US not concerned about Chinese competition in Africa… but it probably should be

US not concerned about Chinese competition in Africa… but it probably should be by The China Africa Project #np on #SoundCloud

Growing African economies that will work for African people

African market
Women at an African market

Tanzania just announced that it will dump English as its official language in schools, opting for Kiswahili instead. This morning, I read this article that somehow appears to suggest that this is a bad idea.

I must say I disagree, and below I’ll try to explain why.

When the colonial powers came to Africa, one of the first things they did was to impose their own languages as the language of learning in their territories. France imposed French in the various west African territories it colonised, Portugal imposed Portuguese, Holland imposed Dutch and Britain imposed English and so on. This had the effect of dividing communities which were otherwise related. The overall effect was to stop any hope of large countries the size of the Democratic Republic of Congo from ever emerging out of Africa. It was divide and rule of the purest form. Fragmentation – a cruel tactic designed to tie the future of those then colonies forever to the colonial powers.

So the english taught was not necessarily to be a conduit of knowledge transfer that would empower the colonies as some people would have you believe. Instead, it was a move to make sure that schools produced compliant subjects which could easily be manipulated, and do the bidding of the colonial masters in Europe.

And that is reason enough in my view for Tanzania to change the official language to Kiswahili, because the motive of colonised Tanzania having to communicate in foreign languages was entirely driven by foreign interests.

Secondly, groups of people often associate and define themselves as an ethnicity on various terms, but one of the most common denominators, other than ancestry is language. You identify as Chewa because your parents are Chewa and they spoke Chichewa, they lived in the land of the Chewa, their village was in the Chewa belt. Therefore you are Chewa.

This is the norm, not the exception.

So as Tanzanians, the question which the above article answers is that Kiswahili is a unifying force in Tanzania. It holds together the people, even though they are made up of 130 different ethnicities.

So why then should they conduct their lives based on an imported language when they have a language of their own?

Who’s interests does having English as an official language of education ultimately serve?

Why teach in English when students could learn in their own African language? Are people not proud of being African?

If the US, Britain or Spain is unlikely to begin teaching their students in Nyanja or Kiswahili which are African languages, why is it somewhat acceptable or expected for Africans to teach their students in foreign languages?!?

In any case, shouldn’t Tanzania develop an economy that first and foremost works for Tanzanians (if you can allow me to temporarily step out of my usual Pan-African shoes), people who are citizens of a sovereign country?

In the above article, the author quotes Ahmed Salim, a senior Associate at Teneo Intelligence, a political risk consultancy that works with U.S investors, who makes what I consider to be a hopelessly narrow-minded point:

However, in terms of overall impact, the main challenge will be felt long-term when companies set up shop in Tanzania and are left with hiring staff that are either bilingual Tanzanians or from neighboring Kenya or Uganda. This will somewhat hinder Tanzania’s competitive advantage in the future.”

Now, I’m not saying they should stop teaching English altogether, or that English isn’t an important international language. That’s not what I’m saying. Instead the argument for English is tied to this over-emphasis on foreign investment (money coming from the outside of Africa) to help and rescue Africans, to give them jobs and create an economy – as if Africans themselves couldn’t use their own resources to create economies that work for the benefit of African countries.

Tanzania has many natural resources including natural gas (See the following links Tanzania’s Natural Gas Reserves Almost Triple on New Finds ; Statoil makes another natural gas find offshore Tanzania ;  BG Group touts Pweza as its largest Tanzania gas find ). The country’s economy is growing at a rate of 7% which is quite high and above the international average. If those resources are utilised properly by the government of Tanzania for the benefit of the country’s citizens (as opposed to liberally auctioned-off to the highest corporate bidder) they could be a source of some serious economic development that would create jobs for young Tanzanians, investment into security, and used for infrastructure development, investment in Education, Healthcare and women’s issues.

That investment, derived from wholly Tanzanian owned resources, could be a serious game changer if utilised wisely.

But if some corporation is allowed to own a majority stake, or lions share of Tanzania’s Natural Gas resources, I can tell you now what difference it will make to the Tanzanian economy in the long run:

NONE.

