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/

Who should we believe on Ukraine: East or West?

The rhetoric coming from the West especially the USA is that Russia is supporting the pro-Russian rebels with weapons and men. The conflict has seen shell battles between the Ukrainian government forces and the pro-Russian rebels, struggling to gain foothold in the eastern major towns of Ukraine such as Luhansk, Debaltseve and Donetsk. As a new ceasefire is in place, America’s foreign secretary has warned Russia to stop aiding the rebels or face further isolation and economic sanctions. However, the US and other major Western states have constantly  made the accusation that Russia is providing the rebels with military material in the absence of evidence. The only evidence provided are satellite images which appear pixelated and purportedly showing heavy Russian military hardware in Ukraine. But can America and their cronies’ accusations be trusted?

On the 12th September of 2002, George Bush addressed the United Nations’ General Assembly on the threat that Saddam posed for the world. In his own words George Bush said,

Delegates to the General Assembly, we have been more than patient. We’ve tried sanctions. We’ve tried the carrot of oil for food, and the stick of coalition military strikes. But Saddam Hussein has defied all these efforts and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. The first time we may be completely certain he has a nuclear weapon is when, God forbid, he uses one.’

12 days later, on 24th September 2002, the UK Government of Tony Blair published a dossier which accused Saddam Hussein of stockpiling Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) that were a threat to the world. Blair in the foreword of the dossier wrote,

In recent months, I have been increasingly alarmed by the evidence from inside Iraq that despite sanctions, despite the damage done to his capability in the past, despite the UN Security Council Resolutions expressly outlawing it, and despite his denials, Saddam Hussein is continuing to develop WMDs, and with them the ability to inflict real damage upon the region, and the stability of the world.’

That October, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)  released a detailed report on how the Iraqi government continued with WMD programmes in the biological, chemical, nuclear and missiles field.

Retired Army General, Norman Shwarzkopf agreed with the general rhetoric that Saddam had WMDs and he said,

If we invade Iraq and the regime is very close to falling, I’m very, very concerned that the Iraqis will, in fact, use weapons of mass destruction.’

At some point, Condoleeza Rice even claimed that there was substantial evidence to prove that Saddam’s Ba’ath Party had strong links with Al-Qaeda. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and other important dignitaries in the USA, all warned of a Saddam Hussein who was nearing completion of his nuclear weapons programme.

Earlier, on September 9, the Australian Prime Minister John Howard also demonstrated his support through his speech,

‘..There’s no doubt, on the evidence of the intelligence material presented to us, that not only does Iraq possess chemical and biological weapons, but Iraq also has not abandoned her nuclear aspirations.’

Prime Minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, appealed to European nations and the US to stand together in ridding Hussein of WMDS,

Europe and the United States must stand together in…preventing tyrannical and irresponsible regimes…[from] having weapons of mass destruction… Iraq is ruled by such a regime… The United Nations must live up to its responsibility to stop the spreading of the weapons of mass destruction. It will be too late when the toxic gases have…spread over one of our cities…’

The list of western leaders who supported the evidence that Saddam was stockpiling WMDs, and was willing to deploy them in conventional warfare with other countries, is endless. Despite the efforts of Russia, India, Iran, China and France to settle the matter with UN inspectors to assess the situation on the ground in Iraq, war was on the table.

The USA and allies attacked Iraq on 19th March 2003, and the war known as the ‘Iraq War’ only lasted up to 9 April. The Iraqi army was heavily defeated in 21 days, but all the purported stockpiles of WMDs in Iraq were nowhere to be found. The evidence provided by the British and American government was proven to be false when it was found that Saddam had no WMDs. The rhetoric suddenly changed to that of liberation and freeing Iraqi’s of a cruel dictator!

Earlier in 2003, BBC Radio 4’s Andrew Gilligan aired a programme that suggested that the ‘dossier’ commissioned by Prime minister Blair, which made the case for the Iraq war was exaggerated. Gilligan claimed to have had a high-ranking source in the government who imparted the claim that Iraq could launch WMDs in a matter of 45 minutes. This claim even though it came from an unreliable source, was published in the dossier to warn of Iraq’s capabilities of WMDs. Gilligan was later grilled by MPs  to name his source but refused to reveal the name of his source. Later on a government Scientist David Kelly admitted to having met Gilligan but claimed that he believed he was not Gilligan’s source. The Hutton Inquiry was set up to investigate the issue, and Andrew Gilligan and David Kelly were quizzed on the matter.

