Racism and Bigotry is encouraged from the top, but the real enemy is Global Inequality

The other day – about two weeks ago, the British Prime minister referred to the migrants at Calais trying to cross into the UK as ‘swarming..’ It was an insensitive term and many people rightly took offence. On twitter, many condemned such a wording as dehumanizing.

A few days ago, Philip Hammond, the British Foreign Secretary joined Mr Cameron, speaking of ‘marauding migrants‘ threatening the standard of life of British nationals in the UK. Again, Like Cameron, you have to wonder on which planet these people live on. Amnesty International called the language shameful. The Liberal Democrats Home Affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael had this to say:

“The Tories’ language is becoming increasingly hostile and unsavoury. In reality, they are too scared to deal with the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Calais.

“Britain can’t escape the problem just by sounding ‘tough’, it needs to take a lead.

“It’s time we proved our worth on the world stage, signed up to the EU asylum policy and accept our share of vulnerable refugees, rather than expect other countries to do it for us.”

I think it is insensitive to describe other human beings in such animate and dehumanizing terms, and just goes to show how out of touch politicians really are. It also shows that humans from Africa, Asia and the Middle East are not valued in the same way British or European people are.

It’s a fallacy to see British leaders going around the world preaching democracy and peace, when right on their doorsteps, they are treating foreigners like crap. You can’t make that up, and you’d hope the world is watching.

Asylum Aid criticised the Foreign Secretary’s words as

“inaccurate and inflammatory statements”,

I agree, they present a skewed picture that divorces nuance for the situation. I’m waiting for the day a sensible British politician will rise up who will say to the people of the world that the actions of British leaders in the past have caused immense human pain, and damaged other lands far away from British shores. And some of that damage is still being felt today. I may not be alive when that happens, but I hope one day someone will be honest and brave enough call a spade a spade.

Knowing what I know about British History (both what you are taught in school, and what you find out for yourself), and having experienced first hand the institutional racism in the UK, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that in some sections of the UK population non-white people are treated differently to white people. There is extreme hostility against foreigners, which is not entirely surprising since the media fans hatred all the times. But it’s kind of strange seeing migrants contribute so much to the UK (not only via the NHS, but in the taxes they pay).

The government’s attitude towards immigration is so frustrating precisely because it is so wrong-headed. There is endless proof that the long-term benefit of migrants and asylum seekers are manifold – Ugandan refugees, for instance, have created approximately 30,000 jobs in the Leicester since 1972. Last year the Treasury’s independent advisers said that immigration is beneficial to the economy as new arrivals are most likely to be of working age – and even the chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility, Robert Chote, stated that growing immigration to the UK “does tend to produce a more beneficial picture” for the economy. Read more here

So then why would a leader or a minister speak so negatively about migrants? Cameron and Hammond are hardly Nigel Farage, they can’t possibly be that ignorant not to see the repurcussions of their statements.

Isn’t such talk exactly the kind of talk which sows the seeds of racism, hatred and bigotry in society? Are these the kind of behaviours these leaders want to encourage in Britain? I think not, my guess is there is an agenda – some political capital is to be carved from all this.

To me this is how it looks: they are saying migrants, whose ancestors, Europeans took advantage of, looted their lands of every natural resource, enslaved their peoples, raped their women, made wars against them, divided up their lands along nothing but profit-driven motives, and generally reduced to poverty entire peoples – as they did in India and China; and whose descendants – the migrants – are now trying to find a way of escaping hardship, poverty, discrimination and violence in their own lands,  are not worthy of peace, of security, of assistance – seeing their past troubles, of prosperity. Essentially that they are subhuman, thats what the actions say.

https://soundcloud.com/rttv/calais-ryan

The Greatest Cover-Up in History ? How Imperial Britain’s Racist India, Africa & China Narrative ‎Still Persists

Actions speak louder than words, and what we are seeing here is an entitlement mentality. That it’s okay for historical European abuse of non-European peoples to be swept under the carpet; that the bombing of Libya, Iraq and support for Syrian rebels is irrelevant to the migrant crisis and must be brushed over, that if you plunder resources of other countries, and create economic and political instability…  its okay because if s**t happens, you can always close the borders. It’s the sort of things these people on this poster would say

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During Nazi Germany’s reign, Hitler’s honchos put out propaganda which was later enacted upon to make life difficult for foreigners in Germany, in particular for Jews. What followed was a human atrocity that culminated in the holocaust, but which the Nazi machinery justified with all sorts of abominable stories. But there was a sinister motive behind the hostile rhetoric, and the Nazis made a lot of money out of it.

There’s always a sinister motive behind hostile rhetoric.

Today, the migrants at Calais are not being threatened by gas chambers or execution, but the language directed towards them – by politicians, not least the likes of the Daily Mail – is no better than that which was used by the Nazi machinery. Still, most of these migrants have no access to land or capital in the countries they flee; a polar opposite to Western corporations operating in Eritrea, Ethiopia, the various West African Countries, Syria and Iraq  – who have access to land and capital in those same countries.

The migrants have no security, and indeed may be at the mercy of criminal gangs and trafficking networks – something which expats in the aforementioned countries do not have to fear. The expats can get on with their easy and comfortable lives seamlessly, while the nationals of those countries – and their migrant brothers and sisters drowning in the mediterranean – struggle with day to day living, and can’t afford an existence, never mind a luxurious lifestyle.

Why do we keep on blaming the poor migrants whose poverty the West is partly responsible for? Countries where corruption, tax-evasion, profit-shifting and white-collar crime are responsible for the loss of over US$1tn in illicit financial outflows

ChristianAidDeath & Taxes – the true toll of tax-dodging

That is the real problem driving migrants to Europe – Inequality. Because if you have security, a good job, great educational and financial prospects and a social life – in your own country, why would you want to leave and risk your life for a pie in the sky?

British Red Cross managing director Norman McKinley recently said about the cuts to the money asylum seekers receive in the UK:

“These cruel cuts will plunge families into further poverty, making it agonisingly tough for parents to feed their children, and practically impossible to buy clothes and other essential items.”

What he forgot to mention is that many foreigners support family members back home. I know people who send as little as £20 every other month to a relative in Africa for one thing or another; to help someone pay for school, or for food, or to settle some bill. It’s not much, but it does the job, and helps people at the other end.

So then, if a government introduces policies that have the effect of creating economic hardship for an already deprived community/ section of the population, how will they be able to help their relatives abroad – who are in worse financial circumstances? It doesn’t make sense and if anything it’s counterproductive…

One final thing I should say is this. How many Swiss ‘migrants’ do you bump into everyday? Or how many ‘Norwegians’ or ‘Mauritians’ do you know or do you bump into on a regular basis?

Switzerland, Mauritius and Norway are rich countries, and their nationals live in their own countries because the countries have the capacity to create jobs and distribute wealth fairly amongst their people. When you look at Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and most countries in West Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, the story is rather different.

Further, European and American corporations are not paying bribes (in exchange for lax tax arrangements) in Norway or in Switzerland, or are they? At least you rarely hear of such corruption, unlike in the countries from whence migrants come.

If Western businessmen continue to fleece the countries from whom migrants originate,of valuable resources, how can European leaders realistically expect migrants to stay in their own countries? When the funds the country is losing is exactly the kind of money that would create jobs and an economy that can support that country’s citizens… Let’s be honest here… it’s not going to happen, and some of this rhetoric is a smokescreen to the real problems.

Mr Cameron, and Mr Hammond, if you are really serious about reducing immigration, begin by pushing for real global economic equality, at national level, within the EU, within Commonwealth, at UN level and beyond. That in my view has got a much higher chance of curbing migration to Europe than anything else.

