Archive | February 27th, 2016

Killing by Sanctions

NOVANEWS
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While Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who is currently advising presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, famously said that the estimated 500,000 children who died as a result of U.S. sanctions on Iraq was “worth it.” It was, perhaps, a rare moment of candor from a politician, an admission that Washington is willing to support ostensibly non-lethal measures in such an all-encompassing fashion as to produce mass deaths of people who have no ability to influence the actions undertaken by their government. Sanctions are collective punishment, a blunt edged weapon used all too frequently by Washington to compel foreign governments to submit without having to go to war. There is nothing benign about them and Americans should regard them as potentially just as deadly as direct military intervention.

There are currently a number of countries that are subject to U.S. enforced sanctions but only three fall under the category of “state sponsors of terrorism.” They are Iran, Syria and Sudan. That status entails a number of U.S. Government sanctions including a ban on arms-related exports and sales; controls over exports of dual-use items; prohibitions on economic assistance; and imposition of miscellaneous financial and other restrictions. The financial measures require the United States to oppose loans by the World Bank or other international financial institutions and prohibit any U.S. person from engaging in a financial transaction with a terrorism-list government without a Treasury Department license issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The license and other approvals are reported to be complicated and the process is extremely difficult to navigate, discouraging anyone from having business dealings with the targeted countries.

Other sanctions are not always directly related to terrorism. They sometimes target select individuals and organizations that are considered by the U.S. government to be focal points of some aberrant behavior. A number of Russian officials have been sanctioned over Ukraine and even over the functioning of the country’s judiciary while the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has been sanctioned both for its involvement with radical groups and its support of Tehran’s missile program. But the most devastating sanctions are those which are directed against a country and nearly everything that it does economically, which was the case with Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Currently, Sudan falls under that category.

I recently spent a week in Sudan as the guest of a NGO. The objective was to show a group of hopefully influential foreign visitors the devastating effect of sanctions on the local economy. We visitors were of course aware that we were being fed a line that was most favorable to the government position so we also spoke to other Sudanese who were not necessarily part of the program as well as to United States government officials working at the Embassy.

The status of state sponsor of terrorism was bestowed on Sudan back in 1993 after the Sudanese government invited Osama bin Laden to stay in the country. Subsequently it was also claimed that Khartoum was supporting radical groups in Africa and elsewhere, to include Boko Harum, Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army and Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Since that time the conditions that led to the designation have changed dramatically. Bin Laden was asked to leave and relations with a number of militant groups were severed. Sudan has even severed diplomatic relations with Iran.

The latest edition of the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Terrorism states that “Sudan remained a generally cooperative partner of the United States on counterterrorism. During the past year, the Government of Sudan continued to support counterterrorism operations to counter threats to U.S. interests and personnel in Sudan.” Beyond that, the Sudanese intelligence service has been active in sharing information on terrorists in neighboring countries, to include Yemen, Uganda, Eritrea, Somalia, Chad and Libya. The information has been of such value that in 2010 the United States intelligence community advocated decoupling intelligence sharing from restrictions imposed on bilateral contact due to concerns over developments in Darfur.

In 2010 John Kerry, then Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee,pledged to the Sudanese government that the terrorism designation would be lifted but failed to follow through. Later, in 2013, as Secretary of State, he was reminded of his promise by his Sudanese counterpart but apparently was thwarted in taking any action by advisers around President Barack Obama, most notably Susan Rice and Samantha Power. Both had in part made their reputations by writing and speaking to condemn Sudan. They were among the first to describe the conflict in Darfur as a genocide and are correctly perceived as hostile to any change in Sudan’s status.

The other sanctions on Sudan, referred to as a “comprehensive trade embargo,” blend claims of terrorism support with alleged human rights violations. They were imposed by Bill Clinton in 1997 and supplemented under George W. Bush in 2006. The last of these were linked to what has been described as a civil war starting in 2003 pitting the mostly Arabic speaking north of the country against the mostly indigenous black African south and west. The western media depicted the conflict in a racial context as well as in terms of religion, with Muslim pitted against Christian and animist, but the reality was much more complex than that with groups also dividing along linguistic, tribal and even occupational lines, sometimes featuring nomadic herdsmen against farmers.

