TTIP: The Obscure Legal System that lets Corporations sue Countries

The Obscure Legal System that lets Corporations Sue Countries – Guardian

The Secrets and Lies of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Read the above articles, and tell me what you think.

If something is indeed harmless, and honest and for the greater good of humanity, if it is beneficial to society …or the even the people of a country, or group of countries, why would it need to be so draconian? So lacking in transparency? Why would something that has measures that benefit people of both rich and smaller countries, and that does not prey on weak government be negotiated so secretly?

What are they trying to hide? If it were such a good deal, and such a good idea, why would so many people across the world be against it?

Watch this video in which Noam Chomsky addresses some of the issues with the TTIP and TPP, amidst other concerns.

Someone on another forum mentioned that there is GATT, the trade agreement that brought  the WTO, and they wondered why anyone would want something else? If the aims of the TTIP were legitimate, not predatory, if it was not self-serving but in the interests of global or US-EU trade, why not use GATT to facilitate such new relationships? Or why not sign bilateral agreements?

If it is genuinely trade you are trying to stimulate, surely you should be able to use the legal instruments that are already available, and that are designed to protect both citizens of countries and private enterprise? You should be able to operate within international laws, why create a legal procedure not subject to the laws or courts of sovereign states?

In any case, which fool thought the idea of making an agreement that would give far-reaching powers to corporations, enabling them to sue countries on the basis of ‘future profits’ would be such a good idea?? Which idiot came up with that fallacy?

The whole thing is sinister…totally undemocratic, and President Barack Obama should be ashamed of supporting it. This agreement is the kind of thing you would expect from a sadistic and tyrannical psycho that derives pleasure from the death of the weak and innocent. It’s not something sensible people and well-meaning politicians would come up with.

And why would I say that?

In the article above, we are told that Ecuador, as a result of cancelling an oil-exploration contract has been ordered to pay $1.8 billion to Occidental Petroleum, and that the money is equivalent to the annual health budget of the country? Ecuador  is not a rich country and many people live in poverty. Their leaders face the same challenges our leaders face in Africa, including in Malawi.

But even if they were rich, considering the $1.8 billion that is being demanded, isn’t this backdoor robbery? I mean, should corporations be allowed to be more powerful than entire states such that they have preeminence over the will of the government or the people of that country?

How can that be possibly fair, or lawful?

What about the law of the land, the people who live in the country, their country? Shouldn’t they get to have a say as to what happens in their country? Whether a mine is built or not. Whether Oil is extracted or not. Who gets to have the lions share of a particular resource? In any case, they are the ones who own the resources. It’s their country…

In my view, these kinds of agreements are nothing but backdoor schemes designed to steal resources of countries at the expense of their citizenry. They are the embodiment of tyranny against people of both rich and poorer countries; an extension of the negative aspects of capitalism. The TTIP and TPP are designed to enable corporations and the elite to accumulate more wealth and power, and oppress citizens and steal from countries; whether intentional or not, that is the effect.

The TTIP and TTP must be opposed.

I once sat next to a big oil company executive on a long-haul flight, after an explosion at one of his company’s refineries, which killed a number of people. I was on my way to speak at an event that his company was banned from. I asked the man how he felt about this. He gave a refreshingly frank answer. “Corporations are driven by one thing, making as much profit as possible. If they’re socially responsible in the process, that’s dandy. If not, too bad. Either way profit comes before people and planet”. That’s why the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is so toxic… In their quest for profit at any cost, corporations strive for two things, new markets and deregulation. In reality, regulation is what keeps corporations, some of whom are richer and more powerful than countries, in check. The move in the US and the UK to deregulate financial markets was one of the main causal factors of the global financial crash. Regulation, however inconvenient to big businesses, has a crucial role in democracy and economic stability. It provides safeguards against exploitation and protects hard earned rights of the most vulnerable in society.