The profits that corporation makes will be wired out of Tanzania to already developed and rich countries. Countries that needs the benefit of the resource much less, and that have billions in cash reserves to fall back on. And those profits will find their way into the fat pockets of already rich shareholders in those rich countries. Ultimately such funds will trickle down to contribute to the tax system of those already rich countries, benefitting their economies.

Meanwhile, poor Tanzanians already struggling with poverty, low incomes, unemployment, high cost of living, government corruption, who do not own property, poor healthcare in hospitals and the lack of medicines, no electricity in most areas, deforestation, poaching and lack of clean water in the villages will not have benefitted proportionately from such natural gas deals. Instead they will have to continue receiving handouts, breadcrumbs from aid organisations – when their country possesses the natural resources that could be used to create wealth for them…all just because of greed of some corporations

How absurd and stupid is that?

So the scare mongering self-serving attitude against Tanzania choosing to teach their students in Kiswahili is wrong, It’s anti-African and I vehemently disagree with such dishonest views.

Africans and other developing countries have been stamped on for too long. We must end this corporate driven theft and madness and begin to create economies which are designed to serve and benefit us as Africans, just as others have been building economies to benefit their own economies, and their own people.

Inequality in graphs and images

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why!?

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

And here’s why:

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

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

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

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

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

offshore_tax_jurisdictions

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

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

4. Stop unnecessary privatisation. But encourage responsible Investment

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

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

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

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

CossartDevelopment_webfg2

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

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

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

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

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

Sharp perspective on US Race Relations Chomsky – When the State Criminalises Black Life

Sharp perspective on US Race Relations by Noam Chomsky – When the State Criminalises / re-criminalises Black Life …

There are many parallels I’ve seen in action in other societies outside the US. Sadly, most people are completely unaware of what is happening, or are reluctant to admit it’s happening. Some just don’t want to face the facts of the matter – why would they when it doesn’t affect them on a personal level?

 

Congratulations Mr President – Where does Malawi go from here?

APMMy congratulations to President Arthur Peter Mutharika (APM) for winning the 2014 presidential elections in Malawi are aptly late. Over 2 months late – I’m somewhat embarrassed, but just as the lateness was not entirely of my own doing, maybe as a consequence of it (possibly even in spite of it), a lot more thought has gone into preparing these ‘congratulations’ than would have been the case if I had offered them the day APM claimed victory. Had I made haste, the congrats would have been too brief and would lack substance.

In earnest, this post is more of a call to action than an expression of pleasantries. And what better time to do it than when the President is in the US, to meet Barack Obama at the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Pardon me for comparing the picture of 50 African leaders congregating in Washington DC to meet a US President, with governors being summoned to Rome to meet the Emperor, a summon by the Emperor to rulers of the provinces.

Except in this picture, the United states is not really an empire in the classical sense (if we ignore the economic sense for a moment). Neither are the 50 countries which have been invited to Washington, and are sending  their leaders, governors of US provinces. So the question is, why comply to such a request at all?

The simple and shortest answer is DOLLARS. Our world is controlled by the stuff. And even though the institution that issues currency in the US is essentially a private consortia of unknown entities (they are secret), the scheme of things is that most parts of the world today are currently dancing to the tune of Washington (and possibly to the tune of those who lend to Washington) , in the same way as at the height of the Roman empire, a large part of the civilised world did what Rome said, and were subjects to the political and economic power of ROME.

And while the rise of China could curb the dollar dominance, that’s not really what I want to talk about today.

1. Priorities

Mr President, as a well-educated man, I’m sure you know that there’s nothing wrong with Malawi forming alliances with bigger and more powerful countries. It is beneficial because such alliances can provide access to capital, if not attract inward investment (Your inaugural speech touched on this). Further they are potentially a conduit of technology transfer – which could have huge benefits for a country like Malawi.

Malawi needs developed allies, whether they are from the East, West, North or South.

However, who ultimately benefits from these alliances? Who gets the lion’s share? Are these deals really win-win situations? Could they be made to be win-win situations if they are not? Or is the bigger player benefitting more than the smaller player?