Jeremy Corbyn – Socialism DOES Work

Jeremy Corbyn could become leader of the Labour Party, the main opposition party in the House of Commons (UK Parliament), after he received the most nominations from Constituency Labour Parties and unions.

If Corbyn does emerge as winner, after a final ballot that will begin on August 14, then it could represent a fundamental shift towards the left of the political spectrum for the Labour Party.

Listening to Corbyn’s address to the Oxford Union (video below), I get the sense that he talks a lot of sense.

And yet many people (including senior members of his own party) don’t want him to become leader. They say he is ‘too left-wing’ and that such can ‘scare-off voters’.

Lately politicians have been saying some very insensitive things in the media, and it’s not surprising that some are being alarmist about Corbyn.

But how can a person who says there is too much inequality in the UK (and in the world in general), and that something needs to be done to address it (not just empty rhetoric) possibly be wrong by stating what is clearly a fact?

How can someone who calls for workers rights, an end to poverty, re-nationalisation of key industries, increased taxes on the very wealthy, and the scrapping of Britain’s Trident be the devil?

Are you saying you really want corporations to continue evading tax? For utilities to be controlled by profit-driven corporations? For £100 billion to be spent on a nuclear deterrent which will never be used? For the likes of Rupert Murdoch to continue hijacking the media agenda, influencing politics to the detriment of state power? Is that what you want?

In my view, if we had more politicians like Jeremy Corbyn, more leaders like Elizabeth Warren, conscientious politicians like Bernie Sanders  … who are capable of identifying the real issues, communicating effectively how those issues need to be addressed; issues such as corporate tax evasion, unnecessary foreign wars, inequality and poverty… if we had more leaders who are incorruptible and not part of some revolving door,  I think the world would be a better place. Minimally, there would be enough oversight to ensure that corporations pay their fair dues and behave responsibly even when conducting their affairs abroad. Public institutions would be protected, developing countries would not be preyed upon, and there would probably be greater respect for human life.

These are the kinds of  Leaders Abraham Lincoln if he were alive today would count as true friends. And it’s because there are many leaders who are out of touch with ordinary people, whereas a few can see what is happening on the ground, how actions of corporations are affecting ordinary people, how actions of leaders are endangering people, and are rightly concerned.

Why do I say this?

Giving a few examples, since when has it been known that inequality is the real cause of poverty across the world? Since when has it been known that the actions of corporations, including in paying bribes to officials, deprive developing countries of resources which they desperately need to effect development? Since when has it been known that the structural adjustment policies of the likes of IMF and World Bank are counterproductive against the narrative of poverty eradication? Since when has it been known that tax havens and secret accounts facilitate if not encourage corruption?

When all these have been known, why is it easier to start wars, than to fix these things which would do so much towards helping the poorest countries?

WS-pigsReferring to a point Corbyn made about the IMF in the above video, many people underestimate the damage structural adjustment programs (SAP’s) do to developing countries. They take for granted that the conditions the likes of the IMF prescribe put countries in a very difficult position – with no money to spend on the weakest in their societies.

And as you would expect, most of these people who attack socialist policies have never lived or spent any considerable length of time in developing countries, let alone had personal hardship that threatened their existence. They don’t know what poverty is, or what it means to have no money. It’s a bit like Ian Duncan Smith (British Conservative Party Politician who is Secretary of State for Work and Pensions ) calling for people to live on £53 a week, when he’s never had to live on £53 a week, and flatly refusing to do so when challenged.

They just talk because they think they know, when the truth it they don’t really know.

For once, I must say it is refreshing to hear a prospective political party leader of a big economy describe the likes of the IMF for who they really are. Architects of destruction.

On a practical note, it would be helpful if some of the people advocating for SAP’s spent some time period in the countries which borrow from the IMF/ World Bank. Let them go and  spend say 3 – 4 years (not just a couple of days where they pretend to blend into the culture) in Malawi , or in Cameroon, or in Senegal, not living in expensive hotels or exclusive suburbs where all the rich expats are having a dip in their swimming pools. No, but living amongst the people, ku ma line kwenikweni, in the districts where working people such as bus drivers, nurses, teachers and civil servants live. There they will begin to see the effects of SAP’s. There they will find the hatched eggs of the serpent.

This week, a lot has happened. There was the story of Cecil the Lion, then a few days ago,  David Cameron used an animate term (‘swarm’), to describe migrants; describing humans who are fleeing terrible living conditions, using a term which he couldn’t possibly use to describe Europeans, or Americans.

No wonder in the past some activists have hit back with images such as these:-

nhs

Being left-wing is not a bad thing. Being left-wing amidst other things means you care about other human beings, and you are not so narrow-minded, so self-absorbed and selfish, so brainwashed by individualistic ideas (‘trickle down economics’ , ‘survival of the fittest’ and other nonsense) which are senseless, do more damage than good to society, and do not have practical application in the real world. I’m not saying that those who do not identify as being left-wing are these things, but in my view, on the bare minimum, on the surface, thats what being left-wing must be.

I’d like to think many left wingers have a greater appreciation of inequality than their detractors;  that they get it when circumstances beyond people’s control push them to the brink. And these circumstances vary from corrupt African politicians (who receive bribes from unscrupulous investors, in exchange for favourable investment agreements which do nothing for the people of that African country) to selling off a public hospital to a private company (which then lays off staff as a cost-cutting exercise – leaving vulnerable families with no income – purely for profit).

I’ll end with a story I once read of a South African woman. Her parent’s two storey house was confiscated during the apartheid regime, when she was just a little girl. Subsequently her parents couldn’t pay for her education, so she was forced to work as a cleaner. Today she’s still unable to rebuild her life, with no qualifications, living in a country where she can’t earn enough to put herself through school, as well as look after her own family. With little prospects to advance in life other than to continue working, she is stuck in poverty.

And the house? She still remembers it, it’s still there, but up until now her family has not been able to get it back.

Not everyone who is poor is poor because they are lazy and don’t want to work. Someone please ask Jeremy Corbyn ‘s detractors to go and witness with their own eyes these types of scenarios.

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

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

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

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

And here’s why:

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

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

It goes on to say

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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image from typicalmalawian.wordpress.com

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tfac-teacher-stats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practical Community led Activism

Now that the UK general election is over and done with, people this side of the world can get back to work, and begin focussing on the difficult issues facing Britain.
Among the terms that have been used by some commentators lately (often referred to together with the notion that the UK needs a federal system), is ‘Community led Activism’. This is probably very similar to the much talked about concept of a Big Society.

But what would Community led Activism actually look like? You hear it talked about, but few take time to really spell out how it would relate to everyday life.

I was curious, so after some thinking, probing about online, and studying various articles on the subject, I’m inclined to think any form of Community led Activism is incomplete without the following ingredients:-

(i) Change management strategies

(ii) Local ownership of change

(iii) Introduction of practice guidelines / best practices; and

(iv) Regular evaluation.

Community-led-ActivismBefore we open up churches as centres that are eligible to administer healthcare, before we begin community projects that serve communities while giving jobs to local people, and before our cities’ libraries also become art galleries, music venues-cum-coffee shops that operate for profit to raise money for communities, (as well as having free services for the most disadvantaged in society), before we increase local food production, before we have cooperatives in charge of local generation of green energy, before we bring back manufacturing from China, before we begin opening up parts of the greenbelt and brownfield land for building of affordable residential accommodation…

internetbefore we invest in information technology education to empower young people to be equipped with the necessary skills for the digital economy,..before all that and more, there has to be a general function that powers Community led Activism. Think of it as a macro level approach, underneath which everything else sits.