Most sources agree that the various wars in and around Sudan have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese as well as between 14,000 and 200,000 who were reportedly “enslaved” in abductions carried out by both sides. The conflict in Darfur has been described as a genocide with a government supported militia known as Janjaweed and the rebels together having been accused of carrying out numerous atrocities. As a consequence, Sudan’s then-and-now president Omar Hassan al-Bashir has been on the receiving end of an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court.

Al-Bashir, it should be noted became president by virtue of a military coup, though he has now been elected to office three times, once in an uncontested election in 1996 and in 2010 in a multiparty election that was described as “highly chaotic, non-transparent and vulnerable to electoral manipulation.” The most recent election took place on April 2015 and was strongly criticized by the U.S., Britain and Norway, all of whom had sent observers. Al-Bashir heads the ruling National Congress Party, but in fact he rules largely by fiat. He is either very popular or very unpopular with the Sudanese people depending on whom one talks to.

Genuine moves towards Sudanese democracy through the mechanism of a currently ongoing National Discussion are promising but are likely to slowly evolve in reality. The country’s legal system is based on Sharia but there is general tolerance of other religions in practice if not in law. The National Museum has a section relating to Christianity in Sudan and there is a Christian hour on television every Sunday. The Roman Catholic cathedral is located near the government center and there is also an active Coptic community. Christian community leaders openly support the existing government, just as they do in Syria, perhaps recognizing that available alternatives might be much worse.

A cease fire with the southern states in Sudan in 2005 led to the involvement of a United Nations Mission and a referendum in 2011 resulted in secession from the north. South Sudan is now an independent country that is enduring its own birth pangs. There are some reports of continued violence possibly instigated by Khartoum as well as little noticed government repression in the southern Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, which have been largely closed to the media and foreign NGOs pending yet another referendum to determine their future status.

Darfur followed with its own peace agreement in 2006. It is relatively quiet though military operations against a final hold out group of rebels in the region continue. Humanitarian and UN affiliated groups are in Darfur to monitor the process of reconciliation and it is expected that there will be another referendum to determine the region’s final status. At least some of the continuing unrest has been attributed to the activity of radicals from Chad, who are able to freely cross the open 600 mile long border to enter Darfur.

Business leaders in Khartoum note that there has been considerable economic growth in Sudan in spite of sanctions, concentrated in the sectors of oil, agriculture and mining. Since 1997, Sudan has been working with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to initiate reforms and create sustainable growth. There is, however, considerable official corruption and across the board poverty, largely among those in engaged in agriculture.

In spite of some positive developments, Washington’s sanctions have blocked almost all business with Sudan. Selling or buying anything to or from Sudan requires clearance by OFAC and is largely limited to agricultural, communications or medical products. The paperwork requires months to complete and the actual purchases have to be made through third parties, meaning that everything costs more and comes without warranties, service or support. This is because the United States has effectively shut down any banking transactions or extensions of credit with Sudan and when no one can get paid except by suitcases full of cash it becomes impossible to conduct business. Few foreign banks exist in Sudan and they are very careful about how they operate. Even the IMF is reportedly having difficulty in funding its own projects in country. It all means that Sudan cannot pay its bills through conventional correspondent banking arrangements as foreign banks are fearful of being fined by the United States. No one is willing to take that risk.

To be sure, part of Sudan’s economic woes come from its sustaining a war economy in response to the unrest in several regions. But beyond that no investment money coming in due to sanctions means no improvement in agricultural technology, which would benefit the poorest part of the population, or in health care or in education. Poverty has been increasing due to sanctions and attempts to evade the restrictions have resulted in smuggling, money laundering and an increase in unconventional banking to include hawala transfers that are not subject to normal bank controls. Because Sudan is currently not integrated into the international banking system its transactions cannot be monitored to prevent terrorist money transfers.