Another reason why Africans should own their own resources

man-40134_640Last week a well written article appeared on Al Jazeera arguing against the false and somewhat misleading picture of Corruption that is often put out by the western media. In it, it was suggested that over $900 billion a year is lost from developing to developed nations through tax evasion and illicit financial outflows. While this is a major problem for Africa, as was pointed out several years ago by Kofi Annan here, another reason which results in these outflows is that very few major industry (million dollar revenue generating) in Africa is in fact owned by Africans.

The combination of imperialist colonial legacies, poverty, a lack of capital, insufficient education, corruption, plain hypocrisy and other factors has resulted in a state of affairs whereby even capable Africans find it hard to buy into and run their continent’s biggest industries. While there are many Africans doing well in business throughout Africa, they are by far in the minority, and comparatively too few of them on the ground, than say the number of Canadians who own and control multi-million pound ventures within Canada, or say the number of Portuguese who own and control multi-million dollar companies in Portugal.

Thus, this picture inevitably creates an opportunity or gap for foreign corporations and investors to come in, and sweep away ownership of the whole lot – armed with huge amounts of capital. No surprise the profits end up everywhere else but in Africa…

In my view, far from the land grabs of Robert Mugabe (which others have tried to justify – see here and here), another reason in support of more Africans owning their continent’s industry is that doing so could mean that large amounts of money remain on the continent, to be used for education, health  -building hospitals and providing good wages for doctors, eliminating poverty, fighting corruption, policing and security, building infrustracture, improving the plight of women, investment in the youth, creating jobs, etc. It means essential capital is not being wired out to already rich countries. This in my view is a better strategy against poverty, than aid and handouts, whose monies are comparatively miniscule to the monies being siphoned from Africa.

According to the website of Britannia Mining Inc (a US company with operations in Canada and Malawi) here, the Nthale Iron Ore surface deposits which they found before 2009 are estimated from their geological survey to be at least 4.6 million tonnes in quantity. As often happens with these things, especially if we focus on the word ‘Surface’,in practice the deposits can be far larger than the estimate.

Last Friday, on the 7th of February 2014, before close of trading the price of Iron Ore on the international market was hovering around $125 per ton (see latest figures here). Whichever way this price goes (whether up or down) the next few years, 4.6 million tonnes at $125 per ton is still worth at least $575 million, a hefty sum by any measure. Even if we go with the 68% iron ore component indicated on their website, that’s still worth $391 million

Suppose Britannia Mining invested $100 million into Malawi, to cover processing the Ore, overheads including construction, logistics, wages, corporate governance activities, etc, (and it was proved that they had indeed invested such sums because sometimes businessmen overestimate the level of investment when the truth is much lower) I’d think the benefit to the Britannia would be significantly higher and disproportionately in their favour than in the favour of Malawians. Looking at previous examples of resource conflicts involving corporations in Africa, I seriously doubt that first they would invest such sums. Further, I doubt that Malawians or the Malawian government would benefit equally or at least proportionally from the resource. Which begs the question, who actually owns the resource?

As many others have opined elsewhere (see this for example), the unrestrained greed and unguarded capitalism of western businesses in Africa is causing a lot of damage and harm to Africa, and Africans. And that’s even before we get to what China is doing…

Even if the market price of Iron Ore dropped to say below $100, (say it dropped to $65, which is highly unlikely – the last time it hit $100/ ton was back in Aug 2012, and that was only for a very brief period of time), there would still be at least $300 million worth of deposits to be mined.

Don’t you think if the company that was exploiting the deposit was owned or part-owned (say 50%) by the Malawian government, or a group of Malawians, that the majority of the benefit of the resource would remain in the country, as opposed to being wired out of Malawi?

Post Paladin, and the tax outrage they caused when it was revealed that the Malawian tax authorities were missing out on tax revenues worth $200 million, how much tax have Britannia paid to the Malawian government so far, and how much have they made out of Nthale? The reason that question is crucial is because no level-headed Malawian is keen to see Malawi descend into a chaotic easy target where rich corporations (which are already wealthy and well resourced) come into the country and make billions, while the local population remains poor.