The best way to explain this is to look at a number of areas in which the above four ingredients may be useful.

Lets take Education for example. If you want to have devolution of powers from London to communities so that they get authority to decide on Education Policy as they see fit, there must be change management strategies employed in each of the communities concerned. This may come in the form of a new culture instilled at the devolved locality which establishes an effective management system to oversee, administer and evaluate the new policies, and move away from what hadn’t worked. Since the people who are already working in the environment are stakeholders, it is crucial that they are not maligned or resistant to the new proposals.  In fact Educational Authorities (or whoever is eventually given the responsibility to run the scheme) would need to embrace any new changes (and from experiences of the past this is not always easy, as Michael Gove’s stint as Education Secretary proved. See another link here).

Thus, change would need to be brought forward from the bottom-up (as opposed to top-bottom). Just as well, because Local ownership of change is also an essential ingredient. This is important since there will be localities which are happy with their current systems – which deliver desired or at least satisfactory outcomes, and so need not be interfered with too much. For such communities, Local ownership of change is empowering as they don’t have to do what they do not want; as will be for localities which have special needs by virtue of having different circumstances, and so which need slightly different solutions to the schemes/ solutions which others in the same country are adopting.

Similarly, for communities whose Education sector is lacking in some ways (be it in performance levels, funding or otherwise), if change is ‘owned’ at local level, then people are empowered to be able to find solutions that are tailored to the needs of their community. Since it is in the best interest of the community for certain results to be achieved, that change will be embraced quicker and more willingly if it is ‘owned’ at local level, and driven not by consultants hired by HQ, but by the stakeholders at local level.

But what about Introduction of practice guidelines / best practices? Well, lets take Job Creation & Employment legislation for example. Practice guidelines lay down the rules, to ensure there is uniformity across a region/ country. Employment legislation protects employers and employees across a jurisdiction (be it a state country or region) from abuse or unwarranted harassment. If a community seeks change in the labour market, for example to improve conditions for workers, then practice guidelines will be needed once that change is achieved (or even before) to ensure that the desired change is sustained, and is not short-term. Practice guidelines ensure consistency. They help everyone know what their particular roles are, and when such must be undertaken. And in relation to Employment legislation, guidelines at community level will enable employers and employees to know what their responsibilities are towards each other in the general scheme of things, without necessitating a change in the law at national / state level. This means if there is a problem in an industry that is concentrated in the North west of England (or say in a specific industry such as the hotel insustry), guidelines can be rolled out affecting the north-west (or that specific industry), without tinkering with the law at national level, thereby not interfering with the practice elsewhere.

Finally, there is the matter of Evaluation. This is important, because it means improvements or new policies can be reviewed, and if they are not doing as well, a better solution or alternative found. It allows the community to ask: Are we really doing as good as our research stipulated? And if not, why? It enables you to change course when new policies at community level are not having the desired effect.

You can apply the above ingredients to Residential property development, Healthcare, Tax policy, Welfare, Immigration, Pensions, Sustainability and Conservation… the list is endless, and I believe it is possible to make some good progress; even in a country which some people think is suffering a hangover of the politics of fear.

They are building an airport city in Manchester

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Someone please remind me again why I live in this city

Most readers will probably not know that Manchester is quite an experimental city. The first free electric intercity metroshuttle buses in the UK began operating in Manchester. Manchester is set to have a 100MBps fibre optic network corridor interconnecting homes, businesses and universities along the famous Oxford Road. Manchester is home to one of a handful of Fablabs [small-scale workshop offering (personal) digital fabrication] across the world, complete with 3-D printers and such kit, an outfit that helps innovators seamlessly bring their ideas to life. Manchester is now home to Media City, the home of the BBC, a futuristic Media installation that is undeniably as state of the art as it gets. It was in Manchester that Graphene was first successfully isolated in 2004, at the University of Manchester, (and the scientists who discovered it won the Nobel Prize in Physics), and the invention (touted a ‘miracle material‘ and the next big thing) is set to transform technology in ways never imagined before. Beetham Tower, which is home to the Hilton hotel, restaurants and apartments was the tallest building in the UK outside London when it was completed in 2006, and is currently the tallest residential building in the UK. Manchester was the first city in the UK to get a modern light rail tram system when the Manchester Metrolink opened in 1992. Manchester will introduce a water taxi service between Manchester city centre and MediaCityUK at Salford Quays, the only one of its type in the UK. And now, they are building an Airport city, right next to the airport:

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If you want to do something new and fresh to your town and city, or if you want to push the boundaries, you should look to Manchester, because the chances are, if it’s not been done around here before, it’s either not worth doing, or is about to be done.

At this point I must state the obvious. Yes, you saw it coming, here it goes: Manchester is also home to two of football’s greatest clubs (and recently a National Football Museum), although we can probably argue about the ‘greatest’ bit forever, since curiously enough, despite my unashamed infatuation with this city, I happen to be an Arsenal fan :-).

Oh, and Manchester is the third-most visited city in the UK by foreign visitors, after London and Edinburgh.

But that’s not even half of what makes this city great…

As with most things, it didn’t just start yesterday. Anthony Burgess, Manchester born writer and composer (best known for  A Clockwork Orange), recalled in his autobiography published in 1986 how London “was an exercise in condescension. London was a day behind Manchester in the arts, in commercial cunning, in economic philosophy” For Burgess, Manchester was the real deal. And I think he had a point. This city, in the somewhat narrow frame of liberty in which its officials have been allowed to operate has been a pioneer for many years. During the industrial revolution, German writers and scientists came to Manchester, to observe first hand what these things called ‘factories’ were. With cotton mills springing up everywhere across Manchester, the city’s economy boomed, and created wealth for the industrialists. Manchester became the world first industrialised city, not least because of the textile factories and the Port of Manchester. During this time, it was dubbed ‘Cottonpolis’. Despite the city’s reliance on cotton, and the ‘pro-slavery spirit of America‘ which Sarah Redmond, a free African American Activist and Abolishionist talked about in 1859 when she visited to raise awareness about slavery, the pioneering spirit of Manchester soon had a welcome outcome: In 1862, Lancashire mill workers, at great personal sacrifice,took a principled stand by refusing to touch raw cotton picked by US slaves.

With the cotton industry on its knees, [President] Lincoln acknowledged the self-sacrifice of the ‘working men of Manchester’ in a letter he sent them in 1863. Lincoln’s words – later inscribed on the pedestal of his statue that can still be found in Lincoln Square, Manchester – praised the workers for their selfless act of “sublime Christian heroism, which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country.

P1050639The dynamism didn’t stop there, in 1821 the Manchester Guardian was founded.

It will zealously enforce the principles of civil and religious Liberty, it will warmly advocate the cause of Reform; it will endeavour to assist in the diffusion of just principles of Political Economy. – Prospectus outlining  the aims of the Guardian [Spartacus]

In 1878 the GPO (which became British Telecom, the telecommunications giant BT) provided its first telephones to a firm in Manchester. The world’s first stored program-computer was built in Manchester, at the Victoria University of Manchester by Frederic C. Williams, Tom Kilburn and Geoff Tootill, and ran its first program on 21 June 1948.

And it’s not just inventions and infrastructure that defined the city’s dynamism. Manchester has also been home to some great minds including the Chemist and Physicist John Dalton, Physicist J. J. Thompson, Engineer and Philanthropist Joseph Whitworth, and the Textile Merchant and philanthropist John Rylands.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels began to write the Communist Manifesto at Chetham Library (the oldest public library in the English-speaking world) in Manchester. As Luke Bainbridge of the Guardian puts it:

This is the home of the industrial revolution and the city that split the atom, the birthplace of the computer and the Guardian, the suffragette movement, the free trade movement, the co-operative movement, the anti-corn law league, vegetarianism, the nation’s first free library, the world’s first intercity railway and the engine room of rock’n’roll that has produced the country’s best bands of the past 30 years, from Joy Division to Take That. 