Gilligan later wrote of his experience with the ‘dossier’ issue on a column in the guardian newspaper,

I thought, a realistic idea of how politicians, intelligence officers and civil servants behaved. But over the months and years that followed, my views, and those of most of the country, changed. To borrow the famous words of David Astor over Suez, we had not realised that our government was capable of such folly and such crookedness.’

Today, although the leaders may have changed, it is essentially the same western governments who used false information over Iraq making claims that Russia is aiding the rebels in Eastern Ukraine with satellite image evidence that is unreliable at best. The Russian government has always challenged the notion that they are aiding the rebels, and have requested credible evidence from those states that believe they are complicit in the Ukraine crisis.

This challenge could be genuine, or it could be false.

In truth Ukraine and Russia share a very long border at 1,426 miles. Under any circumstances, it can’t possibly be an easy task monitoring against proliferation such a long border that is spread over rural (and in some cases remote) terrain. Not when your government is short of money as Kiev has been in recent months – relying on multi-billion euro loans from the EU to run its economy. Thus, it is probable that some equipment and military personnel slipped through the border into eastern Ukraine.

Still no state has produced any reliable evidence showing Russian troops aiding pro-Russian rebels in East Ukraine, and Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) not too long ago concluded that there was no evidence of Russian military equipment or personnel during the period in which they were monitoring the area. And yet many large media organisations such as FOX continue to claim that Russia is aiding the pro-Russian rebels with sophisticated military hardware, conveniently ignoring claims that some English-speaking people are fighting in Ukraine.

And at the front of this media campaign is the US Government, with the US Foreign Secretary John Kerry saying that the Russian government has been lying about its involvement in Ukraine. Even Obama mentioned ‘Russian aggression’ as a threat to the US. However, world-renowned linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky, alludes to the lies of western politicians in this video here. He correctly makes the important point that Ukraine is right at the core of Russia’s geostrategic concerns, and to have NATO usurp Ukraine is not only a treachery, but a serious threat to Russia’s security.

Consequently, events that saw Crimea annexed by Russia prove that Russia is not an innocent bystander. Russia initially refused to admit that its military officials had entered Crimea, and were stirring unrest, even when there was some reliable evidence to support such a claim. But after the Crimean snap elections which saw it become a Federal state of Russia, they backtracked from their initial position and Vladimir Putin confirmed Russian involvement when he declared “Ofcourse, Russian servicemen backed the Crimean self-defense forces

Further, even in Ukraine there have been several video evidence emerge of Russian tanks in East Ukraine, including captured Russian soldiers – whose passports the president presented at the Minsk talks. In addition, several independent journalists have come forward claiming there was Russian presence in Ukraine. Still, these have been disputed by the Kremlin.

My question is, if the intelligence of the USA and its allies got it wrong with Saddam Hussein and WMD’s, how are we to trust them over the numerous claims they have made about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine? It is hard to believe such information because it was Blair’s dossier and the CIA’s report that ultimately convinced the world that Iraq had WMD’s and in the end, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians died over incorrect information. If anything, I believe the satellite images provided as evidence that Russia is aiding the separatists can be easily doctored in this age of technological advancement.

In this war of words and guerilla maneuvering between the East and the West, misinformation reins on both sides. Such misinformation has indeed reached dizzying new heights with unsubstantiated claims last week that Russia moved Saddam’s WMD’s to Syria. (See another link here making the same claim)

I believe neither side can be trusted to tell us the truth. It’s clear that there are agendas. Both sides have ulterior motives in the Ukraine crisis, as they tend to do everywhere else. Therefore, it would be equally erroneous for one to think that information coming out of Washington or London is always correct, as it is to believe Russia’s rhetoric on Ukraine. Even though looking at how Putin came back to lead Russia, after the placeholder that was Dmitry Medvedev, most people know he cannot be trusted. What was not always clear (and here if any of us forgot about some of the wars of the 20th century, then  remember Vietnam), is that the military engagements of the 21st Century will have opened our eyes to western leaders waging interests driven wars under the pretext of democracy and liberation.

