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Cross-post from Labor Is Not a Commodity, by Steve O. Akoth, Labour Awareness and Resource Centre

When reports appeared in the media two years ago detailing failure in mortgage repayments in the United States, the government of Kenya alongside many others in Africa, claimed that that was a US affair.  The treasury bureaucrats and politicians were quick to reassure Kenyans that our economy was safe.  In fact, new projections of 2% annual growth were given.  But this was nothing more than the usual political talk show and regular political performance that is not uncommon in Kenya. 6a00d8341bf90b53ef0120a66fb19f970c-800wi

Our government, rather than deceive us, should appreciate that Kenyan workers know that they are part of a huge interconnected web.  When a small scale farmer in Tigoni plants runner beans to sell to Homegrown for instance, she knows that the beans shall end up in the supermarket of Mars and Spencer in the United Kingdom.  For that reason, the farmer is interested and is affected by the purchasing power of a consumer in the UK.  Similarly, a worker on the stitching line in an Export Processing Zone (EPZ) in Ruaraka, knows that the garment shall be sold off through Wal-Mart’s shelves.  The workers are therefore invested in the purchasing power of the average American who wants to buy a “cheap” designer garment from Wal-Mart.  So the shrinking global market and the resulting economic nationalism in the northern countries in the name of bailout is an important subject for the worker in Kenya and trade unions engaged in Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) discussions in Kenya.  In the long run, it is the working poor who experience the recession most, it does not matter whether it starts in China or the US.

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Decades of research leave little doubt about the vital role of women in global development. While women often bear poverty’s heaviest burdens, focused investment in that portion of the population has proved a near-surefire way to build healthier, better educated, more prosperous communities. Last month, the Global Resources and Opportunities for Women to Thrive Act (GROWTH Act, S.1425) was introduced in the Senate. This legislation is an exciting opportunity to ensure that US foreign assistance and development efforts adequately (and smartly) invest in the power of women in the developing world.

Though women comprise a disproportionate percentage of the world’s extremely poor, studies have demonstrated that women who are given extra income are more likely than men to invest it in their children, improving the family’s health, lowering child mortality and malnutrition rates, and boosting education rates. Women’s successes in the microfinance industry over the last 30-40 years have been breathtaking as well. The GROWTH Act proposes much wider administrative and financial support for such initiatives, including microenterprise, improved land and property rights for women, more access to formal employment, skills trainings, and focused investments from trade (the latter four components have been widely absent from general microfinance initiatives).

CDTD cooking class

Somali refugees attending a cooking class that will enable them to secure better jobs and earn higher wages

I’ve had the luck to witness the results of such initiatives in Kenya, and am now very much a believer in the power of women in development. I spent several months in early 2008 interning at the Centre for Domestic Training and Development, an organization led by an inspiring Kenyan woman to help other impoverished women thrive. Edith Murogo, the Centre’s founder, is a wife and mother who recognized a problem in her community and began working to solve it, raising money slowly to establish and expand her organization. Today she is one of the most well-known and respected social entrepreneurs in Kenya.

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Original post by Laura Freschi

“Salvation is Not Ours to Bestow:  A Review of Michaela Wrong’s New Book” as posted on William Easterly’s Aid Watch today!

Wrong-200.png Michaela Wrong’s gripping latest book, It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistleblower, is the antidote for anyone who knows the weariness of wading through the jargon of implementation plans and institutional treatises on governance and anticorruption. It’s the anti-boredom serum, the potion that brings you the real consequences of what happens when those plans are ignored.

On one level, the book is the story of one John Githongo, the eponymous whistleblower. A former journalist and pro-transparency activist, Githongo was handpicked in the euphoria following the 2002 Kenyan election to serve as the new president’s special anti-corruption advisor. “The era of ‘anything goes’ is gone forever,” declared Kibaki in his acceptance speech, “Corruption will now cease to be a way of life in Kenya.”

But when life very quickly began imitating that old Who song (“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,”) Githongo fled the country, fearing for his life, with the tapes and documents that would blatantly incriminate government officials—up to the highest rungs—in a $500 million corruption scandal.

On a different level, Wrong’s book is also the story of an international movement. Githongo was up against the looters and thugs who threatened to silence him. But he also found himself on the wrong side of the fence from much of the donor community, which wanted Kenya’s new president to be part of a generation of democratic leaders paving the way for a new and prosperous Africa.

As Githongo gasped for air, Tony Blair was boosting DfID’s aid commitments to Africa and launching the Year of Africa:

“Playing to the industrialized world’s guilt complex, the Make Poverty History Campaign, Africa Commission and Gleneagles summit all shared one characteristic: the emphasis was on Western, rather than African action. Top-down, statist, these initiatives were all about donor obligations, pledges, and behaviour. What they definitely weren’t about…was highlighting the shortcomings of African governments set to benefit from future Western largesse.”

