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Beating the drums of war early in 2013

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The Algerian army has beefed up its positions on the border with war-torn Mali to prevent incursions by armed rebels fleeing north. Algeria, which had always opposed military intervention in Mali, was reluctantly drawn into the conflict when it agreed to let French warplanes use its airspace, and closed its 1,400-kilometre southern border shortly afterwards. Photo: Reuters

The Algerian army has beefed up its positions on the border with war-torn Mali to prevent incursions by armed rebels fleeing north. Algeria, which had always opposed military intervention in Mali, was reluctantly drawn into the conflict when it agreed to let French warplanes use its airspace, and closed its 1,400-kilometre southern border shortly afterwards. Photo: Reuters

Little noticed by the world’s media, the Munich Security Conference has in 2013 has just concluded. Its organisers and sponsors call it “the major security policy conference worldwide”. In this year’s conference – attended by about 400 participants from nearly 90 countries – a speech was delivered by the Vice President of the USA, Joseph Biden.

Biden mixed deception with aggression. This is what he said about current conflict the USA is prosecuting:

Today, we’re in the process of turning the page on more than a decade of conflict following the September 11, 2001 attack, and we ended the war in Iraq responsibly. And together we’re responsibly drawing down in Afghanistan, and by the end of next year, the transition will be complete.”

And here is what Biden has threatened:

… we took the fight to core Al Qaeda in the FATA, we were cognizant of an evolving threat posed by affiliates like AQAP in Yemen, al-Shabaab in Somalia, AQI in Iraq and Syria and AQIM in North Africa.”

The USA is estimated to have from 700 to over 1,000 military bases of all kinds in the world.

The USA is estimated to have from 700 to over 1,000 military bases of all kinds in the world.

At the Munich Security Conference leading political, military and defence industry representatives of the major powers, along with invited officials from other nations, met to discuss current and future military operations and geo-strategic issues.

That’s the sanitised version. The unsanitised version is plain to see in the speeches, such as Biden’s, and the statements. What this perverse gathering of war-mongers demonstrated is the consensus that exists among the countries of western Europe, amongst the USA and its allies, for an expanded political and military drive to install puppet governments and seize control of land, water and energy in the Middle East, in Central Asia and in the African continent. [See the map of US military bases, courtesy of the New Humanist.]

Biden in his speech revealed the growing darkness of widening conflict planned by this group:

As President Obama has made clear to Iranian leaders, our policy is not containment – it is is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The ball is in the government of Iran’s court, and it’s well past time for Tehran to adopt a serious, good-faith approach to negotiations …”

And:

“The United States is taking difficult but critical steps to put ourselves on a sounder economic footing. And I might add, it’s never been a real good bet to bet against America.”

The American vice president then went on to allege that “Iran’s leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation and international isolation”.

Who in truth is responsible for that deprivation, what is the human cost of that designed deprivation and isolation?

US Vice President Joe Biden in a helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 11, 2011.  Photo: White House

US Vice President Joe Biden in a helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 11, 2011. Photo: White House

Less than a week before this Munich Security Conference began, Iranian Mothers for Peace in an open letter to Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, and Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Heath Organization, alerted them to the critical shortage of vital medication due to the US/EU-led sanctions on Iran and their deadly impact on the lives and health of the Iranian population.

Excerpts from the letter written by the Iranian Mothers for Peace:

Dear Dr. Margaret Chan
As you know, the illegal and inhumane actions led by the US and the EU, targeting the country and the population of Iran, with the stated intention to put pressure on the government of Iran, have intensified in the past two years and increasingly harsher sanctions are imposed almost on a monthly basis. The regulations governing these inhumane and arbitrary sanctions are executed with such strict inflexibility that Iran is now excluded from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) and the sanctions on banking transactions are preventing Iran from even purchasing its needed medical supplies and instruments. On the other hand, to avoid suspicion for dealing with Iran, the European banks are fearful not to engage in any kind of financial transactions with Iran and, therefore, in practice, refuse any transfer of payment for medical and health-related items and raw materials needed for the production of domestic pharmaceutical drugs, even payment for well-recognized drugs for the treatment of Special Diseases, which are not of dual use.”