And if governments across the world do not speak against unrestrained greed, who will, seeing most governments in Africa are headed by people who have neither the will nor inclination to do so…?

Kenyatta + Branson
image from https://www.facebook.com/myuhurukenyatta

In my view, Africa needs trade partners who will help rebuild the continent, and not those looking for a quick buck, irrespective of the ethics of the means of acquiring that buck.

If you are looking to make money quick, stay away from Malawi. We don’t want get rich quick capitalists or investors. What Malawi needs are Responsible Capitalists, as opposed to a Liberal and unguarded Capitalists – a badge which brings to mind Halliburton’s Iraq heist (or even ILLOVO’s tax avoidance fiasco –  ILLOVO [which is British owned via Associated Foods Limited] is  company that last year posted a 43% rise in profits per share), an incident which it is fair to say has probably been responsible for not only much suffering, but also global unrest.

Depending on who you ask, its undeniable that corporate wrongdoing is currently happening, and the continent of Africa is being systematically ripped off. Yet there has to come a time when the tide turns, and the wrongdoing is forced to stop (sadly it’s not going to stop voluntarily). In the words of the African Development Bank president Donald Kaberuka here:

“The reality is, Africa is being ripped off big time …Africa wants to grow itself out of poverty through trade and investment – part of doing so is to ensure there is transparency and sound governance in the natural resources sector”

In my view this means rectification, and possibly includes learning lessons from those whose policies do not exacerbate the already bad situation; lessons from the likes of Brazil instead of blindly accepting unfair and discriminatory terms from organisations such as the IMF – whose policies towards the poor countries couldn’t be said to be favourable for local ownership of industry.

Maybe Malawi’s mining sector has more to learn from the likes of Vale and Debswana. Debswana is 50% owned by the Botswana government and 50% owned by De Beers. Vale is the world’s biggest producer of Iron Ore, and their profits recently doubled (Interestingly, in the same article Vale says the price of Iron Ore would hit $130 per ton, which it did, confirming the plausibility of my above little theory). They’ve seen an increase in production, which last year hit 73.4 million tonnes of Iron Ore. They are also a major tax contributor to the Brazilian government, with recent tax payments of $9.6 billion, far greater than anything any corporation have had to pay to an African government.

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14 African Countries Forced by France to Pay Colonial Tax

Its anybody’s guess how true some of the allegations in the link below are, but probably not something to read on a Saturday morning 😐 .

What is clear is that Western Countries like France have had a huge and unfair economic advantage over non-western countries, and some of their policies (which are precisely the policies which gave them that unfair economic advantage) towards former colonies were clearly and undeniably oppressive.

The reason I don’t buy the BS which goes something like:”Stop moaning, others like South Korea have moved on from the colonial bashing….and are now prosperous” is that unlike any of the African countries, South Korea got a huge grant of at least $3 billion dollars (others researchers say it was tens of billions of dollars: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/1/1/3/6/7/p113675_index.html ) between 1965 -73 to build up its economy.

So South Korea was given huge amounts of money to build its economy. It didn’t just happen accidentally. It is an ignorant fallacy to claim that with the problems facing African countries can just be transformed using aid, diplomacy or education.

I think, considering that western politicians have failed miserably to use aid to solve Africa’s major problems the last 60 years (not that it was their call to do so – but their predecessors were part of the problem that created unquantifiable damage to Africa), in so far as sustainability is concerned, so as to remedy Africa’s problems, it is most probably time for educated African entrepreneurs (not Politicians) to be given ‘reparatory grants’ to rebuild their countries’ economies. Anything short of massive and reparatory investment into Africa is unlikely to create sustainable economies where the Africans themselves are in charge, and in control of their countries economies. After years of study, observation and obsessive inquiry, I’m convinced this (or a derivative form thereof) has to be part of the equation to rectifying the troubles in Africa.

