Why I’m not excited about Roger Federer’s investment into Education in Malawi

Early this week, many people in Malawi were excited by the news that Roger Federer (ranked world number 2 best tennis player by the Association of Tennis Professionals), had launched a childcare centre at Lundu village, about 10 Kilometres outside Lilongwe, the Capital of Malawi.

While there is good reason to be happy about such news, whereby a big sports star has decided to use his time and resources to help Malawi in this area, a part of me thinks otherwise.

A part of me thinks that Malawi not only needs help in terms of pre-schools and child development centres, but also over the whole educational system – which is archaic, and needs to be revamped.

And here’s why:

Firstly, whats the point of giving children a great pre-school start only to disappoint them later on in primary and secondary education? How so? Well, according to Ripple Africa, a charity with a base in Nkhata Bay district:

… The government of Malawi recognises the importance of pre-school education, and encourages communities to set up their own pre-schools, but does not support pre-schools financially. With no funds to support pre-schools, most of them are run on a voluntary basis and are unregistered. Most teachers work for free, and have no resources to help them teach, lacking the very basics including blackboards and chalk, let alone books and toys which might commonly be associated with pre-school education in the West. It is rare that pre-schools have their own school buildings, and many pre-schools share facilities with local churches or other buildings built for a different purpose

It goes on to say

Although primary education in Malawi is free, students are required to purchase their own school uniform, pens, and notebooks, which many families find difficult. Rates for drop-outs are high, and, according to UNESCO, only 58% of children will complete a full course of primary school, and 20% of children repeat one or more school years, often several times, if they have had to take significant time out of school and have fallen behind. It is very common for children in Malawi to come in and out of school depending on their family situation, employment responsibilities, pregnancy and marriage at a young age, sickness, and more. By the time students leave primary school, many of them are far older than primary age, having repeated several years, and many lose interest and drop out all together.

If you read further, you’ll find the usual problems across the whole education board: poor infrastructure, lack of materials, unpaid untrained teachers even at pre-school level…  the usual.

How can you help children learn if schools have little or no study materials, and teachers are not properly trained? Before you do anything for the children shouldn’t you first make sure that their teachers have the right qualifications, and there are suitable facilities available for them to use in teaching.

So, in addition to improving pre-school education, I think the initiative should go hand in hand with improving the standard of education across the board, and not just in pre-school education.

In any case, we know from reports from employers that many people who come out of form four (or even Universities) in Malawi lack the basic skills needed by most employers. A scenario that probably is a result of dysfunction within Universities themselves. This dysfunction was summarised by The Nation News paper a few years ago:

In some public universities, for example, there is acute shortage of books or even chairs in classrooms, leading to students standing throughout lectures. Some of the faculty members also need to upgrade their qualifications; so, too, do catering and accommodation need improvement, among other facilities.

The above article by Ripple Africa also mentions the lack of buildings.

img_0271-1
image from typicalmalawian.wordpress.com

 

Malawi needs more school buildings, more resources such as desks, black boards and stationery in both primary and secondary education (including properly resourced dormitories in boarding schools). This will cost money, but the government needs to upgrade these facilities across the whole country. It cannot be piecemeal or random, because then it will not be effective. It has to be planned and transformative and must be made a top priority.

This is important because a child who undertakes their pre-school in a well-furnished nursery (complete with chairs and tables) is not going to be assisted if they then have to be downgraded and sit on the floor during primary school.

Never mind early education, primary and secondary school, what about tertiary education? Should the government be doing more to invest in tertiary education?

Recently in June 2015, Grant Shapps, UK International Development Minister, at the announcement that the UK would pump £11.6 million into Malawi education sector said:

“Malawi’s future doctors, nurses, IT experts, teachers and entrepreneurs will help build a nation eventually independent of foreign aid and with our own historic links to Malawi, particularly those of Scotland, this is also in the UK’s interest, because creating a more prosperous world will benefit us all in the long run”

The question is where will they be trained, and who will foot the bill? Is £11.6 million enough to train doctors, nurses, IT experts, teachers and entrepreneurs for a country with a population of 13 million people? Adequate training that will help Malawi compete on the global stage…? And not only provide Doctors and Nurses for Europe…?

There are other factors other than pre-school education that must be addressed if the education sector in Malawi is to be improved.

tfac-teacher-stats

Factors such as the effect H.I.V has on teachers. These need to be looked at, in collaboration with charities such as Theatre for a Change. It’s important that resources are dedicated to address them.

Aside from the education front, the other question politicians and stakeholders should be asking is after these children become young adults who have been ‘educated’, where will they work? No point training them when at the end of it all, you have no jobs to give them. A youth unemployment crisis which many western countries including the UK, Spain, Portugal and Greece are currently facing. Does Malawi have enough jobs and an economy that can support its young people of working age? How can the country create more jobs and assist its citizens to be resourceful?

