adopted by the international community have done little to aid, and may have undermined, Libyan efforts at liberation. For instance, the call for an ICC referral in the measures adopted by the UN Security Council was most likely counter-productive. The first priority should have been a negotiated exit strategy for Gaddafi and his family, not unlike the path already paved for the other recently deposed Arab despots, Ben Ali and Mubarak.

Instead, by immediately referring the regime for investigation by the ICC the international community has signaled to Gaddafi that neither he nor his children will be allowed to go quietly, potentially redoubling his resolve to fight to the last.

Allowing a negotiated exit to exile in an African or South American country would not have precluded a subsequent ICC referral, but might have facilitated an early end to the violence currently ravaging Libya. Further, the same resolution that referred Libyan authorities to the ICC contained a specific exemption from ICC jurisdiction for foreign interveners not party to the Rome Statute, anticipating and providing impunity in some cases for civilian deaths that result from possible UN Security Council-authorised operations in Libya down the line.

The ICC referral has been described as an attempt to incentivise those around Gaddafi to defect. Rather than vindicating international accountability, this logic of incentives suggests impunity for last-minute defectors notwithstanding decades of crimes against the Libyan population.

At its most basic, the ICC referral represents the triumph of a set of international goals (vindicating a constrained conception of international accountability through the Libyan regime) over the immediate interest in an early resolution of the Libyan crisis through the provision of a regime exit strategy. This privileging of international over local interests is typical of external intervention and would only be exacerbated by options involving the use of force.

Useful assistance

We argue for forms of international assistance that reverse this privileging and begin from the known interests of Libyan civilians. At a minimum, resources must be mobilised to offer relief supplies to the Libyan population that is currently outside of the control of the regime (bearing in mind some of the problematic dynamics also associated with such forms of “aid”).

Urgent priority should be given to addressing shortages of medical supplies and provision of essential foods and clean water. Beyond these basics, an evacuation corridor for civilians – including non-Libyan African workers trapped in the territory – should be secured and responsibility for shouldering the burden of refugee flows should not be restricted to Tunisia and Egypt.

To the contrary, rather than imposing these costs on Libya’s poorest neighbors – in the early stages of transitions of their own – Libya’s relatively wealthy northern neighbors in Europe should be absorbing a much larger share of the costs, human and material, of offering refuge to fleeing civilians.

The fact that the airlifting of Libyan and other African civilians to safety out of Tripoli is an option that is not currently on the table speaks eloquently to the misalignment of priorities. Dropping the xenophobic European rhetoric on the “dangers” of African immigration would also have the benefit of removing one of the Libyan regime’s major levers with the EU.

As Gaddafi threatens to terminate the agreements by which he has been warehousing African migrants at Europe’s behest, he lays bare the cruel logic of tacit alliances (based on immigration, energy, and security interests) that has long lent support to his rule.

A Europe willing to take concrete steps to facilitate the evacuation to its own shores of civilians who wish to leave Libyan territory regardless of nationality would at least have broken with its record of shameful complicity in regime brutality.

Acting in solidarity with the Libyan people within a do-no-harm principle presents many constraints and frustratingly few options. This is not because of an absence of concern for the interests of the Libyan population but because there are few good options beyond the provision of relief supplies and evacuation channels.

Support Libyan rebels?

There may be other alternatives short of external coercive intervention that might be considered – such as sharing tactical intelligence with Libyan rebels or jamming regime communications – though such options would have to be carefully evaluated in light of potential risks.

By contrast, overt and covert coercive options ranging from no-fly zones to arming Libyan rebels or using regional commandos to train them all implicate external actors in altering the balance on the ground in unpredictable ways.

To engage in such coercive strategies without being able to evaluate the full range of consequences amounts to subordinating the interests of the Libyan people to our own sense of purpose and justice.

We strongly advocate creative strategies of solidarity with the Libyan people while underscoring that calls for coercive external intervention do not qualify. Indeed, it is possible that demands for Western support to the rebels may already have done more harm than good.

In the end, we argue for humility in imagining the role we might play in the course of Libyans’ struggle. The international community is neither entitled to take the reins today nor dictate the post-regime scenario tomorrow. Further, those of us who wish to stand in solidarity with Libyans from outside of their country must recognise that we may not be best placed to identify which local actors enjoy broad-based support.