For example if a Chinese or American company invests $300 million into Malawi’s railway infrastructure, mining or agricultural sector, how much of that investment will genuinely foster long-term sustainable growth? A kind of growth in which ordinary Malawians are set to genuinely benefit from the deal? In layman terms, we might ask how many people will have their livelihood transformed by the investment such that they achieve or are likely to achieve long-term financial independence?

I think these questions must be asked, and addressed because it probably will not be of significant benefit to Malawians, if investors are persuaded to invest, but there is no strategy to safeguard the long-term rewards of the investment to ordinary Malawians.

An effective system needs to be created and implemented whereby revenue sharing (between investors and the government / local people) is as much a priority as the luring of investors. Maybe a good place to start would be to create investment organisations or government agencies such as this one in Angola, whose task is to iron out investment rules and create a win-win strategy. Indeed the rhetoric between Beijing and Luanda has increasingly been of creating ‘win-win’ business partnerships.

Malawi should learn something from such partnerships.

This is what most major powers today did in the heydays of their economies. Japan has these agencies, Britain established them many years ago, Germany has them (and has large manufacturing and investment zones which are testament to the success of these agencies), even China has a good number of them. And if you look at younger economies, like Australia and New Zealand, even there you’ll find them. Thus, it’s no surprise that a country such as Iran operates a few of these vehicles. With that benefit of hindsight, is it not important for Malawi to develop Government investment agencies?

2. Education

The technical projects of Bingu Wa Mutharika’s government were an excellent idea. And it is in your government’s best interest if these were successfully completed. We need more high quality educational institutions that will train our workforce, and empower them with skills that they will need to do their jobs well. Transferable skills which they can use in various scenarios. For this to happen we need to train teachers and lecturers abroad, to access this knowledge and impart it on our students. We also need to attract foreign specialists who already possess this knowledge, and bring them to Malawian institutions so that they can impart their knowledge onto our students. We need to broaden the subjects on offer at our institutions, and we need to make higher education more accessible. Here, the use of technology may be useful, in that video technologies that allow the creation of  ‘virtual classrooms’ could provide an excellent (and cheaper) way of technology transfer. Here also is the need for equipment most paramount. Your government would be best advised to source as much educational equipment from other countries or educational institution as can be possible. This can be a real game changer in terms of the quality of graduates we train.

3. Corruption

Mr President, if there’s one critical limiting factor to Africa’s economic development, whose negative effects don’t need re-articulating, it is corruption. The practice is killing the continent. And if nothing is done to curb the prevalence, and extent, we will never catch up with the rest of the world. In Malawi, the Cashgate crisis has put this issue in sharp contrast. And an opportunity has arisen in that addressing corruption in Malawi could close the loopholes for good, safeguarding public funds, and paving the way for sustainable economic development. It is crucial that the perpetrators of the Cashgate scandal be brought to book without selection or bias because this will give people confidence in your government. It really is in your best interest that our government in Malawi becomes clean. A cleaner government is a stronger government. And a stronger government has a better chance of creating and maintaining a strong economy, than one which is inherently corrupt. Examples of this relationship stretch from recent governments in Norway, all the way back to the Roman empire I referenced to above.

4. Unity

Bringing in Muluzi into government was a good and commendable gesture. Although many people I’ve spoken to have doubted whether he has the experience for his current office, I think having him in government is a positive thing. But that aside, I think trying to find common ground, and inviting the opposition into government should go much further. There are many talented people in Malawi. Proud Malawians who have immense talents – but who are not utilised and therefore feel left out. Maybe the creation of Parliamentary committees enables participation on some level, but more must be done. I’d think new blood like Juliana Lungudzi and several other young politicians could do more if entrusted with responsibility within government. Why? Because Malawi needs fresh ideas, and different people have different ideas they bring to the table depending on their experiences. Yet ultimately, we all want Malawi to develop, to do better, so it would be in our own interest if everyone participated. I urge you Sir, to empower this parliament to be different, to be united and a force for good on behalf of ordinary citizens. The way to do that is to keep the legislators busy with meaningful projects that have a real prospect to effect change. And to keep jealousy firmly locked out.