Looking at the statistics of youth unemployment across Malawi, I can tell you that the country definitely doesn’t have enough good jobs, and this is a situation which could become a crisis if not addressed urgently.

Furthermore, Malawians must not rely solely on donors or foreign companies who have their own interests to come into Malawi and create jobs. This also extends to our educational system.

We must stop relying on foreigners to come in and sort out our problems.

When for example will Malawian corporations emerge that are owned by Malawian nationals, and employ thousands of Malawians?

quote2-malawi

I’ll end with a personal story. A few months ago, a cousin-nephew who lives in the city of Blantyre in Malawi told me he wanted to study IT, in particular he wanted to work in Software or web related technologies. I told him to learn programming, and referred him to the City Library in Blantyre to find a book on the ‘C programming language’ which he could use as a starting point, since being trained as an Electronic and communications engineer I know that my education in programming began with C programming (as has been for many other people working in software and IT). So I was keen to get him down a similar path in this sense.

wpid-received_10152812678373285.jpeg

A few days later he told me he had gone to the library but was told that they didn’t have any book on C programming. Further, he doesn’t have a computer, so even if he did have a book, there’s no where to practice how to code. Also he wasn’t sure whether he could install educational software on some of the public computers he has used in Internet Cafe’s. I wondered how it was possible for a library of a major city of a country to not even have a single book on C Programming, let alone computers for the public to use…In this digital era.

If things are like this outside the classroom, in a city, in 2015, I could see how easy it was for teachers to be frustrated.
Today, my thoughts are punctuated by an article I remembered, written by Steve Sharra titled Malawi at fifty One: the education legacies of Malawi’s presidents hitherto in which he argues that the failure to utilise the higher educational system to improve the quality of teaching and the teaching professions has negatively affected the country’s developmental process. In the article, Sharra writes :

However at primary and secondary school levels the problem of teacher morale, the most significant of the problems afflicting Malawi’s education system is getting worse. Today, anger amongst Malawian teachers has become so pervasive it severely corrodes the education system. In the first of 2015, salary delays took a turn for the worse. With communication from the ministry not forthcoming, teachers resorted to asking fellow teachers on Facebook groups for updates. It is frightening to imagine how these angry, bitter, frustrated and demoralised teachers are treating children under their care.

So here I am seated in a central city library in Nottingham (East Midlands), which has recent issues of magazines published in India, several copies of Der Spiegel, (including a May 2015 copy), and even an East Midlands Polish publication, let alone books on computer coding;

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m surrounded by both young and older people – all oblivious of my observations, getting on with their lives ; and I’m thinking how I can send a netbook with a compiler pre-installed on it, and a book on C programming to Malawi. I’m also thinking about all those young people who want to study IT related subjects across Africa(some of whom are being taught under trees), who greatly desire to tap into similar knowledge as is scripted in the pages of these books on the shelves next to me, but who can’t find a book anywhere to help them … who don’t have anyone to send a computer to them.

That is why I’m not excited about Roger Federer’s investment into pre-school Education in Malawi

Thoughts on the sale of Malawi Savings Bank (MSB) , and more

The trouble with capitalists (as with politicians) is that they think only about themselves. Until after things begin to go wrong, after which they still think only about themselves. Need proof of that?  What happened in the 2008-2009 financial crash?

Dont get me wrong, I’m pro Capitalism. Totally. May not entirely be proud of it, but I am pro ‘responsible Capitalism’, for lack of a better term. My line of work is made possible definitely only because of Capitalism. And yes, I enjoy what I do.

But when your only motivation and greatest priority is making money; and everything else including other human beings come second in the list of priorities, then it is more likely than not that you have lost the plot; that you need salvation.

But without digressing too much, why is the sale of MSB the wrong decision?

Well, firstly assets fetch more when sold at the peak of their value. When they are sparkling and in pristine condition; for companies, it’s when business is going well and the profits are pouring in in bucket-loads. During such times, the sale of a business can command serious financial digits and can really bring value to their owners. But when the business is  loan-laden with toxic debts it issued (some alleged to be politically influenced backdoor deals), when a bank is infested with inefficiency, corruption or dodgy deals, when there are some financial mishaps, you can’t possibly expect to get value for money, or for the bank to be sold for the real value it is worth. Had the management persevered and got its act together before selling, had the bank liquidated a significant part of the debts on its books, it’s likely that it could have fetched more on the market.

Think of it like selling your old car (which is partly owned by your friend who doesn’t want to sell it) when the windscreen has a chip in it, when the paint work needs improving, when one tyre is flat, and look! – .there’s a decomposing rat on the backseat..yuck!

Lets just say your car would have fetched a better price if you first reached an agreement with your friend, and fixed it; if you got it cleaned, …kuyikwecha bobo, before attempting to sell it.