Solidarity cannot be reduced to the diplomatic politics of recognition nor to arguments for external intervention.

In the end, we counsel acting from the outside only when our actions are clearly aligned with the interests of Libyan civilians. Imaginative strategies to offer much-needed relief and refuge to Libya’s vulnerable population represent a challenge the international community has yet to meet. That is a good starting point for transnational solidarity.

Asli Ü. Bâli is a professor of law at the UCLA School of Law. Her research interests also include comparative law of the Middle East.

Ziad Abu-Rish is a doctoral candidate in UCLA’s Department of History. He is the co-editor of Jadaliyya Ezine.

The article above first appeared on Jadaliyya.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera
Email ArticlePrint ArticleShare ArticleSend Feedback

Monitoring greenhouse gases

Mar 4th 2010 | From The Economist print edition

Highs and lows
You might think that measuring the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would be a priority. If you did think that, though, you would be wrong

IN NEGOTIATIONS on nuclear weapons the preferred stance is “Trust but verify”. In negotiations on climate change there seems little opportunity for either. Trust, as anyone who attended last year’s summit in Copenhagen can attest, is in the shortest of supplies. So, too, is verification.

Continue reading

Recommit to women’s liberation

On International Women’s Day we launch a manifesto for 21st-century feminism
(183)Tweet this (62)Comments (…) Lindsey German and Nina Power, Monday 8 March 2010 12.00 GMT Article history
Marking International Womens Day 1975, the feminist magazine Spare Rib reported: ‘4,000 women marched through London’s East End.’ Photograph: Red Women’s Workshop

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of International Women’s Day. First agreed at a socialist women’s conference in Copenhagen in 1910, its aim was to campaign for the rights of working women. Today, the lives of women have changed beyond recognition compared with those of their grandmothers and great grandmothers. But the changes in work and personal life have been distorted by the needs of the market and have fallen far short of women’s liberation.

The experience of work has been challenging and invigorating for a few, but for most women in the shops, offices, call centres and factories of 21st-century Britain it has been more likely to represent long hours, constant pressure, and growing attempts to squeeze more productivity and profit out of them. The big increase in the numbers of women working (more than 12 million today) has come from working mothers. But there has been no similar change in how the family and childcare have been organised.

So while mothers work outside the home, often full-time, they are also often expected to shoulder the needs of shopping, feeding and caring for their children. This is on top of sometimes long journeys to work, and of the demands of shift work for many. Whereas the old sexist dichotomy of the 50s was that women could either have looks or brains, now we are expected to have both, plus cooking skills at least to the level of Come Dine With Me, and an all-seeing eye to ensure that children behave at all times.

Women are expected to juggle all aspects of their lives and are blamed as individuals for any failing in their work or family life. The only people who can begin to succeed in doing this are those who can afford to pay others (usually women) to carry out some or all of these tasks. So an army of working-class women cook, clean, care for children, do ironing and washing, work in supermarkets, wait in restaurants, perform personal services, all to ensure the easier life of those women who “have it all”. Often in the process they neglect their own families to do so.

The way in which women’s working lives are portrayed reflects this. There is much talk of glass ceilings, but little about those women who are falling into the basement, struggling to work and maintain families on poverty wages. The life experiences of women (and men) are radically different, with a small minority sharing in the profits made by working-class men and women.

Alongside work has come increased sexualisation of society – now greeted with horror by respectable middle-class opinion, but much encouraged by advertising, the media and the profit motive itself, where porn and lap dancing are now big business. The other side of this sexualisation is the continuing high levels of rape, domestic violence and sexual abuse. We are still a very long way from women controlling their own lives and sexuality.

This International Women’s Day we should recommit to a women’s liberation which is connected to a wider movement for human emancipation and for working people to control the wealth they produce. That’s why women and men have to fight for liberation. We won’t win without a fight, because there are many vested interests who want to stop us. But more and more people are beginning to connect campaigning over climate change, war and inequality with fighting for women’s liberation. That’s why we are launching a manifesto for 21st-century feminism to begin to organise for real equality.