14 African Countries Forced by France to Pay Colonial Tax via Systemic Capital.com

Tax and Trade Wars

“There’s fool’s gold—pyrite—and then there’s fool’s gold—gold owned by idiots willing to trade it for worthless dollars.
”
― Jarod Kintz, This Book Has No Title

“The trouble with a mask is it never changes”  — Charles Bukowski

One of the central pillars of colonisation was tax. The European powers did not want Africa to be a drain on their treasuries, and they wanted the colonies to pay their own way. They also wanted people to enter into the cash economy. Taxation was a way of driving people into working for money.

The competence of a French colonial official might often be measured by how much tax he was able to collect. This could be in the form of a poll tax or a tax on homes. For the ordinary people, especially those who were not earning money through labour or selling goods, taxation was an intolerable burden. Resentment turned to anger in many parts of Africa.

more at Tax and Trade Wars via BBC

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Visa facilitation as a means to support tourism growth, socio-economic development and job creation

joycebanda

Yesterday an update appeared on the Malawian president’s Facebook page, in which she informed her social media followers that she had participated in a ‘.. Ministerial Roundtable of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation at Victoria Falls’. The topic for discussion at the forum was ‘visa facilitation as a means to support tourism growth, socio-economic development and job creation’.

Considering that the themes of infrastructure, airports and increased cross-national trade within Africa have popped up several times in discussions and articles on this website (for example here, here and here), I think her angle on the issue is commendable, and deserves a mention.

Recently, the Sudanese Billionaire, Mo Ibrahim expressed his displeasure during his address at the 11th Nelson Mandela lecture, with the visa regimes in Africa, saying:

“..The second issue is African economic integration. Only 11% of our trade is amongst the Africans. We refuse to let our people travel from one country to another. We always need a visa. And l also say, sadly, although being Sudanese, whenever l travel in Africa l always carry a British passport, because l am welcome.

My colleague here, a Member of our Board, had huge trouble in getting a visa to be able to join me here. He was a Secretary General of the United Nations, a board member, just to get a visa here is a major trouble. But with my British passport l am welcome here through your immigration lines. Is that acceptable?..”

One can only hope that these kinds of initiatives — which clearly will have a tangible economic benefit to Africa – do eventually get implemented by the countries concerned, and do not end up onto the large pile of broken promises by political leaders past and present.

The full update on the Facebook page is as follows:

Good evening my friends

Today I attended a Ministerial Roundtable of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation at Victoria Falls, on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia where I addressed participants on the topic: ‘visa facilitation as a means to support tourism growth, socio-economic development and job creation’.

I addressed participants that our continent possesses many places of great beauty and I went on to talk about our beautiful country, Malawi, which happens to be one of the most beautiful countries for tourists attraction as we are blessed with a large freshwater lake, surrounded by white sands and full of a diversity of fish species and country boasts of wide open skies, beautiful rolling hills and mountains that offer rare experiences to climbers, bird watchers and adventure enthusiasts.

I made it clear that Malawi’s description as the ‘warm heart of Africa’ does not just refer to our inviting climate or the deep red of our sunset. It aptly describes the welcome you will receive from all Malawians as we are indeed very friendly and “warm hearted people of Africa”!

While talking about tourism I addressed participants that , tourism promises immense opportunities for growth of our economies and job creation; however millions of people continue to face unnecessary barriers to travel. These barriers include complicated and expensive visa processes; difficult and therefore expensive transport connections, lack of integrated border management systems and security threats.

For example, according to research by the United Nations WorldTourism Organisation; and World Travel and Tourism Council, facilitating visas among the G20 countries alone would create an additional five million jobs by 2015. This is a clear indication of the impact simplified and user friendly visa system can have on our economies.

It is my view that Visa Facilitation has the potential to enhance regional integration, intra-regional trade and easy movement of capital and people between countries and regions.Therefore, visa policies and procedures are among some of the most important instruments influencing tourism and investment. The development of policies and procedures for visas as well as other travel documents is closely linked to the development of tourism. Furthermore, the quality, reliability and functionality of visas have a direct correlation to number of arrivals at a destination.

