Posts Tagged ‘Development’

Aid and Afghanistan

Posted 06 Aug 2010 — by Jonathan
Category General

Over the last few months, I’ve barely paid any attention to global affairs, so preoccupied have I been with British politics, from the General Election to the coalition, to the traumatic faultlines in the Liberal Democrat party, to the Labour leadership debate. Even the dreadful, nightmarish reality of the Deepwater Oil Spill only half-registered on my radar.

Finally I’ve started looking further afield again. And I’m reminded of the incredible richness of global affairs. There’s simply so much incredible, amazing, depressing, colourful shit going on in the world – so I’m a bit ashamed of focusing so squarely on domestic politics. [disclaimer: I think part of the reason I've started paying attention to international affairs again is the extent to which I've got pissed off with the tiring minutiae of being in opposition again; it really does suck having to be endlessly negative about what the government does, even when some of it has merit). So as the dust settles, and the oil spill dissipates, I finally find myself getting excited about events in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Rwanda, Kenya, Pakistan, China and, of course - inevitably - Israel and Palestine. There'll be much more on this, energy permitting, on the blog over the next week or so.

Let's start with a few thoughts on aid. It's a striking issue right now, with much debate about the government's decision to ringfence international development spending, and the fact that the flooding in Pakistan - and the indelicate diplomacy of our PM - has bounced the otherwise frugal David Cameron into offering an additional 10m of financial support to the water-ravaged country.

The decision to ringfence spending is, of course, political - but it's also entirely proper, and one of the few Tory decisions I wholeheartedly support (there are others, incidentally, but that's for another post). Andrew Mitchell, who is heading up the DfID is - on the basis of this fascinating portrait in last week's New Statesman - a thoroughly decent seeming guy, even if he's traditionally perceived as being on the right of the Tory party.

Mitchell says:

"These are countries that export people . . . who put themselves into the hands of the modern-day equivalent of the slave trader, into a leaky boat, and cross hundreds of miles of ocean in the hope of tipping up on a European shore - these are not feckless benefit seekers . . . They are often the brightest and the best in those societies, who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families. How much better to persuade them, with international ­development and international support [for] their own country, that there’s a future for them there?”

And yet: Aid is contentious. Aid is expensive. Aid doesn’t always work. It can be – any development worker will tell you this — pretty depressing. But there are some fighting that perception. “Aid is only depressing”, Chris Blattman asserts on his excellent blog, “if you start off with the wrong expectations”. He makes five points, all of which are worth reading. Here’s an excerpt – go to his blog to read the rest:

When you throw gobs of money and people at an economy, there are going to be side effects. Some of them will be bad. Some will surprise you. The main difference between prescription drugs and aid is that, when we give countries aid, no one makes us give them a four minute speech telling them that aid may cause rashes, stomach pain, and erectile dysfunction.

Failure happens. In all big systems. Hollywood brought us Star Wars Episode One. The private sector brought us Google Wave. Western medicine brought us bleeding. In aid, the state of our knowledge is a little closer to bleeding than web programming. That’s actually what makes studying aid so different: we’re going to learn a tremendous amount in our lifetimes.

Most of the failures are small, while the victories are huge

So, the failures. Despite the hefty (and deserved) aid package he’s getting, Zardari has been raising his own doubts about the extent to which the West, despite its best efforts, can effect positive change in distant communities. The subject of Afghanistan is, of course, not a straightforward question of aid – any investment in a society which is accompanied by military force raises immediate and necessary questions. But the progress of the Western effort in Afghanistan continues to be hampered by doubts and failings, and as Zardari indicates, by a clear failure “to win hearts and minds”.

It’s precisely this which precoccupies Laura Freschi, who responds – here, at – not to Zardari, but to a recent Christian Science Monitor article which made the same argument; that US Aid is “losing hearts and minds in Afghanistan’s Badakshan province because of failed and shoddy projects, corruption, secrecy and waste”.

As Freschi points out, we invest huge amounts of money in aid, and while our goals are far more diffuse (and well-meaning) than to simply shift hostile public opinion towards us, it remains a plank of the justification governments make for investing in development. And it’s a hypothesis which is made despite markedly little supporting evidence. Put frankly – our successes in this field are slim – where countries handing out aid do effect an upswing in their reputation, it tends to be a temporary, rather than a long-lasting effect.

Freschi’s article explores the question in depth, suggesting that all evidence so far points to the fact that “aid could help consolidate stability in areas that are already stable, but is not much use in stabilizing a war zone”, and further, that “aid could help shift public opinion in a country that is already favourably disposed to the US, but is less useful where attitudes are hostile to begin with”.

It’s sobering stuff, and it makes you wonder just how much can be achieved in Afghanistan. Amongst the reams of fascinating information released in the Wikileaks log was information shedding light on what Simon Tisdall described as “an unprecedented insight into the gaping cultural and societal gulfs encountered by US troops trying to win grassroots support for the west’s vision of a peaceful, developing, united Afghanistan”.

It’s at this point, of course, that one needs to go back to Mitchell and Blattmann. We must acknowledge the failings of Aid, but also the possibilities. Again, from the NS piece:

“The fact is that aid, where it is spent well, achieves miracles,” says Mitchell. For him, there is one key statistic that demonstrates the aid budget’s efficiency: “Britain, today, educates 4.8 million primary school children in Britain. And we educate five million primary school children around the developing world, at a cost of 2.5 per cent of what we spend on British children.”

That’s one – of many – reasons why Aid spending, as a matter of principle, should not be cut. But we need to be realistic about what we can achieve, and to what ends. And we need to spend that money, as Mitchell says, well.

the other iraq

Posted 12 Jul 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Development, Islam and the Middle East

Iraqi Kurdistan is that rarest of things; a (relatively) safe state in one of the world’s most unsettled nations. As such, it’s of great interest to anyone who follows events in the Middle East, and to its cautious onlooking neighbours, such as Turkey. I’ve written a short article about the semi-autonomous region for Hii Dunia, which may be of interest – click here to read it.

zimbabwe and egypt

Posted 08 Apr 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Development

On the day of Egypt’s municipal elections, the excellent Development blog Hii Dunia raises some interesting questions about the West’s current preoccupation with Zimbabwe. In Egypt the increasingly authoritarian Hosni Mumarek has all but prevented any significant opposition from standing against him (the Muslim Brotherhood has reported that 800 members have been arrested and thousands more intimidated and harassed in an organised crackdown in recent weeks to prevent them registering as candidates). Yet the West, which only a few years ago was obsessed with intervention in the Middle East, stands back and watches, terrified to upset the status quo.

As Hii Dunia puts it:

“It is important that the maximum amount of sustained yet transparent pressure be put on those involved in the Zimbabwe election to ensure a fair result, but the world must work much harder in ensuring that this same pressure towards good governance be applied to all states, fully democratic, emerging democratic, developed, developing or otherwise as a vital platform from which the lives of their respective peoples can be made better.”