5. Federal System of Governance

This goes without saying, but power shared is responsibility shared. There’s little justification why a country the size of Malawi with a population over 13 million should restrict itself by virtue of its system of government. And one man can never fully cater to the needs of 13 million people. Neither can 192 people – no matter how prolific – do enough to improve the lives of so many people. A Federal System could change that. It will bring more people into participation in the building of our economy, and the power bestowed upon them will enable them to undertake projects free from the control or bureaucracy of a centralised system. Across the world, there are many examples of countries with Federal Systems that work far better than those with centralised systems, and as an expert in law, I’m sure this issue is evident to you.

6. Infrastructure

See this and this (which includes a reference to the Shire-Zambezi Water Way). Increased infrustructure will open our continent up, and make it easier for people to do business. It will also lower the associated costs of investment – a factor which could attract more investors.

7. Investment into Manufacturing and Business

In order to be less reliant on products sourced from outside, we need to develop our own manufacturing sector. Why should we buy from outside things which we can make or source quite cheaply within our own borders? With tobacco earnings set to drop, now could be the time to diversify into manufacturing. After all, China is increasingly becoming an expensive destination for western companies – many are looking for alternatives. Creation of incubation and business centres is also a necessary prerequisite to sustainable economic development. If you make the cost of doing business low in your country, many people will flourish and reward your government handsomely in increased tax contributions.

8. Subsistence farming and preservation of Small Industries

There are lessons to be learned from the Farm Input Subsidy Programme. And your government would be best advised to listen to what the people want. Thus, how many fishermen who currently use canoes for their trade would do better with a boat? How many farmers who use hoes to prepare the fields could benefit from a cooperative that lends out a tractor? Similarly, what should the government do to help industries such as these:  How second-hand clothes kill business for Malawi’s tailors.

9. Accountability

Our culture of accountability needs to be restored in Malawi. People should not do wrong (be it in a parastatal or top civil service position) and think they can get away with it. A good way forward would be for regular performance reviews not only for ministers, but also ordinary civil servants, preferably to be undertaken by external auditors (to minimise the prospect of favouritism developing into self-accountability). That way we would be replacing entitlement (where people think they have a right to a job – even when they are not qualified for it / when they are bad workers) with accountability. Similarly, it must never be right for an investor whose company has earned millions of dollars through doing business in Malawi, to evade tax, legitimately, on Malawian soil. The loopholes need to be closed shut.

10. Increased Trade with other African countries.

I urge you sir to be an advocate of the Africa brand. We need to import more from our immediate neighbours than from farther afield. We need to lobby the west to act in reducing cost of remittances. We need Africans to do more business with other Africans. See this for more information.

11. Security and Safety

We need to restore our confidence in the police. Malawi needs more security, not only along our borders but within our towns and cities. People in Malawi don’t feel safe anymore. Not like how safety used to be defined in the 70’s and 80’s. If we can’t afford police cars, let the government buy our police officers motorcycles (which are cheaper to run), so that they are able to respond to calls for help.

12. Investment in International markets

Malawi and other African countries need to invest in international markets. This should be a strategic and long-term initiative. We need to create organisations that invest in global companies around the world, so that the dividends therefrom are wired back to our countries in Africa, boosting our economies, and thereby contributing to our continent’s economic growth. Just see this article titled Bleeding Money: Africa Is A Net Creditor To The World, Illicit Outflow Actually Exceeds Inflow Of Aid, Investment, to understand why this is necessary. It’s urgent.

Mr president, Malawians are looking up to you now. They need leadership accompanied by action, and less of the empty promises of previous regimes.

Once again, congratulations Mr President Sir!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Boris Johnson’s ‘Greed’ speech reveals about the rot in Politics

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There are many things which the UK does well on the world stage. Tons! In fact too many raw and commendable achievements to list in one blog post or even to chronicle in a single book, and that is itself a testament to the past leadership, a great people and what a great country Britain has been and still is.