We ask you: What could possibly be the intended target of the wealthy and powerful US and European statesmen’s ‘targeted’ and ‘smart’ sanctions but to destroy the physical and psychological health of the population through the increase of disease and disability? The right to health and access to medical treatment and medication is one of the fundamental human rights anywhere in the world. Please do not allow the killing of our sick children, beloved families, and fellow Iranians from the lack of medicine, caught in instrumental policies of coercion and power.”

The Munich Security Conference 2013 in session,

The Munich Security Conference 2013 in session,

Unheeding of the clamour for peace worldwide and blind to the appalling cost in life, the gathering of war-mongers in Munich listened to Biden:

“That’s why the United States applauds and stands with France and other partners in Mali, and why we are providing intelligence support, transportation for the French and African troops and refueling capability for French aircraft. The fight against AQIM may be far from America’s borders, but it is fundamentally in America’s interest.”

Representatives of the countries of western Europe – of the same governments bent on now impoverishing their own people just as surely as they have wreaked havoc in the countries of the South with neo-liberal mutations of the ‘structural adjustment’ doctrine of the 1980s – made clear that they were only too willing to participate in the re-colonialisation of the Middle East and North Africa in cooperation with the USA. The German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere stressed the importance of cooperation with the US and their support for the Western intervention in Syria, as well as the war in Mali.

Scholar Horace Campbell in his new book, ‘Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya‘, has argued that the military organisation is the instrument through which the capitalist class of North America and Europe seeks to impose its political will on the rest of the world, “warped by the increasingly outmoded neoliberal form of capitalism”. The intervention in Libya, he said, characterised by bombing campaigns, military information operations, third party countries, and private contractors, exemplifies this new model.

At the time, they called it ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Libya, they tolerated suppression in Bahrain and Yemen, and then they supported civil war incitement and escalation of violence in Syria. The results have been: dangerous new urban geopolitics and the militarisation of city spaces as can be seen in Aleppo, Benghazi, Cairo and Manama; the privatisation of state violence through private security firms and mercenaries; the overuse of the democratic carrot and the economic sticks of debt, fiscal discipline, and international investment; the violence with which new forms of political and social participation, organisation, and representation (which include women, the unemployed, the urban poor) are met. This is the militarised world that has been described anew by the Biden speech.

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Two films on social struggle: Egypt’s unfinished revolution, Kenya’s ‘unga’ revolution

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Although Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down in February 2011, the uprisings in Egypt continue. While the uniting rallying cry may have been against dictatorship, the struggle in Egypt that took headlines across the world in early 2011 reflected deeper social, political, and economic problems. The key demands of the revolution have still not been met. The continuation of military rule and the promise of more neoliberal economic policies lead many to believe it will be a long battle.

Protesters in Egypt are hopeful, however, as people all over the world revolt against an economic system that benefits the few at the expense of the many. This short documentary looks at the economic factors that led to the revolution, the reality of living under military rule, and brings up questions over the legitimacy of the current elections.

Rising prices and inflation in Kenya prompted the creation of a movement led by a grassroots civil society group, Bunge la Mwananchi, or The People’s Parliament. It staged demonstrations throughout the year to pressurise the Kenyan government to bring down the price of unga, or maize flour. IRIN’s latest film, ‘Kenya’s Unga Revolution’, follows one of Bunge la Mwananchi’s activists, Emily Kwamboka, as she takes to the streets to demand change in the lives of ordinary Kenyans.

Throughout 2011, Kenyans have faced the strain of rising food and fuel prices. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, late and erratic rainfall led to an estimated 3.75 million people across the country becoming food-insecure. The World Bank’s Food Price Watch report states that the price of maize rose by 43 percent globally between September 2010 and September 2011.

IRIN’s latest film, ‘Kenya’s Unga Revolution‘, follows one of Bunge la Mwananchi’s activists, Emily Kwamboka, as she takes to the streets to demand change in the lives of ordinary Kenyans. “It’s high time people wake up. We need masses in this struggle. This is a fight that can’t be fought by just one or two people,” she told IRIN. Particularly affected were those living in Kenya’s urban areas, especially slum-dwellers. “Things have become so expensive, people are not even able to buy vegetables,” said Joash Otieno, a resident of Mathare, one of Nairobi’s slums. “Those who live in Mathare and other slums earn very low incomes,” he added.