And there is also a human price to pay for inability to move money. Sudanese health care providers believe that many preventable deaths are attributable to persistent lack of medicinal suppplies or diagnostic equipment due to sanctions. Even if the numbers are overstated, that is almost certainly true. In a recent case three patients in Darfur died for lack of renal dialysis solutions.

I oppose sanctions in principle because I believe they are a blunt instrument that punishes innocent civilians when broadly construed while having no effect at all when directly targeting the country’s relatively wealthy and unreachable government officials. If sanctions are to make any sense they should be designed to achieve a quantifiable result but that is rarely the case and they frequently serve no purpose whatsoever beyond dishing out punishment. It has been claimed that sanctions actually worked in Sudan because its government has moved to meet some of Washington’s demands over Darfur and South Sudan, but that is a simplistic explanation for rather more complex phenomena that were likely driven by multiple constituencies and interests.

More often than not, sanctions harden a government’s resolve to resist, as they did in Cuba, and even become useful to the regime as an excuse for government failures. Theexplanation provided by George W. Bush’s special envoy to Sudan Andrew Natsios that sanctions “send a message…to start behaving differently when they deal with their own people. That’s what this is all about,” is hubristic imperialism at its finest. It is reported in Sudan that many young Sudanese hate the United States and it is not difficult to understand why.

And there are good selfish reasons for the United States to lift sanctions and normalize relations with Khartoum. Sudan is an autocracy but no worse than American allies like Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt. It is active in fighting alleged rebels but is far more restrained than the current Saudi military intervention in Yemen. And though Khartoum has had sometimes ambivalent relationships with Islamic radicals it has been far less engaged in that fashion than Pakistan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. So Sudan passes the smell test for being a disagreeable regime that is compatible with United States’ broader interests.

And those broader interests are clear, including allowing American companies to participate in the future development of the country. U.S. sanctions have forced the Sudanese to turn to Moscow and Beijing for assistance. Russia is involved in gold mining and China is increasingly engaged in transportation, communications and energy projects. The Sudanese rail network and its international air carrier Sudan Air have collapsed due to lack of spare parts for their U.S. made hardware, an opportunity for American suppliers to quickly reenter the market. It is not in the U.S. national interest to create conditions favorable to competitors seeking to dominate the potentially large and developing Sudanese economy, ceding to them a significant foothold in East Africa by default.

Furthermore, Sudan is a bridge between Africa and the Arab world. It harbors no international terrorists and is a relative oasis of calm in a region in turmoil, well placed to monitor developments in neighboring Egypt, Chad, Libya, Somalia, Eritrea, Zaire, Central African Republic, Uganda and Yemen. It has made a significant contribution in counterterrorism and could do even better if properly motivated and provided with the tools needed, potentially playing a major role in the U.S. sponsored Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism. Normalizing relations with Sudan’s banks could, inter alia, stop money laundering and shut down possible terrorist money transfers.

There is, in short, no good reason to continue the status quo apart from the objections of two Obama advisers who have a personal stake in depicting Sudan in the most negative fashion. Unfortunately U.S. foreign policy has drifted away from supporting actual national interests and is mired in responding to various constituencies, in Obama’s case the “responsibility to protect” advocates. One can quite imagine that with something like a Marco Rubio it would revert to the mindless belligerency mode, but as both models seek to remake foreign governments they should equally be eschewed. Countries like Sudan and Iran should not be made to feel that they are permanently under the heel of the American jackboot. Nor should Washington feel compelled to play that role. Except in those rare situations where trade embargoes can inhibit flows of weapons to belligerents in a hot war, sanctions are useless, diminishing both those who apply the punishment and those who are on the receiving end. They should never be considered a serious instrument for foreign policy.

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Refugee camps are factories for terrorists? Not really

NOVANEWS

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Cora Currier

The author explores Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, through nine of its inhabitants, portraying them with complexity and compassion, while also critiquing the counterterror policies that have done little, he argues, to bring stability to East Africa.