Basically, without Manchester, and a lot of its creativity, innovation and history, it’s quite likely that much of the world as we know it wouldn’t be where it is today. Certainly not in the shape that we know. We’d probably still be in the dark ages. Or worse. 😉

And that thought alone, whether you agree with it or think it is far-fetched, is enough reason to learn from what this city has achieved, and continues to achieve.

Links

The real reason why I oppose drilling for oil on lake Malawi

Whatever you choose to believe, here is one hypothesis you must seriously consider; That a nation that does not own its natural resources is not independent at all. That instead, what exists are different levels of servants (anchito) working for a foreign master (bwana) under a semi-sovereignity.

After all the unnecessary toiling, studying, chasing one research project after another that has preoccupied my time the last two years, I have come to the sobering,inevitable and unsurprising conclusion that there is a worrying number of people who think you or someone like me doesn’t deserve much good out of this life.

A worrying number.

Some of these people think that if you are black and were born in Africa, in a country that is considered poor, in a family that does not have strong and powerful political allies, with little or no personal ‘fortune’ of your own, that your place on the socio-economic ladder is right there where fate (or an accident of evolution) created for you, exactly in the societal ‘bracket’ in which you were born. Where social / financial progression is an unattainable pie in the sky. In this place, a dead-end job is the best you can expect, and hand-me-downs or clothes sold in ASDA (or Walmart) with brands such as ‘George‘ and ‘White Stag‘ are worn. It’s a place devoid of vacations, where Sirloin steak is an unjustifiable luxury, and where a McDonald’s burger counts as a treat; where trips to the movies and broadway featured shows are unheard of, and golf – the preserve of the extremely wealthy. Lets just say it’s a place where a gym membership is not even a consideration when one’s salary can barely cover everyday expenses. In this place £7.50 spent on 400g cherries would be an obscene expense; it’s a place where a typical evening consist of dinner that costs less than $10 for a family of 5, (and does not include wine), and typical everyday entertainment is either Eastenders or some crap show on the radio, while drinking a bottle of Carlsberg.

These same people would have you believe that such a life is ‘normal’ or at least relatively normal. They bet on showing you a worse existential state to justify that while they exploit your resources (and make lucrative deals with your country’s selfish and spineless politicians), they are doing you a favour, you are in fact getting a better deal than that guy over there, in whose country a war has been raging for years, where women are unsafe and rape is commonplace, that guy’s country has virtually no education system in place, and look, armed guerilla fighters! In a country with no local currency, courts presided by warlords and a society infested with corruption….

Such scare stories are meant to somehow pacify your human (umunthu) and natural rage against what is clearly injustice against your brothers and sisters. Injustice which in other forms sees you called black monkey’s in your own country. They are the kinds of people who in Victorian times would have suggested (or mixed with people who were likely to suggest), without qualms, that a woman’s place is in the home; that women should not be allowed to work or vote. These are the kinds of people who would have owned the cotton mills (or mixed with people who owned the cotton mills) of Manchester and South Carolina, including being at the forefront of recruiting cheap child labour – for maximum profit. They are the kinds of people who would have been involved in the mistreatment of Jews throughout a large part of  European history. These kinds of people would have suggested to Pontius Pilate that because Jesus was a friend of the poor and ‘rejects’ of society, that he indeed deserved the most severe punishment for calling himself the son of God.

The haughty demagoguery of these sorts saw them perpetrate beliefs such as Manifest destiny, Supremacism and the Slave trade, and their puppets coin phrases such as ‘Axis of Evil‘ and ‘War on Terror‘. For the purposes of this article, not least dramatic effect, I’ll call these people the Greedy architects of death.

Yet aren’t these precisely the kind of attitudes which precipitate global unrest? Is this not what deprives humanity of peaceful coexistence and harmony? I say this because beneath the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Ukraine, or even the economic troubles facing Zimbabwe, there is a simple altercation: that of land and resource control.

In the case of Zimbabwe, please reason with me for a moment. Why on earth should a country be punished with sanctions for wanting to take back land that was forcefully and deceptively taken away from it in the first place??? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in support of violence, but what is it that lies at the heart of the matter?

Another facet to their characteristics is that of standing. Here, a common trait of the architect is opposition to any deal in which they aren’t getting a cut. In other words, when others do something bad, and these architects are not getting any money or resources from that bad something, then the action is wrong/unforgivable/ atrocious etc. But when the architects do that very same bad thing, they can can sugar coat it and self-righteously justify it…with phrases such as ‘Oil for food‘ and ‘Regeneration’, helpfully assisted by their Bretton Woods colleagues, with selective use of the biased chastisement whip commonly known as ‘International law’.

annan-3But how does all this relate to Malawi and the oil drilling on lake Malawi I hear you ask? Well, because at the heart of Malawi’s problems is land and resource control, and the puppet masters pulling the strings are exactly the same kinds of people brewing trouble elsewhere.

So, assuming you’ve heard of the Scotland independence debate, then even though I identify with old fashioned views that divorce must be avoided wherever possible and people must discuss to resolve differences, one part of me says that maybe Scotland should become independent from the UK. Because maybe then will they be able to use their resources for their own country’s benefit. Maybe if independence occurs, some of these architects will begin to realise just how their selfish and greedy actions have been hurting other people across the world?

In Europe maybe if Crimea joins the Russian Federation it will not be exploited by the pro-western kingpins of resource control – some of whom have probably been responsible for financial trickery or misconduct elsewhere?

Similarly, let the people of Malawi resist (at all costs and in whatever manner) drilling of oil on their beautiful lake because in the end, it’s not the local people who stand to benefit from the profits of the oil drilling. As the Paladin episode at Kayelekera has shown (and as other examples on the continent continue to demonstrate), it’s only a few corrupt government officials with off-shore bank accounts in tax havens in Switzerland or the British Virgin Islands who benefit. It’s large Investment Banks that provide the capital to the architects who will get the lions share, it’s a handful of millionaire tycoons with surnames like Borshoff and Ichikowitz, who live in mansions thousands of miles away and whose surnames the locals can’t even spell or pronounce properly, they are the ones who stand to profit. It is the Greedy architects of death (whose actions spur domino type effects, causing wars, and thereby suffering and hardship to millions across the world) who stand to benefit.

It sounds like a tedious link to make, but what has been the number one cause of unrest across the world if not battles for resource control?

That is my reason for opposing drilling on lake Malawi. Because while there is a high risk of environmental degradation which could affect the lives of fishermen who depend on the lake for their livelihoods (it happened in the gulf of Mexico, and happens in the Niger Delta all the times [see another link here via Amnesty International] – how can anybody sane think it will not happen on lake Malawi?), and which could negatively affect tourism and life ecosystems in and around the lake, in the end, there will be tears and loss as very few Malawians will benefit proportionally from the oil resource. In the end it could create strife….

But I’m not saying that the transactions a poor country such as Malawi signs with foreign ‘speculators’ are all bad or useless, and do not bring some material benefit to the country or its inhabitants. No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that comparatively, the benefit to Malawians is too small, too insignificant, chicken feed – unsustainable. In my view, it’s no more than a trojan horse that later comes back to bite and haunt the country. Instead, the net benefit of most of these deals is significantly in favour of these architects, who come into an area, pour in their capital, make billions of dollars in profits, then move out richer than they came in – leaving behind more than just a mess. Leaving behind broken lives,in which the local man remains economically where he was prior to the ‘invasion’, or even poorer, resigned to licking his wounds, as one aggressor after another wrestle for his country’s resources.