In lieu of the above reasons I am calling for regional interconnectivity amongst our nations which may entail improving the current state of transport and telecommunications infrastructure and facilitating institutional improvements to optimise the efficiency and capacity of road, rail, water and air transport and the social sectors in education and health.

I believe that this in turn has high potential on enhancing economic growth; thus contributing to overall objective of poverty reduction. The link between tourism and poverty reduction is well known as one of the fundamental contributions is job creation which is part of our government’s economic recovery plan that my government is pursuing.

Thank you all for your support and prayers

May God bless you!

Good night!

Dr Joyce Banda
President
Republic of Malawi “

Infrastructure

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While you’ll find several references to Infrastructure on this site, I think this time around I’ll leave it to the experts to do the convincing. Paja akulu anati mutu umodzi siwusenza denga

And if one takes time to browse through the cited references below (some of which are straight off page 1 + 2 of Google), it’s hard to argue against the fact that Infrastructure is one of the essential drivers of economic development. In this sense, and for the avoidance of doubt,  infrastructure is not limited to roads, railways, airports and buildings (for hotels, schools, Universities, hospitals, business centres, research facilities, etc), but also includes for example a good telecommunication network (internet, voice, data and the like) and power supply.

Infrastructure for sustainable development – European Commission

Intro reads: ” Good quality infrastructure is a key ingredient for sustainable development. All countries need efficient transport, sanitation, energy and communications systems if they are to prosper and provide a decent standard of living for their populations. Unfortunately, many developing countries possess poor infrastructure, which hampers their growth and ability to trade in the global economy. “

Infrastructure’s value to economic growth – Richard Lee, Partner, KPMG (via BBC)

which includes the statement : “…In fact, a recent KPMG International survey found that an overwhelming majority – 90% – of business executives said that the availability and quality of infrastructure affects where they locate their business operations…”