After gunmen attacked shoppers at Westgate Mall in Nairobi in 2013, killing 67 people and injuring dozens more, Kenyan authorities did not hesitate to blame the violence on Dadaab, a complex of refugee camps in northeast Kenya home to roughly half a million people, mostly Somalis.

“Dadaab is a nursery for terrorists,” the secretary for the interior said on national television. Another politician called Dadaab a “training ground” for terrorists. One policeman claimed to have seen a helicopter carrying the attackers out of Dadaab to Nairobi. The crackdown against Somalis in Kenya was swift and vicious, as detailed in a new book by Ben Rawlence, City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp.

Rawlence writes that no evidence emerged that Westgate was plotted in Dadaab. Yet Kenya used the attack to try to shut down the camp. The international community, especially the United States, reiterated its support for the Kenyan government and largely ignored the abuses committed in its war on terror.

The mistaken idea that desperate refugees are particularly likely to radicalize and join terrorist groups is having a moment outside Kenya, too. It underlies Western fears about people fleeing conflict in Iraq and Syria. After the attacks in Paris last November, the media quickly grasped at flimsy evidence indicating the perpetrators had arrived as refugees, and public opinion in Europe swung against asylum seekers— even though the majority of the suspects so far identified have been French or Belgian nationals. In the United States, Republican politicians have fallen all over themselves in the race to be sufficiently anti-refugee.

City of Thorns offers a nuanced corrective. Rawlence spent years visiting Dadaab and interviewing refugees from the region while working as a researcher with Human Rights Watch. Dadaab, a tent city first established in 1991, is now home to generations of Somalis who have fled civil war and famines, as well as Ethiopians, Eritreans, Congolese, Sudanese, and others escaping the region’s conflicts. Rawlence explores Dadaab through nine of its inhabitants, portraying them with complexity and compassion, while also critiquing the counterterror policies that have done little, he argues, to bring stability to East Africa.

Rawlence opens his book with a 2014 meeting he attended in the White House with members of the National Security Council, a year after Westgate. Rawlence understood that the NSC wanted to hear why — with desperate poverty and overcrowding and infinitesimal chances for resettlement — had all the young men in Dadaab not joined al Shabaab? Rawlence had often pondered the same thing, but found that “the very question was an insult.” To the refugees he knew, “al Shabaab were crazy, murderous criminals.” Besides, the camps were heavily policed by Kenyan authorities, security guards, and local residents alike. Al Shabaab had a shadowy, often deadly, presence in the camps, but Rawlence couldn’t in good faith tell the gathered officials that Dadaab contributed to terrorism.

“There were no further questions and the meeting came to an early conclusion,” he writes. He had “fallen into the liberal lobbyist’s trap: If the youth were not at risk of being radicalized, then perhaps the NSC didn’t need to worry about Dadaab after all.”

Speaking at an event in New York a few weeks ago, Rawlence said that “so much lazy policy” is based on the idea that the camps are “hotbeds of radicalization.” Western powers throw military aid and drone strikes behind regional governments, he said, but “nobody wants to acknowledge that Kenya is not an honest broker in Somalia, Ethiopia is not an honest broker in Somalia.”

Kenyan military intervention against al Shabaab often made things worse. In the year after the Kenyan army invaded Somalia in fall of 2011, there were 30 attacks on Kenyan soil, against both civilians and security forces. When Kenyan forces took the southern Somali city of Kismayo, “all the sectors in which al Shabaab had been active in trafficking — charcoal, sugar, drugs, weapons, and humans — now boomed.” Western intelligence agencies, according to Rawlence, believed that the Kenyan army simply split revenues with al Shabaab and a local militia. The change in the power dynamics of smuggling affected the camp’s economy, Rawlence writes, as the price of sugar skyrocketed and fights over clan control of trade erupted.

Dadaab’s residents also suffered directly from al Shabaab’s reprisals. Improvised explosives and suicide bombers hit the camps. When seven boys were injured in a shooting in a ramshackle cinema where they had gathered to watch soccer, residents dubbed it “Westgate Two.” Sanitation, healthcare, food distribution, and other aid in the camp dwindled as international aid groups withdrew amid the insecurity; foreign aid workers made obvious kidnapping targets.