And that is hugely problematic because no matter who Malawians elect in May 2014 elections, if the status quo of dealing with investors is maintained, where African leader treat the national purse (and national assets) as private belongings, where investors are allowed to illicitly wire billions of untaxed funds out of the continent, if economic disparities across the country are not decisively addressed (in this I mean by creating companies in which trained locals are majority shareholders and investors are minority shareholders), if the leaders of western countries continue to be hypocritical over the well-documented conduct of business leaders from their countries, poverty levels will continue to linger in Malawi and across Africa for a very long time. And come next election very little would have changed, people will be scratching their heads, and you can come back and read this article again.

By the way, you don’t have to believe anything I’ve written above 🙂 . As I said in the first paragraph, it’s just a hypothesis, a theory based on my observations 🙂 … But even so, take a look at what these people here are saying (AfDB-GFI Joint Report: Illicit Financial Flows Render Africa a Net Creditor to the Rest of the WorldSub-Saharan Africa loses 5.7 percent of GDP to illicit financial outflowsIllicit financial outflows from Africa crippling continent’s development – UN ). With such stories of behaviour which is clearly hurting Africa, should Malawians really risk another Kayelekera? Would it be wise to entrust the lake to people whose number one motivation is profit and little else? Could anybody say the country is really independent? How can you justify independence when you depend too much on the help of others for your existence?

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Flipping the Corruption Myth

Flipping the Corruption Myth by Dr Jason Hickel, a lecturer at the London School of Economics and an adviser to /The Rules
– Corruption is by far not the main factor behind persisting poverty in the Global South.  Original article via Al Jazeera here

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Transparency International recently published their latest annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), laid out in an eye-catching map of the world with the least corrupt nations coded in happy yellow and the most corrupt nations smeared in stigmatising red. The CPI defines corruption as “the misuse of public power for private benefit”, and draws its data from 12 different institutions including the World Bank, Freedom House, and the World Economic Forum.

When I first saw this map I was struck by the fact that most of the yellow areas happen to be rich Western countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, whereas red covers almost the entirety of the global South, with countries like South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Somalia daubed especially dark.

This geographical division fits squarely with mainstream views, which see corruption as the scourge of the developing world (cue cliche images of dictators in Africa and bribery in India). But is this storyline accurate?

Many international development organisations hold that persistent poverty in the Global South is caused largely by corruption among local public officials. In 2003 these concerns led to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which asserts that, while corruption exists in all countries, this “evil phenomenon” is “most destructive” in the global South, where it is a “key element in economic underperformance and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development”.

There’s only one problem with this theory: It’s just not true.

Corruption, superpower style

According to the World Bank, corruption in the form of bribery and theft by government officials, the main target of the UN Convention, costs developing countries between $20bn and $40bn each year. That’s a lot of money. But it’s an extremely small proportion – only about 3 percent – of the total illicit flows that leak out of public coffers. Tax avoidance, on the other hand, accounts for more than $900bn each year, money that multinational corporations steal from developing countries through practices such as trade mispricing.

This enormous outflow of wealth is facilitated by a shadowy financial system that includes tax havens, paper companies, anonymous accounts, and fake foundations, with the City of London at the very heart of it. Over 30 percent of global foreign direct investment is booked through tax havens, which now collectively hide one-sixth of the world’s total private wealth.

This is a massive – indeed, fundamental – cause of poverty in the developing world, yet it does not register in the mainstream definition of corruption, absent from the UN Convention, and rarely, if ever, appears on the agenda of international development organisations.

With the City of London at the centre of the global tax haven web, how does the UK end up with a clean CPI?

The question is all the more baffling given that the city is immune from many of the nation’s democratic laws and free of all parliamentary oversight. As a result of this special status, London has maintained a number of quaint plutocratic traditions. Take its electoral process, for instance: More than 70 percent of the votes cast during council elections are cast not by residents, but by corporations – mostly banks and financial firms. And the bigger the corporation, the more votes they get, with the largest firms getting 79 votes each. This takes US-style corporate personhood to another level.

To be fair, this kind of corruption is not entirely out-of-place in a country where a feudalistic royal family owns 120,000 hectares of the nation’s land and sucks up around £40m ($65.7m) of public funds each year. Then there’s the parliament, where the House of Lords is filled not by-election but by appointment, with 92 seats inherited by aristocratic families, 26 set aside for the leaders of the country’s largest religious sect, and dozens of others divvied up for sale to multi-millionaires.

Corruption in US is only slightly less blatant. Whereas congressional seats are not yet available for outright purchase, the Citizens United vs FEC ruling allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns to ensure that their preferred candidates get elected, a practice justified under the Orwellian banner of “free speech”.

The poverty factor

The UN Convention is correct to say that poverty in developing countries is caused by corruption. But the corruption we ought to be most concerned about has its root in the countries that are coloured yellow on the CPI map, not red.

The tax haven system is not the only culprit. We know that the global financial crisis of 2008 was precipitated by systemic corruption among public officials in the US who were intimately tied to the interests of Wall Street firms. In addition to shifting trillions of dollars from public coffers into private pockets through bailouts, the crisis wiped out a huge chunk of the global economy and had a devastating effect on developing countries when demand for exports dried up, causing massive waves of unemployment.

A similar story can be told about the Libor scandal in the UK, when major London banks colluded to rig interest rates so as to suck around $100bn of free money from people even well beyond Britain’s shores. How could either of these scandals be defined as anything but the misuse of public power for private benefit? The global reach of this kind of corruption makes petty bribery and theft in the developing world seem parochial by comparison.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. If we really want to understand how corruption drives poverty in developing countries, we need to start by looking at the institutions that control the global economy, such as the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the policies that these institutions foisted on the Global South, following the Washington Consensus, caused per capita income growth rates to collapse by almost 50 percent. Economist Robert Pollin has estimated that during this period developing countries lost around $480bn per year in potential GDP. It would be difficult to overstate the human devastation that these numbers represent. Yet Western corporations have benefitted tremendously from this process, gaining access to new markets, cheaper labour and raw materials, and fresh avenues for capital flight.

These international institutions masquerade as mechanisms for public governance, but they are deeply anti-democratic; this is why they can get away with imposing policies that so directly violate public interest. Voting power in the IMF and World Bank is apportioned so that developing countries – the vast majority of the world’s population – together hold less than 50 percent of the vote, while the US Treasury wields de facto veto power. The leaders of these institutions are not elected, but appointed by the US and Europe, with not a few military bosses and Wall Street executives among them.

Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank, has publicly denounced these institutions as among the least transparent he has ever encountered. They also suffer from a shocking lack of accountability, as they enjoy special “sovereign immunity” status that protects them against public lawsuit when their policies fail, regardless of how much harm they cause.

Shifting the blame

If these patterns of governance were true of any given nation in the global South, the West would cry corruption. Yet such corruption is normalised in the command centres of the global economy, perpetuating poverty in the developing world while Transparency International directs our attention elsewhere.

Even if we do decide to focus on localised corruption in developing countries, we have to accept that it does not exist in a geopolitical vacuum. Many of history’s most famous dictators – like Augusto Pinochet, Mobutu Sese Seko, and Hosni Mubarak – were supported by a steady flow of Western aid. Today, not a few of the world’s most corrupt regimes have been installed or bolstered by the US, among them Afghanistan, South Sudan, and the warlords of Somalia – three of the darkest states on the CPI map.