The rising prices and inflation prompted the creation of a movement led by a grassroots civil society group, Bunge la Mwananchi, or The People’s Parliament. It staged demonstrations throughout the year to pressurize the Kenyan government to bring down the price of unga, or maize flour, from Ksh120 (US$1.40) a kilo, to KSh30 ($0.34).

Who’s poor and who isn’t – the flawed $1.25 formula

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The $1.25 a day poverty line is neither realistic nor is it any use to governments of less industrialised countries. It is time this ‘global poverty line’ is rejected.

An early stage shanty settlement of rural labourers, in Maharashtra, western India

Once again a major international thinktank has released a ‘big picture’ prognosis about global poverty. Once again the $1.25 a day line has been used to confirm that in developing countries, poverty is on the retreat and that the current model of economics is working for the poor by yanking them over that troublesome dollar line.

This time, the thinktank is the Brookings Institution, USA. Here’s their bottomline. Most of the poverty reduction we have seen in the last decade has happened because of the economic growth in China and India, where, until the end of the 20th century, a large number of the world’s poor lived. That growth in Asia not being matched by similar growth in Africa is the reason, Brookings has explained, for Nigeria heading towards being home to the largest population of poor by 2015, more so even than India. Poverty will be an African problem, according to Brookings.

As many other high-profile thinktanks have done over the years, Brookings has proferred its poverty prognostications [pdf] based on a few givens in the world of macroeconomics. One is that $1.25 a day, the World Bank’s revision of its own dollar-a-day definition which is now of some vintage, is the most reliable way to set a global poverty line. Two is that economic growth has brought many people in developing countries out of poverty and will continue to do so. Three is that the kind of growth that we have witnessed (and participated in) in China is the best anti-poverty solution to be found.

A vegetable vendor pushes his cart over a bridge across the river Ganga, near Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India

Based on these ‘givens’, which I shall turn to in a moment, the world’s development specialists and macroeconomists who measure poverty have lately been waxing enthusiastic about the prospect of providing all poor people in the world cash supplements, which they are sure will bring them out of poverty. The cost, they say, is relatively quite small, at about $66 billion. This cash transfer, to each and every poor person, will cost less now than it would have done only five years ago, they have said.

Well, yes and no. All programmes, even ones that distribute cash to people, cost money to run. If you have to distribute on a regular basis enough money to enough poor people at the rate of more than $1.25 a day, that distribution itself is going to be huge and enormously complicated, and of course quie expensive too. Faced with this question, they do have a ready answer, which goes something like this: recent advances in biometric identification technologies—such as fingerprint and iris scanning—have greatly expanded the promise of implementing large-scale welfare programs in poor countries. No doubt, the technology is there and it has been proven to work. However we who work in the field know well that a gizmo in the hand is not exactly worth a meal on the table, so to speak.

That’s the nuts-and-bolts part of the proposal to buy our way out of poverty. A far more troublesome set of questions concerns the ‘givens’ this whole idea is based on. Let’s look again at $1.25 a day to start with. In most developing countries, this is in mid-2011 equivalent to about a litre of petrol. It will buy about three kilos of rice in some countries, pay for two autorickshaw commutes in others, or buy 10-15 litres of water in some cities (this year on World Water Day the UN said that “Someone living in an informal settlement in Nairobi pays 5 to 7 times more for a litre of water than an average North American citizen”).

Built-up shanties along a Mumbai highway, leading to suburbs bristling with expensive new high-rise residential blocks.

That daily line also works out to $37.50 (EUR 26.25) a month. What can an individual buy with that much for a month? Can she buy shelter which does not leak when it rains, can she buy baby food for her children and medicines for her aging parents? Can she pay for schoolfees? Can she afford even a kilowatt hour of electric power a day with that money? Can she stock her kitchen with the cereal, fresh vegetable and lentils her family needs? Never mind $1.25 a day – can she do this on $2 a day in Cairo, Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro or Nairobi?

I can’t see a ‘yes’ answer to any of those questions, anywhere. Next, on what basis do the thinktanks and multilateral lending banks (World Bank, IMF) continue to say that economic growth removes poverty? They use variations of the GDP-divided-by-population formula, and ask th macroeconomists to make the appropriate adjustments for income categories and rural-urban distribution. The trouble is, the real world of poverty doesn’t function the way these models and formulae do. Economic growth has meant the continuing and deepening inequality of income. The ‘richer’ a country gets based on GDP, the more unequal the distribution of the money amongst its people. That’s the very reason the ‘advanced’ economies of Western Europe and North America put in place social safety nets (whose very much poorer cousins are the cash transfer programmes in vogue nowadays).