As someone who has been bred within the British system (in almost all good meanings of those words), I have great respect and admiration for the way Britain has done (for itself and the wider humanity), and how Britain continues to do certain things.

However, having said that, there are other things that current British political leaders have not been too good at, and are in fact utterly appalling at.

Before I explore this point further, please allow me to share with you a story that relates not to current political leaders in the UK, but to current political leaders in the US

Last year, I read an article that was commenting over the results of the 2012 US general elections. In October, several months later, the 2013 US government shutdown happened, reminding me about the contents in that article.

In a nutshell, the author of the article opined that  Mitt Romney was not a bad leader. That with a few deliberate but permanent tweaks to his persona, he could make a good president, even a great president. I know that summary in itself sounds somewhat mechanical and dreamy, but I totally agreed with this conclusion, for reasons which you will understand once you’ve finished reading this post.

In the weeks following the US government shutdown (and much recently, the ‘greed’ speech by Boris Johnson) , I found myself viewing these events with similar sentiments. i.e. that if you are someone who has felt the pangs of pain of not having enough, experienced the life of living in a poor family, of struggle, of constantly being sidelined, the want which  ‘the bottom’ 60% maybe 70% experience, in one form or the other, you are more likely than not, to know specifically how to treat or accommodate others (especially those who for whatever reason find themselves in that societal bracket) sensitively and constructively, than if you have lived a relatively comfortable and wealthy life, with little or no deprivation, pain or material want. It sounds apologetic or a bit like a get out of jail card justifying exploitation, but it isn’t.

The issue of how the ruling classes treat the masses is a lot more serious than how some people like to portray it. It transcends even the Marxist theory of inequality and poverty and many other attempts to capture its gravity. And here, we can also reference to the credit crunch, the riotous issue of healthcare insurance in the US, and repossession of personal property. To some people, these are merely transactional issues with little or no personal implications or emotion attached to them. To these lucky few, they still have a roof over their heads – one they own; they have enough food, money; investments, savings, affluent friends and family, they can still afford one or more holidays a year, they can still afford 2 bottles of fine wine a week, the golf club membership is intact, the steaks and gourmet dinners with acquaintances, business partners, or with family; the trips to the movies, they can still attend concerts and the Broadway featured shows, etc …. very little, if at all anything has changed in their lives. Which is totally fine. Whatever works for you.

But to others, those who have actually been affected, lack of health insurance, a repossessed home, or a rise in energy bills is a much more personal and grave issue that will materially and negatively affect them, often for a very long time. A repossession/ foreclosure means losing their home, not having security, their poor credit rating just worsened (making it harder for them to obtain credit in future – exacerbating an already bad situation), it means there is less money for a decent diet – which could affect their health; the impact on their mental health, and on their children (part of it being psychological), the societal stigma, the personal shame, the resulting hardship, etc…is all immensely difficult to deal with. Often depression follows.

Sadly, you never truly know how difficult such situations are, until you experience them yourself.

Yet, isn’t it incredible how the suffering of others somehow solicits critiques from folk who have never gone through it themselves. Barking senseless orders to those affected :

Oh they shouldnt have got a mortgage in the first place (what about those who were issuing the mortgages, don’t they get any blame) ; Shit happens ; It’s the system;  You can’t keep everyone happy;  Not everyone can live comfortably or achieve success in life; Inequality is necessary for competition

Which brings me to Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. In his speech recently he was quoted to have said that greed was a necessary motivator. That inequality was essential to fostering “the spirit of envy“, hailing greed as a “valuable spur to economic activity“.

Now, I think I’ve got a bit of an idea what he may have been trying to say, but I don’t believe his selection of words is particularly helpful in a country that has one of the widest gap between rich and poor in the western world, and whose recent policies have been criticised by even some of its greatest living champions.

Depending on who you choose to listen to (see other accounts here and here), his speech was either brilliant or hopelessly misleading. In my view it represents exactly the type of rotten politician who has been responsible for societal disharmony and global unrest over the last few years. The comments are similar to the contemptible and greed driven  line-up-for-oil-contracts-now-that-Gaddafi-has-died comments made by a UK defence minister after Gaddafi’s death. And that’s coming from someone who didn’t exactly like Gaddafi.