Needs For and Benefits of Infrastructure Connectivity – Asian Development Bank Institute
which includes the statement: “… The rapid economic and population growth of Asian economies in recent years has put huge pressure on its existing infrastructure, particularly in transport and energy, but also in communications. Asia’s infrastructure is world-class in parts, but is generally below the global average. This is a bottleneck to future growth, a threat to competitiveness, and an obstacle to poverty reduction.”
which includes the following statement: – “…An adequate infrastructure is a prerequisite to economic development. Transportation and communications are important in developing and strengthening social, political, and commercial ties. These ties must be developed before trade can be handled on a regular basis.”
Why Is Infrastructure Important – David Alan Aschauer, formerly Senior Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and now (at the date of writing/publication) Elmer W.Campbell Professor of Economics, Bates College
Infrastructure and Poverty – The Global Poverty Project
the Intro reads: “Infrastructure – physical resources like roads, telecommunication networks, schools and drains – is necessary for a society to function: people can’t access healthcare if there are no hospitals; trade can’t take place if there are no roads on which to transport goods to markets. Infrastructure facilitates the basic functions of a society that are necessary to transport resources and people, produce and trade goods, provide essential services and ultimately reduce poverty.”
it follows with ” Lack of infrastructure also leads to lack of employment by acting as a disincentive to investment. Companies who struggle to produce and sell goods in an area with inadequate roads, electricity or water supply do not want to set up the factories or businesses that could potentially generate employment, improve living standards and reduce poverty. “
and “Lack of infrastructure can also lead to poor health and high mortality. Where there are no clinics or hospitals available, or where lack of roads or bridges makes them inaccessible, people cannot access the medical services that they require to be healthy and productive. A villager in Mozambique explains “The most dangerous thing is that [cholera] has always appeared during the rainy season, and it is then that the river is in spate and boats cannot cross.”
The Broader Benefits of Transportation Infrastructure – Ian Sue Wing, William P. Anderson and T.R. Lakshmanan, Center for Transportation Studies and Dept. of Geography & Environment, Boston University [similar article here]
uses the term Meso-scale to describe their approach. A slide from their presentation is quite appropriate in summarising some of the developmental + ‘equilibrium’ impacts, and worth replication:-
infra-messo
Finance and Infrastructure: The Economic Benefits of Infrastructure Projects Procured with Private Finance –  Andrew W Morley, International Congress Washington, D.C. USA, April 19-26 2002.
Infrastructure – Engineers Against Poverty
Intro reads as follows: “Without significant progress in the provision of infrastructure services it will be impossible for many countries to significantly achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Globally, more than 1 billion people have no access to roads, 900 million do not have safe drinking water, 2.3 billion lack reliable sources of energy, 2.5 billion have no sanitation  facilities and 4 billion are without modern communication services.”
which contains the paragraph “When it comes to infrastructure development, Thailand has done very well compared with some other Southeast Asian neighbors. In fact, appropriate infrastructure, including access to power and water, has helped Thailand fuel rapid economic growth during the past three decades. Good infrastructure has made Thailand attractive to foreign investment, helped facilitate international trade, and improved the efficiency of everyday business activities. All of these led to more jobs, and more jobs led to more income for the poor. For some not-so-poor people, good infrastructure also helps them improve productivity or fulfill their lifestyles.”
RURAL INFRASTRUCTURE AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT –  Dr. Mohammad Tarique, Lecturer, University Dept. of Economics, B.R.Ambedkar Bihar University, Muzaffarpur.
Abstract reads: “Infrastructure development has a key role to play in both economic growth and poverty reduction. Failure to accelerate investments in rural infrastructure will make a mockery of efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in poor developing countries while at the same time severely limit opportunities for these countries to benefit from trade liberalisation, international capital markets and other potential benefits offered by globalisation”
Private Sector Participation in Infrastructure:the case of Thailand – Deunden Nikomborirak – Asian Development Bank Institute Discussion Paper No. 19
Road Funding: Time for a Change :- Economic Growth Benefits of Transportation Infrastructure Investment – Dr. John C. Taylor,  Associate professor of marketing and logistics at Grand Valley State University and a senior policy analyst with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan.
which contains the statement “…No, the key benefit and reason for transportation investment is from helping to make businesses and individuals more productive, across the geographic landscape. We rely on our transportation investments to increase the economy’s overall productivity – both in terms of making individual travel (business and personal) faster and more reliable, and in terms of the productivity benefits of making freight flows faster and more reliable…”
World Bank — Malawi’s infrastructure: A continental perspective: Vivien Foster; Maria Shkaratan, ISSN: 1813-9450.

As you can see, the above papers + articles present a credible argument that a good and functional infrastructure is essential for economic development.
But that’s not to say that there are no credible counter arguments against infrastructure. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m sure one can cite the prevention of deforestation or preservation of natural habitats as factors against excessive infrastructure. Also, there is the issue of encouraging tourism which could probably mean encouraging greater biodiversity, creating / preserving forests  and wildlife reserves (but even in such circumstances, you still need a world-class airport for a good first impression (the kind of impression you get when you first land at Hong Kong International); functional roads (at least 3 lanes on each side between major cities) that minimises journey times; and world-class hotels and resorts. Why should you give tourists (who in large numbers can be the source of much-needed forex revenue) less than what they are accustomed to, and expect that they will return to your country, or recommend a visit to their friends?). Never mind recommendation, how can you compete on the global stage, when your facilities are substandard? Further, why shouldn’t it be possible to build modern factories with reduced carbon footprint (see Marks & Spencer’s ‘eco-factories’ initiative here) side by side with wildlife/forest reserves?
So, considering all this, I find it hard to imagine a credible setting in which arguments against infrastructure may find pre-eminence, over arguments for infrastructure; especially for a poor country whose majority infrastructure was built  50-year ago; whose roads are littered with pot-holes, with virtually no world-class business centres; that has old airports – with poor facilities including smelly badly looked after toilets; a country that experiences intermittent blackouts almost every week; that is struggling to attract significant investment from abroad; a country where 74% of the population live below the poverty line; which is heavily reliant on agriculture and dwindling tobacco exports + has negligible industrial output; has few natural resources; has a large relatively unskilled young population and suffers widespread corruption and cronyism, even in the upper echelons of its government.