A messiah can’t do it. To reshape the world, the US must first reform itself

Obama’s foreign policy so far has had disappointing results. But if he made a shaky start, more blame lies with others

When was the last time you heard anyone enthusing about Barack Obama’s foreign policy? When was the last time you did so yourself? Over the last year, his outstretched hand of friendship has been bitten or brushed aside by China, Russia and Iran. His administration has just been snubbed by Israel. It is not at all clear that his surge in Afghanistan is working, while Pakistan still teeters on the brink. European governments’ passion for the new US president has proved fickle. His eloquent opening to the Islamic world seems to have run into the sand. The Copenhagen summit on climate change fizzled out in mutual recrimination between the US and China. Once upon a time, the world thrilled to the Obama chant of “Yes we can!” Now it seems to be shouting back: “No you can’t!”

Beyond improving the US’s popular standing in the world – no mean achievement, to be sure – Obama’s foreign policy has so far produced no clear, significant success. Why? Here are some of the explanations offered. Disappointment was foreordained: those messianic expectations of his presidency could never have been met by any mere mortal. Rather than being a messiah, Obama is a first-term president with little personal experience in foreign affairs. As his predecessor showed, the experience of your aides cannot always make up for your own lack of it.

Republicans claim that his “liberal”, rational, compromise-seeking approach invites these snubs from Beijing to Jerusalem. As he himself remarked in a speech in Moscow last summer, quoting a Russian student: “The real world is not so rational as paper.” Democrats retort that his real problem is the unholy mess bequeathed by George Bush: Iraq, neglected Afghanistan, alienated Muslims and American unpopularity abroad; massive debts, financial crisis and recession at home.

Others point to problems accumulated over a longer period: American consumers who for years have been encouraged to live beyond their means; domestic infrastructure neglected in favour of imperial expenditures; a dysfunctional system of government. Meanwhile, the political middle ground where compromises used to be forged has disappeared in an increasingly polarised politics. Most fundamentally, it is argued that historic power shifts mean we are entering what Fareed Zakaria calls a post-American world. In this multipolar order, or no-polar disorder, the US will find it increasingly difficult to get its own way against the will of rising great powers – above all, China.

These explanations are not mutually exclusive. If you examine any particular foreign policy issue and ask why Obama has not done better, you have to look at the interaction of several of these causes. Take Iran. I do not think the Obama administration has hit upon the best policy here. Last year it focused too exclusively on the offer of nuclear negotiations, while a huge opportunity for political change was opening up and then partly closing down inside Iran. (Iran’s green movement is definitely down, but not out.) Snubbed by Tehran on the nuclear front, Washington is now investing too much political capital in the pursuit of sanctions that are unlikely to bring the current Iranian regime to a negotiated renunciation of its nuclear programme, even if China and Russia were to agree to those sanctions.

But if you ask why Iran spurned Obama’s outstretched hand, then you have to look at the legacy of the Bush years, including the way in which the Iraq war strengthened Iran’s position in the region. If you ask why China is so hard to get, then you have to recall the underlying power shifts, as well as a growing Chinese economy’s thirst for Iranian oil. If you ask why the Obama administration is playing it this way, then you have to look also at the pressures from Congress, and the fear that Israel might take unilateral military action against Iranian nuclear facilities. In turn, the priority given to Iran helps explain why Washington has not pushed China and Russia harder on other fronts, including human rights.

The results of Obama’s first year of foreign policy are thin, but it is much too soon to despair. America is never again going to enjoy the position of near-supremacy that it experienced after 1945 and again after 1989 – using it well in the first case and badly in the second. But all the rising great powers have great problems too, not least China. America has its time of troubles now. Theirs will come. The United States will probably emerge from this economic crisis in better shape than Europe. It has power resources which few can match, combining scale, flexibility, enterprise, a capacity to tap the creative energy of immigrants, technological innovation, a popular culture with global reach and, not least, individual liberty. Obama personifies those strengths.