But perhaps worst of all was the retaliation from Kenyan authorities. Police often swept through the camps, beating any young men they found. Somalis living in Nairobi had to pay bribes to the police or be rounded up and detained or sent to Dadaab. The book ends in late 2014, as Kenya decided that it wanted the camp officially closed. Refugees were to leave in what Kenya called “spontaneous, voluntary returns,” even though few people wanted to go back to Somalia, which was still very much at war. As Rawlence documents, life in the camps simply got harder. “Dadaab was stuck: no improvements, no investments, but no movement, either,” he writes.

Through these dire happenings, Rawlence deftly winds refugees’ stories. He provides psychological portraits of his characters, recording their lives with sympathy and without moralizing. Tragedy and horror, rape and bombs, shape lives in the camp, but so do love and ambition, jealousy and luck.

The principal characters include Guled, a teenager who fled conscription in al Shabaab’s youth gangs in Mogadishu, and a Somali-Sudanese couple, Muna and Monday, whose mixed-religion marriage causes an uproar. Tawane, a young Somali man who had grown up in the camps and became an influential youth leader, explains the word buufis — a term invented in Dadaab to describe the longing to leave, and the particular depression that comes after one of his friends succeeds in escaping. And there is Lamma, an Ethiopian exile who spent an hour each day collecting water for a tiny garden, “so that his child could know what it was like to sit on grass.”

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Join the call for a feminist UN Secretary-General in 2016!

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Join the Call for a Feminist UN Secretary-General in 2016! The Women’s Major Group is launching the call below and would like to invite widespread participation. Please share widely with your networks.

Please access the Google Form to add your organization’s name to the call. The call will be forwarded to Member States with signatures received by February 12th, 2016. The form will remain open for additional signatures until February 26th, which will be included in an online version of the letter.

Responses received via email may not be recorded. Please use the Google Form.http://goo.gl/forms/CLp9NamnB4

A CALL FOR A FEMINIST UN SECRETARY-GENERAL IN 2016

We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, believe that a woman Secretary-General must lead the United Nations. After the appointment of eight male Secretaries-General, a female Secretary-General is urgently needed to foster gender equality in the leadership of the UN.

Beyond ensuring that the next UN Secretary-General is a woman, we believe that the successful candidate must be a woman who brings a strong feminist perspective to the UN, in line with the UN’s core values of human rights, equality, and justice.

At a time when the UN is engaging in a new role of overseeing the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, the next UN Secretary-General must also be a woman who has demonstrated a capacity to address the global structures, systems and values that undermine gender equality, women’s human rights around the world and that stand in the way of transformative development justice.

We therefore call for a woman Secretary-General who has a demonstrable commitment to:

• Advancing a bold, comprehensive women’s human rights agenda in intergovernmental fora that recognises the indivisibility and universality of women’s human rights;
• Challenging inequality in all of its forms, including economic and social inequality between countries, between rich and poor, and between men and women.
• Taking urgent and equitable action to halt current environmental crises and their social impacts, including climate change;
• Ensuring that the UN implements the reforms necessary to protect its status as a genuinely democratic multilateral institution that acts in the interests of all people and all countries, and not just the most powerful;
• Taking action to ensure that feminist and civil society movements are not just observers in policymaking, but active and equal participants;
• Promoting women’s leadership at all levels; and
• Ensuring that the integrity of the UN and its agencies is not undermined by the influence of private funding, including by the corporate sector.

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Implementing biometric voter registration: The case for Zimbabwe towards 2018

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Taona E. Mwanyisa

It is hoped that the use of this technology will enhance inclusiveness and transparency of the voters’ roll thus contributing to a credible election in Zimbabwe. BVR will give rise to a highly accurate voters’ list which will boost confidence of the electorate in the electoral process.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announced that it would roll out Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) in preparation of the 2018 election. It is, however, important that we understand what BVR can and cannot do. On its own BVR is not a panacea to the problems encountered in previous elections in Zimbabwe resulting from a defective roll but can play a role in ensuring the transparency of the electoral process. Other processes and factors should be in place in order to complement the role of BVR in elections in Zimbabwe.