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My question to you then is: why are the leaders of such countries not investing heavily (sooner than later) into major infrastructure projects, when it is in fact a determinant factor in economic development and a serious game changer? Is it because they are in fact not cut out for the job and would be better followers instead of leaders?

Horse Power

“We have skipped an important step” the man said thoughtfully, a moment after we had just arrived and after I finished introducing myself. He was seated on a sofa in the living room of a house located not too far away from the Beeston suburb of Nottingham. We had just met, and I was escorting one of my Nottingham based friends to this house to see another of his friends. In total, there were 7 older men seated on the sofas about the living room, of whom I only knew one. Our arrival just made the place even more crowded  making it necessary for them to fetch two dinning set chairs from the dinning room, just so we had somewhere to sit, which unfortunately was in front of the television, blocking out its view.

“Yes, because for America, and even Europe, horses had been an important mode of transportation that had a significant impact on the economic development of their countries.”

We had found them talking about the importance of transport to development of a country after recent reports of fuel shortages in Malawi.

“It enabled people to travel, to carry their goods to the market, to access markets further away from their farms or factories” someone else said

“They were even used by soldiers during wars” another man said. He continued “But in our countries in Africa, including Malawi, we have jumped this essential step in our development even when few of our people can afford to buy bicycles.”

“Eh komabe bicycles are of very little use in this sense. Yes they can transport people, but they can’t carry all your produce to the market, can they?” someone else asked, responding to the others. “Bicycles can only carry a few things at a time. What we need in Malawi, is for every farming family in the rural areas to have two horses and a carriage, even if they can afford a car, just in case we have problems with fuel”

“That’s  a good point madala,  we complain when we have fuel shortages, has anybody asked how countries such as the US survived before the car was invented?” another declared sarcastically “Why not encourage use of alternative transport such as horses, especially in the rural areas, then they can use their manure to fertilise their farms so that we have better crops, you can’t go wrong with that? That’s how other countries started”

maize

Having read up on this topic several years previously, I pointed out  – after most of the men had expressed their views – that in the US, horses were so essential that the horse population in 1927 exceeded 23 million animals. Even in the UK, horses had been important to their way of life. In fact, there had been such a rapid equine population growth that in 1894 the Times of London estimated that by 1950, every street in the city of London would be buried in 9 feet of horse dung. It was much later after the railways and the automobile came along that the horse population began to sharply decline.

[Read HORSES ARE IMPORTANT TO LOCAL ECONOMY ; and From Horse Power to Horsepower , 2007, by Eric Morris ( at the time a Ph.D student studying transportation at University of California) which includes the words: “After all, the horse had been the dominant mode of transportation for thousands of years. Horses were absolutely essential for the functioning of the nineteenth century city—for personal transportation, freight haulage, and even mechanical power. Without horses, cities would quite literally starve” While there clearly were numerous challenges, it seems there was a phase when horses provided many advantages ]

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“And they can also be used for meat, so that would be a bonus” another man said.

I noted that in the US, there had recently been some complaints (Also see this titled “American West running out of room for wild horses”) regarding the size of the wild horse population.

[“Currently the Wild Horse and Bureau Program spends about $50 million a year just to feed the animals held in captivity. That’s around 70 percent of its annual budget, and horses in captivity live up to 25 years. When it comes to other grazing animals like deer, elk and bison, hunting acts as a substitute for natural predation. Source: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/03/26/american-west-running-out-room-for-wild-horses/#ixzz2QFNmFHtS ]