But let’s think a moment about Boris’s comments. Weren’t the same “hedge fund kings” he idolizes part of the devilish and unholy alliance of risk prone bankers, unhinged speculators and others greedy sorts who were largely responsible for the global financial crisis that recently destroyed the global economy? A crisis which in the end, after all the bonuses had been paid – and the rich had gotten richer, had to fall back on state-owned banks, financed by the same poor tax payer (here, the US term ‘tax dollars‘ is particularly appropriate ) virtually being shitted on by this speech, to bail them out?

Never mind his ignorant remarks on IQ (a rebuttal of which deserves its own blog post), how can in this day and age a self-respecting politician stand up, and publicly say that it is futile to attempt to end inequality? Where on earth is this man living? Does he even have a functioning ethical compass? No wonder many young people think politicians are out of touch with reality.

Can one preach at home inequality of races and nations and advocate abroad good-will towards all men?
– Dorothy Thompson 

[Here think about David Cameron’s agenda in his recent Sri Lanka visit]

My attitude to peace is rather based on the Burmese definition of peace – it really means removing all the negative factors that destroy peace in this world. So peace does not mean just putting an end to violence or to war, but to all other factors that threaten peace, such as discrimination, such as inequality, poverty.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Even the Great Nelson Mandela had some wise and thoughtful words of advice on poverty (which is an effect of inequality) via this quote:

BrK0ijM

I don’t have anything personal against Boris Johnson. In fact before he made that speech, I kind of liked him… but after such thoughless statements (which in my view go beyond all the silly but harmless things he’s said in the past), I’m surprised how he can be so insensitive??

But how is Boris Johnson’s speech related to Mitt Romney? Well, Mitt happens to be the fellow who said:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. … My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”  [leaked comments from a fundraiser in May 2012]

a statement which he later regretted, and which solely probably costed him the US presidency. [More Mitt quotes here]

My point with all this?

Shouldn’t Politics be about representing the people, both rich and poor; Leadership – whether in Africa, America,  Europe or elsewhere, should be about creating a functional, healthier, safer, happier, more productive society? How better to do that than by leading by example?

In my view, today’s leaders cannot help the poor or indeed know how severe the situations of low-income earners (or those suffering with sickness, that are unemployed, in debt, etc, ) can be, when they are cushioned from that horrible world by a media obsessed with sanitizing news. Unless they make a serious attempt to experience the common man’s life, they’ll remain blind – and we’ll continue to hear more such stupid comments.

It is vain, immature and wantonly elitist to go around advocating inequality and greed when you have never experienced its less than admirable effects firsthand.

Very few people choose to be poor, so how valid are divisive comments on greed when you don’t know how the victims of inequality live, how they deal with the daily problems they face (the solutions of which you smart-arsly cobble together in your speeches – with no first hand experience) or even how they became affected in the first place?

Boris Johnson’s claim to hardship probably extends no further than the couple of times his wife kicked him out their marital home, after repeatedly cheating on her. That clearly is not hardship.

Which brings me to my next point.

Don’t you think there is a higher probability that society could be more cohesive, stronger across the board, people more responsible towards each other, harmonious and more likely to successfully combat the problems of the day if high income groups were genuinely sensitive to the needs and circumstances of low-income groups, and low-income groups were sensitive to the needs and circumstances of high income groups?

I know it sounds a bit fanciful and rather idealistic, but allow me please to give you an example.

I watch Secret Millionaire and Undercover Boss, both of which I think are fantastic shows. Sometimes they bring tears to my eyes as I watch hardworking folk struggle with the challenges of life, getting by on very little, a life that I’m accustomed to and know just too well.

