Resources Research

Culture and systems of knowledge, cultivation and food, population and consumption

Archive for August 2011

Supermarket Monopoly, the board game for food insecure times

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Thanks to Grain for posting this terrific graphic. (Grain is a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems.)

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Written by makanaka

August 30, 2011 at 23:50

The spread of microcredit and the global South

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Thousands of microfinance institutions serve tens of millions of the world’s poor, through massive operations in rural South Asia to fledgling enterprises in West African towns. In an excellent new series of reports, IPS News is following the spread of microcredit and its impact across the global South.

A beneficiary of the microfinance programme in Bangladesh. Photo: IPS News / Naimul Haq

This small-scale loan movement aimed at alleviating poverty can offer life-changing potential for people who would otherwise find it difficult to obtain loans from the traditional banking sector. But microcredit is not a miracle solution to ending global poverty. If high interest rates prevail, putting recipients at risk of repeat borrowing and cycles of debt, microfinance can also have unintended consequences.

IPS reportage examines the spread of microcredit and the wider debate surrounding the small-scale loan movement aimed at alleviating poverty as it has matured over time. As the 2011 November 14-17 Global Microcredit Summit approaches, sponsored by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), these reports follow this unique banking system and its impact from Bangladesh to Benin, Haiti to Honduras, and across the global South.

COLOMBIA – Microcredit Growing Steadily at 15 Percent a Year. The more than 1.2 million microenterprises operating in Colombia are responsible for around 50 percent of all employment. And many of these small businesses owe their existence to the microfinance system, according to a report by Visión Económica, a local business research group.

Street vendors are the main beneficiaries of micro-loans in Colombia. Photo: IPS News / Helda Martínez

GHANA – Guidelines for Unregulated Microfinance Sector. When Andrew Poku’s mother passed away he needed help to pay for her funeral. So the 35-year-old teacher from Accra turned to one of the country’s several loan companies for a 670-dollar loan.

CUBA – Dreams and Progress in a Rural Community. The day that electricity arrived in the Cuban village of Jova, there were shouts, laughter and tears of joy, even among the most incredulous, who had doubted it was possible. “I didn’t know what to do; it actually made me nervous,” Carmen Carvallosa confessed.

MEXICO – Microloans from Distant Lands a Mouse Click Away. Norma Isela from the city of Piedras Negras in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila needs 500 dollars to expand the merchandise inventory in her business selling shoes by catalogue and to broaden her offer of clothes and accessories. So far she has managed to raise 45 percent of that amount.

A cattle cooperative in Cuba. Photo: IPS News / Jorge Luis Baños

ARGENTINA – Worker Cooperatives Reduce “Hard-Core” Unemployment. During the social and economic collapse of 2002-2003, the Argentine state encouraged the formation of workers’ cooperatives, which helped mitigate the worst effects of the crisis, reduced hard-core unemployment, and now as independent, democratic, worker-controlled organisations are providing services to the public and private sectors.

BANGLADESH – Lessons in Microcredit Management. Phulo Rani Pal checks for loose dust around her open backyard kitchen. It’s time to prepare the sweets she supplies to vendors and it will not do for her products to be contaminated.

BANGLADESH – Women Raise Own Funds for Microfinance. Amidst despair and poverty, women in some remote villages of Bangladesh are raising money and lending it to each other through a unique microfinance programme launched by a local non-government organisation.

Written by makanaka

August 29, 2011 at 23:34

The bloody cost of ‘democratic transition’ in Libya

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Libya's oil and gas industry. Graphic: Der Spiegel

The real nature of the US-NATO invasion of Libya has become even clearer in the last week. The orchestrated media coverage, similar to the trigger-happy reportage that marked the Gulf Wars and the USA’s Iraq and Afghanaistan wars, has focused on demonising Muammar Gaddafi and on the ‘rebels’ who are now in Tripoli. Absent from the popular coverage, especially on television, is the ordinary Libyan. Not absent any longer are the commercial roots of this invasion, for the German media are now openly talking about the business opportunities or Libyan “reconstruction”.

The Security Council’s stipulations that ground troops not be introduced into the country, that an arms embargo be kept in place and that mercenaries be prevented from entering Libya have all been flouted in this criminal operation to seize control of an oil-rich former colony and loot its resources, observed the World Socialist Website. There is barely any attempt to hide the fact that special forces, intelligence agents and mercenary military contractors have organized, armed and led the “rebels”, who have not made a single advance without the prior annihilation of government security forces by NATO warplanes.

After being terrorized for five months by NATO bombs and missiles, the people of Tripoli are now facing sudden death and a looming humanitarian catastrophe as a result of the NATO campaign to “protect civilians”. Kim Sengupta of the Independent reported Thursday from the Tripoli neighborhood of Abu Salim, which the “rebels” stormed under the cover of NATO air strikes. Known as a pro-Gaddafi area, its residents have been subjected to a reign of terror.