The truth is plainer and far more visible. There is no let-up in poverty, not in the numbers of poor, and not in how far under the poverty line they are. Any other view may be well-intentioned but misguided. [Thanks to From Poverty To Power, the blog by Duncan Green of Oxfam, for mentioning the Brookings report.]

Written by makanaka

July 31, 2011 at 01:24

‘Get out’ Friday nears for Egypt’s Mubarak

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A musician performs in Tahrir, or Liberation, Square in Cairo. Tens of thousands of people filled the square as a call for a million protesters was answered by the largest demonstration in a week for President Hosni Mubarak to leave. Photo: AP

A musician performs in Tahrir, or Liberation, Square in Cairo. Tens of thousands of people filled the square as a call for a million protesters was answered by the largest demonstration in a week for President Hosni Mubarak to leave. Photo: AP

Newslinks, snippets and sources for the fast-moving events in Egypt.

President Hosni Mubarak announced Tuesday he will not run for a new term in September elections but rejected protesters’ demands he step down immediately and leave the country, vowing to die on Egypt’s soil, after a dramatic day in which a quarter-million Egyptians staged their biggest protest yet calling on him to go.

Although internet is not ordinarily accessible from Egypt, there’s a variety of alternatives available. Go to egypt.alive.in to explore links to a variety of tweets and audio content.

Al Jazeera’s special section, ‘Revolt on the Nile’, has a large and growing number of videos, tweets, messages, comments, opinions and reportage from Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere.

Jordan’s King Abdallah II, bowing to public pressure, fired his government on Tuesday and tasked a new prime minister with quickly boosting economic opportunities and giving Jordanians a greater say in politics.

Gulf News reports that at Cairo’s Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, focus of protests for a week, young professionals in their 20s were unimpressed. “The speech is useless and only inflames our anger,” said Shadi Morkos. “We will continue to protest.”

Anti-government protesters pray during a rally in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Photo: EPA

Anti-government protesters pray during a rally in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Photo: EPA

In Alexandria, the second city, troops in tanks fired shots in the air to keep order after skirmishes between anti-government and pro-Mubarak groups. But there was no sign that the army was trying to halt anti-government protests. It has said it will protect marchers and called their demands “legitimate”.

But some analysts said tensions could rise even within the army if Mubarak were to hang on too long, and if senior officers were seen to be protecting a leader who had lost legitimacy. “The longer this goes on, the more people will associate the military top brass with Mubarak. That is very dangerous,” said Faysal Itani, deputy head of Middle East and North Africa Forecasting at Exclusive Analysis.

An analysis in The News, Pakistan, has said that Air Marshal Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak has been the President of Jumhuriyah Misr al-Arabiyah for 30 years. At 82, the president has plans of gifting the presidency to Gamal Al Din Mohammed Hosni Sayed Mubarak, his younger son, as if the Arab Republic of Egypt is the president’s personal estate. An uprising spurting from within the centre of power clearly indicates that a powerful faction from within the leadership is either guiding or managing the outbreak. It isn’t a revolution but a war of succession. In all probability, a powerful faction very close to the centre of power disagrees with Hosni Mubarak’s plans of gifting the presidency to Gamal and the entire upheaval is being stage managed to bring about the desired result.

The Egyptian theatre now has four key players — Lt Gen Sami Annan, Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Army, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, Defence Minister, Air Marshal Ahmed Shafiq, Minister for Civil Aviation, and Lt Gen Omar Suleiman, the intelligence chief. Of the four, Lt Gen Annan commands 468,000 troops, Field Marshal Tantawi oversees 60,000 Republican Guards while Lt Gen Suleiman is rumoured to be ailing. President Mubarak is playing out the last of his tricks. If protests continue even after the dissolution of the parliament, chances are Mubarak would be eased out. Lt Gen Sami Annan will have the last word and Air Marshal Ahmed Shafiq may be a good compromise candidate to replace Mubarak.