That’s not to say the two situations are matched in their respective severity – but if the international community is able to exert enough pressure on Mugabe to force him from an office he has no mandate to hold, it must use that as a springboard to developing a more consistent, ethical policy towards the larger world.


Posted 03 Apr 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Development

The excellent Hii Dunia blog has been really useful to me in the last few days, providing as it does a comprehensive list of links and news sources pertaining to events in Zimbabwe. Click here for the full list, which includes both blogs and news aggregators – valuable stuff.

Right now, I’m just refreshing today’s news blog on the Guardian, which is dedicated to following events as they happen.

The situation in Zimbabwe is on a knife-edge, and it’s both thrilling and terrifying. Reading one of the blogs Hii Dunia mentions, I found the comment below, which was posted in response to an article assessing the Mugabe government’s future. Can you even imagine what it must feel like to be a Zimbabwean at the moment?

I have been sitting in front of the news since Saturday night waiting, hoping and praying. All I could think of the last four days was the reason I’m in the Diaspora, the pain and wounds of oppression under Mr Mugabe’s Regime. This has been my motivation to hope and stay strong alongside my fellow countrymen. I you further research the Gukurahundi, I think you will find that it is quite a sensitive issue with the power of inciting unspeakable things. I really wish you’d have saved this article for a time when we can all read it and celebrate “offically” the end of a President who caused such disgusting atrocities. I apologise if I’m overreacting, it’s just that I’ve been sat here the last four days fearing the worst and I just feel like you’ve added to my worries with this article. I wish this would now end and Mr Mugabe is finished, I want to go back home to ZIMBABWE :[

Asia’s Time Wasters

Posted 20 Feb 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Development, Politics

Last year this blog published an article called Africa’s Time Wasters. It was an attempt to draw attention to the excesses and abuses of the current worst leaders on the continent of Africa and show how their mismagement and brutality were hindering the development of their respective countries. This article attempts do the same for Asia.

This not-too-serious article, in no particular order, attempts to draw attention to and rate out of 5 three of Asia’s present day worst leaders and highlight their policies, legacies and crimes, all of which add up to their inclusion, with Africa’s worst leaders, in the list – the ‘Time Wasters of Development’.

Burma – Senior General Than Shwe

As head of the Burmese armed forces and effectively head of state in Burma since 1992, and as the head of several puzzlingly titled councils (including the ‘State Peace and Development Council’ and the ominous sounding ‘State law and Order Restoration Council’) Than Shwe has consolidated power in Burma to a degree not achieved by his predecessors.

This army man has overseen the addition of many ignoble suffixes to Burma’s recent history, including the continued detention of Noble Prize winning Democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi, the relocation of the nation’s capital from Rangoon to the centre of the country (a decision Than Shwe made after consulting ‘expert astrologers’) and the overseeing of the suppression that followed the Monks’ protest of 2007.

Than Shwe was central in introducing a law whereby any head of state of Burma cannot have a foreign-born spouse. This seemed an unlikely law to enforce, until it was pointed out in the foreign media that Aung San Suu Kyi had married a British man and – although he had died several years ago – she would still thus be considered forever unable to become head of state. Ms Suu Kyi remains under house arrest in Yangon (Rangoon) where she has been for most of the last 18 years – separated from her family.

Foreign media is virtually all banned from Burma and the penalties for any Burmese seen talking to, or worse assisting foreigners are harsh. The organisation Reporters Without Borders ranked Burma as 164th out of 168 nations in its 2006 Press Freedom index. Outside news equally is hard to obtain, with CNN and the BBC World Service frequently jammed and made unavailable within the country.

Though coverage of the recent Monks’ protests and subsequent crack-down was hard to obtain, one glimpse into the world that Than Shwe has created did leak out from Burma and can in fact be found in 24 parts on YouTube. It is a film made at his daughters wedding to one of his most senior Burmese ministers. The cost of the wedding, largely covered by the state, came to over three times the amount of Burma’s entire healthcare budget. The video of bride, groom and guests surrounded by lavish food and gifts has been widely distributed in Burma and has not surprisingly caused considerable anger. It is thought that, soon after, Than Shwe’s wife and children fled to Laos fearing a possible backlash.

Since the New Year the United States has announced that it has stepped up sanctions against Than Shwe and his junta, but existing sanctions have had little impact other than to make the life of ordinary Burmese virtually intolerable. Meanwhile the military are able to consolidate their power and prolong the wait for free elections. The educated people of Burma, who have known freedom and democracy in the past will, for the time being, it seems, have to wait for a return to a more enlightened leadership.

Time Wasting Score: (3)

Uzbekistan – President Islam Karimov

Like many other autocratic Central Asian leaders President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan rules his people with an iron fist. Head of the Soviet republic of Uzbekistan at the time of the collapse of the USSR, Karimov inherited leadership of the strategically placed Uzbekistan, its geography proving very useful to the United States for the establishment of airbases in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11th, 2001, and the invasion of Afghanistan.

Karimov’s grasp of democracy is only nominal, however. He ‘won’ the first election (of sorts) held in Uzbekistan after independence – his political opponents, for some reason, chose to flee. Then in 1995 Karimov held a referendum to extend his term until the year 2000. This he won with ease. Then when 2000 arrived he announced that presidential terms of office would be extended from 5 years to 7. This he had backdated, so that his term would last until 2007. In 2007 and presumably running out of ways to manipulate the law in order to remain in power, Karimov simply broke it and announced that he would run for another term in office. His would-be opponents denounced this as an illegal move but their words were blunted by the fact that through fear every speech they gave started with praise for the incumbent President. Unsurprisingly Karimov won with a convincing-sounding 88.1% of the vote.

Islam Karimov’s terms in power have been characterised by corruption, and by detention and torture of political opponents, but his most notorious moment came in May 2005 when troops loyal to him opened fire on demonstrators in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan. According to human rights groups several hundred people were killed in the massacre and in the subsequent ‘clean up’ operation. International criticism followed with the EU barring Uzbek leaders from visiting and banning the sales of weapons to the country. Belated US criticism of the shootings led to America closing its airbases in the country and withdrawing its military.

Karimov looks as unlikely as ever to relinquish power. His forces frequently torture opponents including boiling them alive. He is amassing a vast personal wealth, as is his family. His daughter, despite having a US warrant out for her arrest, has first dibs on many state contracts and has grown extremely rich and powerful within the country as a result. In the meantime, it is difficult to see how ordinary Uzbeks have benefited at all from the rule of their ‘elected’ dictator.

Time Wasting Score: (4)

North Korea – Kim Jong-il

Kim Jong-il, the ‘Dear Leader’ of the locked-in people of North Korea, its armed forces (ranked as the fourth largest in the World though far from fourth best equipped) and of its rudimentary nuclear-weapons, assumed power upon the death of his father Kim il-Sung in 1994.

Kim Jong-il is an obvious candidate for one of Asia’s worst leaders. He has for a long while been much parodied around the world as a ‘Bond villain-esque’ leader, at home in his underground headquarters. This might not be so far from the truth as amongst his many palaces is a retreat reportedly equipped with bunkers, anti aircraft missiles and surrounded by multiple fences.