Satans Neonazi Conmen (Part 2): To stay put + die / migrate but risk death + persecution

Sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it. Sometimes the law places the whole apparatus of judges, police, prisons and gendarmes at the service of the plunderers, and treats the victim – when he defends himself – as a criminal. Frederic Bastiat

Rich countries figured out long ago, if economies are not moving out of dead-end activities that only provide diminishing returns over time (primary agriculture and extractive activities such as mining, logging, and fisheries), and into activities that provide increasing returns over time (manufacturing and services), then you can’t really say they are developing – The Myth of Africa’s Rise – By Rick Rowden

It is better to be a lion for a day than a sheep all your life. ~Ghanaian Proverb

It’s a simple mathematical analysis almost every living human being is capable of making, and which nomadic tribes have used for survival for centuries :- Do I stay in my present environment and put up with this drought/ hunger/ deprivation/ corruption/ sh*t and risk death, or do I go somewhere else in search of greener pastures even though there are also dangers there. Which risk is a safer bet? Which risk is worth my life?

For some, the urgency of their situation, or the realisation that there has got to be something better in life than the status quo, than their miserable existence motivates them to take extremely challenging (or even reckless) risks (see here , here , here and here).

The result, some make it out successfully, while others still end up dead (Niger migrants’ bodies found near Algerian border – via BBC,  Substantial risks for African migrants ) while attempting to make it out. Some get to the new frontier but have to endure untold persecution for years; others make it out but find themselves victims of organised crime, while a smaller percentage eventually settle into a newer better life – one still littered with challenges.

This is a realisation which is difficult to explain” one man told me, a Somalian migrant who came to Britain 10 years ago “You have to experience it yourself to understand it

But why are people prepared to risk their lives for what is effectively a pie in the sky; a dream that may never materialise, or which may end up killing them – as it has killed thousands others in the past?

Well, some are running away from unpredictability of life, chronic economic deprivation, high death rates and low life expectancy. Living conditions that can partly be painted using the following pictures:

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Others are seeking new frontiers, and are wearied by the lack of educational opportunities in their own countries (educational opportunities that are narrow, often expensive – and beyond their reach – and that do not cater for a diverse range of skill sets). These people have resolved to find education elsewhere.

Some are fleeing from wars or military conflicts that have ripped apart their societies, setting one man against his brother; fighting on ethnic or religious lines, either for political or resources control. Else, they are victims of organised crime (Trafficking victims too often treated as immigration cases, say campaigners – via the Guardian) – manipulated and scammed into believing a better life awaits them on the other side of the sea. When they get to Europe – they face more persecution!

army-60720_640

Others are purely economic migrants in search for work and better pay because the rate of unemployment in their own countries is too high. Combine that with low wages and increasing cost of living and the picture couldn’t be more depressing. For this group, using the family’s savings to get to Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia or America is a safer bet than going months on end without a job. Some families literally bet all their earnings on a single son, with the hope that if he succeeds in reaching Europe, he can get a job and help them by sending money home to them. And if you look at countries such as Somalia where their youth unemployment rate for 14 -29 year olds hovers around 67%, you can easily see why this group prefers to leave. As Mohamed Ali says in this TED talk, there is a link between unemployment and terrorism.

Else, there are those who are sick and tired of the scheming, lies and broken promises from the political classes. This group will often have waited for quite sometime before making a move, betting on one leader or another, hoping that real change that can transform their economic plight will arrive. When it doesn’t after decades of waiting, remaining in the country is not an option. In Malawi, president Joyce Banda, Africa’s second female president, who was warmly received by the international community less than 2 years ago, and who is a favourite to many leaders of Western countries, has been struggling to address a massive embezzlement scandal (see here and here) that has recently been uncovered at State House and in which millions of dollars were stolen from state coffers. Predictably, the beneficiaries of such dirty money are only a few hundred dodgy individuals-mostly those with links to the ruling party, whereas for the majority of citizens, living conditions have not improved in as many years, and in some cases they have worsened with reports of people dying because of lack of medicines, causing anger against the political elite and ruling PP party:

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Then there are the enlightened younger generation who are touted to be the hope of third world. Some of these are fortunate to have received a decent education in their own country (however remote such prospects may seem) or abroad, but are held back by lack of capital, demands of bribes from officials, issues such as regionalism, ageism, nepotism and other cancerous and backward biases. To this group, which is by far ‘better informed’ than the older generations, the idiocy of the political class, the massive corruption and fraud in government, the gaffes from political leaders, the lack of opportunities in society, the water cuts, blackouts / electricity shortage, the ignorance + backwardness of some sections of the older generation, increasing cost of living in the face of low wages, the high crime rates, social sentiments that are out of touch with global happenings in general, are all too much a burden to bear or live with. They look West, or move to developed countries which have better economic and social outcomes.