It’s Our Turn to Eat is an unblinking look at the roots and the consequences of sleaze (the violence during Kenya’s recent elections, a referendum on the corrupt leaders’ failure to spread the wealth, was the worst Kenya had seen since independence). It is also a condemnation of “the Western tendency to turn a blind eye to blatant graft and routine human rights abuse in the eagerness to save ‘the poorest of the poor’.”Despite Nairobi booksellers’ reluctance to stock the book, Kenyans are buying the book off street corners, reading it aloud on the radio, and debating it in church groups. Still, some of the best advice Wrong has to offer is for her Western readers.

“Worried Westerners, who so often seem to fall prey to a benign form of megalomania when it comes to Africa, would do well to accept that salvation is simply not theirs to bestow. They should be more modest, more knowing, and less naïve.”

I’m sure you did a double-take when you read the title of this post. Africa? Trade? Thriving Economies?  Yes, in fact, 21st century Africa has quickly become home to some of the most bold foreign investments from rising world superpower China.

Paolo Woods, Time

Paolo Woods, Time

Removed from much of the toxic lending and faulty mortgages, African markets have been largely shielded from the momentous economic downturn now engulfing the rest of the world’s economies. A new report released by Time Magazine reveals foreign investment in Africa has reached a whopping 48 million dollars in 2006, topping the amount received in foreign aid for the first time.

Furthermore, China will become Africa’s primary trading partner this year, speeding ahead of the United States. In Kenya, for instance, Chinese investors have begun to build infrastructure, roads, and selling Chinese goods in Chinese stores. Some have even set up schools to teach Kenyans Chinese.

Some academics claim that the Chinese are undercutting African producers and embarking on a new form of colonialism in the process. Chinese good are sold at strikingly lower prices than those of African goods, diverting business from many African merchants and traders.  Others worry about over-investment in extractive industries, which filter little benefit to African communities or workers.

Yet, there is a counter argument.  Some journalists assert  that the Chinese have undertaken infrastructure projects, school-building, and development work in tandem with their business ventures.

Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi recently articulated the advantages of new China-Africa partnerships.

“We will continue to have a vigorous aid program here, and Chinese companies will continue to invest as much as possible. It is a win-win solution.”

The full impact will remain to be seen. For now, however, it appears as if Chinese foreign direct investment may have jumpstarted a process of growth in Africa which inefficiently implemented American aid dollars have failed to catalyse for decades.

Pirates have long been subjects of fascination and intrigue in the Western literary imagination. Authors have published accounts of looting, mustachsomali-piratesed, one-legged bandits toiling over treacherous waters in such epic masterpieces as “Peter Pan.” But in Somalia, where many forge a living by capturing commercial cargo ships in the Indian Ocean, the motives for pursuing a life of piracy aren’t so romantic.

Reports of Somali pirates hijacking foreign ships have circulated through the news quite frequently in the past few months. Last September, for example, the New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman reported a band of Somali pirates snatched a Ukrainian arms vessel headed for Kenya.  Much of the article delved into the details of the attack, the great conundrums that Somali piracy presents for the international community and African law-making bodies, as well as the deviance of the criminals responsible for the attack. Gettleman describes the pirates in the following manner:

“The gun-toting, seafaring thieves, who routinely pounce on cargo ships bobbing along on the Indian Ocean, suddenly found themselves in command of a vessel crammed with $30 million worth of grenade launchers, piles of ammunition, even battle tanks.”

While his word choice certainly grabs the reader’s attention, the analysis provided notably fails to examine driving forces behind the growing trend of Somali piracy. Might there be reasons beyond an assumed natural affinity to  lawlessness and violence?  What of the public perception of piracy as a form of national defense among Somalis?

Much to the ire of the United States and Russia, the pirates refused to turn over the Ukrainian ship, claiming the charged ransom money was to be used to fund public service projects to clean up toxic waste along the Somali coast. That is, uranium radioactive waste European and Asian companies have dumped in Somali waters for over a decade. Yes, the same Europe that is crying foul each time Somali pirates attack. Not to mention that foreign powers have been illegally draining Somali fisheries and other marine resources since 2000.

Mainstream news outlets also fail to mention the devastating poverty and weak rule of law that has drawn many Somalis to piracy as a means of livelihood. Without a reliable government or a functioning economy, most Somalis end up desperate for a means of income.

In other words, it seems convenient for the international community to dismiss Somali pirates as third-rate thugs. But, it would prove more constructive for major world powers to address the bloody conflict with U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces that has been ripping through Somalia for the past nineteen years. A thoughtful letter to the editor for the UK’s Financial Times pointed out that over the past two years, battles between the Somalis and U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops have resulted in the displacement of one million and the death of 10,000 Somali citizens. Locked in violence and pandemonium, Somalis have increasingly turned to less conventional industries, such as piracy, as a means of survival and way to exercise power over the terms of their own lives.

What can the world’s major powers do? For one, the United States should stop its funding and support of Ethiopia’s invasion and violation of Somalia’s territorial integrity. In addition, wildly hazardous, health-threatening toxic waste dumping on the part of European and Asian  companies should cease. Finally, as per usual, diplomatic intervention and humanitiarian aid will go much farther than bellicose rhetoric and short-sighted interventionist policies  in stemming the Somali piracy problem.

Oh, and the illegal usurpation and abuse of a sovereign country’s resources and territory have never been the best way to stamp out crime.

