Friday, December 23, 2011

China: ‘Developing’ or ‘developed’ country?

The COP 17 climate conference in Durban ended as expected, with no real agreement and commitment to reverse the destruction of the planet earth. Before and during this meeting, China positioned itself as a developing country so that it could align with the least developed societies from Africa, Asia and Latin America in calling for the countries of Western Europe, North America and Japan to stick to the Kyoto Protocol. In previous climate change meetings, the Chinese delegations had been reluctant to discuss any replacement of the existing Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol, which was negotiated over 15 years ago before China exploded with its economic growth, only binds developed countries to cut their emissions. The treaty, the main provisions of which expire at the end of 2012, has been ineffective and failed to curb global emissions. In the United States (US), the most conservative forces have denied the existence of global warming, while the government failed to ratify the treaty.

Throughout the COP17 meeting, representatives of the Global South presented the arguments of the consequences of global warming with the evidence of droughts, floods, hurricanes and the breakup of arctic ice. Island societies from Oceania and other parts of the world provided graphic evidence of the threats to their survival. One term that came out of this meeting was that of ‘climate apartheid’. This formulation came out of the Africa group; Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International said that:

‘Delaying real action until 2020 is a crime of global proportions. An increase in global temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius, permitted under this plan, is a death sentence for Africa, Small Island States, and the poor and vulnerable worldwide. This summit has amplified climate apartheid, whereby the richest 1% of the world have decided that it is acceptable to sacrifice the 99%.’

Massive mobilisations by progressive organisations ensured that the deliberations among governments were exposed. From the international reports on the COP 17 deliberations, even with the exposure of the catastrophic conditions of the international financial organs, the leading polluters continued to negotiate within the confines of the liberal concepts of voluntarily established clean development mechanisms. There continues to be stiff resistance to the truth that the planet has been brought to this stage because of the forms of industrialisation of the western capitalism over the past 200 years. Understandably, the US government was identified as the country that is the greatest obstacle to an agreement on reversing global warming. It was in the face of the clear isolation of the US in this meeting where Xie Zhenhua, head Chinese delegation, told journalists that China was willing to be part of a new, legally binding global agreement to mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions, which could come into force by 2020. China also sought to reassert its status as a ‘developing country.’ Read more

Democracy is more than voting and elections: Lessons from Guyana and the Caribbean

In this time of seismic changes internationally, it is becoming clearer each day that new forms of politics are needed to give expression to the deep desire for transformation of this social system that places profits before humans. From Egypt to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the people are finding out that the entire process of voting and elections is stacked against change. After rising up against the Mubarak regime in January and February, the electoral process in Egypt has handed a parliamentary majority to social elements who want to roll back the rights of women. In particular, the Salafists (one of the more conservative branches of the Islamic faith) have risen to second place after the November ‘elections’ in Egypt. Those who were able to use the mosque as a platform for political engagement during the era of repression have emerged with over 60 per cent of the Parliamentary seats, i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists.

The Salafists, whose members follow a strict form of Islam, benefit from support from the most conservative forces in Saudi Arabia.

The other recent lesson has been that of the DRC where the state structures of Mobutism are now occupied by a clique around Joseph Kabila. This society which is larger than the size of Western Europe lacks the infrastructure to organise real elections but the United Nations and all of the top members of the United Nations Security Council supported a farcical procedure where voting was supposed to have taken place. As I wrote this article, the press reports were that Kabila was ahead of Mr Etienne Tshisekedi, the principal contender out of a field of more than nine presidential candidates.

Most of the media reporting on the elections in the DRC focused on logistical questions about how to count the votes of more than 30 million voters in a society where there were more than 18,000 parliamentary candidates competing for 500 parliamentary seats. As in many parts of Africa, politics is now a vocation for those involved in influence-peddling so that many of the politicians are not interested in question of social justice. This does not mean that the people do not want justice.