Secondly, you can’t sell what you do not officially own. You can’t sell what you have no authority to sell. Imagine if I showed up to a potential investor and claimed that I owned the land on which the new stadium in Lilongwe is being built. Not only would my claims be laughable (and could possibly land me a stint in jail), but any foolish investor who dared believe such folly, without independent verification, would find themselves in the undesirable position of having to explain a useless contract – a piece of paper that would be completely unenforceable.

So, being state-owned, MSB is essentially a chattel held by the state in trust on behalf of the people. It is Malawians who should hold the key to its fate, they are the ones who can legitimately decide on whether to sell it or not. Malawians and not only the government of Malawi.

If that’s not currently the case, then that’s how it should be, for any state-owned property because otherwise there is a danger that the executive could make decisions befitting more of a dictator than a democratically elected president; that the legislature could act without consulting the people they represent.

Which is a problematic state of play since by selling the bank, the assumption is that the government is acting in the interests of Malawians – and has their blessing in undertaking such actions ; yet from the anti-sale demonstrations and all the opposition to the sale, it would be perfectly clear to anybody who was paying attention that there are many thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, or even millions of Malawians who didn’t exactly approve of the decision (the very reason why it had been initially suspended). So without a vote or proper public consultation, wouldn’t the sale of MSB be undemocratic? Or illegal?

In addition, state-owned property is one means by which the state generates an income to pay for the business of government. Without enough state-owned property (or some other dependable source of an income), most governments are unable to generate enough funds from tax-collection alone. They struggle to pay for services, and the business of government (Civil servant salaries, Security and public order, food, medicines, infrastructure, education, etc) with the result they end up having to borrow money from institutions whose primary motive is making money; international banks who can’t possibly be said to have the best interests of the loan recipient country at heart.

It’s the capitalists I mentioned above who get to provide the loans, on their terms and not the recipient’s terms. Therefore, it must come as no surprise if they disregard the hungry children the poor country has.

North_Darfur_IDP_malnourished_childDisregarding overflowing maternity wards in the country’s hospitals – which desperately need upgrading; with no concern, sympathy or consideration for parents who can’t pay for medical care for their children. Make no mistake, Capitalists are not charities. They are not mandated as governments of western democracies are – to care for the people, especially the most vulnerable people in society. They work without care for the villagers who have no clean water, no electricity and no medicines in hospitals. They don’t think about the young people who have degrees but can’t get jobs in their own countries because there are no jobs available (and the government or domestic private enterprise are not investing in jobs or youth development initiatives).

It’s no big secret, but most Capitalists think only about how much money they can make for themselves, for their organisations / institutions and for their friends.

I may not have all the concrete data to support this somewhat wild claim, but I’m willing to bet a few quid that they do.

The result is inevitable; whole countries end up tormented by debt, with ballooning deficits which can never realistically be got rid of, as Argentina and Greece have found out the hard way in recent years. They become the butt of jokes and stand at the receiving end of blame. Unable to raise credit, and therefore unable to finance their activities. It’s virtually a coup.

greek-bailout-fund2Countries like Greece. Countries like Malawi.

This is the reason why so many countries are in debt, because their governments do not own enough assets from which to extract a dependable and sustainable income, and they have to rely on harmful debts which damage their economies more than they help. Put simply, these countries do not have a job that pays enough for them and ‘their families’ to survive on, so they go to loan sharks who tie a noose around their necks.

In Friedmanian economics (or what he termed neoliberalism), the same governments – most of whom at the time were operating surpluses or relatively small budget deficits in comparison to the current levels –  were told by mostly pro-capitalist economists to relinquish ownership of high yield assets (in industries which were dominated by few individuals/ merchants in monopolies that traded side by side with the state-owned enterprises) they owned, in the process ‘laissez-faire’ economics morphed into ‘market competition’… a phenomenon similar in effect to the fall of the USSR’s property ownership framework while urging in the rise of the Oligarchs. Before you had fewer players gnawing at the national cake, and the government was a significant player- now you have more players at the banquet(even though they are still a minority in comparison to the whole population), but this time, the government is not even at the table.

No prizes for guessing who bought those assets, but the state – these fellows argued, shouldn’t be in the business of running anything. As a result, several decades later – culminating in Thatcherism in Britain – everything from utility companies (including gas and electric suppliers) were mostly owned by corporations; so were the mines, railway and telecommunication companies, virtually every large industry with the capacity to raise huge sums for the government fell out of majority stake public-ownership, in preference to some private outfit, whose primary motive was profit and little else.