Libya military bases. Graphic: Der Spiegel

“There was no escape for the residents of Abu Salim, trapped as the fighting spread all around them,” Sengupta reported. “In the corner of a street, a man who was shot in the crossfire, the back of his blue shirt soaked in blood, was being carried away by three others. ‘I know that man, he is a shopkeeper,’ said Sama Abdessalam Bashti, who had just run across the road to reach his home. ‘The rebels are attacking our homes. This should not be happening. The rebels are saying they are fighting government troops here, but all those getting hurt are ordinary people, the only buildings being damaged are those of local people. There has also been looting by the rebels, they have gone into houses to search for people and taken away things. Why are they doing this?’ ”

Asked why local residents were resisting the NATO-led force’s takeover of the city, Mohammed Selim Mohammed, a 38-year-old engineer, told the Independent, “Maybe they just do not like the rebels. Why are people from outside Tripoli coming and arresting our men?” Meanwhile, other reports laid bare war crimes carried out by NATO and its local agents on the ground in Tripoli. Both the Associated Press and Reuters news agencies documented a massacre perpetrated against Gaddafi supporters in a square adjacent to the presidential compound that was stormed and looted on Tuesday.

“The bodies are scattered around a grassy square next to Moammar Gadhafi’s compound of Bab al-Aziziya. Prone on grassy lots as if napping, sprawled in tents. Some have had their wrists bound by plastic ties,” AP reported. “The identities of the dead are unclear but they are in all likelihood activists that set up an impromptu tent city in solidarity with Gadhafi outside his compound in defiance of the NATO bombings.” AP said that the grisly discovery raised “the disturbing specter of mass killings of noncombatants, detainees and the wounded.”

Libya oil pipelines and infrastructure. Graphic: Der Spiegel

Among the bodies of the executed the report added were several that “had been shot in the head, with their hands tied behind their backs. A body in a doctor’s green hospital gown was found in the canal. The bodies were bloated.” Reporting from the same killing field, Reuters counted 30 bodies “riddled with bullets”. It noted that “Five of the dead were at a field hospital nearby, with one in an ambulance strapped to a gurney with an intravenous drip still in his arm.” Two of the bodies, it said, “were charred beyond recognition.”

[See ‘A time before the pillage – what North Africa should mean to us’.]

The pretence that the US and its European NATO allies were intervening in Libya to “protect civilians and civilian populated areas from threat of attack,” as stated in the United Nations Security Council resolution, has effectively been abandoned. Behind the fig leaf of this resolution the naked imperialist and colonial character of the war has emerged. Der Spiegel has reported that three weeks ago, Hans Meier-Ewert, head of the German-African Business Association, travelled to Libya together with representatives from 20 German companies. Since all regularly scheduled flights to Tripoli have long ago been cancelled, the German government made a Transall military transport plane available for the journey, and the mission was headed up by Hans-Joachim Otto, a state secretary in the German Economics Ministry.

In Benghazi, where the rebel movement is headquartered, the group handed over aid goods and medical supplies to the city’s hospitals – public relations and photo ops. There, the Germans also met with representatives of the Libyan transitional council and of the country’s central bank in an effort to pursue economic interests in the country. Libya is rich relative to its African neighbors, but the Europeans consider its infrastructure woefully inadequate. Felix Neugar, an ‘expert’ on Africa with the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce (DIHK), has complained that Libya lags far behind the high standard of the large Gulf oil producers.

Economic associations estimate that between 30 and 50 German companies were active in Libya before the war. “But it was a difficult country to do business in,” reported Der Spiegel. “State-owned companies dominated most markets, and legal standards were at best fluid under Gadhafi’s leadership. During the meeting in Benghazi with the transitional council, the German economic leaders were assured that the private economy would be strengthened, says Meier-Ewert. Contracts signed with the Gadhafi regime are to be honored, and many Libyans with extensive business experience are planning to return from exile, the German delegation was told.”

Libya tribes and tribal areas. Graphic: Der Spiegel

The Germans aren’t the only ones who have begun exploring opportunities in post-Gadhafi Libya. The Italian oil concern Eni is doing all it can to defend its status as the largest foreign oil producer in the country. Even before the rebels stormed the Gadhafi residence in Tripoli this week, Eni technicians had begun preparing to restart the flow of oil. And Eni has the full support of the government in Rome. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is meeting with rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril in a few days.

“Right now it is still too early to say when, how and under what conditions production can begin again in Libya,” said BASF subsidiary Wintershall, an oil producer active in the country since 1958, told Der Spiegel. The war also interrupted the construction of a highway that the German firm STRABAG had been working on. This autumn, the company plans to send a team to Libya to assess the situation. RWE Dea, another German firm that drills for oil in Libya, hopes the new government will uphold existing contracts. In the end, raw material exploitation contributes to reconstruction, the company says.

A lucrative reconstruction however requires destruction to be visited on Libya and its populace. This is taking place in appalling measure. Reporting from a local hospital, the Telegraph said: “As battle raged in the Tripoli streets hundreds of casualties were brought in, rebel fighters, Gaddafi’s soldiers, and unlucky civilians, laying next to each other in bed and even on a floor awash with blood, screaming or moaning in agony. Many died before they could be treated.” The paper interviewed Dr Mahjoub Rishi, the hospital’s Professor of Surgery: “There were hundreds coming in within the first few hours. It was like a vision from hell. Missile injuries were the worst. The damage they do to the human body is shocking to see, even for someone like me who is used to dealing with injuries.” Most of the casualties, he said, were civilians caught in the crossfire. The Telegraph reported that Tripoli’s two other major hospitals were similarly overflowing with casualties and desperately understaffed, as were all of the city’s private hospitals.

The aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) warned that the city is facing a medical “catastrophe”. The group told Reuters that “Medical supplies ran low during six months of civil war [i.e., NATO bombardment] but have almost completely dried up in the siege and battle of the past week. Fuel supplies have run out and the few remaining medical workers are struggling to get to work.” The lack of fuel means that hospitals that have kept their power by running generators can now no longer do so. Health officials in Tripoli report that blood supplies have run out at the hospitals and that food and drinking water is unavailable over whole areas of Tripoli.

Distant from the battle, the hapless civilian victims and the constant terror of US-NATO airborne drones, fighter jets, bombers and surveillance aircraft, Western leaders have been parcelling out Libya’s future – this is mostly taking place in Paris, as the French government has played a leading role in the so-called “international deployment” against Gadhafi. The French government has proposed a quick meeting of the so-called Libya Contact Group, which is comprised of the countries that participated in the military operation. Germany, given its abstention in the United Nations vote to endorse a no-fly zone, is not a member of the group.

The meeting could happen as soon as next week, and high on the agenda will be drafting a plan together with the National Transition Council for the “international community’s” future role in Libya. The European Union’s deadly doublespeak is being broadcast regularly: “The way is now open for Libya for freedom and self-determination,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said in a joint statement. They added that Europe would make “every endeavour” it could to help, providing “support for its democratic transition and economic reconstruction”. Of course it will, at a cost in North African lives and for a profit to be reckoned in many billions of euros.

Why corruption in India has grown, what must now be done

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Supporters of fasting social activist Anna Hazare marching towards Ramlila Maidan from India Gate, in New Delhi on Sunday night. Photo: The Hindu/Sushil Kumar Verma

There has been no progress in the disucssions between the government in India and the leaders of the massive movement against corruption, led by Anna Hazare, who is still on a protest fast in New Delhi [see earlier post on the movement]. A meeting of all the political parties was held on the issue of the Lokpal, an institution proposed to redress public grievances on corruption and abuse of public office. An excellent summary of the matters before the citizens of India, and the best choices available to achieve probity and equity has been provided by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), in its note placed before the participants of the meeting of all political parties. Titled ‘Lokpal: For An Effective Anti-Corruption Body’, here is the full text of the note:

Introduction

Corruption has become a major public concern in the wake of successive scams unfolding over the past few years. In a country like India, where millions of people still suffer from acute poverty, hunger and lack of socio-economic opportunities, the pillage of public resources through corruption amounts to a crime of a very serious nature. Besides impeding economic development, accumulation of ill gotten wealth through corruption is widening the inequalities and ruining the moral fabric of our society.

The recent exposures in the 2G spectrum allocation case, CWG scam etc. have shown how thousands of crores worth of public resources have been illicitly cornered by a section of corporates, bureaucrats and ministers. What is worse, tainted ministers have been allowed to remain in office for months and the investigations manipulated, in order to obstruct the course of justice. While corruption in high places has been a feature of our political system for many decades, what has emerged as a dominant trend in the post-liberalization period is a thorough distortion of the policy-making process at the highest levels of the government. A nexus of big corporates, politicians and bureaucrats have matured under the neoliberal regime and is threatening to subvert our democracy. It is clear that the current economic regime has made our system more vulnerable to cronyism and criminality.

The battle against corruption, in order to be effective today, can be achieved only through a comprehensive reform of our political, legal, administrative and judicial systems and not through one-off or piece-meal measures. The establishment of an effective Lokpal institution is one such measure. This needs to be complemented by other measures. There has to be a grievance redressal set-up for citizens, based on a legislation. There has to be a National Judicial Commission to oversee the higher judiciary; there has to be electoral reforms to check the use of money power in elections which is another source of corruption. Urgent steps also need to be undertaken to reform our tax system to plug loopholes and unearth black money, much of which is stashed in offshore bank accounts and tax havens. Firm steps need to be taken to break the big business-politician-bureaucrat nexus. Only a comprehensive systemic reform can effectively curb corruption.

Lokpal Bill

The 74-year-old Gandhian has made it clear he will not end his hunger strike till his version of the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill is adopted. Photo: NDTV

The institution of Ombudsman, which exists in many countries across the world, has provided avenues to redress public grievances on corruption and abuse of public office. However, the fact that the Lokpal Bill could not be passed in the Indian parliament in four decades exposes the lack of political will to fight corruption. Several governments in the past have taken it up only to shelve it later under various pretexts. The present government has also been compelled to initiate discussion on this bill because of public outcry over successive corruption scandals. It is imperative that a Lokpal Bill which deals with corruption in high places is tabled in the forthcoming session of parliament.

In the wake of the on-going debate on what should be the scope and role of the Lokpal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) wishes to set out its stand on the main issues concerning the constitution of a Lokpal.

1. Definition of Corruption

Corruption involves a whole range of activities from bribery, influence peddling, patronage or favour, nepotism, cronyism, electoral fraud, embezzlement, kickbacks to officials and involvement in organized crime. The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 has defined the offences that constitute a corrupt act. This definition requires to be widened. The linkage between misuse of public power for private gain or enrichment is a highly restrictive understanding of corruption. In many cases, power is misused to benefit an entity like a private company which is not a ‘person’ as required under the PCA 1988. Often, there may be no traceable kickbacks or embezzlement but there may be a huge loss to the public exchequer and breach of public trust for example through sale of PSUs due to a willful misuse of power. The definition of corruption has to be widened to include “willfully giving any undue benefit to any person or entity or obtaining any undue benefit from any public servant in violation of laws or rules”.