Today I draw from the lessons of the recent elections and the aftermath in Guyana in South America to draw attention to the clear reality that prolonged political mobilisation is needed for a new form of politics, because, even when people vote, their votes are not respected. The shooting of unarmed protesters in Georgetown Guyana, this week holds a very bad omen for the manipulation of racial divisions so that a discredited leadership can stay in power.


Another front in the global struggle for social justice is now opening in Guyana. Guyana, we should recall, was the home of Walter Rodney, who was assassinated in 1980. Much like the struggles now taking shape in the USA, the Middle East, and other places, workers, students, mothers, fathers, and the population of this South American nation have once again joined the global struggle for political and economic change. Since political independence, Guyana has been overseen by political careerists who manipulate racial insecurity between the Indian and African workers. Read more

Angola: Fifty years of continued uprisings

Angola is reputed to be the third fastest growing country in the world. This is a prime example of a society where growth does not have a positive impact on the quality of the lives of the 99 per cent of Angolans. From the Human Development Indices of the United Nations, the people of Angola are near the bottom of the pile, ranked 148 out of 187. Exploitation and social inequality are apparent in all areas of life of the society, witness the gated communities, high-rise buildings and the latest luxury vehicles in a space where there is little delivery of basic services such as water, electricity, sewage systems and malaria prevention. For international capital, this is success.

All of the major business papers and magazines wax lyrical with news of the possibilities for investment in Angola. It is difficult to get a seat on a flight to Angola because ‘entrepreneurs’ of varying levels are on the path to El Dorado in Angola. Luanda, the capital of Angola is one of the cities of the world where the skyline is rapidly changing with a major construction boom. Plans for the building of a million new houses across Angola have ensnared Chinese, Brazilian, Spanish and Portuguese corporations with companies from every part of the capitalist world from Korea to Germany and from India to the United States jockeying to join the gravy train.

Massive and opulent shopping centres that seek to defy the laws of nature and high-rise residential complexes without water and electricity expose a political leadership who have completely lost any understanding of the society they live in. In the Bay of Luanda, a historic point of embarkation for millions of enslaved Africans, there is a US$2.3 billion dollar project to build offices, houses, and buildings for commerce, hotels, tourism and leisure. This project is dubbed the creation of a New Dubai. Although the project is marketed as a component of the reconstruction of the society involving the ministries of public works, and urbanisation and environment and the provincial government of Luanda, this multibillion project represents infrastructure projects where a few Angolans get rich in alliance with foreign construction companies.

Additionally, this massive construction project is one more effort for the very rich to enter the top league of those making illegitimate or excessively large windfall gains and enter the top league of financial entrepreneurs who are aligned to the ‘financialisation of energy markets.’ Sonangol (Sociedade Nacional de Petróleos de Angola – National Society of Petroleum of Angola), the state oil company, has entered the major league of top energy traders; one component of this trade is to build the financial infrastructure to move resources independent of government oversight. Sonangol shares some of the same characteristics as the massive operations that had been undertaken in Libya by the state-controlled Libyan Investment Authority.

Libya had entered into the opaque world of financing energy markets through the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) before their allies in Wall Street considered the unpredictability of Gaddafi of Libya too threatening. Libya is, like Angola, a top producer of petroleum products and after December 2010, the Central Bank of Libya took the controlling position in the Arab Banking Corporation based in Bahrain. The Arab Banking Corporation was owned by Kuwait Investment Authority, Central Bank of Libya, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and other shareholders with minor shares. At present very few reports have linked the Libyan dominance in the Arab Banking Corporation to the seismic events in Libya since February 2011.

After December 2010, Muhammad Layas of Libya had taken over in this major financial institution. Any move for making independent decisions in the Arab Banking Corporation threatened the web of speculators in the derivatives industry that depended on the recycling of petrodollars from the oil rich nations of Kuwait, Libya and the Emirates. After February 17 when the Libyans started to move to divest their funds from their over-exposure with British and US financial institutions, there was the freezing of the assets of Libya prior to the façade of protecting Libyans by Britain, France and NATO. Read more