As an example, consider this statement which was made by a friend on a social media outlet:

“How can a Malawian lose when he/she give up the citizenship? After all some Malawians are treated like second class citizens (Scums) in their own land just because they are coming from certain region. I remember one Malawi head of state said, “Who cares about you in this country all you contribute is 25% to this nation development.” Referring to people from certain region. Thank God he was arrested by nature. Malawi will never develop because people who can really develop the nation are completely outnumbered.”

The numbers of those trying to get to Europe illegally may be high but as I stated in my earlier post, not everyone can live in Europe or North America. And indeed not everyone must want to live in Europe or North America. The countries on these continents have finite resources and mass migration puts a strain on their medical services, and on social and welfare services. Schools can become overcrowded, and native populations can find it difficult to adjust to the newcomers. Further, the culture is different – some may not like what they find. But to top it all,  in the long run, uncontrolled migration is bound to be unsustainable.

However, the solution can never be subjecting migrants (most of whom have genuine grievances) to harsh and inhumane hostile treatment. That does not target the root of the problem – it only causes suffering and creates enmity.

In my view, while there is a historical aspect to migration (which I will explore in my next and final installment) there are things western governments can do to reduce the numbers of migrants that attempt to leave their home countries (‘source countries’) :

1. Government policies on migration should place people at the centre in that there must be realistic alternatives on home soil.

“At its heart, migration is fundamentally about human beings” – Navi Pillay

It may seem like an obvious thing to say but potential migrants living in developing countries must be given an alternative. And if for whatever reason their own government is non-existent (as the Somalian government was for a very long time), incapable or under-resourced such that it cannot provide them with better opportunities – others must decisively step in. Only then will illegal immigration begin to be curbed. Essentially this means that people in a place like Mogadishu must have a realistic shot at life (affordable food; decent educational opportunities; availability of microfinance; adequate security; accessible and affordable healthcare, etc).

A choice between something pleasant and decent – and the journey that could kill them.

This also means that more resources should be poured into challenging extremism, and these resources must be well-administered to ensure that they reach the point-of-need and are not embezzled by corrupt politicians/ officials.

In a discussion with a friend the other day he said something simple but profound:

If you are sending £600 million in aid to Pakistan, are you then monitoring how that money is being spent, or do you then just look away and assume it will be spent properly?” he said

“How can extremism be defeated if there is no accountability from both the donor and the recipient of the funds?”

On this point, while the US and other western powers are withdrawing their forces from Afghanistan and Iraq, wouldn’t it be a good idea for a battalion or two (with the help of Nato or even the likes of Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran) to get into Somalia and other countries who are considered to be breeding grounds for extremism, to assist the anti-terrorism efforts against the likes of Al-Shabaab.

2. Most people don’t like to live away from their home country, their birth place, but as can be seen above, sometimes circumstances force them to leave. In order for illegal immigration to decrease, there must be better awareness in the home country from where the migrants originate. Instead of european border agencies focussing primarily on questionable measures to discourage illegal immigration, their governments should invest in training to be provided in the home countries of the migrants, to inform the local public of the dangers of illegal migration and what conditions illegal migrants live in. As involving as this may sound, if the national government of an African country such as Niger is unlikely to provide such information, isn’t it sensible for the destination country that will bear the burden of the arrivals to make it a point to do something before people think of leaving? In my view, this system would have much positive outcomes than harassing migrants who are already in Europe/ Australia.

3. Criminal organisations that encourage or fraudulently deceive people into believing that migration will give them a better life must be apprehended. There are no two ways about this-if there are 10,000 criminals trafficking people, then 10,000 must be imprisoned.

Unless the criminals who are encouraging illegal migration and who are providing the means, the actual transportation are caught and put behind bars, and kept there, it will be difficult to stop illegal migration. This also means financing and working with the ‘source countries’ to upgrade their national laws to ensure that such crimes have prohibitive penalties/ jail sentences that are long – giving a clear message.

4. Greater and more equal distribution / sharing of resources:

Western countries must change tactics in the fight against poverty. Most experts agree that ending poverty is key to solving many of the problems afflicting the continent of Africa. But few ever agree on a specific course of action. In my view, there are some ideas that can work better than others, and some ideas have been tried with little or no success.

If people can find a decent job in their own backyard, which can give them a relatively decent lifestyle, or if they can take out a loan to start a small business (and receive support from institutions that can help them succeed), why would they want to risk death for a dream they may never attain? As some argue, Is trade not aid, the answer for Africa? I believe there has to be a fundamental shift in the way western countries deal with Africa and other third world countries in that more focus should be given to getting  people financially independent (irrespective of who is leading the country), and not on the country’s resources. If people are empowered with the means to carve an existence, they will be better equipped to address the bad politics in their country.