The news agency Reuters once reported that he keeps a 10,000 bottle wine cellar and that he spends an annually $700,000 on importing Cognac, whilst a report from the BBC suggested that in China, aboard his armoured train (he is terrified of flying), he ate with silver chopsticks as a precaution against being poisoned. The fact that he was eating lobster that had been flown in especially was also mentioned. His ex head-chef has recounted to the international media how he was sent on a mission to Beijing to go to McDonald’s and to buy a beef burger for his boss.

The cult of personality attributed to Kim Jong-il began under the rule of his father. School textbooks recount how the ‘Dear Leader’ was born in a military camp in North Korea, his birth foretold by a swallow, a double rainbow and a new star appearing in the sky. Kim Jong-il was in fact born in a village in Russia and only moved to North Korea following World War 2. Many in the North know this and are almost certainly privately insulted by their children being taught about ‘the appearance of a new star’, but still they are forced to attend a pilgrimage to Jong-il’s supposed birthplace, which now resembles a theme park built in his honour.

The International Herald Tribune noted in 2004 that “if the North had competitive elections, Kim would have a tough record to campaign on. During his decade in power, fuel consumption has dropped by one-third, per capita income has dwindled to 8 percent of South Korea’s, and during the famine years almost 10 percent of the population is believed to have starved to death”.

That we have in South Korea a modern Asian liberal democracy exemplifies the ruinous path that Kim Jong-il and his father have taken the north. Their mixture of Marxist ideology mixed with Confucianism has done little for the impoverished masses and has only served to isolate the north in a world that has moved on. The fact that Kim Jong-il is breathtakingly corrupt, that he squanders vast sums on luxuries whilst portraying an image to the people of a comrade-in-arms and of the common struggle against capitalism (which he shamelessly indulges in) would be an utter betrayal to the people – were they ever to find out.

Time Wasting Score: (5)

Like the previous article the scores must not be taken seriously and this list of timewasters leaves several Asian leaders absent. The three leaders above were chosen largely on the basis of the helplessness of their people at being able to end their rule. China, Iran and Indonesia should probably also be listed here, though all three do have varying degrees of accountability and their leaders (generally) do not employ any cult of personality.

As was the case with Africa, it should be a cause of grave concern to the World that these leaders remain in power, although the way the world chooses to deal with them (as in the case of North Korea) can risk solidifying their grip on rule. However, they, like their African colleagues, are indisputedly ‘Time Wasters’ in the way of their countries’ development.

Links & Resources:

The World’s Top 20 Dictators –’s annual look at the World’s worst misusers of power

The Burma Campaign – Homepage of a British based NGO which promotes Human Rights and Democracy in Burma – Article examining the mixed messages the US is giving to Uzbekistan

World Movement for Democracy
– Report from inside North Korea

Korean Central News Agency – Bizarre site of ‘official news’ from North Korea

Blogging by Dan

premier league goes global

Posted 07 Feb 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Development

This is extraordinary, and I’m almost disinclined to believe it – but then it’s not April Fool’s Day, is it? Hmm. Well, this is straight off the Guardian site:

“Guardian Unlimited understands there are serious reservations in the government about the Premier League’s plan to take matches overseas for the first time from the 2011-12 season. Ministers will not at this stage oppose the audacious proposals to extend the season from 38 games to 39 to allow every club to play one extra match abroad, but they are not yet convinced that the move is in football’s best interests and there are concerns around supporters, sporting integrity and the impact upon other national leagues and competitions.

The deal has not been agreed yet, but the league and the chairmen of its 20 clubs are known to be enthusiastic about the idea having agreed to explore the proposal in London today. If the deal goes ahead, the 10 overseas games are expected to take place in January providing there is space in the calendar, with points awarded for the extra match in the normal way. The top five sides are likely to be seeded so that they do not meet each other, but otherwise the fixtures will be drawn out of a hat and played in cities around the world.

New York, Beijing and Tokyo are among potential venues, and they will have to compete with other cities for the right to stage the games. Five cities would be chosen each year, with each venue hosting matches on consecutive days. A certain number of games are likely to be played in third world nations, with the Premier League keen to use football as a development tool.”

What a bizarre, and terrible, idea.

developments in qatar

Posted 02 Jan 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Development, Islam and the Middle East

Before Christmas I contributed a post to the excellent Hii Dunia blog, which is one a few blogs I read which has a global rather than Western-oriented focus. My article covered the intriguing Gulf state of Qatar, and attempted to give recognition to a nation which, while being far from perfect, is making strides forward and offers hope to a part of the world currently mired in trauma. One of the leaders giving hope to the country is Sheikha Mozah, an open minded, intellectual woman at the forefront of this fast-developing society. From education to women’s rights her influence is real. Yet she says:

“The physical landscape has changed but the real difference is in people’s minds, in their style of thinking. Pride and confidence allow them to be open to the rest of the world without hesitation. Now they feel they are part of this process [of change], and they feel responsibility. If you want to achieve a prosperous society, you need that. And I like to think we have achieved that.”

I hope her influence continues, and that the country’s progress does not go unnoticed by the West. Click here to read the complete article. Any thoughts or comments most welcome.

change in libya?

Posted 31 Mar 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Development, Islam and the Middle East, Politics

Libya is a nation of extremes.

“I am recalling now that last summer before I was sent away. It was 1979, and the sun was everywhere. Tripoli lay still and brilliant beneath it. Every person, animal and ant went in desperate search for shade, those occasional grey patches of mercy carved into the white of eveything”.

The narrator above, exiled from Libya in Hisham Matar’s 2006 novel ‘In The Country Of Men‘, surmises the twin reality of Libya, on one hand a bright, luminous, prosperous North African country, and on the other a place of shade, of darkness, where 30 years of Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi’s Jamahiriya regime have forced dissidents abroad, or vanished them, rarely granting any mercy to their opponents.

Libya is the fourth largest country in Africa and, possessing an abundancy of oil, the richest of the Northern region. It has the potential, according to Anthony Giddens, a former director of the LSE, to become the Norway of North Africa, prosperous, egalitarian and forward-looking. That such a statement could be made by a respected academic and not treated with derision demonstrates that much has changed in Libya in recent years, and indeed it has.

The country has accepted (partial) responsibility for Lockerbie, it has renounced its rusting nuclear weapons programme, and Gaddafi, that most virulent of anti-Westerners, has even travelled as far as Brussels to preach from his ‘little green book’. Accordingly, the world has reacted with cautious – and not so cautious – optimism. The US, Libya’s most violent detractor, has reopened diplomatic ties and removed Libya from its list of states which sponsor terrorism. Gaddafi has intimated that it is time to open up economic freedoms in a state where private property was once all but outlawed. Libya is slowly re-entering the international community. According to Wikipedia,

“Since 2003 the country has made efforts to normalize its ties with the European Union and the United States and has even coined the catchphrase, ‘The Libya Model’, an example intended to show the world what can be achieved through negotiation rather than force when there is goodwill on both sides”.