Many other administrations have had a shaky start. Bill Clinton’s first term was not great either, not to mention George W Bush’s. There may be some truth in the criticism that Obama played a bit too much softball at the beginning, making prior concessions to China (postponing his meeting with the Dalai Lama) and Russia (abandoning the missile defence shield in east central Europe) without getting anything in exchange. He is learning the hard way. Welcome notes of firmness have been heard in the relationship with China. In the last few days, the administration has reacted with rare public anger to an affront from Binyamin Netanyahu’s government.

Through trial and error, the Obamaites can pull together the security-led “realist” agenda that has dominated this first year, their concerns for development, democracy and the rule of law, and their interest in an open global economy (also one less distorted by Chinese currency manipulation). Complex multilateralism will always take longer than mindless unilateralism, but it can be more effective in the end. If some version of healthcare reform goes through and the economy recovers, Obama could win a second term in which to reap the harvest of strategic policy choices. That second term could realise some of the hopes with which the first began.

There are many “ifs” in there, but the largest single obstacle along the way has nothing to do with Obama’s character, ideology or team, nor with the rise of China, India or Brazil. It is the American political system. This 21st century perversion of a magnificent 18th century invention now gives powers to interfere in foreign policy, unmatched in any other major democracy, to a legislature that is both deeply divided along partisan lines and a shameless aggregator of special interests.

The biggest problem for American foreign policy today is not called Obama, or Bush, or China; it is called Congress. Whether you look at trade, climate change, China or Iran, it is the US Congress where policy becomes entangled, distorted and stymied. If the United States really wants to meet the hopes of a world in which its own relative power is undoubtedly diminished, it should introduce four-year terms for members of the House of Representatives, reform political finance and curb the lobbyists who enjoy “power without responsibility: the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages”. Effective foreign policy begins at home.

Posted by Ariana Mirus, 106

What’s the Moral Price for Playing Politics?

Antigay policies can be attributed to populist, even democratic, politics, but that does not absolve their perpetrators of bigotry.

Gay Rights, Census

By Ellis Cose | Newsweek Web Exclusive 

Mar 11, 2010

I had never heard of California state Sen. Roy Ashburn before he made headlines earlier this month by getting arrested for driving while intoxicated after leaving a gay bar in Sacramento. But even though his name was not well known, there was something awfully familiar about his situation: a closeted Republican who made his mark opposing gay-friendly legislation suddenly outs himself, accidently, with some foolish public act. To his credit, Ashburn, quickly came clean. He apologized and took responsibility for the incident. A few days later, in an interview with a sympathetic and supportive conservative radio host, he announced he was gay and asked listeners to pray for him.

His votes, explained Ashburn, reflected his “duty to represent my constituents,” the vast majority of whom, in his opinion, were against various rights for gays. Left unasked and unanswered was the natural follow-up: at what point does catering to a presumably bigoted constituency (particularly by one who belongs to a group that is the object of that bigotry) become not just hypocritical but downright immoral? The question, of course, is not just one for Ashburn, but for politicians everywhere who seek political gain from advocating discrimination.

For most human-rights advocates, the answer is obvious (at that point where bias trumps both logic and compassion), which is one reason a measure before the Ugandan Parliament has been condemned around the world. The proposed law, supposedly designed to protect Ugandan culture, its vulnerable children, and “traditional family values,” would harden the country’s already tough laws against homosexuality. It sanctions life imprisonment for those who engage in same-sex marriage or for anyone who touches another person with the intention of “committing the act of homosexuality.” It allows executing those who engage in homosexual acts with certain classes of victims. And it would jail those who encourage or counsel others who engage in homosexuality.

The Ugandan proposal (which few expect to pass in anything like its present form and which, interestingly enough, was undergirded by arguments from certain American evangelicals) is so over the top that no serious thinker believes it to be remotely enforceable. Also—according to a brief filed by the London-based Equal Rights Trust—it violates both the Ugandan Constitution and the country’s obligations under various international agreements.

Dimitrina Petrova, executive director and founder of Equal Rights Trust, believes the timing of the proposed legislation is suspect. “Homosexuality has been around in African cultures for centuries, as well as in non-African cultures,” she told me. “Why now, given that homosexuality is already prohibited?” The answer, she says, is politics. “At this time when Uganda has a number of political problems and insecurities … poverty is horrible, security is horrible, sexual crime in unaddressed … the focus on the issue of homosexuality is a way of distracting attention from the real problems of the country.”