Written by makanaka

February 2, 2011 at 11:26

The kiss of democracy in Cairo

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Lefteris Pitarakis / AP. An Egyptian anti-government activist kisses a riot police officer following clashes in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Jan. 28, 2011. Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters poured into the streets of Egypt Friday, stoning and confronting police who fired back with rubber bullets and tear gas in the most violent and chaotic scenes yet in the challenge to President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule. An inspiring photo by Lefteris Pitarakis of AP: an Egyptian anti-government activist kisses a riot police officer following clashes in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Jan. 28, 2011. Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters poured into the streets of Egypt Friday, stoning and confronting police who fired back with rubber bullets and tear gas in the most violent and chaotic scenes yet in the challenge to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule. [Via photoblog on msnbc.com.]

Written by makanaka

January 30, 2011 at 23:56

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In Cairo, a roar for reform

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Cartoon in Al-Ahram by Fathi Abul Ezz.

Al Jazeera stands out as the news group with the most comprehensive coverage of the unfolding situation in Egypt. It has given readers a frontline taste of the atmosphere on the street in Cairo through the reportage of Ahmed Moor, a Palestinian-American freelance journalist based in the city, and who was born in the Gaza Strip, Palestine.

Moor’s ‘A day with Egypt’s protesters’ can be read here. This is a sample:

“I milled about for a half-hour trying to surreptitiously snap pictures of the scene when I heard the first dim shouts to my right. I shot across the street to get a look and saw a large group of riot guards forming a two-man thick cordon around a group of about 30 demonstrators.

“They were tightening their human noose when some of the protesters pushed back and broke through. Fifty of us joined in and within minutes 300 people were marching down the street away from the square.

“A chant went up: Hurriya! Hurriya! Hurriya! – Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!

“The riot police approached from the rear and formed a barrier several men deep. Ahead of us, a group of sour-looking Mukhabarat men tried to block the group of several hundred protesters in – but we pushed and overwhelmed them.

“Someone holding a cellphone to my left yelled in a heated voice that there were more protesters by the museum. The men at the head of the protest, the ones leading the chants, began to run breathlessly around the corner and we followed, also breathless. I panted as I ran, disbelieving what was happening. Rounding the corner, I came face to face with a crowd of more than 1,000 demonstrators and my heart swelled and my head spun.

“Within 20 minutes there were several thousand of us on the streets, and by the end of the hour several more thousand. The police decided to try to take control at that point and personnel carrier armed with a water cannon tore through the crowd. We split in two and demonstrators began to attack the vehicle. Hundreds of men chased after the truck but rejoined the main protest minutes later.”

Egypt’s veteran and somewhat stodgy Al-Ahram reported that since Wednesday (January 26) morning “police trucks and state security forces could be seen in several areas throughout Egypt, after Tuesday’s unprecedented demonstrations calling for radical political and economic reforms. Spots expecting demonstrations have been guarded by state security after the ministry of interior declared that no demonstrations of any kind will be tolerated”.

“Despite official warnings,” Al-Ahram said, “several demonstrations calls or rumours of some have been spreading on social media sites. Although the government has cracked down on activists’ Internet tools, blocking Twitter, Facebook and a number of Egyptian news websites, online activists have been able to post and discuss possible meeting points as the “Day of Anger” looked set to continue for several more days.”

Al Jazeera has also reported that prime minister Ahmed Nazif made what may have been the government’s first concession to protesters. In a statement to a state news agency, he pledged that the country’s leadership was committed to allowing freedom of expression “by legitimate means.” But his statement came as the interior ministry said that 500 protesters had been arrested on Tuesday and Wednesday in an effort to clamp down on the public unrest. The ministry had said earlier on Wednesday that new demonstrations would not be allowed. Thousands of armoured police had been deployed at key locations around the capital in anticipation of renewed demonstrations on Wednesday, which some have called the most significant in Egypt since massive riots over the price of bread in the 1970s.

The new protests over living conditions and an autocratic government have broken out in Cairo a day after large and deadly demonstrations, calling for the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak, swept across the country. More than 500 protesters were arrested by security forces as the government vowed to crackdown on them. On Wednesday evening, thousands of demonstrators were spread throughout downtown Cairo after being dispersed by security forces. Many had gathered on Gelaa Street, near central Tahrir Square – the site of a violent early morning confrontation between security forces and protesters who had been planning to sleep the night in defiance of the government.

Written by makanaka

January 26, 2011 at 23:40