Tripoli, a gorgeous jewel on the Meditteranean, and even the Saharan desterts of the South, are now, once more, a viable tourist destination, and anyone who makes the trip will find stunning architecture, dazzling sun and a population keen to stress that they are ‘not bad people’. Joanna O’Connor, writing for the Observer, notes that:

“Something very odd is happening. This is the fourth shop in Tripoli’s old town my friend Andie and I have walked into, clutching our hot little wad of money, and so far we’ve failed to spend a single penny. It started in the market, when the man on the fruit stall wouldn’t let us pay for a bag of dates. Then, in the patissierie, the boy with the eyelashes as long as a camel’s shyly insisted that we take two pieces of baklava. And now Walid is fastening the beads around my neck and inviting us to have a cappuccino with him in his tiny Aladdin’s cave of a shop in the copper souk.

This wouldn’t happen in Marrakesh, I think to myself. But this is not Morocco, this is Libya, where tourists are still rare enough to be seen as a source of mild curiosity rather than wallets on legs. Against the deafening clang of hammers on metal from the surrounding workshops, Walid says something I am to hear several times during my stay here: ‘Your gift to us is that you visit us and you go home and tell people that Libya is not a bad place. We are not bad people’”.

But Gaddafi has always been characterised – in the West – as just that; bad. And although he retains broad support from a people who describe him simply as ‘The Leader’, he shows no sign of allowing political reform to accompany his new-found enthusiasm for globalisation. Nor has his contempt for democracy softened: “In Libya there is no dictatorship, no injustice; there is no conflict over power,” he insisted on Al-Jazeera recently:

“People feel they have power in their hands. In the west, power is money, not democracy. Is it democracy, when half the people don’t want you to remain president?”

Giddens was present on that occasion, and gave Gaddafi’s argument short-shrift:

“I have no time for that argument and said so. It is just not true that multiparty democracy doesn’t have a popular mandate in Western countries. More than 95% of people in such societies agree that they want to live in such a democracy. In Libya, what is a nice idea in principle — self-rule through a plethora of peoples’ committees — works out quite differently in practice. Gaddafi steps into the vacuum left by the absence of effective mechanisms of government, and the result is a de facto dictatorship.”

Indeed it is, and yet Gaddafi’s enthusiasm for his unique ‘state of the masses’, Jamahiriya, is undimmed – presumably because it affords him absolute power. In the meantime his wider philosophy, beyond his concept of a ‘direct democracy’ of local councils (and no political parties) is impossible to pin down. The Little Green Book has influenced no other state, and Gaddafi himelf has veered from one popular philosophy to another, at one time or other being an advocate of Socialism, Arab-nationalism, Pan-Africanism, Islamism and now Globalisation. He offers no coherent narrative, in other words.

And yet he finds himself suddenly in demand. In fairness, Gaddafi’s reputation in Africa has never quite tallied with his demagogue status in the west. He is increasingly seen as an elder Statesman of African politics, winning praise from the likes of Nelson Mandela (indeed, one of Mandela’s grandchildren was baptized “Gaddafi”), and lauded for his continent-wide aid contribution and willingness to absorb Sub-Saharan Africans into the Libyan job market.

He remains an enigma – a talisman of sorts in Africa, a tyrant in his own country, a bogeyman to the west, suddenly a friend and ally, a simple man who lives an austere life, and now, perhaps, a man ready to lead a country which boasts the highest recorded temperature in history, out of the darkness and into the light. Some people are optimistic, and some believe he will never change.

This post was originally published on Hii Dunia on the 22nd March 2007. In my next post on Libya, I’ll look at the prospects for reform and consider how genuine they are. And question just what the implications of cuddling up to Africa’s most eccentric father-figure really are.

The changing face of Libya

Posted 22 Mar 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Development, Islam and the Middle East, Politics

With the Republican administration in the USA so keen to label and classify states in the Middle East as sponsors of terror and axes of evil, it’s a curious thing that they have afforded Libya a reprieve in the last few years, and taken them off the list. Gaddafi, for so long a bogeyman to the West, is now ‘on our side’ in the ‘war on terror’, and there have been cautious murmerings to the effect that Gaddafi is at last reforming the North African country and opening up to the free market.

In the first of a couple of posts I’m going to write for Hii Dunia, I’ve tried to provide an overview to Libya’s new role as friend and ally of the West. An extract follows:

“The country has accepted (partial) responsibility for Lockerbie, it has renounced its rusting nuclear weapons programme, and Gaddafi, that most virulent of anti-Westerners, has even travelled as far as Brussels to preach from his ‘little green book’. Accordingly, the world has reacted with cautious – and not so cautious – optimism. The US, Libya’s most violent detractor, has reopened diplomatic ties and removed Libya from its list of states which sponsor terrorism. Gaddafi has intimated that it is time to open up economic freedoms in a state where private property was once all but outlawed. Libya is slowly re-entering the international community”.

Go to Hii Dunia to read the full article; Libya is a fasinating country, so I hope my post gets that across to some extent.

Africa’s Time Wasters

Posted 18 Mar 2007 — by Dan
Category Development, General, Politics

During a time when renewed focus has been given to issues surrounding governance in the Developing World it is often a continual source of frustration to see that many African leaders persist in working to the clear detriment of their country’s interests.

In a not-too-serious look, and in no particular order, this article draws attention to and attempts to rate out of 5 some of Africa’s present day worst leaders and highlight their policies, legacies and crimes, all of which add up to their inclusion in this list – the ‘Time Wasters of Development’.

Sudan – President Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir

Pity the largely impoverished population of Africa’s largest state, especially if they belong to the half which is Black African. President Al-Bashir was ‘elected’ in 1996 but can trace his time in power back to his days in the Sudanese and Egyptian armies when in 1989 he overthrew a democratically elected government and set about establishing an authoritarian, as well as fundamentalist Islamic, state in Sudan. This gained momentum when in 1991 Sudan introduced the archaic Sharia law, exacerbating the already festering conflict with the largely Christian south of the country. Though an uneasy peace has been signed in relation to the south of the country, unaddressed grievences in the western region of Darfur in have helped renew Al-Bashir’s notoriety.

The overt support his Government lends to the racist and genocidal nomadic militia known as the Janjaweed and its pillaging of the Darfur region, driving millions of its inhabitants into a desperate exile in neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic, has recently gained the World’s attention. The International Community, however, has unfortunately fumbled its response to Al-Bashir, and China, with an eye on Sudanese oil, has even stepped up investment into the country.

Al-Bashir is fully implicated in the genocide occuring in Darfur which at present has claimed over 200,000 lives, yet neither the African Union nor the United Nations has been able to bring him to account. Al-Bashir is able to continue with his ruinous leadership safe in the knowledge that he is unlikely to be directly challenged by anyone, either internally or externally. Meanwhile life in the fractured country of Sudan for the majority of its inhabitants remains very bleak indeed.