In a brave and powerful speech delivered in Uganda, Sylvia Tamale made much the same point. Homosexuals had nothing to do with the country’s serious economic or medical problems, pointed out. Tamale, dean of the Makerere University law school in Kampala. Yet anyone “who cares to read history books knows very well that in times of crisis, when people at the locus of power are feeling vulnerable and their power is being threatened, they will turn against the weaker groups in society. They will pick out a weak voiceless group on whom to heap blame for all society’s troubles.”

Uganda’s leaders, Tamale noted, had a long history of scapegoating vulnerable populations. “Dictator Idi Amin blamed Asians for Uganda’s dire economic problems and expelled all Indians in the early 1970s.” Former president Milton Obote’s demonized refugees. “The lesson drawn from these chapters in our recent history,” Tamale said, “is that today it is homosexuals under attack; tomorrow it will be another exaggerated minority.”

When I asked Petrova her view of the future globally for gays and other sexual minorities, she reflected on the year that had just passed: “Consider in the second half of 2009. There were two days, two very different days … The second of July 2009, the Delhi high court decriminalized homosexuality in India; on 14th of October … the absurd antisexuality bill was introduced in the Parliament of Uganda … I personally think that what will be happening more and more is something of the nature of what happened in India.”

Petrova is probably right. Blatant discrimination is becoming less and less acceptable in more and more places. But as Professor Tamale makes clear, we are far from a world in which the rights of the vulnerable can be taken for granted. Scapegoating will always serve someone’s political interests. Still, however much you gain in the short term by pandering to prejudice, the shredding of one’s country—or one’s soul—is an awfully high price to pay.

Ellis Cose is the author of Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Reparation, and Revenge and The Envy of the World: On Being a Black Man in America.

Find this article at

© 2010

Posted by Jackie Hamilton, 106

How food and water are driving a 21st-century African land grab

An Observer investigation reveals how rich countries faced by a global food shortage now farm an area double the size of the UK to guarantee supplies for their citizens

• Read the expert’s view
(559)Tweet this (300)Comments (25)
John Vidal in Juba, Sudan The Observer, Sunday 7 March 2010 Article history
A woman tends vegetables at a giant Saudi-financed farm in Ethiopia.

We turned off the main road to Awassa, talked our way past security guards and drove a mile across empty land before we found what will soon be Ethiopia’s largest greenhouse. Nestling below an escarpment of the Rift Valley, the development is far from finished, but the plastic and steel structure already stretches over 20 hectares – the size of 20 football pitches.

The farm manager shows us millions of tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables being grown in 500m rows in computer controlled conditions. Spanish engineers are building the steel structure, Dutch technology minimises water use from two bore-holes and 1,000 women pick and pack 50 tonnes of food a day. Within 24 hours, it has been driven 200 miles to Addis Ababa and flown 1,000 miles to the shops and restaurants of Dubai, Jeddah and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Ethiopia is one of the hungriest countries in the world with more than 13 million people needing food aid, but paradoxically the government is offering at least 3m hectares of its most fertile land to rich countries and some of the world’s most wealthy individuals to export food for their own populations.

The 1,000 hectares of land which contain the Awassa greenhouses are leased for 99 years to a Saudi billionaire businessman, Ethiopian-born Sheikh Mohammed al-Amoudi, one of the 50 richest men in the world. His Saudi Star company plans to spend up to $2bn acquiring and developing 500,000 hectares of land in Ethiopia in the next few years. So far, it has bought four farms and is already growing wheat, rice, vegetables and flowers for the Saudi market. It expects eventually to employ more than 10,000 people.

But Ethiopia is only one of 20 or more African countries where land is being bought or leased for intensive agriculture on an immense scale in what may be the greatest change of ownership since the colonial era.

An Observer investigation estimates that up to 50m hectares of land – an area more than double the size of the UK – has been acquired in the last few years or is in the process of being negotiated by governments and wealthy investors working with state subsidies. The data used was collected by Grain, the International Institute for Environment and Development, the International Land Coalition, ActionAid and other non-governmental groups.