This raises an interesting question: Which is more corrupt, the petty dictatorship or the superpower that installs it? Unfortunately, the UN Convention conveniently ignores these dynamics, and the CPI map leads us to believe, incorrectly, that each country’s corruption is neatly bounded by national borders.

Corruption is a major driver of poverty, to be sure. But if we are to be serious about tackling this problem, the CPI map will not be much help. The biggest cause of poverty in developing countries is not localised bribery and theft, but the corruption that is endemic to the global governance system, the tax haven network, and the banking sectors of New York and London. It’s time to flip the corruption myth on its head and start demanding transparency where it counts.

Dr Jason Hickel lectures at the London School of Economics and serves as an adviser to /The Rules. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jasonhickel

Satan’s Neonazi conmen: The Institutional Discrimination and Racism hidden within Immigration (part 1)

racism

“Institutions can behave in ways that are overtly racist (i.e., specifically excluding people-of-color from services) or inherently racist (i.e., adopting policies that while not specifically directed at excluding people-of-color, nevertheless result in their exclusion). Therefore, institutions can respond to people-of-color and whites differently. Institutional behavior can injure people-of-color; and, when it does, it is nonetheless racist in outcome if not in intent.”  via http://racism.org/

“Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.” Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”  ― Martin Luther King Jr., I Have A Dream

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” —Malcolm S. Forbes.

“Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.”   Muhammad Ali

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” – Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

I was going to subtitle title this post as ‘Stupid & Repressive laws from Stupid & Repressive institutions’, but that subtitle was too long, sounded angry and would have messed up the layout of this article.

A more moderate subtitle would definitely be more effective in getting the important message across. Then I thought of calling it ‘A radical experiment on Immigration’ in a similar fashion to Sam Richard’s brilliant video ‘A radical experiment in empathy’, but that subtitle didn’t explicitly specify the Racism and Discrimination aspects…

A few months ago, I read an article on the Guardian website, in which the writer wrote that “Unless universities realise that merely paying lip service to equality will not eliminate society’s prejudices from their campuses, racism will continue to flourish” [posted on Guardian blogging Students website by one Conrad Landin].

As a migrant who is proud to have come out of two British Universities with two good degrees, I couldn’t agree more. I was racially abused in University (not once or twice), my first encounter with the practice on British soil, but even then I recognised that it was a part of a much bigger and wider problem. A problem that in other forms extended to double gold medallist Mo Farah being stopped and questioned by US customs, over his Somali origins.

Up to the time I began writing this article, I had been asked to write something on immigration and racism by three of my closest friends, and up until recently I gently resisted their requests. Not that I didn’t want to write about the subject or that I didn’t care so much about their requests, nor that it hasn’t affected my own family, no, not because of all that. Instead, it’s quite a painful subject to write about when one’s experiences have been hellish in this regard, and when the institutions involved have caused one’s family members (especially my mother) a lot of grief and hardship. Extremely painful, in more ways than words can describe, so to an extent I was shunning the topic because of the inevitable pain writing about it would cause…..

To put it into perspective, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has been described as Cruel (Roseline’s journey: a kidney transplant patient meets UK Border Agency contractors , Child refugees harmed by ‘cruel’ detention systemState-sponsored cruelty  , Medical Justice : “‘State Sponsored Cruelty’: Children in immigration detention” and here: Child detention is ‘state sponsored cruelty’- report finds); they have been accused of Harrassment; described as Oppressive (The UK Border Agency’s long, punitive campaign against children (helped by G4S and Serco), Not fit for PurposeRacist (Indians to pay £3,000 cash bond deposit for U.K. visa ) , (Why Is the UK Border Agency Racially Profiling People On the Tube?), (Exclusive: Doreen Lawrence pledges to condemn ‘racial profiling’ spot checks in the House of Lords) and (CABIN CRUELTY: MORE TROUBLE AT THE UK BORDERS AGENCY – via Liberty ) which contains the paragraph:

Predictably the UKBA refused to disclose its policy in full. But even what we were shown set alarm bells ringing. There was no provision whatsoever for training staff for aircraft removals – all scenarios related solely to prisons. The approach towards medical care was inconsistent at best, and little or no attention had been paid to de-escalation techniques. It’s not hard to work out that dealing with a distressed deportee on a long flight, confined inside a claustrophobic cabin, might pose particular challenges and health risks. But there was absolutely nothing to suggest the UKBA appreciated this

IncompetentDamning report says practically all UK LGBT asylum claims are being refused; Border Agency “cruel and discriminatory” ) , a law unto itself – a link that contains the paragraph:

“The hearings at the Home Affairs Select Committee enquiring into the running of the UK Border Agency were hard to credit. Keith Vaz, the Chairman of the committee, asked the Head of The UK Border Authority for information about their operations, and the Head of the UKBA replied that he was unwilling to provide said information. It was entirely obvious that the UKBA has become a law unto itself. “

and even Murderous (Jackie Nanyonjo, Jimmy Mubenga and Joy Gardner: all killed by Britain’s racist deportation regime)

The issue has become politicised with people separated from their families ( My battle with Britain’s mean, ineffective immigration system:  ‘Controlling immigration’ means being rude to foreigners — as I found out ); genuine weddings have been wrecked:-

“We travelled down to the venue from Nottingham, only to find that the Bride had been arrested by the Police upon arrival at the Church. It was stated it was due to an Immigration matter. They detained her over night and released her on Sunday without charge. They claimed she had indicated in her application that she was married in the USA and that it was a sham wedding. The girls father had travelled all the way from Malawi, they had friends and guests from all over the country and everything was ruined. The Bride is Malawian who has a USA Green card and lives in America. The groom is a Malawian student who has finished his studies and is waiting for his passport which is with UKBA so that he can leave.They had done all the necessary paperwork to enable them to get married here, gone to the registrar etc and all was in order.”

Even those who served in the armed forces are being harassed.

Another source told me:

“My own sister and niece, who obviously are black – and now American citizens have been denied a visitor visa once, even when they are fully settled in the US, and have no intention of moving to the UK, they have a good life there…much better than what I have here, and at the time of making the application, they supplied all the material that was required for the application…and paid a lot of money, only to have a visa denied, after all that money!”

And all this is just scratching the surface. Indeed the sad stories (that includes staff at UKBA slamming the phone down on nervous applicants) are many and heart wrenching and we don’t have time or room to list them all here.

But how can this kind of treatment of other countries’ nationals be fair game? And why hasn’t the coalition government done something decisive to end the harassment? Do they approve of such heavy-handedness? How many people must die before the UKBA is finally brought to book, and its officers prosecuted? In case you didn’t know, the guardian reported here that detainees at Yarl’s Wood immigration centre were ‘facing sexual abuse’, with guards preying on isolated women at the institution (which is run by Serco), and orchestrating a cover-up. How bad can it get?

Nelson Mandela once said that “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity. To impose on them a wretched life of hunger and deprivation is to dehumanise them.”  In other words, such treatment simply means the victims are being stripped of their humanity; deeply ingrained in the persecutor’s head is the notion that the persecuted are not humans (or are lesser humans). Precisely the very same type of racist ideology that was partially responsible for apartheid, slavery and the holocaust.

Just because it’s happening to a non-white non-British national, does it mean that abuse, cruelty, force, harassment, mental torture, murder and other evils are justified?

Would the British authorities (let alone the officers responsible for these crimes) be happy or content if in quid pro quo fashion, British nationals abroad (there are 5 million of them living outside the UK) were treated inhumanely in the same manner that the UKBA (and its associate agencies) treats migrants here in the UK?