Western governments must stop tolerating or financing mediocre and thoughtless leaders that are depriving their local populations of even the basics.

As I hinted here (and here), the quickest way to do this is to begin Research centres / Universities across Africa, with the hope that these will spur innovation in the form of sustainable industries around or alongside them – as has often happened with Universities in most western countries.

‘Working research centres’ focussing on sustainability and green technologies, or ‘Manufacturing Universities’ that make actual products designed for the African market can be built and funded to churn out a breed of African innovators.

Examples of products that can be manufactured here are Mosquito nets, Medicines, Animal feed, Juice extraction and manufacture, Software development, Manufacture of composite materials made from recycled products, Solar panel manufacture and suchlike.

5. Common problems that are hampering the progress of developing countries must be addressed. This also includes regulation of businesses at UN level to ensure that corporations that set up in places like Africa do not take advantage of weaker laws or crooked officials to sign backdoor deals at the expense of the local population, depriving the country of essential tax revenues.

6. The risks and Benefits of migration must be shared.

‘This Article argues that the global welfare gains from migration can be divided in a way that makes all stakeholders better off. It develops the idea of a “Migration Fund” that is used to insure the destination country against fiscally induced or otherwise undesirable migration while simultaneously serving as a mechanism to compensate the source country for the potential adverse effects of outward migration…’

7. Pathways of citizenship for migrants already in the destination country must be created. Most of these people have already suffered painful and unbelievable ordeals – why make them suffer more? Further, most of these people are instrumental in sending huge amounts of money back to their own countries. Some of that money fulfills the purposes laid bare above, and it is in the interest of the host country that this financial outflows continue.

8. Racism must be untaught. The more people in first world countries appreciate that migrants are humans just like them – in almost every other way, the less bias / discrimination there will be in society (irrespective of whether that society happens to be in a first world country, a developed country or in a third world country). There is no substitute to tolerance.

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Where is Africa’s manufacturing?

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I prefer to ask (and answer) the above question, that references to the ‘stage’ or ‘point’ (not physical location) when asked ‘Why is Africa not manufacturing?’ . I’ve been asked this question so many times, by people beffudled as to how Africa pretty much fails where everybody else has succeeded. The reason I prefer to answer the above question is because unlike popular belief Africa is in fact manufacturing, just not as much as everyone else, and just not always visibly (you don’t hear these stories on Tv, and they are rarely in the mainstream media publications – unless you read FT – although that’s arguably not mainstream)

Similar to the questions of manufacturing is that of whether the skills for the establishment of a bigger manufacturing sector are readily available for investors to tap into?

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I’ll start with the bad news:- If the skills are available on the continent, then as things stand, they are in severe shortage and are not really of African origin. According to research from OECD [see BBC link here], by the end of this decade (emphasis required, that’s by 2020) 4 of every 10 young graduate is going to be either from India or China. Looking at the list of countries listed, not even a single one is an African country. What does that say? Well, a number of things; that we are not producing enough graduates, or that the number of African graduates with skill sets (and of a high calibre) who can compete with their contemporaries from Chinese and Indian universities is comparatively insignificant. Which is worrying, because it essentially means Africa’s manufacturing is nowhere, or only material if driven and held together by non-African effectors.

In the past the Education of Africans has received very little support from those who should know better. Most dictators who took over from the colonialists did too little to maintain the standard and level of Education (or Higher Education) across Africa, focussing instead of consolidating their rule. With a few exceptions, multiparty governments that came after dictatorships followed suit, by not investing anywhere near enough as was necessary. The donors that were bed-fellows with the dictators (and those that came after) arguably weren’t as sympathetic or visionary. According to an ESSA paper (quoted in this paper titled “THE ROLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION IN AFRICA” by Prof.Dr.Birgit Brock-Utne of the Institute for Educational Research at the University of Oslo) the World Bank once viewed Higher Education in Africa as a luxury:

“To meet minimally acceptable targets for coverage and quality of lower levels of education in most countries, as a general rule the tertiary sub sector’s share of stagnant real public education expenditures cannot expand further, and in some cases may have to contract. Some combination of efficiency improvements, increased private contribution to costs, and constrained growth of – in some countries and fields, outright cutback in – production of graduates must be sought.” (World Bank 1988: 95)

Expenditure on education was merely a self-serving budgetary exercise, and it didn’t matter what the result was, or whether indeed Africa would be ‘left-behind’ as a direct consequence of the under-investment, what mattered was only that money had been saved.