The starting point towards any credible election is voter registration. An election that is credible must prevent voters from voting more than once and unregistered voters from voting. The use of biometrics for automatic de-duplication, verification and authentication represents the best solution in ensuring election with highest integrity.

In Zimbabwe voter registration is conducted on a continuous basis and the register is kept and maintained by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. It’s provided for in the Electoral Act [Chapter 2:13]. The Act provides for registration, transfer, objections and deletions from the voters’ roll. Currently the system Zimbabwe Electoral Commission employs a paper based registration process and verification of data is mostly manual. This is costly as a new register has to be prepared and updated for each election. Verification of data is difficult and is open to manipulation. Deceased people remain on the voters’ register. A previous research by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) indicated that the voters’ roll had hundreds of deceased people, duplicated names, under-aged persons and about 41 percent of the registered voters were no longer residing at the address in the voters roll. During the previous elections there were allegations of voters’ slips being used to vote whose origin could not be ascertained.

From the foregoing it is obvious that the current voter registration system in Zimbabwe is flawed and does not inspire confidence in the electoral process. The system is costly and time consuming. Data captured in the field in paper form is brought to a central place for data entry and this leads to a number of errors at data entry level. It also means that duplications on the roll are many. It does not take into account issues of credibility and transparency of the process.

The discourse has now moved to how we can make the register more transparent and credible. The majority of stakeholders in Zimbabwe support the implementation of continuous voter registration using biometric technology in order to have a voters’ register which is inclusive, comprehensive, accurate, accessible and transparent. The system that is required is one that is cost effective but also combining technology that will deal with issues of duplication and minimize errors. It has to be credible and inspire confidence in the voter registration exercise.

Now that the Commission has made a commitment to use BVR a number of processes and considerations have to be in place before it can be rolled out. In finding a new solution priority should be accorded to enhancing the integrity of the register using biometrics technology and this technology has to be sustainable and owned by Zimbabweans. A number of issues should guide the Commission in moving forward with biometrics from a sustainability and ownership perceptive.

Financial sustainability of the system has to be considered in coming up with the desired system. Reality is that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission does not have continuous source of funding. Funding is ad hoc and only increases in an election year and is never sufficient. This affects operating cost of any registration system. Unlike the passport system that can generate its own funds, voter registration does not and as such would require extensive funding from the central government and cooperating partners. Resources will be required for procurement of the system, its operation and maintenance. Who meets the cost? Can the cost be maintained for sustainability? BVR equipment and software are expensive and as such massive investment will be required by the Commission that is reeling from under funding. The Commission should avoid vendor locked systems as this will increase the cost of running and maintaining the system. The system should be locally owned, designed and operated. This does not preclude outsourcing for design but it should be done in such a way that it can be sustained over a long period of time.

Stakeholder buy in is essential in deciding the methodology as well as the technology to use during the voter registration exercise. The Commission should be encouraged to involve stakeholders in the implementation of the BVR. Political parties, CSOs and other interested stakeholders should be consulted and involved in the decision on what system to go with. It should be noted that the current mistrust and lack of confidence in the current registration is a result of a process that was shrouded in secrecy, was not open and transparent. The Commission has an opportunity to allay fears of registration manipulation in this early stages of deciding on whether to go with BVR or not. A platform should be put in place to ensure dialogue and constant consultation and updates during the implementation of the BVR.

Success of BVR in other countries in the region has been attributed to increased stakeholder engagement in rolling it out. The success of the voter registration exercise in Zambia, for example, has been attributed to national ownership and commitment by the Electoral Commission of Zambia. The process was inclusive and transparent with stakeholders being consulted and informed on a regular basis. Coordinated support through the basket fund managed by UNDP also provided funding for the voter registration exercise as well as technical assistance for the roll out of the BVR. There was sufficient resource mobilization, fund management and full support from stakeholders hence its successful roll out.

