Visiting Ghana

For four days in early July I went to Ghana with Cities Alliance. We had a very interesting tour of Accra and the Old Fadama slum and a meeting with the Ghana Urban Forum.

Africa is the least urbanised continent and is now urbanising faster than anywhere else. This is not just the megacities, it is the growth of small towns and secondary cities as well as capital cities. And everywhere slums are growing very fast; this is also true in South Asia. I find the slum dwellers completely inspiring. They build informal shacks wherever they can find a space. There is often no water or sanitation, schools, health care or policing. But they keep their homes spick and span, feed and clothe their children and run little businesses to keep their family going.

Most governments do not want to encourage the growth of urbanisation and therefore don’t allocate land or provide services, but towns grow anyway. The history of Europe, North America and Latin America shows that such urbanisation will not be reversed and if governments fail to provide for the growth of the urban population, unhealthy insecure slums, riddled with criminality will spread across the land. And it seems to me that the urban poor will be much more dangerous and potentially powerful than the rural poor. This is surely the lesson of post industrial revolution Europe and North America. It was the poor that formed trade unions and friendly societies, demanded the vote and demanded reform that brought about the transformation to more civilised, welfare state full employment economies. And it was often a very turbulent journey.

As I said in my brief speech at the Ghana Urban Forum, no country has reached a middle income status without urbanising and thus Africa’s urbanisation is both a threat and an opportunity. The people of the slums are enormously entrepreneurial and if, for example, Ghana committed itself to the rebuilding of Accra it would generate masses of new jobs and help the economy to grow. This would also help avoid the danger/possibility about which the President of the African development bank Donald Kabaruka recently warned,uprisings similar to the Arab awakening, spreading across Africa if the proceeds of economic growth are not shared with those on low incomes.

Mr Murdoch

As the frenetic coverage of the hacking scandal begins to fade from the headlines, I fear that there may have been more heat than light in the coverage. The basic problem is that Murdoch was allowed to acquire ownership of such a large proportion of the British media that Prime Ministers, from Mrs Thatcher on, made sure they played court to him. They wanted his support and therefore they made every effort not to displease him. He believes in neoliberal economics, is anti EU and a fervent supporter of Israel, and a succession of prime ministers have kowtowed to these policies. This leads to such arrogance amongst the people who run his companies, who are so used to deference from those in positions of power, that they use their media power to bully anyone who gets in their way (which I experienced a number of times). This is why they have gradually began to feel they can do what they want, even illegally hacking the phones of murder victims and bribing policemen.

For example we have now learned that Murdoch and his family had two dozen meetings with senior members of the Cabinet in thne 15 months since the Government was formed. In total Cabinet members have met Murdoch executives 60 times and 100 times if social events are included. The Labour Shadow Cabinet also met them frequently. We know from a Freedom of information request that Tony Blair took three calls from Rupert Murdoch in the ten days before the Iraq war.

Mr Murdoch is also a major player in the US and is buying up media outlets in Asia. It is important that News International is held to account for illegal phone hacking and illegal bribes to police officers but the bigger lesson is, that we must not allow a concentration of ownership in the media, otherwise, as we have seen, democracy is diminished and distorted.

Degraded land

I went on from Ghana to Caux where there is a beautiful old hotel in the mountains above Montreux which is owned by Initiatives of Change, which used to be Moral Rearmament.

They have in recent years convened an annual forum to discuss the theme of human security. It was out of this forum that the Caux Call to Action originated, and this year to exemplify the values of the Call to Action, a day was dedicated to the issue of degraded land worldwide. Luc Gnacadja who is Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Desertification gave a superb presentation and then Yacouba Sawadogo answered questions, after a showing of a film about his life’s work, called The Man who Stopped the Desert. The film, which is available on You Tube, is really inspiring and shows how degraded land can be reclaimed; and Luc’s presentations, also available online, show how urgent and serious the problem is.

There is no doubt that from Darfur, to Northern Nigeria, tensions over degraded land are often the cause of conflict. We will be in trouble if we do not restore the degraded lands of Africa, southern Europe and North America because food will become increasingly scarce and vast numbers of people will be displaced. Such tensions will lead to increased conflict but, as the film shows, we have the knowledge to restore such lands and the question is why in heaven’s name we don’t get on with it.

Stolen purse

On the train from Montreux to Geneva airport, my purse was stolen. When I realised it was lost, I understood who had taken it. A young man dropped some coins on the floor near the feet of myself and my companion, sitting opposite me on the train. When my friend helped him to gather the small coins, he scrabbled across the floor looking for more, I then bent down to assure him that there were no more coins. He then got off the train and his behaviour was so odd I thought he must be a bit drunk. Later I realised that he saw my purse on the top of my bag, inside where I was sitting and threw the coins on the floor to distract us so that he could reach across and take my purse. Obviously it’s a bit upsetting to find oneself in a foreign country without any money or credit cards but I managed to get back and what I now think is really bad and sad is that he uses human concern for his loss, in order to steal.

Honorary Professor!

I have been offered an honorary Professorship in Sociology by Lancaster University. It came after I did a lecture at the request of my friend Prof Sylvia Walby. I have accepted and will have to see what it leads to. Sylvia is a distinguished academic and feminist. I have it in mind that the achievements of the women’s movement in challenging the widespread acceptance of domestic violence and rape in marriage should now extend to challenging the massive sexual violence that is part of warfare. This is very often brushed under the carpet and therefore inadequately challenged by peacekeeping forces, for example in eastern Congo.

Interesting facts

Starvation during Second World War

According to Bernard Porter, reviewing The Taste of War: World War Two and the Battle for Food by Lizzie Collingham, it is estimated that 20 million people died of starvation in the Second World War, about the same number as those who were killed in combat.

Top 10 military spending by country as a percentage of GDP

Saudi Arabia 11.2%

Oman 9.7%

United Arab Emirates 7.3%

East Timor 6.8%

Israel 6.3%

Chad 6.2%

Jordan 6.1%

Georgia 5.6%

Iraq 5.4%

US 4.8%

UK 2.7%

In absolute terms, the US accounts for 43% of the world total. (Source: the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.)

Briefing on Palestine

This site is designed to help those who are concerned but lack background knowledge about the situation in Palestine.

We should all eat less animal products

I have just read The China Study by T Colin Campbell; for our health we should all reduce animal products in our diet. (This would also make it easier to feed all the new people that are going to add to the world population by 2040.)

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