Maybe, just maybe this could be an opportunity for poorer countries in Africa. In any case, horses were imported into the US from Europe, and they in turn had been sourced from Asia and Arabia, possibly even from Libya, according to some sources. So for an African government to ask the US or other country for 20,000 horses and donkeys in aid wouldn’t be such a crazy idea after all. I thought it would  create jobs, for the huge logistical operation in transferring the animals from the US to Africa, there would be a requirement of trainers that are skilled in domestication of wild horses, workshops for creating the carriages, artisans for building the stables, training of local veterinary staff for their care, manufacturers of animals feed [who could also produce feed for cattle, goats and other animals], young unemployed men who earn a living by running bicycle taxis would suddenly have horse power to help them in their trade; it could possibly spur sporting events; in summary, besides creating employment opportunities for thousands of people, a whole new industry would emerge. All this would occur while reducing reliance of the rural population on petroleum, and while creating efficiencies in farming and agriculture which could pave way for economic development, or at least a more manageable lifestyle.

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I wondered, putting aside the medical considerations of equestrian health – which I knew made horses slightly more demanding than cattle to look after – how practical or useful horses would be to the rural farming population in Malawi? What impact would they have on transport and agriculture in the rural areas considering they were faster and more agile? Would it not improve – to an extent – the quality of lives and efficiency of farmer families? Would it not help women in rural areas, some of whom have to carry heavy loads for many miles each day? Would it not reduce the prevalence of child labour, in that instead of making children  (or women) do physically demanding work [see Struggle for Water and  Where the Water meets the Sky], the horses could now be used to go collect the water, the firewood, the crops, transport food to and from the market, for policing, transportation of sick people to hospitals (which are sparse and located  in districts, centrally and tens of miles away from some settlements ). Couldn’t horses be used to escort the children to school every morning? [Ugandan Children Walking Miles and Climbing Mountains for their Education (and Cricket!)] Surely, if you can’t afford a car or a bicycle…an alternative form of transport that does not involve fuel or maintenance expenses has got to be an attractive option?

While some people would argue that doing so would be regressive, yet considering that (i) Fuel prices are constantly on the rise in third world countries like Malawi, and most poor people in the rural areas have to walk long distances for one thing or another; and (ii) how petroleum has ‘enslaved’ the  western world, creating tensions between countries, and has been the root cause of several recent military conflicts that have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, shouldn’t finding alternative forms of transport that does not use petroleum fuels be encouraged?

In my view, less reliance on petroleum for rural area families would be tantamount to giving a community a fishing rod, instead of a fish and would be much more constructive than food handouts. Further, couldn’t it be described as an ecofriendly form of transportation, doing a lot less damage to the environment than motor vehicles? To prevent the problems described in the article by Eric Morris cited above, a licensing regime could be established and measures undertaken to ensure that certain standards are maintained and the animal populations do not grow out of control, all of which would also provide employment.

I thought all this because I knew only too well what growing up in the village had been, my mother having been born and raised in the rural parts of Rumphi,in Northern Malawi, where there was no transport, where children collected the water and the firewood, often travelling long distances to do so, and where in her case, she had to wake up at 4a.m. and spend 4 hours walking to school and back each week day, just to get an education.

As a teenager, during summer holiday seasons, I would visit my grandmother in Rumphi, where I remember spending many days out with my Aunt and cousins harvesting corn. We would go out early in the morning, on bicycles and make trips from the field, about 2 miles away, to the house, carrying bags of maize which we would empty into a thatched silos made of sticks, grass, bamboo sticks (i think) and mud.

Children from the Tarna village climb on a grain silo in southern Niger in 2010

On each trip, we would each carry one or two bags of dry maize cobs, balanced and affixed to the bicycle carrier using rubber strands.  We would then cycle the 2 miles to grandmother’s house and after we had emptied the cobs into the silos, we would return back to the field to fetch some more corn. In the summer heat and dust of Hewe, there were times when we would make 8 or 9 round trips a day, which in the end left you not only clobbered, but thirsty, hungry, sweaty, oily and extremely dusty.  In these conditions, a horse-drawn carriage would have made a world of a difference.

Similar:

1. A Brief History Of Horses 

2. Horse History : A Bibliography

3. Nigeria: Why Donkeys Are Beyond the Reach of Northern Farmers

4. Khama to donate 150 cattle to Malawi