I have done a lot of travelling this month. In the second week of May, I went to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and then went on to Cameroon, Chad and through Cape Town to Maputo. All of this was for EITI reasons. The challenge in all of these countries is to use the oil and mining resources for the benefit of people.
Both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are former Soviet territories struggling to build new systems. Kyrgyzstan has experienced turbulence but is creating a parliament to hold government to account and with difficulty has changed its government. In Kazakhstan very rich oil resources have been discovered and one President has remained in charge. In both countries it was widely agreed that the education system had deteriorated since the end of the Soviet system.
Chad is in a very insecure location with Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south and Northern Nigeria to the West. It has a history of authoritarian government but has discovered oil and is trying to spend the proceeds to benefit of the people. Cameroon is also authoritarian but EITI seems to be doing good work in making the management of oil more transparent.
A Human Being Died that Night, and Quietly
I went to two impressive plays between my travels last month, dedicated to the question of truth and reconciliation after great conflict and violence. A Human Being Died that Night is about South Africa and consequences of a number of conversations between a black South African woman psychologist, who was a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and a convicted white policeman. The message really was the reconciliation is not easy but truthfulness and human decency can bring some easing of the pain. Quietly is a somewhat bitter and angry play about a bomb thrown in to a local pub by loyalists; a man who is now 54 and involved in the bombing when he was 16 comes back to talk with the son of one of the men who died, about what took place. The conversation is very difficult, but in the end, just talking about it and speaking truth somehow helps.
I went to Maputo to participate in a conference convened by the IMF and the Mozambique government on the theme of Africa Rising. There is no doubt that in the past 10 to 15 years across Africa, economic growth has been better than in any period since independence. There is a new middle class being established across the continent. This is partly the consequence of the rise in commodity prices and the benefits of oil and mining; but the worrying thing is that inequality is also rising across the continent – as elsewhere – and therefore lower-income people are getting very little benefit from economic growth.
The startling thing about the speeches of Christine Lagarde (the IMF managing director), both in London and in Maputo, was that she emphasised that economic inequality was bad for economic performance. She said in Maputo that it was not for the IMF to make moral points about inequality, but the economic evidence was that growing inequality meant that lower-income people could not consume very much and this held back economic growth!
Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike
I spoke at a meeting on 24 June at the beautiful new British Library about the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike. Anyone who relies on the British media, would know little about a two-month hunger strike by 200 or so Palestinian prisoners who are held in bad conditions in Israeli prisons without charge or trial. It is worth remembering the Northern Ireland prisoners’ hunger strike, the death of Bobby Sands and the political consequences, which were bitter, but led on to the peace process in Northern Ireland. The courage of the Palestinian prisoners was as great but the international attention much less. The hunger strike has been settled for now but there will be more resistance to the intolerable conditions suffered by the Palestinian people in general and the prisoners held in administrative detention in particular.
Terrible trouble in Iraq and the embarrassing Tony Blair
Tony Blair is a terrible embarrassment. At least George W Bush has gone completely silent and is at home, painting by numbers. But Mr Blair is out and about pretending to make peace in the Middle East, making a lot of money giving advice on governance in dubious ways; and his latest outburst is to claim no responsibility for the terrible chaos in Iraq but call for bombing in Syria and Iraq. He previously called for support for the cruel new dictatorship that came to power by coup in Egypt, and argues that the extremists of Al Qaeda, that grow out of a distorted version of Islam preached by the Wahabis of Saudi Arabia, are to be opposed by working with “our” friends, the new dictators in Egypt and the old dictators in the Gulf states including of course, Saudi Arabia!
A more thoughtful analysis of the American way of war, that Mr Blair so excitedly supports, is here.
- At the start of the 21st century China accounted for barely 4% of the global economy in dollar terms, and today it is about 12% (50% in purchasing power parity). The US has fallen from just under one third to 20% (Edward Luce FT 5/5/14).
- Almost 2/3 of voters want the next UK government to be tougher with big business. Almost one half of voters agreed that the conduct of big business was a bigger threat than action by trade unions (FT 7/5/14 Populus opinion poll).
- In 2013 the world’s 100 largest companies employed 17.3 million people of whom 9.8 million worked overseas and 7.5 million were domestic staff. But the number employed offshore by those companies has fallen since 2011 (FT 25/6/14 quoting UNCTAD Report).
- In the 18th century more than half of London’s prisoners were in prison for undischarged debt; then in 1869, imprisonment for debt was abolished and bankruptcy introduced (Martin Wolf FT 25/6/14).
- The influenza pandemic of 1918-19 claimed the lives of the 20 to 40 million people, more than the 18 million who died in the First World War (10 million soldiers, 8 million civilians). The pandemic circled the globe and affected one fifth of the world’s population. Unusually, the new flu disproportionately struck those age 20 to 30. (Independent Jeremy Laurence 27/6/14).
- By 2008 65% of trading on the public stock market in the US was not composed of humans buying and selling for each other but of computers trading with each other, with no human involvement other than the design of their algorithms… computers were (and are) trading shares in thousandths of a second, exploiting tiny discrepancies in price to make guaranteed profit (John Lancaster LRB reviewing Flash Boys by Michael Lewis)
- Half of India’s 1.2 billion population is aged under 25 (FT 2/6/14).
- Today, China is the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter – 29% of emissions in 2012, and the US 15% (Pitta Clark FT 2/6/14).
- In Malthus’ time (Essay on population published in 1798) it took 20,000 square meters of agricultural land to feed one person; now it takes 2,000 (FT 1/6/2014)
- One quarter of the 1 million Chinese working in Africa are in Angola (FT 1/6/14).