Time Wasting Score: (5)

Equatorial Guinea – President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

For President Obiang, the man who treats the tiny Southern African state of Equatorial Guinea as his personal fiefdom, accusations over poor democratic accountability and corruption are not taken too seriously. Obiang, who deposed his own uncle in a coup in the late 1970s, likes to be known on his patch as El Jefe (the boss). Since the discovery of substantial oil and gas reserves in Equatorial Guinea’s territorial waters the hope has been raised that revenue gained from this can go to assist EG’s 0.5 Million people, most of whom live on less than $1 a day. Unfortunately, with El Jefe in charge, most of the money has found its way into his political allies and family’s personal bank accounts. In what is one of the most breathtaking examples of a leader gaining personally from his countries wealth, Obiang has personally pocketed over £300 Million.

A 2004 attempted coup backed by Spain, the United States and Britain (all of whom were possibly too embarrased by whom they were buying oil from) resulted in failure when the hired mercenaries were caught on flight in Zimbabwe and subsequantly jailed. Apparently Obiang was in anycase tipped off.

Last year the people of Equatorial Guinea may have been forgiven for feeling the need to throw a party with the news that Obiang was actually dying from inoperable Cancer. Those more cautious however would’ve soon realised that this may not be such good news because Obiang’s eldest son would be his likely successor.

‘Obiang junior’ is by all accounts a nasty piece of work. Described by the country’s opposition in exile as a known killer, he seems to spend all his time swanning around Paris and London spending his father’s (or more precisely the people of Equatorial Guinea’s) money on fast cars, large houses and fine food. He is a truely abhorent individual and any fair minded onlooker can only hope that somehow foreign powers step up their efforts in deposing this disgusting dynasty.
Time Wasting Score: (4)

The Gambia – President Yahya Jammeh

Another Ex-Military man, President Jammeh’s contempt for Democracy (he has ‘won’ two elections through a mixture of intimidation and vote rigging) also extends to the contempt he has for his populace’s intelligence. Not content with running Gambia badly, he has recently taken the unbelievable step of claiming that he alone has a cure for HIV/AIDS and that it is made up of a herbal remedy known only to him. In a speech made recently at State House in Gambia’s Capital Banjul, President Jammeh said “I can treat asthma and HIV/Aids and the cure is a day’s treatment. Within three days the person should be tested again and I can tell you that he/she will be negative”. He went to say in a speech faithfully reproduced in the Gambian media that “I am not a witch doctor and in fact you cannot have a witch doctor. You are either a witch or a doctor”.

Tragically for ordinary Gambians, their President is wasting their potential for ongoing development and, it would seem, is cleary mad.

Time Wasting Score: (4)

Zimbabwe – President Robert Mugabe

Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who has recently spent over a Million Dollars celebrating his 83rd birthday (more than twice the average life expectancy of an average Zimbabwean male) is perhaps finally feeling the heat caused by his 26 years of misrule. Mugabe, increasingly embittered at the continual failure of his Neo-Marxist economic reforms has blamed everyone for his country’s decline (his favourite being a Neo-Colonial cabal headed by Tony Blair) and with an increasing ferocity continued to clamp down on his opponents.

Mugabe once boasted that in addition to the several degrees he had gained whilst imprisioned by the British of the then Rhodesia, he also had gained a ‘Degree in Violence‘. The recent Police beatings of members of the main opposition the Movement for Democratic Change are testiment to that and to Mugabe’s stoic determination to hold onto power.

Once seen as one of the more enlightened leaders of one of Africa’s more prosperous, educated and liberal countries, the hope has long since faded for the ordinary people of Zimbabwe. The country itself is haemorrhaging people, it’s economy is in free fall, and is breaking all kinds of records in the process – including the World’s highest inflation rate and fastest drop in life expectancy. Zimbabwe now finds itself slumped towards the bottom of a great deal of global development indicators, a terrifying decline for a country which was once seen as being comparitively highly developed.

Mugabe must surely go, yet the only likely challenge to his autocratic rule is from either inside his own Zanu-PF movement or from the Police and Army when the time comes when there simply is no longer the money available to pay them.

Mugabe’s neighbour and old ally from the anti-colonial struggles, South Africa, has been shamefully silent on the plight of its northern neighbour despite the repercusions a collapsing Zimbabwe would have upon it. South African President Thabo Mbeki‘s cowardly and frankly puzzling reluctance to confront Mugabe has only acted in prolonging the suffering still further for the ordinary people of Zimbabwe.

Time Wasting Score: (5)

The scores given obviously aren’t to be taken too seriously, those above and many others should probably all receive ’5′, and in an ideal world removed from power and replaced by more enlightened leaders as soon as humanly possible.

However, there are many more leaders in Africa, other parts of the developing world, and indeed the developed world that should also merit a mention in this article. Corruption, non-adherance to Human Rights and interference in the democratic process are not, sadly, limited to the cases mentioned above or, indeed the Developing World. It must also be stressed that the reasons why certain countries are blighted by such leaders and governments are very complex.

Yet it remains deeply disturbing to many (not least of course those who live in the affected countries) that such corrupt, ignorant, stubborn and frankly evil men remain in positions of unchallenged power in 2007. Whats more, that they act as a bar on the long overdue hopes of peace, fairness and prosperety of their peoples. They and others are, in short, clearly ‘Time Wasters‘ in the way of development.

Links & Resources:

The World’s Top 20 Dictators –’s annual look at the World’s worst misusers of power. – Website of US based Darfur pressure group

Sudan Watch – Useful Blog resource for independent news from Sudan

This is Zimbabwe – Blog of the Sokwanele – Zvakwana (‘Enough is Enough’) Civic action group, detailing daily events from within Zimbabwe

Blogging by Dan

nick broomfield and slavery

Posted 29 Jan 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Development

I’m really keen to see Nick Broomfield’s first feature film, Ghosts – Broomfield is one of our finest film makers and he’s taken on a fascinating subject, as Stephen Newton points out in chastening prose on his blog:

“I’m not easily moved to tears, but Nick Broomfield’s Ghosts did that trick. They were tears of shame. It’s a film that shows that imperialism is alive and well and that the relatively luxurious lifestyles we enjoy come at a high price to be paid by those who born into foreign poverty.

These illegal Chinese immigrants did the jobs British people would rather not, for wages British people would not accept. They found themselves in meat factories (and we’re reminded that cruelty extends well beyond our treatment of other human beings); tempted into prostitution; working the land. Always they are treated with contempt.”

Make sure you read the rest of his post, and take particular note of his mentioning the Morecambe Victim Trust Fund, which has raised £1,306.39 towards the £500,000 needed to clear the victims’ debts. I’ve just donated*. To quote Stephen again,

“As you dig into your pocket for some spare change, remember how relatively easily you earn your money and how much harder – and more expensive – life would be without the cheap labour of illegal immigrants.”

*clarification: I’ve just tried to donate six times, and each time it refuses to let me, stating that it’s not recognising the security code I type in. Either I’m being subconsciously stingy and typing it in wrong on purpose, or there’s a problem with the site at the moment. Well, I’ll keep trying – hope it works for you.

Chinese Takeaway?