Some of these countries do not have oil, or other high demand resources on which to depend in the long-run (and even many which do struggle to manage them properly).They have to rely on a small tax base (~ heavily taxed citizens) for revenues, crops such as tobacco which are fast becoming unpopular, on tax-evading companies to pay their fair share of tax to the state; how crazy do you have to be to depend on profit-shifting (cost-shifting) corporations to stop their dirty tricks and behave (even though there is little indication this will happen anytime soon)? They rely on meagre inflows of Foreign Direct Investment, on aid organisations whose ethics/ morality is often in question. And if all that isn’t sufficient to support their budgets, these countries have a ‘safety’ net which can only be described as a poisonous concoction of interest-driven donors and austerity-prescribing institutions – to provide loans.

In contrast, countries rich in natural resources such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait own significant parts of their largest industries, and can therefore afford to finance almost all the business of government from the sale of their natural resources (in this case oil).

When was the last time you heard that Kuwait or Qatar had asked for a loan from the IMF?

They don’t need to hold onto many state-owned assets outside of the petroleum realm, because the petroleum industry generates enough income to cover the business of government and give them budget surpluses for every other luxury – from financing huge construction projects, to paying for a controversial world cup that’s now increasingly doubtful – thanks to the FIFA scandal.

What about all the bailouts, someone may ask, and loans and aid provided to struggling countries over the last 50 years, where has all that gone? Well, mostly to the banks. And to companies from the countries of the aid providers. In the case of Greece which is suffering the same kind of debilitating debt onslaught as most African countries but on a much larger scale, the money went back to the same capitalists (see another link here from the Guardian) who created the very same mess in the first place.

Thus, considering all this, and more, I have to say for me it’s entirely valid to believe that if you don’t have a large multi-billion dollar industry in your country, if you have few natural resources to exploit, and if many of the common problems African countries have to battle with plague your economy, then it makes perfect sense as a government to hold on to as much industry as you can – and try to make it profitable. Maybe in the same way as Norway has done.

Such a strategy to me has a better chance of achieving a zero deficit budget, giving your country a surplus of disposable income others fail to achieve.

And that is why I think Peter Mutharika and the government of Malawi has got it wrong on Malawi Savings Bank (MSB)

P/s: Go tell the Malawian commentator who appeared to be saying that Malawians were wrong to voice their concerns over the sale of MSB that he has got it completely wrong this time. If anything, Malawians should be mad  for being taken for fools! far from being silent more Malawians should stand up to be counted. Foolish ideas deserve nothing but condemnation!

Quantitative Easing, Grexit and the debt in the Eurozone: Of Botswana, Bushmen and Baboons

QE&friends
The winners and the losers of Quantitative Easing

Debt and Money are volatile matters. Deal makers or deal breakers. It doesn’t matter whether it’s within families, between countries, between banks or among members of some financial union where the fracas occurs, but when money is involved, a lot hangs in the balance.

When money is misappropriated, people take opposite positions and begin arguing. And when debts are not repaid, or loans are withheld…actually any financially related disagreement, the opinions expressed are often filled with raw emotion; wrath, hate, anger, contempt, apathy, criticism, it’s not rare to see more than just a hint of schadenfreude. Because, well, its money – our survival has been made to depend on it, and so we fight tooth and nail for it. Besides some of us are just too greedy.

This bickering is especially more pronounced online. Behind aliases, nothing is held back; all the bridges are set on fire, insults traded liberally complete with icing, everyone holds tightly to their narrow views, few are available to inject some unifying common sense, courtesy is alien; if these people knew each other, or if they lived in close proximity to each other there would be fights, many fights. Someone would get physical, and at least another would get hurt.

euro-dispI find that in such spheres, the commentary beneath an article can be more interesting than the article itself. And you can probably have your daily dose of entertainment by merely browsing through what everyone thinks of the issue. At least I can.

And you rarely see such kind of raucous debate in real life, other than in silly comic sketches.  But it rarely happens in current affairs programs churned out by the big media houses. Unless you are watching proceedings of the debates in the house of commons. Or pre-election debates – in which case some drama is not rare.

But online, squabbles happen a lot more frequently (as the comments on this link (via FT) / below  demonstrate). The result is priceless:-

101 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9  11…the wit. Needless to say my favourites are the two references to Bushmen and Baboons in Botswana. Genius.

bnkr

Why Greece should build strategic alliances with African countries

After the deadlock in Europe over Greece’s debt repayments, should they now look south?

After all the flak Greece has received in recent weeks, you would be forgiven for thinking that it’s only a matter of time before the country’s PM Alexis Tsipras and his finance minister Yanis Varoufakis  throw in the towel. Since Syriza took half of the seats in the Hellenic Parliament, there’s already been a backlash against the deal which the radical left-wing party negotiated with the EU partners on 20th February. A backlash complete with anti-government marches, smashed shop windows, Molotov cocktails and torched cars.