The land rush, which is still accelerating, has been triggered by the worldwide food shortages which followed the sharp oil price rises in 2008, growing water shortages and the European Union’s insistence that 10% of all transport fuel must come from plant-based biofuels by 2015.

In many areas the deals have led to evictions, civil unrest and complaints of “land grabbing”.

The experience of Nyikaw Ochalla, an indigenous Anuak from the Gambella region of Ethiopia now living in Britain but who is in regular contact with farmers in his region, is typical. He said: “All of the land in the Gambella region is utilised. Each community has and looks after its own territory and the rivers and farmlands within it. It is a myth propagated by the government and investors to say that there is waste land or land that is not utilised in Gambella.

“The foreign companies are arriving in large numbers, depriving people of land they have used for centuries. There is no consultation with the indigenous population. The deals are done secretly. The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands.

“All the land round my family village of Illia has been taken over and is being cleared. People now have to work for an Indian company. Their land has been compulsorily taken and they have been given no compensation. People cannot believe what is happening. Thousands of people will be affected and people will go hungry.”

It is not known if the acquisitions will improve or worsen food security in Africa, or if they will stimulate separatist conflicts, but a major World Bank report due to be published this month is expected to warn of both the potential benefits and the immense dangers they represent to people and nature.

Leading the rush are international agribusinesses, investment banks, hedge funds, commodity traders, sovereign wealth funds as well as UK pension funds, foundations and individuals attracted by some of the world’s cheapest land.

Together they are scouring Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia, Congo, Zambia, Uganda, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ghana and elsewhere. Ethiopia alone has approved 815 foreign-financed agricultural projects since 2007. Any land there, which investors have not been able to buy, is being leased for approximately $1 per year per hectare.

Saudi Arabia, along with other Middle Eastern emirate states such as Qatar, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, is thought to be the biggest buyer. In 2008 the Saudi government, which was one of the Middle East’s largest wheat-growers, announced it was to reduce its domestic cereal production by 12% a year to conserve its water. It earmarked $5bn to provide loans at preferential rates to Saudi companies which wanted to invest in countries with strong agricultural potential .

Meanwhile, the Saudi investment company Foras, backed by the Islamic Development Bank and wealthy Saudi investors, plans to spend $1bn buying land and growing 7m tonnes of rice for the Saudi market within seven years. The company says it is investigating buying land in Mali, Senegal, Sudan and Uganda. By turning to Africa to grow its staple crops, Saudi Arabia is not just acquiring Africa’s land but is securing itself the equivalent of hundreds of millions of gallons of scarce water a year. Water, says the UN, will be the defining resource of the next 100 years.

Since 2008 Saudi investors have bought heavily in Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia and Kenya. Last year the first sacks of wheat grown in Ethiopia for the Saudi market were presented by al-Amoudi to King Abdullah.

Some of the African deals lined up are eye-wateringly large: China has signed a contract with the Democratic Republic of Congo to grow 2.8m hectares of palm oil for biofuels. Before it fell apart after riots, a proposed 1.2m hectares deal between Madagascar and the South Korean company Daewoo would have included nearly half of the country’s arable land.

Land to grow biofuel crops is also in demand. “European biofuel companies have acquired or requested about 3.9m hectares in Africa. This has led to displacement of people, lack of consultation and compensation, broken promises about wages and job opportunities,” said Tim Rice, author of an ActionAid report which estimates that the EU needs to grow crops on 17.5m hectares, well over half the size of Italy, if it is to meet its 10% biofuel target by 2015.

“The biofuel land grab in Africa is already displacing farmers and food production. The number of people going hungry will increase,” he said. British firms have secured tracts of land in Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania to grow flowers and vegetables.

Indian companies, backed by government loans, have bought or leased hundreds of thousands of hectares in Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal and Mozambique, where they are growing rice, sugar cane, maize and lentils to feed their domestic market.

Nowhere is now out of bounds. Sudan, emerging from civil war and mostly bereft of development for a generation, is one of the new hot spots. South Korean companies last year bought 700,000 hectares of northern Sudan for wheat cultivation; the United Arab Emirates have acquired 750,000 hectares and Saudi Arabia last month concluded a 42,000-hectare deal in Nile province.