Posted 09 Nov 2006 — by Dan
Category Development, General

It is easy to forget that China is still a Developing Country. We’re becoming increasingly used to hearing stories about the most rapid and dynamic economic and cultural transformation currently being experienced anywhere in the world – by a fifth of humanity, in fact. As a result, many of us perhaps assume that China has already made it and is a fully paid up member of the First World club. Whatever its current World Bank/IMF enshrined status, China and its growth affect us all and, as we are beginning to realise, its continued growth to world hyper-power status is likely to have an indelible effect on the world’s political structure, natural resources and environment.

Its thirst for Oil, Iron Ore, Soya and Timber has affected countries as diverse as Canada, Brazil and Sudan. Vast swathes of the Amazon (the equivalent to the size of Israel each year) are being exploited by non-indigenous farmers to grow Soya that’s then exported and fed to Chinese livestock. Canada has opened up old coal and copper mines in Alberta and British Columbia to meet Chinese demand and China has struck deals with non-democratic regimes in several African states. Most predominant amongst these is Sudan, where, because of international embargos and the unwillingness of many western companies and governments to invest, the Sudanese have found themselves isolated and are grateful for Chinese investment and assistance.

Thousands of Chinese labourers today live and work in Sudan and Khartoum now echoes to the sound of Karaoke bars each night. Since 1993 China has been a Net importer of Oil, and Sudan now provides 12% of that demand. 80% of all oil currently drilled in Sudan is exported to China through Chinese built and partially-owned pipes, refineries and ports. The West’s surprise at the speed of the Chinese involvement in the Horn of Africa is matched only by its unease at the level of engagement the Chinese have with a regime widely blamed for the genocide currently being perpetrated in the Darfur region of Sudan. China acknowledges that it is engaged in oil related projects in Darfur but is mute when quizzed on the ethnic conflict currently occurring there and the Sudanese governments’ complicity in it.

China has longstanding links with many African states, as during the Cold War it participated heavily on the continent with its Foreign Policy of aid without political intervention. As a result it made long term friends, connections it is able to make the most of today. It is this week hosting a large scale conference where representatives of virtually every state in Africa are in attendance. To mark the occasion the smoky skyline of Beijing is punctuated by brightly coloured pictures depicting classic scenes of African wild animals. The Chinese are hoping to secure not only their growing trade links with the continent but also political support essential for manoeuvrings at such international bodies as the Untied Nations. It knows that this voting power will be crucial in future trade talks and in possible political ranglings with the US, Russia and Japan.

Meanwhile, to meet its surging demand for power, China completes the construction of a new coal fired power station each week. In ten years its total annual Carbon emissions will surpass that of even the World’s current worst polluter, the United States, and continue to rise to national output levels the world is yet to experience. China’s own environment is already paying an extremely high price for the cost of its rapid development. The Yangtze River is polluted and dying and the new Chinese love affair with the car is causing 19th Century style ‘Pea-Souper’ pollution to occur in most of its major cities.

It seems that the rise of China is triggering a myriad of emotions in those concerned for the world’s wellbeing. Its involvement and large scale investment in Africa is positive if it leads, as many hope it will, to the reduction in poverty and an increase in development on the continent. However, China’s no ‘questions asked’ foreign policy causes many to fear that its investment will instead lead to the propping up of corrupt and undemocratic regimes and missappropriation of funds on a massive scale. Critics of China’s involvement point to the trade deals it has signed with many African countries and argue that the opening up of their economies to Chinese goods will undermine domestic industries such as textiles and agriculture, exposing them to Chinese competition.

China’s remarkable growth has not occurred by magic: it is the result of 30 years of growing foreign direct investment from mainly Japan, Europe and the US. Its huge low paid and organised workforce has for years provided the west with ever cheaper goods delivered in large numbers, and in turn China has been changing rapidly. That China’s growth and expansion should carry such a potentially heavy economic price tag for the world’s poorest people, and carry an unbearable environmental expense to the world itself should cause widespread concern.

The answer may come from the Chinese themselves, yet with little sign that the growing Chinese middle classes are interested in democratic accountability and governance for their country, the world may well be left holding its breath.

[Blogging by Dan]

Pointless Politicking

Posted 16 Oct 2006 — by Dan
Category Development, General, Politics

It’s been a couple of weeks since the Conservative party convened on the south coast at Bournemouth for their party conference, presumably choosing the town for their venue so that party members would only have to roll down the wheelchair ramps at their nearby nursing homes, wheel down the road and along the sea front for 5 minutes before arriving at the conference hall and a nice cup of tea.

What greeted them there this year, however, was actually very different to what I think they are used to. Since the Cameron-isation of the Conservatives into a neo ‘third way’, firmly centre ground, all inclusive, all pleasing, blue, green and even a hint of red party, they may have been forgiven, Boris aside, for thinking that they have turned up at a conference aimed at finding excellence in middle-management.

The Tories, sorry, Conservatives are undergoing an image change which has seen them attempt to successfully re-brand themselves. The burning torch, their symbol for many years, which was only recently re-drawn so that it included a muscled arm holding it (ready presumably to wallop any nearby EU Commissioners, lefties or drug dealing, tax avoiding pregnant teenage illegal immigrants) has gone and has been replaced by an Oak Tree.

Introduced to embody the party’s new direction and to emphasis their new enthusiam for green policies – yet remaining presumably a strong British symbol – the new logo must have the Tory blue-rinse brigade thinking they had gone full circle and are back at the care home, such is the cosy similarity to care-home embelems up and down the country.

David Cameron, since becoming leader, has set about realigning the party, with his logo change recalling the way that Labour’s red flag turned into a red rose, and has done so, surprisingly, with far less noise and fuss. He has come to realise that if you want power in a modern prosperous, non-ideological Britain then you’d better play safe and be everyone’s friend in the centre. He has, then, declared no policies, and that there will be no policies for the forseeable future. His opening speech, by way of example, was calculated to be entirely devoid of intent and merely to set a bright and breezy tone. Is that what we can assume the party has become? A mood? “Oh, I’m in a light blue mood today. Maybe then I’ll choose the Conservatives to manage me this time around”…

Is that not what British politics now is? Choosing a form of management and a set of managers? We are assured that if the Conservatives do win the next election, presumably with a small majority of votes from a small majority of those entitled to vote, we won’t see much real change if how we are governed. Even if the Liberal Democrats win, we can safely assume that, having been able to win, we won’t see any change through them either.

Politics has hit the comfort zone and the banality of the centre because people don’t care about party politics anymore. And why don’t people care? Many reasons abound but mostly because in this day and age, in stable wealthy democracies, the system and policies of party politics is having less and less effect on everyday life for many people. People today are connected to ideas and individuals around the world almost instantly, many of us have travelled and made connections the world over, lived in other countries or know and live with people from all parts of the world on a scale unimaginable to our parents’ generation.

We are all atomised in our thoughts and act as in such a way that it would be foolish for us to pin all of our ideals onto a set of policies put forward by a group of loosely affiliated people in one particular country. This isn’t the 1930s or even the 1980s, where people – for the actual sake of their health, education or livelihood – were willing to strongly adhere to an ideology in the hope that it would bring them prosperity and happiness.