2. Clarity on Functions

The Lokpal should essentially be a fact-finding body that receives complaints, enquires, investigates and forward cases to Special Courts where prima facie there is a case of corruption for prosecution and punishment in a time bound manner. It should have powers to recommend an enquiry and investigation suo moto. It should oversee the entire machinery related to corruption cases at the Central level. Finally, it should have the powers to recommend executive action and to approach Courts when these are not accepted. The Lokpal should be entrusted with quasi-judicial powers and autonomy to fulfill these functions in an independent, accountable, transparent and time-bound manner. The separation of powers between legislature, executive and judiciary is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. The institution of Lokpal should conform to this basic structure. An issue to be considered regarding the functions of a Lokpal is whether it will deal with corruption or will it also perform functions of grievance redressal. The CPI(M) favours separation of these functions. There must be a separate mechanism for grievance redressal. This should be set up by a separate legislation. The grievances of citizens about the citizens charter etc should be brought under this set up.

3. Selection & Composition of Lokpal

In a huge show of support for anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare and the Jan Lokpal on Sunday, over 100,000 people marched on the streets of Mumbai. Photo: The Hindu/AFP

The Lokpal Act should lay down an objective and transparent criteria such as competence, experience, qualification etc for the selection of candidates for appointment to the Lokpal. The selection committee should be broad-based consisting of members of the executive, leaders of parliament, members of the higher judiciary, jurists and academicians. The search committee constituted by the selection committee should also be broad-based. Composition: Apart from the chairperson, there should be 10 members in the Lokpal. Out of these four shall be judicial members, three can be persons with administrative and civil service backgrounds and the other three should be drawn from fields such as law, academics and social service. There should be no member drawn from commerce and industries just as there can be no politician.

4. Jurisdiction

While corruption in high places has to be tackled on a priority basis, for the ordinary citizen, it is the corruption faced by them in daily life and in dealings with public authorities that also needs to be urgently taken up. Much of this sphere of corruption falls in dealings with authorities at the states-level. The Lok Ayuktas set up on the lines of the Lokpal should bring all state government employees, local bodies and the state corporations under their purview. Further, a citizen’s grievances redressal machinery that we have proposed be set up separately, should address all grievances regarding delivery of basic services and entitlements for citizens.

a) Prime Minister: The Prime Minister should be brought under the purview of the Lokpal with adequate safeguards. The office of Prime Minister along with all public servants was brought under the purview of Lokpal by the V.P. Singh Government in 1989 and in all subsequent draft legislations, the Prime Minister has been placed under the Lokpal. In fact a Parliamentary Standing Committee headed by Shri Pranab Mukherjee had made precisely this point while examining the 2001 Lokpal Bill. For the first time since 1989, this government presiding over a large number of scams, is unwilling to ensure accountability of the highest executive office. Clearly, all public servants of the Union Government within the definition in the Prevention of Corruption Act, which includes the Prime Minister, must fall within the purview of the Lokpal.

b) Judiciary: The judiciary too needs to be brought under scrutiny and made more accountable, and the stringent requirement of prior permission and sanction from the Chief Justice to file FIRs and investigate corruption charges has resulted in a de facto immunity to them. But the proposals to bring them under Lokpal encroach upon the constitutionally guaranteed independence of the Supreme Court. If a mere allegation of mala fide is enough for the Lokpal to start an inquiry into the actions of judges, it may not allow judges to act without fear.

Complaints about corruption against the judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts should be handled by a separate body, the National Judicial Commission. This Commission should take care of the appointments in the higher judiciary and oversee their conduct and enquire into the complaints of corruption. For this, necessary legislation will have to be passed. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 is woefully inadequate for this purpose.

c) Members of Parliament: At present, the scrutiny of the conduct of Members of Parliament with regard to any corrupt practice is weak and unsatisfactory. For Members of Parliament, Article 105 of the Constitution provides protection with regard to freedom of speech and voting. The real issue is how to ensure that this freedom and protection does not extend to acts of corruption by Members of Parliament. This can be done through an amendment to Article 105, on the lines recommended by the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution. Alternatively, if feasible, there can be legislation that if any Member of Parliament indulges in any act of corruption that motivates his or her action in Parliament (voting, speaking etc.), then this act falls within the purview of the Prevention of Corruption Act and the IPC.

5. Lok Ayuktas

In the states, Lok Ayuktas should be set up on the model of the Central Lokpal.

6. Protection of Whistleblowers

Whistleblowers must be protected in order to combat corruption. Monitoring and ensuring protection of whistleblowers can be a part of the mandate of Lokpal, but this needs a comprehensive statutory backing. The provisions of the Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Information) Bill, 2010 needs to be strengthened and the bill enacted expeditiously.

7. Big Business-Public Servant Nexus

It is necessary to recognise that an important source of corruption since liberalisation stems from the corrupt nexus between big business and public servants. It is necessary for the Lokpal to have investigations in cases which involve business entities to recommend cancellation of licences, contracts, lease or agreements if it was obtained by corrupt means. The Lokpal should also have the power to recommend blacklisting companies from getting government contracts and licences. Similarly, if the beneficiary of an offence is a business entity, the Lokpal should have the power to recommend concrete steps to recover the loss caused to the public exchequer. The government should normally accept these recommendations and act upon it.