ZEC has to take into account human capacity building. It is essential to design a system that falls within the skills set of the country. Almost all of Africa is buying skills, skills transfer is lost from election to election hence skills retention should be made a focus area. We have seen commissions elsewhere acquiring state of the art equipment that at times end up idle because of lack of skills to operate and run the equipment. At every stage of the design of the system local expects should be involved, this will ensure sustainability and ownership of use of technology. At all costs the Commission should avoid a system that locks them to a vendor, source codes and other user guides should be developed and shared with local experts who will continue to maintain and update the system.

Whilst the BVR system to be introduced by the Commission has been successful elsewhere in the region there is need to sustain it. Continued national commitment to permanent voter registration is required. Sufficient staff to manage the permanent voter registration will be essential. This will entail having an IT department with specialized ICT expertise. Technology has lifespan and continues to evolve and hence there is need for sufficient revenue budget and human capacity to maintain the system.

The new solution that the ZEC requires should, at most, have the following features. Immediate issuance of voter card: the voter should be issued with his/her voters card immediately after registration. Both the voters card and the register should bear voters’ portraits and fingerprint. Strict registration duplicate checks should be undertaken, the voter registration kits should be pre-loaded with the old register and identify double registration at source (Biometric). The system should ensure the identity for which a person attempts to register to vote validly belongs to that person and remove duplicate/multiple entries from the register.

The system should be able to remove from the voters’ roll all persons who are no longer eligible to vote; for example, those who are deceased or disqualified for other reasons specified in the law. This requires comprehensive and accurate provision of data from the Registrar General’s office. It should be acknowledged that Zimbabwe has one of the most advanced national registration systems in the region and this should complement efforts to ensure the right people register. The system should ensure all required details for voter registration are provided by an applicant for registration or change of registration, and that the details are fully and correctly entered on the voters’ roll with Facial Recognition System (FRS) combined (optional) with Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS).

It is hoped that the use of this technology will enhance inclusiveness and transparency of the voters roll thus contributing to a credible election in Zimbabwe. BVR will give rise to a highly accurate voters’ list base for permanent voter register which in turn will boost confidence of the electorate in the electoral process. The use of biometrics will reduce duplicate registrations. Because the kits will be mobile it will mean that registration will be undertaken in all polling districts countrywide. This mode of registration will allow for easy accessibility of registration centers. Distances to registration centers will be shortened. Registration officials will go out into the communities in phases thus reducing the cost related to procurement of kits.

The use of BVR registration kits will mean that the time taken to register will be reduced and since the kits will be preloaded with the old register double registration will be identified immediately. The process will give rise to an increased number of voters because voter cards will be issued upon registration. This will result in a reduction in number of visits to the registration centers. Voters cards issued should be secure and temper proof.

ZEC and electoral stakeholders such as civic society and media should embark on a massive awareness campaign encouraging people to register to vote and to explain how the BVR works. Planning is essential to introducing new type of technology and thorough analysis and comparative studies are critical to decision-making on what type of technology suitable for the registration process for Zimbabwe.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE LESSONS WE CAN LEARN FROM THE REGION ON HOW TO ROLL OUT BVR?

The first thing we learn from Zambia is that the introduction of technology in voter registration needs to be implemented well in time before an electoral event and the process should be supported by the legal framework. The technology to be used should be independent from proprietorship (vendor locked). Enhanced capacity building should be undertaken for both the IT department and electoral officials. The system should be cost effective and sustainable.The process should not be driven by vendor or external interests, the process should be home grown and supported by national electoral stakeholders.

The use of biometric technology to register voters showed its potential during the registration exercise in Zambia. Technology managed to cut down on human errors and the filling of forms prior to registration, which has cut down on the time it takes to register each eligible Zambian. With a thousand (1000) mobile registration kits operating on a daily basis in each district of Zambia, the Electoral Commission of Zambia’s managed to register 93% of the eligible voters in the last round of BVR in 2015.