There’s no need. It seems that the solution all along was to be found somewhere in the middle, and all that remains is to join up and integrate our governing systems so that we can begin to address the most pressing issues of our time – namely the vast inequalities of wealth resources and access to education afflicting the world.

People, especially in the developed world, are doing this more and more. They are withdrawing from the national debate on many issues and from the parties which they find they cannot wholly empathise with and are becoming involved in international civil societies. I am a member of one of the largest of these International Non-Governmental Organisations, namely Oxfam. I consider it to be actually more politicised than many political parties at the moment. It allows me the opportunity to lobby on specific issues where I feel change should be affected and it’s pro-active rather than reactive – as I consider many political parties in Britain to be. Like other NGOs it is able to lobby on behalf of people in developing countries right up to the highest echelons of both British and foreign governments, and is able to induce change. Other groups the world over highlight causes, discuss them internally and externally, and co-operate in alliances with like minded groups on a global level – all with the clear objective of effecting change for the better.

With more and more people from more and more parts of the world connecting in this trans-national political sphere, the call for regulation and assembly grows ever louder. This, it is believed by many, is finally the first concrete foundations of a global government. It is yet to be seen what form it takes, whether at an existing institution such as the United Nations (where global civil society is already given prominent voice) or via some other method.

This global engagement is happening on a vast scale and is I believe largely very positive and to be welcomed. It does however feel at present a million miles away from Bournemouth.

[Blogging by Dan]

The New Arabia

Posted 24 Jul 2006 — by Dan
Category Development, General, Islam and the Middle East

It’s so easy in these times to get very upset and depressed about the situation in the Middle East and the uncertain implications for the well being of the world as a whole. The Iraq fiasco of 2003, and the seemingly terminal decline of it as a functioning state ever since, acts as an open wound in the very heart of the region. At the same time, Iran – a youthful and proud nation – is very much at a crossroads in its development, yet at the moment it feels that it is cornered by a hostile world.

Internal angst involving politics, the role of religion, womens rights and its relations with the West give a confusing and sometimes alarming impression to visitors and foreign powers alike as to the path which the country is set to take. The established Israeli policy of ‘might is right’, unleashed on many of its neighbours, and the regression – perhaps in part as a result of this – of a number of nations into a state of near feudal paralysis breeding extremism, poverty and despair, seems to make these apocalyptic visions all too prevalent in our current imaginings of the region.

Amidst all this turmoil, positive news is hard to come by. I have been fascinated therefore with a recent BBC Documentary series aired on the World Service which toured some of the often overlooked Arab states to get a feel for them and report back many positive things about what the future may hold. The series visited Dubai in the UAE, Oman and Qatar. All these states in different ways are using their wealth – primarily gained from oil and gas extraction – to expand and diversify their economies.

In the case of Dubai, which has solicited massive foreign investment, as well as using much of its own money, to transform a patch of desert into a modern city and transport hub, their efforts are well publicised. However, I was particularly interested to hear about the path being plotted by the government and people of Qatar.

Whereas Dubai wants to be seen as a Financial centre, Qatar – assured of the massive gas reserves which it is now selling around the world in liquefied form – is establishing itself as a seat of learning in the region. If Qatar is known at all in the West at present, it is most likely for being the base for the Arabic satellite television station al-Jazeera; a station which first rose to prominence during the second Gulf War and has since gained the respect of many journalists and media analysts throughout the world for its professionalism and its non-compromising and often controversial news output. The station, it is worth noting, is also soon to launch a Children’s channel. Its makers hope that instead of simply showing cartoons, it will give watching children the opportunity to learn, and to learn how to question. The al-Jazeera Network receives its funding from the Emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin-Khalifa al-Thani, who sees the channels as part of his plans for a parliamentary democracy in the Gulf state. It is free to criticise the Emir, and also – notably – other Arab governments.

Qatar is making impressive strides towards a liberal, Islamic and yet politically plural society, not least with the establishment of what is known as “Education City” on the outskirts of its capital Doha. The aim of this mega-campus of learning is to invite foreign universities to open up branches and to export their methods of learning. Unlike in traditional Arab education, classes are mixed and two thirds of the soon to number 8000 students are women. Teaching methods are a fusion of Western and Middle Eastern. Similar models of democratic forms of higher education are being established across the Middle East, most notably in Oman and the UAE.

As you might expect, traditional elements in all of these societies object to some of the reforms taking place. There is a tradition of tribalism which has hindered free elections, but this is being countered by the general will to move at suitable pace towards democracy. In Qatar every citizen now has the right to vote in upcoming elections and anyone can run for office. Further, north Kuwait has also recently held local elections where women could vote and stand as candidates.

The aim of a number of states in the region seems to be to build a framework of a more liberal society, but also to provide the know-how of how to make it work. A highly positive and encouraging move, and something which you may be forgiven for thinking is almost entirely lacking in a place like Iraq, where a system has been imposed without the gradual introduction of democratic institutions and facilities. The adjustment period in that nation’s case is proving to be very traumatic indeed.

These Gulf States, which are currently and rapidly diversifying and exploring ways of introducing a progressive education system, want the legacy of their vast oil and gas wealth to be used to benefit their future generations – not simply to live in benevolence, but to contribute to an Arab Renaissance whereby Arab ideas and inventions are once again helping to shape the course of human history.

[Blogging by Dan]

hardly debt cancellation

Posted 16 Feb 2006 — by Jonathan
Category Development, Politics

Despite all the talk last year about making poverty history and cancelling third world debt, it’s instructive to note that the British government will shortly receive its share of a ridiculously uneven debt cancellation deal with Nigeria, one of Africa’s poorest nations and a country where one in five children die before their fifth birthday.

“In January 2006, the UK received more than £800 million from Nigeria, with a further £900 million following in March. This is the UK’s share of £7.2 billion being demanded by rich countries in exchange for cancelling around £10.5 billion of Nigeria’s debt – a crippling demand being made despite Nigeria already having an externally-monitored fund set up to ensure money from debt relief is spent properly.”

This sum which the UK will receive – incidentally more than any other country will get – which combined adds up to £1.7bn, is twice the amount of money that the UK gives to Africa per year. The Jubilee Debt Campaign (which put together a petition to cancel third world debt in the year 2000 that 24 million people signed) is asking people to write to Gordon Brown urging him to return this money to the Nigerian government. Details of how to do so are available on their website.

arab centre of the modern world?

Posted 14 Feb 2006 — by Jonathan
Category Development, Islam and the Middle East

The most impressive feature of the re-designed Guardian is their willingness to run long, detailed features in G2 – I’m thinking particularly of their investigations into modern China, Israel and – now – Dubai. Yesterday’s long article was really fascinating. And if you admire large-scale articles with plenty of detail it’s hard not to be fascinated by a city like Dubai.