Conclusion

The CPI(M) holds that along with a law for setting up an independent Lokpal, simultaneous measures to strengthen the legal and administrative framework
against corruption are required. These include:

(1) Setting up of a National Judicial Commission to bring the conduct of judiciary under its purview
(2) Law to protect citizens charter for redressal of public grievances
(3) Amendment of Article 105 of the Constitution to bring MPs under anti-corruption scrutiny
(4) Electoral reforms to check money power in elections
(5) Setting up of Lok Ayuktas in the states to cover all public servants at the state-level
(6) Steps to unearth black money and confiscate the funds illegally stashed away in tax havens.

Written by makanaka

August 24, 2011 at 23:14

The drought of south-west China in pictures

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Two local officials look over a dry reservoir in Zhaotong, Yunnan province, on August 23, 2011. Low precipitation caused a seven-month drought in Zhaotong, and more than 4 million mu (2,667 square kilometers) of crops failed due to the drought. Photo: China Daily/Xinhua

Xinhua has reported that Southern China is still suffering from severe drought. Residents of Guizhou, Yunnan and Chongqing provinces are trying to find alternative water sources. Over five million people in Yunnan have been suffering from drought since winter. That’s one-eighth of the province’s population. These pictures from China Daily illustrate the severity of the drought.

Kong Chuizhu, Deputy Governor of Yunnan province, said, “The whole province has raised more than two hundred million yuan in funds to fight the drought. We’re putting access to drinking water as the primary focus.” According to Kong Chuizhu, nearly 2 million people now have some access to safe drinking water, however the remaining 3 million are still thirsty.

In Chongqing’s Jiangjin district, there hasn’t been a drop of rain for almost 50 days. It’s the most serious shortage in years as the area’s rainfall is half that during the same time last year – local authorities are distributing drinking water to people.

A woman washes clothes in an almost-dry reservoir in Zhaotong, Yunnan province, on August 23, 2011. Photo: China Daily/Xinhua

A water truck brings water to local residents in Zhaotong, Yunnan province, on August 23, 2011. Photo: China Daily/Xinhua

Peasants plant celery cabbages in a field where potatoes failed due to drought in Zhaotong, Yunnan province, on August 23, 2011. Photo: China Daily/Xinhua

Written by makanaka

August 24, 2011 at 19:50

A time before the pillage – what North Africa should mean to us

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The ugly triumphalism of the decade of 2000-10 is being held aloft again, as the fighting in Libya continues. As before, it is the scandalous regimes conventionally called western liberal democracies which are blaring out their triumphal tattoos, all over the media and across the Internet. The bankers, financiers, arms dealers, oil barons, fuel traders, commodity speculators, land grabbers and their cronies in government (many governments) are already counting their superprofits.

L'Afrique, ou Lybie ulterieure - This map of Africa by Nicolas Sanson, royal geographer to Kings Louis XIII and XIV, and commonly known as the father of French cartography, was published by Sanson’s own house in 1679 in Paris. The map was based, according to Sanson, on a composite of information drawn from other maps as well as “upon the observations of Samuel Blomart.” It also may have drawn on the Dutch writer Olfert Dapper’s work of 1668, Naukeurige Beschrijvingen der Afrikaensche gewesten (Description of Africa). The continent is presented as “Greater Libya” and the map concentrates on the Saharan region of north Africa and the surrounding land of west Africa, stretching from Guinea and the black coast to Nubia in the east <http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.wdl/dlc.142&gt;.

The Maghrib that is North Africa is being readied for an even more intense period of plunder and pillage, of that there is no doubt. The very idea of ‘rebel’ had been perverted, as it has been the past year from Morocco to Syria. Amidst this savage celebrating, there is a need to turn to history and its many threads, to rediscover and hear again of the luminous nature of that which is now being ridden under, to reflect on the carefully constructed fruits of civilisations that inspired and instructed the thinkers and doers of western Europe.

From ‘The spread of civilization in the Maghrib and its impact on western civilization’, by M Talbi, extracted from ‘Africa from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Century’, Volume 4 in UNESCO’s General History of Africa, Heinemann-California-UNESCO, 1984.

The century of the Almohads – It is hard to decide just when a civilization reaches its peak, when its influence is greatest. For the Maghrib, was it under the Aghlabids in the ninth century, when the armed might of Ifnkiya threatened Rome and ruled the Mediterranean? Or in the tenth, when the Fatimids made Mahdiyya the seat of a caliphate which rivalled that of Baghdad? Or should we opt for the Almohad era (i 147-1269), when for the first time, under a local, authentically Berber dynasty, a vast empire was united which extended from Tripoli to Seville? We have to recognize that there were several peaks, and among all those peaks that of the twelfth century was certainly not the least.

And Spain? It had certainly fallen from the political greatness it had known of old under ‘Abd al-Rahmän II (912-61) or under the ‘reign’ of the dictator, al-Mansür b. Abï cAmir, the redoubtable Almanzor of the Christian chronicles. But the case of Spain and the Maghrib was comparable with that of Greece and Rome : Spain conquered its uncouth Berber conquerors, Almoravid or Almohad, twice over, and by giving them the age-old treasures of its artistic and cultural traditions made them into builders of a civilization. So from the twelfth century onwards, the civilization of the Muslim West was a fusion of the culture of Spain and the Maghrib, even more than it had been in the past.