That began in February. On Thursday April 16th, another group of protesters in the form of 4000 miners and their families, descended onto Athens’ main central square over a plan to possibly revoke the licence of a gold mine in Skouries, in the northern Greek peninsula of Halkidiki. The mine is operated by Eldorado Gold Corp, who say the revocation would halt their $US 1 billion investment project which could have created 5000 jobs.

Trouble on Friday April 17th came in the form of police breaking up a 19 day sit-in at Athens University by anti-establishment protesters.  The protesters were occupying buildings at the site for more than two weeks, demanding the closure of maximum security prisons and the release of some suspects.

Conservative and right-wing media groups also have been hostile to Syriza. Peter Martino writing for the Gatestone Institute (a New York city based think tank that specializes in strategy and defense issues, and describes itself as ‘non-partisan’) in an article mockingly titled Hugo Chavez Coming to Europe says:

The new Greek cabinet is not a friend of Israel nor of Jews. Syriza is known for its anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian positions. Syriza politicians have frequently participated in protests against the Jewish state. Clause 38 of the Syriza party program advocates the “abolition of military cooperation with Israel” and “support for the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.” Two other members of the new Greek cabinet, although not members of Syriza but of its coalition partner, the ultra-nationalist Independent Greeks [ANEL], are also known for their anti-Semitism. The new Greek Minister of Defense, ANEL leader Panos Kammenos, recently accused Jews of “not paying their taxes.”

He concludes with:

…The Marxist economic remedies that these parties stand for will not lead to more prosperity for their countries, nor will the transatlantic relations between Europe and the United States much improve with governments whose leaders draw their inspiration from Hugo Chavez.

Greece has been told by its EU partners that if they are to continue assisting it, it must maintain austerity measures which they prescribed – an unpopular move which effectively means Syriza trashing pre-election anti-austerity promises made to the Greek electorate.

[su_box title=”Some of Syriza’s pre-election Promises”]

  • a minimum wage restored to 751 euros ($853) per month
  • negotiated debt relief of at least 50 percent from the country’s lenders
  • an end to austerity policies that have affected healthcare spending and choked the welfare system.  [/su_box]

The IMF chief recently declined to extend an instalment repayment due date of a loan the IMF has extended to Greece, saying the country needed to work on pushing through sensible and workable reforms that will put the economy on the straight and narrow.

GreeceDebt
Source: Economist
GreeceLoanRepayments
Note: The blue line represents the repayment schedule which former prime minister Georgios Andreas Papandreou tried to negotiate

And this bad news didn’t start yesterday. Back in January, Tim Jones writing for Jubilee Debt Campaign, in an article titled Six key points about Greece’s debt lamented how the austerity pills which the IMF were prescribing for Greece have worsened the economic situation of the country:

“When the ‘Troika’ programme began in 2010 Jubilee Debt Campaign warned that this was repeating mistakes made in developing countries in the 1980s and 1990s. Bailing out European banks rather than making them cancel debts would ensure the private speculators would get repaid, whilst the public would pay the costs of having to cancel debts in the future. Austerity would crash the economy, increase poverty and unemployment, and increase the relative size of the debt. This is exactly what has happened”

He goes on to say that:

… The growth projections were extremely optimistic; Greece’s economy is now 19% smaller than the IMF said it would be, having shrunk by more than 20% since the start of 2010.

India warned that the scale of cuts would start a spiral of falling unemployment which would reduce government revenue, causing the debt to increase, and making a future debt restructuring inevitable. They did; unemployment in Greece is over 25%, with almost two-in-three young people out of work.

The combination of the crashing of the economy and the Troika debts means Greek government debt has grown from 133% of GDP in 2010 to 174% today.

The bailout and austerity programme did not take place because it was thought it would help the Greek people or reduce the size of the debt. It was done to save European and Greek banks and protect the profit of speculators.

Many others were eyeing Athens nervously even before Syriza came to power. The Germany finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble in an attempt to send a tough message that there will be no room for renegotiating Greece’s rescue package, warned that by electing Syriza, Greece was risking its membership in the eurozone.

Greek finance minister Varoufakis in Germany
Schäuble and Varoufakis – not seeing eye to eye

Since then, there have been many attempts at striking a deal that would ease the pain of austerity, but none have so far succeeded. On the 24th April, Greece’s creditors will decide whether to accept the country’s new debt proposal to the Troika.

Yet nearly 2 years ago, in June 2013, the IMF admitted that they had failed to realise the damage which austerity would do to Greece. At that time, they said:

The Fund approved an exceptionally large loan to Greece under an stand-by agreement in May 2010 despite having considerable misgivings about Greece’s debt sustainability. The decision required the Fund to depart from its established rules on exceptional access. However, Greece came late to the Fund and the time available to negotiate the programme was short.

The mistake of prescribing austerity to a weak economy has been repeated too many times over the decades for us to recount here.