Without research into what their policy position currently is, I wouldn’t be able to tell you whether this view has changed or not.

Investors with the means have been to put it mildly, shy of investing on the continent let alone into skills development. A paper by a researcher named Paul Bennell which addresses the issue of whether structural adjustments programs ( these are those stringent rules imposed on African countries as part of loan agreements from the likes of IMF and World Bank) over a 15 year period have indeed achieved the desired response (i.e. increasing foreign investment in the hope of triggering technology transfer from the industrialized countries to Africa) paints a depressing picture. To quote Bennell (via this link):

Surprisingly, the share of net earnings from UK manufacturing investments in Africa remitted each year to the UK was higher than the global average between 1985 and 1990 . . . While UK companies have been keen to reinvest very sizable proportions of their profits in North America, Europe and Asia, investment opportunities in manufacturing have generally been very limited in Africa and thus, given the option, most parent companies would like to remit the bulk of subsidiary profits from the region

In other words, Africa was where you went to make your money, and not a place to reinvest your profits.

But it isn’t all bad news.

Recently, the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) approved a US$ 45 million grant for the creation of a Pan African University (PAU) that will consist of five Pan African Institutes focussing mainly on science, technology and innovation. The background to the story reads:

Africa has only 35 scientists and engineers per million inhabitants, compared with 168 for Brazil, 2,457 for Europe and 4,103 for the United States. Shortage of skills has been a major constraint to Africa’s progress in science, technology and innovation. Due to low investment in research and development, Africa ranks low in global competitiveness and productivity. African students tend to opt for economics, business, law and social sciences rather than science, engineering and technology, hampering the continent’s competitiveness and growth. The result is a mismatch between skills produced and private sector jobs.

While one would hope this initiative will be a success, and the Institutes will not falter under the common problems that beset universities and research institutions across much of Africa, it will be interesting to see how this develops.

As is well understood universally, innovation is the lifeblood of industry, and without the creation of ground-breaking and new products,  a country cannot advance or gain a competitive advantage. It was the case during the industrial revolution, during the rise of countries such as Germany, Russia, Japan and even Brazil. The exception (only to an extent) to this rule appears to be China, but that’s for a whole load of other reasons that distinguish it from the rest of mankind

But as the African Development Bank correctly observed above, in order to create ground-breaking innovations and products, and in order to influence global scientific research and technology, you need a skilled workforce. That’s why  the AfDB initiative represents a realignment of Africa’s potential in the right direction.

Across Africa, there are many success stories that are truly inspirational, although as i stated above, these are not shouted about in the mainstream media. One such inspirational story is that of Fabrinox, a south African company manufacturing sheet metal that was formed in 1993, and that has seen turnover in recent years hit US$5.8 million. Asked what had been the best decision he had made to grow his company, the company founder says:

To have followed the advice of my business mentor Johan Beyers to not restrict Fabrinox and its people to one geographical area, product or service, but to take a global view in running the business. For instance, it means that we think globally in terms of our supply chain, and are most willing to service clients beyond the boundaries of the Western Cape province in which we are located, and South Africa for that matter.

In addition to such success stories, there are also many partnerships between foreign manufacturers and agricultural producers across Africa, and some of those partnerships are genuinely beneficial to Africans. Who knows maybe some of these could one day pave way for an African manufacturing industry of its own, if some haven’t began to do so already? After all, manufacturing in industries such as motorcycle build and assembly in China began when after purchasing equipment from Japan, the Chinese assemblers began to modify the Japanese made components; fast forward a couple of decades, and China was making its own motorcycles which essentially were improvements (i.e. “innovations” more or less) of the original Japanese models.

The partnerships article above correctly points out that:

The level of mechanisation in African farming is still very low. Kenya had 25 tractors per 100 square kilometres of arable land in 2009 while Nigeria has almost seven, according to the most recent data from World Bank. That compares with an average of 271 machines in the US.

There are also some manufacturers who are looking towards Africa not because it’s ideal, but because they are getting sick and tired of the happenings in Asia (workplace safety that in recent years has become a major issue, levels of corruption, the increasing fees demanded by some factory owners, etc)

But before anybody gets too excited, look, the Chinese are planning on setting up shop in Africa! (see here and here). Although here one must wonder, does that mean Chinese labour (as they have been known to do in some African countries across the continent) or will these factories use African labour?

As for the power that will drive everything and get every bit of machinery working (in some countries – putting an end to years of intermittent blackouts), that’s about to get much more exciting. At least that’s what Obama seems to be saying.