I think not. I think if you showed the majority of British subjects living abroad how migrants are treated by the UKBA, and asked them what they think of the practices, and whether it would be fair game for the authorities in the country in which they are living in to treat them in a similar or identical manner, most would be appalled by the UKBA’s conduct and would not be happy to be treated anything like it.

Someone needs to inject some common sense into this madness…

To some christians in pentecostal and other churches, the UK Border Agency is the very embodiment of Satan, his machinery, the officers – employees of organisations such as Serco and G4S (which have been implicated in numerous heinous scandals [see here, here, here and here]), possessed by his demons.

To aggrieved intellectuals, the UKBA are Neo Nazis, similar in manner to the Gestapo; they are the 21st century’s version of the Ku klux Klan. If their behaviour is anything to go by, there is certainly a case that they have crossed the line, especially with reports (After Serco, what rights do asylum seekers have in detention?) that a manual that authorised guards to use force to incapacitate detainees (including to kick, punch and target pressure points on detainees)  was as recently as last year still in use.

Some say the UKBA is just a money-making scheme (see here , here and here[UK Border agency accused of charging excessive fees for visas – made £225 million PROFIT in 2012]); a profiteering scam with government blessings designed to suck money from already impoverished foreigners (and from wealthy ones); an institutional conduit of funds and a modern-day servitude for the deprivation of foreign nationals. As someone who has had to dish out over £10,000 (a sum that at the time would have completely wiped away all my family’s debts) for one visa or another (including exorbitant solicitors fees), I agree with this allegation to a great extent, and to be honest I’m a little bitter about having had to pay so much. Especially since a lot of that money was paid by my mother, a single parent who at over 60 years of age still had to work (while I was unemployed).

But if you are prepared to use force and even go as far as kill innocent people, to enforce your oppressive laws, what’s a mere low-level scam that causes untold financial hardship?

And this ‘scam’ didn’t start just yesterday. As far back as 2006, some rational people were already questioning the UKBA visa fees policy, with one account in the Financial Times here, stating:

“Students who need visas will already be paying much higher tuition fees than British and other European Union students. If it is argued that if you can afford the tuition fees you can afford the visa fees, a thoroughly incorrect attitude is revealed.

Are we trying to drive away students in need of visas? The visa service is said to be largely self-financing, a typically short-sighted arrangement that ignores the external benefits of accessible visa fees.”

And somehow, despite the complaints against the UKBA, there is nothing wrong with all this, apparently….??

Further, you rarely hear any of their ill-treatment of innocent people in the mainstream media, especially on Tv, which to me is highly suspicious. With the exception of a few bold publications (see Guardian report here) and specialist publications such as New Statesman, which has a story (published March 2013) titled “The UK Border Agency: after four years, a car crash in slow motion finally comes to a stop“, that includes the paragraphs:

“..But incompetence is one thing – cruelty quite another. The fact the new body was kept at arm’s length lead Theresa May to conclude it had created a “closed, secretive and defensive” culture. Staff from sub-contractor Reliance were transporting Roseline Akhalu when she ended up pissing all over herself because she wasn’t allowed to use a toilet. Staff from Tascor – which superceded Reliance – allegedly beat Marius Betondi and broke his nose during a failed deportation attempt. That was one of thousands of distressing cases, the product of a system in chaos.

The failure to prosecute G4S staff over the death of Jimmy Mubenga has been described as “perverse” by the former Chief Inspector of Prisons. Just as it failed to protect victims of torture, so the system failed to protect victims of slavery. The right-wing Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) found a litany of flaws in UKBA’s procedures and concluded that “too often the CSJ has been told that UKBA involvement in the . . .  process acts as a major barrier to victims [of slavery] to make a referral.”…

When a reckless banker misuses the funds of his bank, leading to loss of millions of pounds, it is reported as news, often with glee. When a sea creature is washed up on a beach, the story is reported, even the polar bear cub Knut (who sadly died 2 years ago) received so much publicity!

Is the media saying that such ill-treatment of innocent people (who are HUMANS) as reported in the articles above is not newsworthy?? Or is something more sinister going on?

The way I see it, the silence of large media houses suggests either an indifference (in the same way as Hitler was initially tolerated before everybody realised [rather late] he was pure filth and evil) by the media to atrocious treatment of migrant by UKBA (i.e. we don’t think it’s news) – a massive miscalculation and a failure of judgement; or the silence suggests complicity (i.e. let them get on with it, somebody has got to do it).

In addition, you rarely hear of anyone white, especially from non-EU countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the US or even countries such as Israel being mistreated or harassed?? In the 11 years that I have been living in Britain, and following these issues, I’ve never read a single report of people from these countries being a victim. Instead by far the majority of those who are victimized by what is by all appearances a Neo Nazi fascist organisation are Black Africans, Afro-Caribbeans, Arabs or Asians, which is appalling and quite shameful in a post-apartheid post-slavery 21st century.

It doesn’t speak well at all of Britain’s race relations, or indeed its Human Rights record.

So, given the material I possessed, part of the reason I hesitated in writing this article is because I was still trying to resolve my thoughts and feelings regarding what my true position on the topic was.

And since its pretty clear that there was nothing positive about the Nazi’s, I’m struggling to find anything positive about the UK Border Agency.

Also, the fact that the topic was too broad and requiring formal research didn’t make it easy. Add to that the many facets deserving consideration, the history, multiple implications for the lives of tens of people I know and thousands I don’t know, and the picture couldn’t be fuzzier. That was until a couple of months ago, when a friend told me of his ordeal, which although not as heart wrenching as some of the above cases, demonstrates that the problem is not only in the UK, and even when you have legal status, if you are an ethnic minority, discrimination is everywhere.

Good friend A lives in England with his family (a wife and 3 young kids – the oldest is 6), and has a good job. ‘Good job’ meaning he’s in a managerial position with 8 people below him and earns a good salary. He lives in a 4 bedroom house, and has some savings. Good friend A regularly supports at least 5 relatives back in Africa from his salary (almost every month). I know all this because he told me. He holds a Malawian passport and has travelled extensively over the last 10 years or so, to Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria and other European countries. Recently he wanted to attend a 2 day music festival in a European country with his family. Having made his visa application, showing the festival tickets which costed him around €200 in total, the officials at this country’s embassy in London told him to book his hotel, which he did, spending an additional €200 even when he didn’t know when they would issue the visa, and therefore when he would travel. Then, just before the weekend of the event (and too late for him to cancel his hotel) they requested that he submit additional documents, even when he had supplied everything that was stipulated on both their website and their application forms. Then he went for the interview at the embassy, to find staff who were so haughty, condescending and disparaging, he came out feeling disgusted.  Suffice to say, he missed his festival, and €500 (including the cost of the visa and trip to the embassy) went down the drain.

I’d love to say that there is no racial discrimination in the immigration system, but I’m afraid as all the above demonstrates I can’t. There are too many stories like those above – whose victims are ethnic minorities – which suggests otherwise.

If you look across Europe, just as its undeniable that there has been an increase in ‘hostilities’ against muslims (another type of largely baseless discrimination), there’s an ‘anti-immigrant wave’ blowing across the continent, in France, Sweden, and other countries, and a large part of that wave is directed towards non-white, non-european migrants from outside the EU.

But I’m not saying that there are no other aspects of immigration worth considering. It is perfectly clear that not everybody can live in Europe, or America, or Canada or Australia, for all sorts of reasons (and I’m going to outline them in my next post), but to exclude and discriminate against people robotically on the basis of their race and nationality is in my view simply wrong. To use force to wreck lives without a basis is inexcusable, to harass people who have a genuine case is atrocious, to kill innocent people or separate families is a criminal act.