By most sensible financial analyses, it is clear that Greece has been pushed into a corner by the perfect storm of a huge debt burden, a relatively small and largely undiversified economy (that has been stagnant in recent years partly due to austerity economics), corruption, nepotism and tax evasion.

Greece’s position within the Euro is even more precarious. Paul Mason, writing on 4 News puts it thus: So Syriza’s leadership is wedded to the eurozone but the eurozone is currently configured to smash Syriza

[su_pullquote] So Syriza’s leadership is wedded to the eurozone but the eurozone is currently configured to smash Syriza.[/su_pullquote]

By the terms of the previously agreed deal Greece is owed €7.2 billion, which it desperately needs to pay back loans, to pay wages and service the welfare bill. But European leaders have been reluctant to hand over the money until it is clear that Greece intends to follow through on promised structural reforms.

No wonder Varoufakis thinks that EU ministers are trying to push Greece into Default, an allegation which could be theatrical political manoeuvering more than anything else. Similarly, Alexis Tsipras’ trip to Russia was viewed by some as being no more than a bargaining manoeuvre.

Yanis-Varoufakis-om-eu

It is Syriza’s way of saying Don’t push it, we’ve got other options. It also sends a message that there’s been a clear shift in the geopolitical landscape across Europe — seen for example in Spain by the rise of Podemo; that should the EU try imposing more sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis, Greece as a member of the EU could veto such sanctions.

However, one sentiments common to even Greece’s sympathisers is a realisation that if the Troika do not act to avert what is an almost certain crisis, and in the absence of an alternative cash injection from somewhere, much trouble lies ahead.

According to Ben Wright, writing on the Telegraph:

If more bailout cash isn’t released soon, the Greek government will have to start issuing IOUs promising to pay the holder in euros at a future date. It wouldn’t take long for these notes to start trading at a discount to their face value on the secondary markets. Greece would then be forced to impose capital controls preventing people from shipping real euros out of the country. It would effectively have reintroduced the drachma in all but name.

Paul Mason:

If Greece is forced into an accidental default, damage to the euro project and to the EU’s image would be massive. A central bank seen to be colluding in the bankruptcy of banks it is supposed to supervise, and willing the breakup of a currency union it is supposed to be

Amidst all these signs of impending doom, it must be emphasized that the Greek economy has for decades suffered from speculators, tax evasion, an underground economy, corruption, nepotism, and bad governance compounded by unhelpful economic policies. Syriza is in fact part of the solution that could move the country away from these ills. They are not the problem (as many on the right seem to think).

Thus, what of Greece developing ever closer trade links not only with Russia and China, but also with African countries? Perhaps as a way of reducing Greece’s expenditure and finding new markets for Greece’s exports. Imagine if Greece increased its trade substantially with resource rich countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Tanzania.

Current problems facing Greece’s economy may present it with an opportunity to develop economic partnerships with African countries. Relationships that could solidify into greater economic partnerships down the line. There are at least five reasons why such relationships could be mutually beneficial.

1. Greece could benefit from relatively cheaper raw materials from Africa

When the IMF are demanding huge sums in debt repayment, as Greece had to fork out, the last thing the country needs is to be spending money it does not have on things that are cheaper elsewhere.

Greece could begin sourcing its fuels from West and North Africa. This year alone, the fuel import bill in Greece is expected to reach $19.5 billion. With Nigeria recently awarding most of its long-term oil contracts (worth an estimated $40 billion a year) to local companies, Greece would be best advised to partner with some of these companies in trying to lower its fuels import bill. Greece could do more by talking to countries such as Morocco and Egypt over the prospect of developing solar farms located in their deserts, although this may be a long-term consideration.

2. African countries could benefit from Greek expertise

African countries need equipment, ships for transportation of goods and people, manufacturing equipment for goods ranging from paints and cement, to chemicals and  medical equipment to name a few. Greece could also begin training doctors, nurses, teachers and other professions which are in short supply across Sub-Saharan Africa (many African countries have a critical shortage of trained medical personnel. In Zimbabwe for example, there is one doctor for every 6250 people (**2004 data) and in Uganda, the figures are one doctor to 24, 745 people). It will create jobs for Greek citizens, and will enable technology and knowledge transfer to countries in the most disadvantaged parts of the world.

For example, the UK gains £8.5 billion annually from overseas students .

[su_pullquote]More than 25 per cent of immigrants to Britain are students, compared with 20 per cent five years ago. The influx follows concerted efforts by many higher education institutions to market their wares abroad and boost their income.[/su_pullquote]

Yet with the current divisive and xenophobic rhetoric in British politics, many people who would otherwise have sent their children to the UK to study, will be looking at alternatives elsewhere; to countries where they will not be the object of racist rhetoric for every single problem that the country faces. Greece could take advantage of such a shift and position its higher education sector to attract international students from far and wide in fields such as Medicine & Health sciences, Law, Engineering, Mathematics, Physics, Pharmacy and Dentistry. And here Greece is already at an advantage. It has skilled professionals – for example, UK hosts many Greek lecturers and dentists. So it is probably fair to conclude that Greece has a sizeable pool of nationals who are not only educated, but can also speak English – meaning prospective students applying to Greek Universities will not have to learn Greek as a prerequisite to study in Greek Universities.