Shortly after CNN declared Obama winner of the 44th US Presidential election, (just before 7am Kenya time on Wednesday), President Kibaki announced Thursday a national holiday to mark the historic ascension of “one of its own” to the most powerful office on Earth.  President Kibaki remarked that Obama’s unassailable victory (364 electoral votes) is clear testimony to the confidence of the American people not only in his leadership and vision for the United States, but for the world.  While there has been contention regarding Kenya’s claim to Obama’s ancestral identity (his father was predominantly absent from his life) and even criticism launched against the Kenyan government for the hypocrisy of such a celebration (erecting electronic billboards with the candidate’s image while children go hungry and its own democratic processes leave much to be desired), I think such reactions (regardless of their relevance) miss the much more important point.

Obama’s election has created a tide of renewed hope in the US, both as a democracy and as a global leader (See Reactions Around the World).  Raised in a multi-racial, non-traditional family.  Schooled in Indonesia, Hawaii, and Harvard Law.  Rooted in community organizing.  Now President-elect.  Obama defies most accusations against the US as a greedy, racist, isolationist country.  Yet, as Marceline stated in her post, our work it not over.  In fact, congratulating our progressive selves without a continued analysis of colonial history and its lingering impacts on development, peace, and the environment will not move us any closer to our ultimate goals of peace and prosperity for all (or at least for more than the select few that currently enjoy it).

Experts like Howard Wolpe, former House Representative and chair of the House subcommittee on Africa, state that Obama (due to his upbringing?) has a “general sensitivity about the nature of the economic, social and political challenges that are facing the so-called Third World” and that his administration will certainly adopt a different approach towards economic integration, peace building, and democracy (Source: Corey, America.gov).  Many of us have rallied behind this possibility.  But, we must continue to push ourselves to work together and think outside of the box if we are to make good on any of Obama’s campaign promises.  And don’t think that simply because you don’t hold public office you are exempt or powerless in this process.  If anything, this campaign has sparked a revival in the strength of ordinary people (remember Joe the Plumber?)

Senator Barack Obama’s election is indeed a victory, for the US and the world.  Now, let it be the beginning of a true paradigm shift.

IRIN has one of these forehead-smacking no shit! articles up about how the violence in Kenya is about power, greed, and poverty, not "tribal hatreds."

NAIROBI, 9 January 2008 (IRIN) – The wave of violence that engulfed Kenya after the presidential election has been widely described as tribal or ethnic in nature. But analysts in the east African country point to basic economics as the true cause of the unrest.

Widespread violence and a humanitarian crisis were triggered by the 30 December announcement that incumbent Mwai Kibaki had won a  hotly contested presidential poll amid opposition claims of rigging and international observers’ reports of serious irregularities in the vote-tallying process.

“In the urban areas, there was a lot of senseless burning and looting, which was people taking out their economic grievances during a leadership vacuum. They just let loose and attacked any targets, burning their neighbours’ houses, regardless of whether they are PNU [Party of National Unity, Kibaki’s party] or ODM [Orange Democratic Movement, the opposition],” Macharia Gaitho, a political columnist, told IRIN.

While specific ethnic groups – there are more than 40 in Kenya – were targeted during the violence, the tensions that led to such clashes were not the result of ethnicity per se, but, according an editorial in the Sunday Nation newspaper, an almost inevitable consequence of the country’s economic system: “Kenya practises a brutal, inhuman brand of capitalism that encourages a fierce competition for survival, wealth and power. Those who can’t compete successfully are allowed to live like animals in slums.”

But, of course, admitting any of this would be, I dunno, Marxist or something –and therefore wrong, naughty, wash-you-brain-out-with-Dial-soap bad.

Oh yeah, and it would also mean admitting that, maybe just maybe, the developed world and the Bretton Woods institutions need own up to their share of responsibility when awful things happen in Africa.

As ever, the Economist is covering parts of the world in depth that you rarely even see in the news briefs section elsewhere.  This time it’s the Horn of Africa, which the Economist says is on “the path to ruin” in an article that illustrates how a devastating humanitarian crisis has descended into an even more dire situation that is worrisome on all sorts of levels.

The Horn of Africa, consisting of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia in East Africa, is on the edge of a precipice right now that results from a combination of political instability, extreme hunger and uncontrolled population increases (over half the population is under 15).  As if that wasn’t bad enough, the hungry region has been experiencing a severe drought.  Indeed, the environmental situation is dire: Only 5% of the natural habitat remains and experts predict that the Horn will become wholly unsustainable if temperatures rise one or two degrees as predicted due to global warming.  And now, enter al Qaeda, who seeks to exploit the Horn’s fragility by encouraging radicalism and imposing its own order.

The combination of humanitarian, environmental and security concerns that have mixed together in the Horn of Africa is horrifying, but no coincidence.  Reading this article reminds me of why the United States must not miss opportunities to promote sustainable development, especially in unstable parts of the world, by providing aid, supporting population control and stopping environmental degredation.  Otherwise, we may be faced with situations that are not only morally outrageous but also threatening to our security.

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