And then the millionaire or ‘boss’ steps onto the scene, in disguise, and after making observations over a few weeks, has their outlook transformed as to how others in a different world to themselves live and work. After this ‘eye opener’ the millionaires reveal their identities, and donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to some causes, or in the case of Undercover Boss, donates tens of thousands of dollars to their employees, paying for their medical bills, childcare, education, long overdue holidays, etc., sometimes transforming the employees life beyond their wildest dreams.

I know there are people out there who hand on heart don’t want to mix with those from less fortunate backgrounds, or those from a different religious persuasion, or those who they have been made to believe embody certain negative stereotypes, but how can society be harmonious or progress if people across the board are inflexible to understanding what causes inequality, poverty, hardship, but are only too willing to complacently make preachy damaging statements, from within their comfort zones?

Like Mandela, Gandhi to me represents the near-ideal leader all leaders should aspire or measure themselves against; how he had few possessions and believed in the notion that what you did for others was more honourable and worthy than what you did for yourself is. Or Thomas Sankara, the military leader of Burkina Faso, who being selfless and incorruptible, triumphed women’s causes.

A good leader thinks thus: We’ve created more jobs, even though we are in a recession and have implemented cuts that will affect mostly the poorest, I’ll take a holiday or two abroad this year because my family and I need it, we need a break.

A great leader refuses to take a holiday abroad because there are thousands of citizens who, although hardworking, are failing to get a job and certainly can’t afford a holiday, not even in their own country.

The difference couldn’t be clearer.

In the article I refer to above, the writer opined that Mitt was not a bad person in a Newt-Gingrich (or  Michael Howard )-creepy kind of way. To the contrary, he thought Mitt was quite a likeable person whom you’d probably have a fun night out with. What struck me most was the form the writer said the refining of a statesman would take:-

‘Picture this, say post Bain Capital , family man Mitt left his family, took time out to hit the road.

Spent at least 2 years without the safety net of his wealth (estimated to be $250 million), nor access to the political or business connections. If Mitt effectively took a sabbatical from it all; living rough, or say in $50 a night motels (with a daily budget not exceeding  say $75 a day) studying the political landscape, working with people on the ground, in homeless shelters, interacting with people in soup kitchens, with those who have faced foreclosures, hearing their side of the story, amongst black and latino voters, job seekers, support groups of alcohol and drugs abuse, among illegal immigrants and those without healthcare, keeping a journal, taking photos…across both Democrat and Republican strongholds, through the Swing States, with a backpack… don’t tell me that after such a 2 year-long odyssey, Mitt would be the same person he now is?

True, he’d most likely meet with frowns, and possibly lose artificial friends, colleagues, partners, donors, etc. In the absence of proper communication (and feasible marriage arrangements) his family could be hostile towards him, or even abandon him,  but a real conviction and desire to serve would prompt him to press on.

It is more likely than not that after having seen how a sizeable chunk of  Americans in a different ‘world’ than that in which he’s accustomed to lives,  that he would emerge a changed man,  full of firsthand insights and clear understanding of life in the slow lane, and without the superficial and aloof manner that probably alienated some of the potential voters away from him. Minimally, it would win him deserved commendation, from both rich and poor, that at least he’s experienced a little of what the local man goes through, even if its only for two years, and would immediately dispel any elitist labels. If I were an American, I would seriously consider voting for such a Mitt Romney.’

I can’t argue with that.

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Today we are still talking about Gandhi, 65 years after his death, with the United Nations General Assembly declaring in 2007 that Gandhi’s birthday 2 October will be the International Day of Nonviolence.  2nd October is also a national holiday in India in Gandhis honour.

When it comes to Mandela, we will continue to idolize him for a very long time indeed, and have idolized Abraham Lincoln, another great leader, for over 181 years! [see these Lincoln statues – in the US alone]. There’s even a Lincoln square in Manchester (UK) city centre with a statue of Lincoln.

I can’t help but wonder in what sense, and for how long, humanity will remember the current breed of politicians, many of whom appear to be doing more harm than good to society.

But I’m certain of one thing: unless some kind of miracle occurs, very few of them will be recognised or honoured in the same way that the world has honoured the likes of Lincoln, Gandhi or Mandela. And that alone is an indictment against their leadership.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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