Having travelled so much in the months before the summer, I decided to spend August at home. I have enjoyed catching up with myself and the grass, the hedge, the dentist, friends, reading books like The Scramble for Africa which I have meant to read for years and seeing Macbeth in Stratford for my brother’s birthday present. I’m also doing quite well with my non-animal products diet, have made some pretty good soups and have improved on my hummus, but it still isn’t as good as I would like. But now the new term beckons, I’m off to Ottawa, and then the wedding of my niece Sarah in Nipika in the Canadian Rockies, then a few days with my sister, and then New York for meetings before I return home.
Then there will be a short trip to Mauritania and in October East Timor, Jakarta and Australia. EITI travel beckons, and we are undertaking a review of our strategy for the next period, which is exciting and challenging.
The UK riots
The strangest thing about the riots, from my viewpoint, was that the politicians and commentators all talked as though we hadn’t have riots in the recent past. In fact the riots of 1981 and 1985 had many similarities. They spread across the country like wildfire; they started in an inner-city areas, and certainly in 1981 were sparked by bad relations between young black people and the police. But they had all the features of the recent riots. There was looting, arson, the rapid spread from one area to another, tragic loss of innocent life and large numbers of young people ending up in prison, many for looting items of relatively small value.
In 1981 the spark was bad policing but the tinder was the sudden rise in youth unemployment. There was no Facebook or Blackberry then and gangs were not prevalent, but there was the same outbreak of violence and which spread rapidly and which for a time the police could not control. And this led on to uncontrolled looting and plunder. I was in Lozells Road in Birmingham the morning after the worst of the mayhem, when Douglas Hurd, the then Home Secretary, attempted to visit. The street was a wreck, shops were locked or burnt and the place was deserted. He arrived in a Jaguar with a convoy of police cars and started to get out of his car to visit a local community project. Suddenly stones were flying, someone pulled me into a doorway and a couple of cars were turned over. The young stone-throwers appeared and disappeared from nowhere. Hurd and the police backed out very quickly. For a time the powerless controlled the street. This isn’t good from any point of view but if there are large numbers of young people with nothing to lose, once it explodes, the reporting of the media and excitement of the mob, carried it forward.
So to say that the riots in 2011 with the result of a “moral collapse” or 100,000 dysfunctional families cannot be true, unless we had the same problem in 1981 and 1985. Victorian Britain had endless riots, some crude upsurges of mayhem and plunder and some more political. With growing urbanisation in south Asia and Africa, we will see more urban riots. And, in a crude and ugly way they will probably drive political reform, just as they did in 19th century Britain.
Although NATO stretched the provisions of the Security Council Resolution and undoubtedly had many ulterior motives, the fall of Gaddafi’s violent and oppressive regime is good for human decency, the people of Libya and the Arab uprising. Three dictators have now been toppled and almost certainly there are more to come.
NATO flew 7,500 airstrikes, but took no risks and lost no lives. It was Libyans who did the hard fighting and who lost many lives. It will be Libyans that lead the reconstruction. The UN is well organised to help in response to Libyan requests, and is organised by my good friend Ian Martin who is both principled and highly competent. And there is absolutely no reason for oil contracts to be dispensed as favours to anyone. Whether the old contracts are kept or are reorganised, openness and transparency should be the rule and no political favours to any country or company.
As history elsewhere shows us, toppling dictators is easier than building new and better systems of government, but I have no doubt that progress will continue. The remaining dictators will not fall immediately, but history is moving against them. And Western policy will, in the end, have to face up to the hypocrisy of its support for pro-Western dictators. And as Israel makes it abundantly clear that it has no interest in a two-state solution, the prospect of the second mighty anti-apartheid movement, uniting people across the world in opposition to the oppression and injustice inflicted on the Palestinian people, makes one state for all its people in the Holy land, increasingly likely.
In India life expectancy at birth was 36.7 in 1951 and 54 by the year 2000. Independence came in 1947, so many people gained many years of life from self-rule. But 45.9% of children under 3 are underweight in modern India and only 43.5% of children are fully immunised. This is disgraceful and shocking.
Democracy in Europe
According to David Marquand, in a book review in the New Statesman of 22 August, “In 1914, France was the sole democracy among the great states of Europe. In Britain, only 60% of adult males could vote in parliamentary elections. Though the Imperial German Reichstag was elected by universal male suffrage, the system as a whole was not remotely democratic. Russia was still a patrimonial autocracy. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was barely a state, and no democracy.
Then came the mass mobilisations, shared sacrifices and swollen states of the first total war in history. Everywhere, the relationships between people and rulers were transformed. In 1918, Britain acquired a more or less democratic form of suffrage. The three land empires of Central and Eastern Europe – belonging to Germany, Russia and Austria Hungary – disappeared. Germany acquired an ultra-democratic constitution, savaged by an irreconcilable nationalist right and a purportedly revolutionary left. Russia was subsumed in the increasingly brutish Soviet Union, which claimed to incarnate the destiny of the proletarian masses throughout the world. Across Europe, a rash of raw and insecure new nation states emerged, equipped with flags, armies, customs posts and in most cases, allegedly democratic constitutions. In the Soviet Union, the old elite were murdered or exiled. Elsewhere they had to accommodate themselves to the disconcerting arrival of the masses on the political stage.
So we should remember that in Europe democracy and the nationstate are fairly new, great change can come in the wake of terrible wars, and history can change very rapidly. We would be unwise to assume that our present structures will go on indefinitely.
Democracy and autocracy
According to Jamil Anderlini writing in the Financial Times on August 18, 2011, discussing government concessions to protests in China, such as that at Dalian demanding the removal of a toxic chemical plant, such protests lend credibility “to the theory that authoritarian societies inevitably start to democratise when they achieved per capita gross domestic product of $5000-$6000. In 2010 China’s per capita GDP was about $4660 at current exchange rates, but in purchasing power terms China had passed the point when democratisation becomes likely”. He quotes Paul Collier’s Wars, Guns and Votes to suggest that autocracies suffer more political unrest as they get richer. “Unofficial statistics published by a respected Chinese academic this year show that ‘mass incidents’ – riots, protests, strikes and the like – roughly doubled in the past 5 years, to about 180,000 incidents last year, even as the economy boomed.”
Gaza – an interesting news item
Turkey navy to escort aid ships to Palestinians in Gaza
Turkish officials tell Hurriyet Daily News that Turkish navy will strengthen presence in eastern Mediterranean Sea to stop Israeli ‘bullying’.
The Turkish navy will significantly strengthen its presence in the eastern Mediterranean Sea as one of the steps the Turkish government has decided to take following the release of the UN Palmer report on the 2010 Gaza flotilla, Turkish officials told the Hurriyet Daily News. ‘The eastern Mediterranean will no longer be a place where Israeli naval forces can freely exercise their bullying practices against civilian vessels,’ a Turkish official was quoted as saying.
As part of the plan, the Turkish navy will increase its patrols in the eastern Mediterranean and pursue ‘a more aggressive strategy’. According to the report, Turkish naval vessels will accompany civilian ships carrying aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Another goal of the plan is to ensure free navigation in the region between Cyprus and Israel. The region includes areas where Israel and Cyprus cooperate in drilling for oil and gas.
Additionally, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan instructed his foreign ministry to organize a trip for him to the Gaza Strip in the near future.
‘We are looking for the best timing for the visit,’ a Turkish official was quoted as saying. ‘Our primary purpose is to draw the world’s attention to what is going on in Gaza and to push the international community to end the unfair embargo imposed by Israel.