This photograph of a street scene in Tripoli, Libya, is from the George Grantham Bain Collection at the Library of Congress. Although little information about this photograph has survived, it most likely was acquired and distributed by Bain in connection with news of the 1911-12 Italo-Turkish War in which Italy wrested control of Libya from the Ottoman Empire <http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.wdl/dlc.2444&gt;.

It was a civilization built in part — although how great a part is difficult to say – by blacks who came from the regions south of the Sahara. They were to be found in large numbers in Morocco and throughout the whole of the Maghrib. Intermarriage, against which there was no prejudice whatsoever, was common and naturally had some biocultural influence, the nature of which, however, is difficult to determine with any degree of certainty or accuracy. There were also blacks to be found in Spain, principally in Seville and Granada. As slaves for a time, or as free men, they played a considerable role in the army and the economy, and they also brought with them certain customs of their native country. Some of them, such as Jean Latin, a university professor in Spain, attained the highest levels of the intellectual world and gave a stronger African flavour to the Spanish Maghrib.

Art and architecture – In the period that we are interested in, this civilization was centred in the western half of the Maghrib. Kayrawän had declined greatly and Ifnkiya had lost its primacy. We should note that the century of the Almohads was also that of the Almoravids (1061-1147). Apart from the religious aspects, which do not concern us here, there was no break between the two dynasties as regards their civilization. Almohad art, in particular, was merely the flowering culmination of processes which had been developed or introduced from Spain under the Almoravids.

The Almoravids were great builders. Few vestiges remain of their civil architecture, more exposed to the fury of men and the ravages of time and weather. Of the palaces they erected at Marrakesh and Tagrart, nothing is left; of their fortresses, very little; nor do we know much about their public engineering works, in particular their irrigation. But some of the finest religious monuments are still there for us to admire. The most characteristic of those extant today are in Algeria. The Great Mosque of Marrakesh, unfortunately, disappeared under the tidal wave of Almohadism. At Fez, the mosque of al-Karawiyyïn is not entirely Almoravid, but a building of the mid-ninth century, altered and enlarged.

This treatise by the prominent Shafi’i theologian Muhammad al-Amidi (died 1233) deals with questions of original existence and mental existence. The manuscript copy shown here was made in 1805 by an unknown scribe. It is from the Bašagic' Collection of Islamic Manuscripts in the University Library of Bratislava, Slovakia.

On the other hand, the Great Mosque at Algiers, built around 1096, is a genuinely Almoravid foundation which has not suffered unduly from the alterations made in the fourteenth century and again during the Turkish period. There is also the mosque of Nedroma. But the most beautiful building is undeniably the Great Mosque of Tlemcen, an imposing monument measuring 50 m by 60 m, begun about 1082 and completed in 1136. It united the vigour and majesty of the Saharans with the refinement and delicacy of Andalusian art. Marcáis writes: ‘There is no need to emphasize the importance of the Great Mosque of Tlemcen. The peculiarities of its design, and still more the juxtaposition, even the close association, of the Andalusian ribbed dome with the Iranian-inspired corbels [projections] in the form of mukarnas [stalactites]… give it an eminent place among Muslim works.’

Literature – The twelfth century was also notable for brilliant literary activity. The initial reservations of the Almoravids and Almohads concerning poets and profane works in general soon dissolved under the hot sun of Spain. The princes of both dynasties lived up to the tradition that an Arab sovereign should also be an interested and enlightened patron. They encouraged culture and gave their patronage to men of letters.

Here, too, the western part of the Spanish Maghrib held the place of honour. Ifrîkiya did not make much of a showing. Almost the only writer to be mentioned during this period is Ibn Hamdïs (c. 1055-1133), who was a genuine poet with a widespread reputation – and he was born in Sicily. As a youth he had to leave ‘his Sicilian fatherland’, which had been conquered by the Normans, and ever afterwards he dwelt on his memories of it with an engaging nostalgia. After a short stay at the court of al-Muctamid ‘ala ‘lläh (more properly called Muhammad b. ‘Abbäd al-Mu’tadid) at Seville, he spent the greater part of his life in Ifrîkiya. The Muses were cultivated more successfully in the far Maghrib and above all in Spain. Among the more talented practitioners of the art were Ibn ‘Abdün (who died at Evora in 1134); Ibn al-Zakkâk al-Balansî (d. c. 1133); Ibn Bakï (d. 1150), who spent his life journeying back and forth between Spain and Morocco and whose muwashshah (a genre in which he excelled) ended in a Khardja in the Romance tongue; Abu Bahr Safwän b. Idrîs (d. 1222); Abu ‘1-Hasan ‘Abï b. Harïk (d. 1225); Muhammad b. Idrïs Mardj al-Kul (d. 1236); Ibn Dihya, who left Spain, travelled all through the Maghrib, living for a while in Tunis, and died in Cairo; Ibn Sahl (d. 1251), a native of Seville, of Jewish origin and great poetic sensibility, who entered the service of the Governor of Ceuta after his native city fell to Ferdinand III (1248); and Abu ‘1-Mutarrif b. ‘Amïra (d. c. 1258), who was born at Valencia, served the last Almohads in various cities of Morocco and ended his life in the service of the Hafsids of Tunis.

