I have just returned from four days in Paris where I was elected chair of EITI. It is a coalition of oil and mining companies, representatives of governments, and civil society. The aim is to make the companies publish all the payments they make to government, government publish all payments they receive and an independent expert reconcile the two. The results are made available in each country. The aim is to use transparency to ensure that money from natural resources is spent for the benefit of the people, and not to feed corruption and conflict.
I was involved in the beginning of the initiative when I was in government. It now has a board with representatives of the three parties to the coalition from across the world and 35 countries entering into the process. It holds lots of promise, there were well over 1000 people in Paris and lots of enthusiasm for what can be achieved. Those who’ve brought EITI this far are to be congratulated but there is a lot more to do to really ensure that the process results in money being properly spent for the benefit of people.
I spoke at a book launch at SOAS last week. The book being launched was written by a very likable man called Blessing Miles Tendi. He gives a sympathetic but not uncritical account of the ZANU/PF explanation of the crisis in Zimbabwe. It is all supposed to originate from a letter from me to the Minister of Agriculture, shortly after we went into government in 1997. In the letter I said that the money committed for land reform in the Lancaster House agreement had not been fully taken up but that the agreement on funding had expired. I was keen to focus new money on land reform which would provide more land for the poor farmers on communal land and and was willing to lift the “willing buyer, willing seller” requirement. I went on to say that we were a new generation in government and people like me came from Irish origins and were colonised rather than colonisers. Mugabe read parts of the letter at a party conference and denounced the Labour Government’s betrayal of the Lancaster House agreement.
After that, Robin Cook hosted a conference in London and promised £60 million plus for land reform, but could not reach agreement. Then the UN brought international experts to a conference in Zimbabwe to agree a package of internationally supported land reform but again could not reach agreement. It became clear that Mugabe, who was losing popularity and had lost a referendum on constitutional reform, wanted to go back to the old arguments of his heyday. The tragedy of all this is that there could have been a major programme of land reform, supported by the UK and other international donors without wrecking the Zimbabwean economy. But to this day they argue that my letter caused the crisis!
Average income in mediaeval England
According to the Centre on Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy at the University of Warwick, the average income in mediaeval England was the equivalent of $1000 a year. They compare this with $869 in Afghanistan and $249 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) in 1990. I don’t think I believe these figures, the Middle Ages extended over a long time and for example wages went up massively after so many people died in the Black Death of the 14th century. But nevertheless, if they are broadly right, the figures make you think.
Libya and the Arab uprising
The situation in Libya is cruel but the people are not giving in and there is turmoil still across much of the Arab world. I fear that the people will not achieve all they are aiming at but they are being tenacious and will achieve a lot. And the old dictatorships propped up by the West will crumble. This is a truly historic change and the courage of people is to be admired. It will bring about major change in western policy in the Middle East.
Solar panels on my house
I have put solar panels on the roof of my house. They have given me a little machine that tells you how much electricity they make each day. So far, when the weather has been quite overcast, it has been between £1 and £4 per day. If we could only systematically install panels along every appropriate street, we could make a great advance on fuel poverty, create a lot of jobs and reduce global warming.