The government of southern Sudan says many companies are now trying to acquire land. “We have had many requests from many developers. Negotiations are going on,” said Peter Chooli, director of water resources and irrigation, in Juba last week. “A Danish group is in discussions with the state and another wants to use land near the Nile.”

In one of the most extraordinary deals, buccaneering New York investment firm Jarch Capital, run by a former commodities trader, Philip Heilberg, has leased 800,000 hectares in southern Sudan near Darfur. Heilberg has promised not only to create jobs but also to put 10% or more of his profits back into the local community. But he has been accused by Sudanese of “grabbing” communal land and leading an American attempt to fragment Sudan and exploit its resources.

Devlin Kuyek, a Montreal-based researcher with Grain, said investing in Africa was now seen as a new food supply strategy by many governments. “Rich countries are eyeing Africa not just for a healthy return on capital, but also as an insurance policy. Food shortages and riots in 28 countries in 2008, declining water supplies, climate change and huge population growth have together made land attractive. Africa has the most land and, compared with other continents, is cheap,” he said.

“Farmland in sub-Saharan Africa is giving 25% returns a year and new technology can treble crop yields in short time frames,” said Susan Payne, chief executive of Emergent Asset Management, a UK investment fund seeking to spend $50m on African land, which, she said, was attracting governments, corporations, multinationals and other investors. “Agricultural development is not only sustainable, it is our future. If we do not pay great care and attention now to increase food production by over 50% before 2050, we will face serious food shortages globally,” she said.

But many of the deals are widely condemned by both western non-government groups and nationals as “new colonialism”, driving people off the land and taking scarce resources away from people.

We met Tegenu Morku, a land agent, in a roadside cafe on his way to the region of Oromia in Ethiopia to find 500 hectares of land for a group of Egyptian investors. They planned to fatten cattle, grow cereals and spices and export as much as possible to Egypt. There had to be water available and he expected the price to be about 15 birr (75p) per hectare per year – less than a quarter of the cost of land in Egypt and a tenth of the price of land in Asia.

“The land and labour is cheap and the climate is good here. Everyone – Saudis, Turks, Chinese, Egyptians – is looking. The farmers do not like it because they get displaced, but they can find land elsewhere and, besides, they get compensation, equivalent to about 10 years’ crop yield,” he said.

Oromia is one of the centres of the African land rush. Haile Hirpa, president of the Oromia studies’ association, said last week in a letter of protest to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon that India had acquired 1m hectares, Djibouti 10,000 hectares, Saudi Arabia 100,000 hectares, and that Egyptian, South Korean, Chinese, Nigerian and other Arab investors were all active in the state.

“This is the new, 21st-century colonisation. The Saudis are enjoying the rice harvest, while the Oromos are dying from man-made famine as we speak,” he said.

The Ethiopian government denied the deals were causing hunger and said that the land deals were attracting hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign investments and tens of thousands of jobs. A spokesman said: “Ethiopia has 74m hectares of fertile land, of which only 15% is currently in use – mainly by subsistence farmers. Of the remaining land, only a small percentage – 3 to 4% – is offered to foreign investors. Investors are never given land that belongs to Ethiopian farmers. The government also encourages Ethiopians in the diaspora to invest in their homeland. They bring badly needed technology, they offer jobs and training to Ethiopians, they operate in areas where there is suitable land and access to water.”

The reality on the ground is different, according to Michael Taylor, a policy specialist at the International Land Coalition. “If land in Africa hasn’t been planted, it’s probably for a reason. Maybe it’s used to graze livestock or deliberately left fallow to prevent nutrient depletion and erosion. Anybody who has seen these areas identified as unused understands that there is no land in Ethiopia that has no owners and users.”

Development experts are divided on the benefits of large-scale, intensive farming. Indian ecologist Vandana Shiva said in London last week that large-scale industrial agriculture not only threw people off the land but also required chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers, intensive water use, and large-scale transport, storage and distribution which together turned landscapes into enormous mono-cultural plantations.