In this constellation two stars shone with particular brilliance: Ibn Khafadja (1058-1139), uncle of the Ibn al-Zakkâk mentioned earlier, and above all Ibn Kuzmän (b. after 1086, d. 1160). The former, without quite being a court poet (he came from a well-to-do family from Alcira, in the province of Valencia), did the conventional thing and eulogized the important men of the day, among them the Almoravid prince Abu Ishäk Ibrahim b. Tâshfin. But it is mainly as an inimitable poet of nature that Ibn Khafadja has come down to posterity. In his sensuous and romantic verse he sings of the joy of living, the water of rivers and ponds, gardens and flowers, fruits and the pleasures of existence. He was called al-Djannän (the gardener) and there is no anthology old or new that does not offer a selection of his poems. He is one of the classic Arabic poets.

Food Prices, Health and Nutrition: Red-flag indicators for India’s 12th Plan

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Macroscan, the website is maintained by Economic Research Foundation, professional economists seeking to provide an alternative to conservative and mainstream positions, has posted an article I have written on ‘Food Prices, Health and Nutrition: Red-flag indicators for the 12th Plan’. Here is the opening section.

India rice price trends

The long-term impacts of food inflation on the rural and urban poor are yielding worrying indicators in the nutrition and health sectors. The debate over the provision of the National Food Security Bill and over the reform of procurement for the public distribution system has helped a great deal to bring to the foreground persistent inequities in food access and quality. What remains are the health and nutrition dimensions that are also determined by access to food, the prices at which food items are available and the extent to which food inflation determines nutritional choices for citizens in low income categories. Some of these linkages are brought out by reading together new data from the National Sample Survey Organisation’s 66th Round, and recent trends in retail food prices.

Retail prices of the separate elements of a common food basket are recorded by the Ministry of Food and Consumer Affairs (FCA), Department of Consumer Affairs, for 49 cities. This is a new series of 22 items, compared to the 16 items the FCA had maintained until early 2011. For rice and wheat there is a curious pattern to the price rise. The price band for the 49 cities moves up over time, but it also expands over that time. This can be seen in Chart 1.

With Bharat Nirman-centric infrastructure programmes deepening the connectivity between food supplying districts and consuming regions and with growing investment in agri-logistics and in food retail chains, in fact the reverse ought to happen. That is, food basket staples should be displaying greater homogeneity in retail prices. However, there are a variety of other factors influencing the price band (for the FCA’s 49 cities as much as for district kirana shops) and some of these are external factors such as energy costs, new demand centres arising in fast-urbanising towns which skew distribution costs and corner investment, and the offtake by the food processing industry which is growing at an annual rate of 14%-15%.

India rice and wholesale price index

While a number of factors are at work behind the divergences over time between states and between rural and urban consumption centres, these are not reflected by the movement of the Wholesale Price Index. However, it can convincingly show the variance between types of measurements. The Office of the Economic Adviser maintains the Wholesale Price Index (WPI). After indexing the upward movement in WPI (new series 2004-05) for rice from January 2006 and also indexing the minimum and maximum prices per kilo of the 49 cities’ price trendline, Chart 2 is the result.

As pointed out in a number of articles and commentaries on MacroScan by Jayati Ghosh and C P Chandrasekhar, there is a gap between the rate of increase of CPI for food items and the WPI for those items. This we can see in Chart 2. What we also see is that from October 2008 to January 2010 the rise in WPI accompanied, more or less, the rise in the lower limit of the rice price trendline. From January 2010 onwards, the difference in the growth rates of the WPI for rice and of the rice trendline is significant. This is the ‘fair average quality’ of rice. Yet the gap between the lower price trendline and the WPI is now greater than it has been at any time during 2007-08, when the global food price shocks took place.

How have these price trends hurt households in the lower deciles of consumption in both rural and urban areas? One of the early results of the 66th Round of the NSSO, ‘Key Indicators of Household Consumer Expenditure in India, 2009-10’, provides an answer. The state- and decile-grouped summary data tables show that for 16 major states, the rate of increase in monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) on food has been faster than the rate of increase of the total MPCE. What has been the impact in the states? For example, with both food and total MPCEs indexed to the levels found in each state by the NSSO in 2003,  the food MPCE rose by 87% in 2009-10 in rural Maharashtra whereas the total MPCE rose by 65%. In 2005-06, food MPCE in rural Maharashtra had risen 14% and the total MPCE had risen 19%.

[Macroscan, the alternative economics website, has the full article.] [pdf only is here.]

Another bit of calm, comrade – Chavez undaunted

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The following is the full text of the message sent by president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela Hugo Chavez Frias in response to the message sent by Prakash Karat, general secretary of the CPI(M) on August 8, 2011:

Hugo Chávez, sin cabello por efectos de la quimioterapia, pero con la Constitución Nacional en la mano. Photo: El Nacional / Prensa de Miraflores

I send you a fraternal and Bolivarian greeting, with the living testimony of my affection and friendship.
I deeply appreciate the numerous enthusiastic demonstrations of solidarity that I have received from the brotherly nations of Venezuela, as well as Heads  of State and governments of numerous countries of our America and around the world.
After completing the first cycle of medical treatment that I have been prescribed and having made a colossal effort to celebrate together with the Venezuela people the bicentennial of the declaration of independence, I returned to the warm city of La Havana with my daughters to continue, under the strict care of a team of high class doctors, the second phase of treatment to which I am subjected.
In this complicated and difficult crossroads at which life has placed me, I proceed the long way and difficult road of return, therefore I have the conviction that all the love, all the solidarity received in recent days is the most sublime energy that boosts and will boost my desire to win this new battle that life has thrown up.
When an event like this happens, in difficult moments, the company of friends and the timely words of encouragement they give you are more valued than ever. Throughout my life, no doubt, I have been repeating the mistake of neglecting my health and now I have to confront difficulties to continue the good march towards the future.
Attended by Cuban and Venezuelan doctors trained with the most advanced scientific knowledge which they have in hand, now I must pass through a slow and careful monitoring and treatment, which accepts no rush or pressure of any kind. My discipline to recover the health is, at this point rigorous.
The hours of meditation and inner search of the necessary potential will help me to come out of this adverse situation, I have rediscovered the wise and generous words of the great Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo, especially the verse that invokes hope and patience.