In addition, I’m concerned that very few people are prepared to ask, why are all these people wanting to live here, and not in their own countries, what is happening in their own countries that’s causing them to want to live here?

And predictably with such pressure and harassment some people get desperate, and in an attempt to stay in the country from which they are being threatened with removal utilise every means possible, from fake passports to shady lawyers. The effect, it diminishes the credibility in the genuine cases of other migrants such that everyone is viewed with suspicion.

And because usually with such stories, people have had some extremely bad and painful experiences, emotions run high, and some can be dismissive. One friend recently declared:- “the west pillaged resources from other continents, and then created a ‘apartheid’ immigration system, a walled fortress to keep out everyone from the wealth that was built on the proceeds of the plunder. You see it in Canada, in Australia, in the US, in Britain and most western economies.” 

And in countries which have non-white ‘native populations’ such as Australia and the US, the parodies are never in short supply:

grg

Many years ago, I used to wonder, why some people fail to forgive. Why some people get hardened. What exactly is happening in their hearts? Why can’t they just let things go? For example why is retaliation the song of the day between Israel and Palestine? Why can’t one of them say,

Look we’ve caused each other too much pain already, enough lives have been lost, enough is enough, this has got to stop. This ends now.”

I couldn’t understand it. Then recently, while doing research for this article, that led me to places where I heard views from many people who have been affected by the Immigration system in the UK, I began to see it, I began to realise that sometimes, undue persecution, institutional harassment and violation can run so deep, and the unhealed wounds can continue to be painful after so many years, and be so many of them, such that forgiveness is impossible. It appears like one can literally lose the capacity to forgive. In such out of control circumstances, I can imagine why an eye truly and only calls for another eye.

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Global 100 Voices: No 5

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My next guest describes himself as the proprietor of a recently opened media company(AGM Media).The company offers photography, audio and video services, amongst other services. He’s also undertaking International studies with the Open University. Mr MKOTAMA KATENGA-KAUNDA, thank you for doing the 100 Voices Interview!

  1. As a Malawian, how important is Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability to you and your family?

It is important because as a human being, one always aspires to have a better life for one self and his/her family. Socio-economic stability gives a better chance for someone with a dream to have a better quality life in a developing country.

    2. After nearly 50 years since independence, what visible progress do you think Malawi has made since independence, and in your view, what pressing challenges remain? In view of those challenges, what do you think is the role of government and the people in tackling those challenges?

It is really difficult to pinpoint any visible progress Malawi has made since independence. It is the same scenario of ‘the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer’. It is sad that Malawi has not developed as it should have because the majority of visible structures in our country were built by Kamuzu Banda about twenty-plus years ago. It has been 19 years since we became a democratic country and not much has really changed in Malawi. In my view, I fail to register any visible progress that Malawi has made since independence because we have destroyed the very foundation which our nation once built (electricity and water supply is erratic, refuse collection is non-existent, our postal services are inefficient, Malawian-owned industries have been sold off etc). The most pressing challenge is ‘corruption’ at all levels of society in Malawi. For things to change, the government, starting with the executive, need to be exemplary by being tough on corruption at all levels in society. If the government is serious about such issues, then it is inevitable that citizens will follow suit.

  3. As someone who lived(or has lived) outside Malawi for some time, and has been exposed to modern and progressive ideas, what symbols of development in the foreign country in which you lived have had the greatest impact on you, and why?

I lived in the UK for 12 years and there are a lot of symbols of development in the UK that have had the greatest impact on me. My view is that, anybody that works hard in the UK has the chance to live life above the poverty line. Their social welfare is admirable in that it manages to help those citizens who are unemployed, homeless, sick and disabled etc. The roads, universities, transnational corporations, manufacturing industries and many more are all symbols of development that are prevalent in the UK. These symbols of development have had the greatest impact on me simply because my country of origin, Malawi, is lagging behind as one of the poorest countries in the world.

   4. What lessons do you think Malawians and the Malawian leadership can learn from those ideas?

As this is a globalised world, a lot of Malawians have travelled and are still travelling. When we travel, it broadens our horizons and whatever we see in developed countries, always inspires us that we can also develop to the level of western countries. The lesson to be learnt is that as a nation, we should be resilient and ambitious with our developmental plans, because it is possible for third world nations to become developed nations. We should study and analyse those countries that have developed and try to figure out where we have gone wrong to strengthen our weaknesses on our path to development.

   5. When you last returned to Malawi, what struck you the most as the greatest sign of improvement or development since the last time you left?

I think the most clear sign of improvement that struck me was the number of better cars in Malawi.

   6. What struck you the most as the biggest sign of stagnation or regression?

The biggest sign of stagnation was corruption because everywhere i went, people preferred to do things through the back door.

frgl7. Malawians will be going to the polls in 2014, to elect a new president. In your view what kind of leader does Malawi NEED, considering the country’s current challenges? And specifically, how should that leader approach the top job in terms of creating sustainable development and foreign reducing aid dependency?

The biggest challenge Malawi has, is that we are dependent on foreign exchange for economic stability. As we approach the elections, Malawi needs an innovative leader that’s ready to initiate an ambitious blueprint to try to become self-sufficient. Malawi needs a frugal, transparent and incorruptible leader who is willing to make sacrifices for the future of our nation. This means that we need to utilise all our natural resources in a meaningful way where we get full returns that in turn spark developmental pathways for our nation.

   8. As you know, Tobacco is Malawi’s biggest source of export revenue. Looking at the problems that have plagued the tobacco industry in recent times, what alternatives do you think Malawi has besides Tobacco, and why are they viable alternatives?

Malawi’s alternatives to acquiring foreign revenue apart from Tobacco, is through natural resources. We have uranium in the northern region which is a sought after mineral in nuclear energy physics. Lake Malawi is rumoured to have gas and oil deposits underneath its seabed, which is believed to have caused tension between Malawi and Tanzania. However if the prospect is true, the returns from natural resources are always rewarding to countries with natural resources.

   9. Considering our troubled history with donors and funders such as the IMF and World Bank, most recently when  Bingu Wa Mutharika was president, how do you see Malawi progressing from this relationship in view of the criticisms these organisations have received in the media across the world?

The only way to progress from such a relationship is by becoming self-sufficient. Countries like Malawi are in a vicious cycle where they have become used to being dependants of the IMF and the World Bank. To come out of the reach of the IMF or the World Bank, Malawi needs to utilise its natural resources by channelling monetary gains into improving our social welfare.

   10. We know that Malawi has some precious minerals, including uranium, possibly oil and other natural resources. How do you think the present government is doing regarding managing Malawi’s natural resources?

The present government’s management of natural resources is poor. Rumours were rife in the previous administration that they signed a weak contract with Paladin an Australian company that was given concessions to mine uranium in Malawi. The current government has also kept the nation in the dark about the contract and no one really knows whether Malawi is gaining from it or not.

   11. In your view, can the government do better to manage natural resources? If so, how can it do better?

Yes, the government can do better by becoming transparent in its dealings with foreign companies that are given concessions to extract minerals from Malawi. Contracts should be negotiated for the benefit of the nation and not for just a select elite few. There is need for our government to realise that natural resources are for the benefit of all the people of the country, and not just for the leaders in the executive.

12. What is your answer to increasing transparency and eradicating corruption which is plaguing most governments across Africa?

The answer is to have a strong constitution without any loopholes, a constitution that punishes anyone in contempt of the law. There is also a need to separate the police from the state so they can work independently without government interferences.

   13. Any famous words?

Running a government is very serious business – Bakili Muluzi

 100 Voices is a collection of reflections, views, opinions, ideas and thoughts by Malawians across the world, regarding the past, present and future of Malawi.