“We are seeing dispossession on a massive scale. It means less food is available and local people will have less. There will be more conflict and political instability and cultures will be uprooted. The small farmers of Africa are the basis of food security. The food availability of the planet will decline,” she says. But Rodney Cooke, director at the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development, sees potential benefits. “I would avoid the blanket term ‘land-grabbing’. Done the right way, these deals can bring benefits for all parties and be a tool for development.”

Lorenzo Cotula, senior researcher with the International Institute for Environment and Development, who co-authored a report on African land exchanges with the UN fund last year, found that well-structured deals could guarantee employment, better infrastructures and better crop yields. But badly handled they could cause great harm, especially if local people were excluded from decisions about allocating land and if their land rights were not protected.

Water is also controversial. Local government officers in Ethiopia told the Observer that foreign companies that set up flower farms and other large intensive farms were not being charged for water. “We would like to, but the deal is made by central government,” said one. In Awassa, the al-Amouni farm uses as much water a year as 100,000 Ethiopians.

Apple admits using child labour

Apple admits using child labour MALCOLM MOORE IN SHANGHAI
March 1, 2010 – 11:06AM

Apple products. Photo: AFP

At least eleven 15 year-old children were discovered to be working last year in three factories that supply Apple.

The company did not name the offending factories, or say where they were based, but the majority of its goods are assembled in China.

Apple also has factories working for it in Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, the Czech Republic and the United States.

Apple said the child workers are now no longer being used, or are no longer underage. “In each of the three facilities, we required a review of all employment records for the year as well as a complete analysis of the hiring process to clarify how underage people had been able to gain employment,” Apple said, in an annual report on its suppliers.

Apple has been repeatedly criticised for using factories that abuse workers and where conditions are poor. Last week, it emerged that 62 workers at a factory that manufactures products for Apple and Nokia had been poisoned by n-hexane, a toxic chemical that can cause muscular degeneration and blur eyesight. Apple has not commented on the problems at the plant, which is run by Wintek, in the Chinese city of Suzhou.

A spokesman for Wintek said that “almost all” of the affected workers were back at work, but that some remained in hospital. Wintek said n-hexane was commonly used in the technology industry, and that problems had arisen because some areas of the factory were not ventilated properly.

Last year, an employee at Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that is one of Apple’s biggest suppliers, committed suicide after being accused of stealing a prototype for the iPhone.

Sun Danyong, 25, was a university graduate working in the logistics department when the prototype went missing. An investigation revealed that the factory’s security staff had beaten him, and he subsequently jumped to his death from the 12th floor of his apartment building.

Foxconn runs a number of super-factories in the south of China, some of which employ as many as 300,000 workers and form self-contained cities, complete with banks, post offices and basketball courts.

It has been accused, however, of treating its employees extremely harshly. China Labor Watch, a New York-based NGO, accused Foxconn of having an “inhumane and militant” management, which neglects basic human rights. Foxconn’s management were not available for comment.

In its report, Apple revealed the sweatshop conditions inside the factories it uses. Apple admitted that at least 55 of the 102 factories that produce its goods were ignoring Apple’s rule that staff cannot work more than 60 hours a week.

The technology company’s own guidelines are already in breach of China’s widely-ignored labour law, which sets out a maximum 49-hour week for workers.

Apple also said that one of its factories had repeatedly falsified its records in order to conceal the fact that it was using child labour and working its staff endlessly.

“When we investigated, we uncovered records and conducted worker interviews that revealed excessive working hours and seven days of continuous work,” Apple said, adding that it had terminated all contracts with the factory.

Only 65 per cent of the factories were paying their staff the correct wages and benefits, and Apple found 24 factories where workers had not even been paid China’s minimum wage of around 800 yuan (Pounds76) a month.

Meanwhile, only 61 per cent of Apple’s suppliers were following regulations to prevent injuries in the workplace and a mere 57 per cent had the correct environmental permits to operate.

The high environmental cost of Apple’s products was revealed when three factories were discovered to be shipping hazardous waste to unqualified disposal companies.

Apple said it had required the factories to “perform immediate inspections of their wastewater discharge systems” and hire an independent environmental consultant to prevent future violations.

However, Apple has not stopped using the factories.

In 2008, Apple found that a total of 25 child workers had been employed to build iPods, iPhones and its range of computers.

London Sunday Telegraph