Chávez cree que se desplomó la esperanza que para algunos significó Obama. Photo: European Pressphoto Agency

Another bit of calm, comrade;
A lot, immense, northern, complete
Fierce, small calm,
To the service less than every victory.

With the calmness recommended by the immortal Cesar Vallejo, that one serves under each victory, I have taken care of my health in a comprehensive and rigorous way. Thanks to the God of my fathers, to quote our Liberator Simon Bolivar, I can say that I am recovering physically, intellectually, morally and with a political strength that will allow me to confront with fortitude the challenges ahead.
Much work remains to be done to meet the immense commitment to solve the problems of the Venezuelan people to finally consolidate our country’s independence, long-awaited justice and equality. I remain in command of the Bolivarian government, with the support of a great team of ministers that is under the unconditional service of the highest interests of the country.
As you know, Venezuela celebrated in a great way the bicentennial of its independence, an event that obliges us to pick up the torch of our first liberators and to continue the struggle for independence, sovereignty and freedom of our people. Bolivar said: “I desire the formation in America of the greatest nation in the world, not so much as to its extension and wealth as to its glory and freedom.”
Friends around the world, I invite you to continue accompanying Venezuela with the same solidarity and respect of always, to keep together, scaling new heights and to build the better world we want. I reiterate my unconditional friendship, and my infinite affection for every interest and the concern expressed in recent days.
From the great nation, from my heart, from my whole soul, from my supreme hope, which is of a people, I say for now and always:
We will live and win!

Hugo Chavez
President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

[From People’s Democracy, the organ of the CPI(M)]

Written by makanaka

August 20, 2011 at 13:18

India rises against corruption

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Scores of Anna Hazare supporters arrive to court arrest at New Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium on Tuesday. Photo: The Hindu/V.V. Krishnan

The arrest of social activist and anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare has sparked off a massive wave of protests all over India, with reports of people courting arrest in major cities and opposition parties criticising the arrest of Hazare and his associates as a vicious attack on democratic and civil rights of citizens in India. Yesterday, 15 August 2011, was India’s Independence Day. Reports:

In Chennai, Gandhi’s secretary leads pro-Anna Hazare protests – Youngsters in the age group of 18 to 25 turned up in large numbers at a private wedding hall in Chennai on Tuesday to express solidarity with Anna Hazare and his fight against corruption.

Over 3000 detained in Mumbai after protests over Anna Hazare’s arrest – Over 3000 people were picked on the charges of unlawful assembly from across Mumbai on Tuesday after they held demonstrations protesting against the police action against activist Anna Hazare.

Hundreds turn up for anti-corruption protest in Bangalore – Close to 100 people volunteered for the indefinite fast against corruption and in support of the Jan Lokpal Bill here at the Freedom Park on Tuesday. Though not fasting, at least 500 more were present to lend their support to the movement.

Is Anna Hazare’s arrest the right move? – Anna Hazare on Tuesday courted arrest after being detained by Delhi Police at his residence ahead of his indefinite fast against corruption. His asscociates Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Manish Sisodia were also taken into preventive custody.

Anna Hazare at Rajghat, New Delhi: Photo: The Telegraph

Anna Hazare sent to 7-day judicial custody – Anna Hazare has been sent to seven days in judicial custody and will be lodged New Delhi’s in Tihar Jail. Hazare’s supporters Manish Sisodia, Arvind Kejriwal, Darshak, Radheshyam, Suresh Pathare, Naveen Jaisingh and Dada Phatare have also been taken into custody.

Bangaloreans protest Anna’s arrest – Hundreds of people Tuesday gathered here in this Karnataka capital supporting a stronger Lokpal Bill and condemned the arrest of civil society activist Anna Hazare in New Delhi. “Such arrests cannot end the agitation against corruption.”

India against corruption: Refuses to offer bail, Kiran Bedi tweets – Former police officer Kiran Bedi tweeted on Tuesday that she has refused to offer bail after being detained with Anna Hazare and that she may be sent to Tihar Jail. “I have been asked to offer bail. I have refused to.”

Anna Hazare’s detention triggers protests across Maharashtra – Responding to social activist Anna Hazare’s call to fill jails as part of his campaign against corruption and demand for a strong Lokpal Bill, his supporters today courted arrests in Mumbai.

Lawyers back Hazare, stage protest – Lawyers on Tuesday staged protest outside the Delhi High Court premises against the arrest of Anna Hazare and his supporters who had planned to hold a fast in support of strong Lokpal Bill. “This is an Emergency-like situation.”

Written by makanaka

August 16, 2011 at 18:13

India Independence Day 2011

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A group of cycle-rickshaw drivers share a break and a chat in New Delhi

Written by makanaka

August 15, 2011 at 11:40