3. Greece should increase its exports to African countries by offering quality products at more competitive prices than those offered elsewhere in Europe.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, and the liberalisation of Eastern European markets, Greek exports to Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) increased from  14.5% in 1995 to about 25% in 2001. With a good strategy, similar trade volumes could be achieved in trade links with African economies?

Greece-Exports

Right now Greece finds itself in a place many African countries have been in for decades. Most African countries became independent after long periods of oppression in which a considerable and inestimable amount of their wealth was plundered by colonial institutions (the likes of the East India company) for the benefit of their colonial masters. After becoming independent, with no industry (so no tax base), yet huge private enterprise interests belonging to foreign nationals, they struggled to raise enough funds to finance government functions, failing to create independent institutions. The lack of money fuelled corruption and nepotism, and meant that they needed to borrow funds from somewhere (organisations like the IMF – which emphasized austerity and cuts over growth of the economy). So these countries borrowed, and borrowed, only for their debts to increase exponentially, to a point they could not be repaid, let alone serviced. Many were then asked to liberalise their economies, selling critical assets to foreign corporations, weakening yet again their already precarious positions. Debts were cancelled and replaced with more loans, but because the states owned very little means of generating an income, they still had to borrow money. Further, the corporations which bought state assets used international law and other schemes to shift profits out of the African countries, depriving these countries of critical foreign exchange and also avoiding paying tax. This vicious cycle continues until today in most parts of Africa, with austerity policies only serving to harm the poorest in society.

What was needed for those African countries soon after independence (as is what is now needed for Greece) was growth of industry and diversification of their economies (to grow the tax base). Further, they needed value addition (enabling raw materials to be processed before export – thereby attracting more competitive prices), an end to illicit financial outflows, investment in infrastructure, and the creation of entrepreneur friendly environments where innovators could thrive. Greece could play an instrumental role in helping African countries meet such aims, and in the process further diversify its own economy.

4. The countries which suffered atrocities as a result of war, colonialism and other exploitative practices need to form a strong block to demand redress to their grievances.

5,200 Kenyans have recently been awarded £21.5 million from the British government over its role in the quashing of the Mau Mau uprising, in which many of the Kenyans were tortured or abused.

Yet there remains other African countries which have for many years requested reparations for age-old atrocities, to no avail.

Greece’s claim for $ 300 billion from Germany could add more weight and legitimacy to such a movement. Greece could form a multilateral block to which other countries can join, and together they would request (perhaps via the UN) that the economic imbalances created by war, colonialism and other exploitative practices, which saw some countries gain a huge unfair economic advantage over other countries, to be squarely addressed by reparations and other measures.

5. Syriza’s socialist policies can provide a template for African countries to take charge of their economies

The compromise which Varoufakis is seeking is justified primarily because there has been a long overdue need not only in Europe but across the world to balance up the economic situation of countries, whose economies were disadvantaged by circumstances beyond their control.

For example, many developing countries have for long suffered the effects of illicit financial outflows (according to some estimates up to US$1 trillion annually) but have been unable to raise the funding, drum-up the support, or have the partnerships that would enable them to break free from the malaise created by such chains. The effect is that they fail to raise sufficient funds from tax collection to be able to invest in their economies. So there’s under-investment in almost every important sector of public spending from infrastructure maintenance and development, to education, healthcare and national security. The consequences are that crime is usually on the increase, lack of infrastructure deters foreign investment (which affects the number of jobs), and lack of resources in healthcare means most hospitals have no medicines or sufficient staff and therefore fail to function.

Today Greece finds itself in a position where a multibillion dollar bailout has gone to private and European banks (exactly the same people who created / exacerbated the 2008 -2009 financial mess Europe finds itself in). Those banks and other corporations are often the prime candidates who make illicit financial outflows happen, and who on top of the tax evasion they are already notorious of facilitating, charge high interest which impacts much smaller businesses. And yet innocent people are being forced to pay for the mess others created??

If Greece can partner with Russia and China (whose new Development Bank could be useful), and various institutions in emerging economies, they could create a strong enough lobby which will have the authority to demand a change of the financial rules that benefit corporations over developing countries.

One would hope that Greece reaches a new deal with its creditors on April 24, when the Eurogroup decides whether to accept the country’s new debt proposal. But irrespective of whether such a deal is concluded or not, maybe it’s time to look south.