“Dubai is growing faster than any city on earth. “Mushroom City”, Ravi Piyush, a plumply content dealer in the Gold Souk, said to me. “Nothing today, everything tomorrow.” The World Bank reckons that the reconstruction of Iraq is going to cost $53bn. Here, along the strip of footballer-friendly sand that stretches 25 miles or so along the shores of the Persian Gulf, there is, at a rough estimate, about $100bn worth of projects either underway or planned for the near future. That is a numbing figure, ungraspable.”

What are they trying to achieve? Unlike Abu Dhabi, Dubai does not have vast oil resources, which means that it must establish itself in other ways; as a port and a financial centre. The scale of the ambition with which this Arab Emirate is pursuing this is quite outstanding. But the article, by Adam Nicholson, hints at something more; Mustafa, a businessman, tells him of the greater vision,

“which is that Dubai should become a fully developed city, with the best life of any city that has ever been created. The whole city is growing as a single organism. We have planned this, very carefully, … so that in time Dubai is going to become the first ever Arab modern metropolis”.

Perhaps so, but it is far from a democratic state, and living and working conditions for the worst off remain appalling. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to be impressed by the vastness of the operation and the staggering speed of growth, much less the ambition. Although that’s probably not why the England football team all own properties out there….

“This is the Dubai sandwich: at the bottom, cheap and exploited Asian labour; in the middle, white northern professional services, plus tourist hunger for glamour in the sun and, increasingly, a de-monopolised western market system; at the top, enormous quantities of invested oil money, combined with fearsome social and political control and a drive to establish another model of what modern Arabia might mean in the post-9/11 world. That is the intriguing question: can Dubai do what Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, or almost anywhere else in the Arab world you might like to mention, have failed to do? Is Dubai, in fact, the fulcrum of the future global trading and financial system? Is it, in embryo, what London was to the 19th century and Manhattan to the 20th? Not the modern centre of the Arab world but, more than that, the Arab centre of the modern world.”

the place where the bible belt came unbuckled

Posted 01 Sep 2005 — by Jonathan
Category Development, Environment, Politics

The situation in New Orleans continues to escalate from the disasterous to the obscene. Things are getting no better. In fact, they’re getting worse. First I wake up to an article in the Guardian by Howell Raines, the former editor of the New York Times, who paints a picture of New Orleans, as “a golden bowl of memories, both sacred and profane”, before damning the appalling inaction of both local politicians and the US government in the face of a crisis which needed dealing with quickly. There seems something slightly crass about using a disaster such as this as a platform for denouncing Bush, but Raines argues that every disaster has a political dimension. In this instance, he concludes:

“The church-going cultural populism of George Bush has given the United States an administration that worries about the house of Saud and the welfare of oil companies while the poor drown in their attics and their sons and daughters die on foreign deserts.”

Since I read that, things have just got worse; to articulate the spiralling chaos, I’ll turn to Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s message in tonight’s snowmail (a daily email from team behind the Channel 4 news):

“The news out of New Orleans is getting harder to believe every hour. The world’s only superpower seems to have lost control of the situation. Thousands of people are still stranded without food, water or medicine. Tens of thousands more homeless.

Lawlessness is spreading around the city with police and national guard trying to control things but ambulances and rescue helicopters have been shot at by armed thugs. Those stranded at centres like the sports stadium are in appalling conditions with grim sanitation and supplies. There are attempts to get a few thousand people a day out of the city as the Mayor has ordered the forced evacuation of everyone, but it is pitifully slow and the people have little or nothing to go to. As for the bodies – there is still no reliable estimate of those dead. But now the Mayor and a senator have put it in the thousands.

People are starting to ask whether or not the warning and evacuation was mishandled. If people are being forced to leave now then why not at the weekend before Katrina struck? And there are increasing voices emerging about the warnings that were ignored.

Federal funds were denied to strengthen the levees. Was America so obsessed with fighting terror that it forgot what homeland security really means? And does the demographic breakdown of those worst hit – predominantly poor and black have anything to do with how little was done to help them?”


the aftermath of katrina

Posted 30 Aug 2005 — by Jonathan
Category Development, Environment

As is so often the way, when it’s information you’re after, you can’t do much better than going to Wikipedia, even if it’s information on something as current and changeable as Katrina, the storm which has ripped through New Orleans and Mississipi. The ever evolving entry there is a work of wonder; this kind of information is priceless.

The web is, of course, heaving with information on the events; it’s all fairly overwhelming stuff; water, bodies, chunks of broken concrete, oil rigs sent along with the tide as if they were dingies. In one apartment block alone in Biloxi over 30 people died. New Orleans seemed at first to have been afforded a last minute reprieve as the storm veered south, but the damage done was horrifying enough, and things have worsened since; three of the levees protecting the city from the rising floodwaters have been breached. At the moment The Guardian is quoting over 80 dead. It will clearly be significantly more than that. I just read another report attributing 80 dead to Biloxi alone.

In New Orleans looting, predictably, has broken out and martial law has been declared. I don’t find this at all surprising – a city with as much poverty as New Orleans will inevitably encounter looting at a time like this. I’ve read several blogs which express bewilderment that as many as 300,000 people failed to evacuate, but a few acknowledged that many of New Orleans poorest citizens had no transport; it seems that little public provision for evacuation was made. It was faintly chilling seeing footage of the Superdrome, which had been opened for those who could not leave, full of shivering, terrified people. Chilling too that so many with no provision to leave were black.

More pressing is the clear up operation; god knows how complicated and lengthy a process it will be, nor what dangers the rapidly stagnating flood water will pose. Reports suggest that one possible solution is dropping 3,000lb sandbags from above to try to plug the gaps in the levees. Meanwhile, Bush has cut short his 45 day holiday to ‘help out’. That’s all they need.

Meanwhile, Mike the admin is OK, and so are his wife and 3 cats, so that’s good. And apparently “a 3-foot (0.9-metre) shark had been spotted cruising the flooded streets”…

spinning while edinburgh burns

Posted 06 Jul 2005 — by Jonathan
Category Development, Politics

A good post from Paul over at Free Speed Nation about why he’s removed the Make Poverty History banner from his site, something I’ve been considering too. The skilful repositioning of the government so that it is now part of the protest, not the focus of it, is surely the finest demonstration of spin thus far, for it has gone almost completely un-noticed.

Read his post here.

damon on the radio

Posted 10 Jun 2005 — by Jonathan
Category Development, Politics

Nice to hear Damon Albarn talking good sense on the Today programme this morning,

“This country is incredibly diverse. More than ever, black culture is an integral part of society, so why is the [Live 8] bill so damn Anglo-Saxon?

If you are holding a party on behalf of people, then surely you don’t shut the door on them. It’s insensitive and it also perpetuates this idea that Africa is separated in some way. In a way Live 8 does that – it doesn’t make you feel closer to Africa, it treats it like it’s a failing, ill, sick, tired place.

My personal experience of Africa is that yes, I have witnessed all those things there, but it’s incredibly sophisticated – the society and the structure of people’s lives is as sophisticated, if not more sophisticated in some ways, than in the West.”

You can listen again here, today only, I think.