/This article was first published on African Patriot Website/

Inequality in graphs and images

Lately, talk of inequality has dominated the media. Everybody is talking about it. Probably because of this year’s Davos Summit, but everyone seems to be keen on reminding us just how economically unbalanced the world is. Just how a few people own huge amounts of wealth, while the rest live on breadcrumbs.

Global Wealth 14Yesterday, it seems Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England entered the fray, when he said:

“Without this risk sharing, the euro area finds itself in an odd position,”

While the context of Mr Carney’s statement may have been different to the subject of this post, and directed more to institutions on a country level, on a personal level, I don’t believe in the RobinHoodesque notion of ‘stealing’ from the rich to give to the poor. I don’t believe that such an approach works because it’s a dangerous idea that is not only open to abuse, but that can backfire. And before you jump on me and criticise my socialist credentials, let me qualify it.

I know inequality is real, and I know its crippling effects on people and communities across the world, especially in poor countries.

My contention is that if people work hard to earn their money, if they pay their taxes and do not accrue wealth using dodgy (or outright illegal means); if they do not use tax havens or other immoral ways of depriving governments of the much-needed lifeblood of corporation tax; if these business magnets are no more than scions bequeathed of inherited blood money (money tarnished with the proceeds of slavery and colonisation), if they have earned their way to the top, why should anybody sensible think it is a good idea to take it away from them?

Why!?

wealth-gap-2I believe in fairness, I believe that corporations must pay their fair share in taxes. That the government must act in the interests of the people, not just working for the interests of corporations. I believe that those who are rich, or who have the means, must do more to help the disadvantaged – whose spending ironically often drives the profits. Doing all these things will likely lead to less inequality, less strife, and better social harmony.

And here’s why:

If you look at recent events, not only comments made at Davos, what you find is that it’s not so much that the money isn’t there. Instead the problem is that the money which is made on the back of extremely liberal national and international tax regimes – is stashed away in enclaves where cash-strapped governments be they in Africa or elsewhere cannot get to it.

As a result the government cannot sufficiently invest in services, cannot create jobs or help those at the bottom of the pyramid improve their lives. This increases inequality, including spurning side effects such as crime and social unrest.

So then, where’s a good place to start, when addressing this problem of inequality?:-

1. Change the laws to ensure that companies pay a fair share in taxes from the revenues they generate.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Essentially, it also means being firm with tax havens to reveal the sources of blood money or any untaxed funds.

offshore_tax_jurisdictions

2. Crack down on corruption, and stop illicit financial outflows.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

3. Streamline services (a streamlined small government that is cheaper and efficient to run is preferrable to an inefficient large and bloated government that is expensive to run).

4. Stop unnecessary privatisation. But encourage responsible Investment

US_Africa_Summit_Day_1If you privatize everything, from where will the state earn its income??

Everybody knows that employment tax revenues are not a sufficient revenue source. That’s why there are so many governments across the world that have budget deficits, simply because all the tax companies pay plus the tax their employees pay – IS NOT ENOUGH to sustain all the functions of government. From Britain, the US, France, Ireland, Italy and Greece to South Africa, Malawi,  Ethiopia and Mozambique, and many others, budget deficits and debt are commonplace. As a consequence most of these countries fail to adequately invest in healthcare, in poverty alleviation, in education, in job creation for young people, in women’s health and advancement…because there isn’t enough money coming into the government coffers for them to spend on these things.

Simply put, the state has no full-time job and is only employed part-time. So how the hell can it spend, or raise its family properly?

5. Instead of privatisation, countries should enter into joint venture partnerships with businesses, for win-win deals because these will not only provide tax revenues from employment tax, and corporation tax,  but will additionally earn the government dividends (which can be significantly higher than corporation tax and employment tax combined).

CossartDevelopment_webfg2

It also means deals that involve raw materials should principally benefit the people of the country in which the raw material is first (NOTE I’m not using ‘politicians’ or a country’s leaders here. Contracts must benefit the people not a handful of politicians). As I like to put it, when was the last time an African mining company was given a 70% mining/ oil drilling stake in Europe or the Americas?

africas-natural-resource-wealth6. Empower young people by training them to acquire advanced entrepreneurial skills so that they become assets capable of adding real value to communities.

Providing Aid is not good enough, emphasis on ‘Trade not Aid’ (other than Fairtrade or better) is becoming cliché. Further, I think the advantages of possessing a first degree are overstated. In my experience they rarely equip students with entrepreneurial skills.

business-paper-clipWhat is required to begin denting inequality is to train young people to be ‘go-getters’. And that is a different ball game altogether over and above merely providing a quality education.

7. Finally invest in services (hospitals, transport, policing and security, infrastructure, the youth and women, etc) including investing in things like ecofriendly energy. Because if everybody paid their dues, such investment would create jobs. And they’d be enough funds for people to receive living wages.