Whilst the BVR has shown its potential elsewhere in the region the challenge for ZEC is in maintaining the system and to ensure that technology is enhanced to link the ZEC data base with the data base for the Registrar General. This will ensure that those who turn 18 are immediately transferred to the voter register and those who are dead are immediately removed from the register. This will require major changes to the business operating system of the Registrar General’s department, the Commission and support from donor partners to support the resourcing of this process.

We should, however, be cautions with the perceived intended benefits from BVR. BVR alone will not address the challenges facing elections in Zimbabwe. Other processes should be in place before we can have credible elections. BVR will enhance credibility of the electoral process but on its own will not be able to address the challenges Zimbabwe faces when it comes to elections. ZEC should be encouraged to be open and transparent and involve stakeholders in the implementation of the BVR. This confidence building measure is required and if this is not in place elections will continue to be viewed with suspicion in Zimbabwe and allegations of vote tempering will always be there from one election to another.

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Operations and maintenance: A crisis in Africa

NOVANEWS

John O. Kakonge

Key stakeholders – governments, donors and the private sector – must change their attitudes to O&M and ensure that its requirements are factored into all projects, so as to help ensure that equipment attain their planned life-span.

In many developing countries, especially in Africa, there is a perception that new things do not need maintenance. This attitude is a major obstacle to the achievement of any kind of sustainability in development and the cause of failure in numerous African projects and programmes. This failure to accord due importance to operations and maintenance (O&M) is attributable to a number of factors. Since the scope of activities and services performed as part of O&M is immensely wide, however, we have decided in the present article to focus our discussion on some of the challenges hindering the effectiveness of O&M generally and to give particular attention to road-building and water projects and technical assistance programmes in Africa.

1. LACK OF APPRECIATION OF THE PROBLEM

During the design of projects, planners and designers often disregard O&M-related issues. Often, the question of O&M is not considered at all and, if it is, those who dare to raise the issue are treated as disruptive and time-wasters. Even the authorities all too often are happy to believe that, if equipment is new, it can be expected to function without further attention for a considerable period of time. As a result – returning to our example roads in Africa – upon completion of a new road, the appearance of potholes and cracks creates alarm only when they become big and actually pose a danger to traffic. When budget allocations are made for O&M these are always the first items to be reduced or removed when cuts are called for.

In its 2014 deliberations, the World Economic Forum (WEF) acknowledged that O&M activities have little political visibility and that long-term maintenance requirements tend to be ignored in short-term political cycles. The Forum concluded that O&M costs could not always be easily recovered from user charges, that requests for price increases to cover O&M were invariably opposed and that increased charges sometimes resulted in more payment evasion.

Key stakeholders (governments, donors and the private sector) must change their attitudes to O&M and ensure that O&M requirements are factored into all projects, so as to help ensure that equipment attain their planned life-span.

2. LACK OF ADEQUATE FINANCIAL RESOURCES

The O&M budgets of many development projects normally represent only a small percentage of total costs, usually in the range of some 3–5 per cent. This, at any rate, is the case with UN-funded projects, where an allocation is routinely made for the maintenance of a project’s vehicles and equipment. Where projects in so-called “crisis” countries are concerned, a relatively large component is allocated for equipment and materials and, accordingly, there is usually a sizeable budget line for maintenance. The World Bank (2015) reports that, for water systems using ram (gravity) pumps in the Philippines and Pakistan, O&M estimates range between 1.5 and 2.4 per cent of capital costs, while for roads the range is between 3 and 10 per cent. Similarly, the Bank shows O&M costs of 2–8 per cent for school buildings and 4.4 per cent for health-care centres.

Emerson (2003) notes that, when financial pressures build, O&M budgets are among the first to be cut. While the funding may be cut, the need for O&M remains indispensable, so alternative sources of money have to be found. Not surprisingly, these are few and far between, and O&M requirements are often simply neglected: buildings quickly become dilapidated, roads break up and infrastructure decays and falls apart, sometimes so a point where repair is no longer an option and the only solution is to rebuild, to start again from scratch.

Where roads are concerned, however, one relatively successful and non-intrusive means of recovering funds for O&M after the completion of a project is the imposition of tolls. This practice has a long and impressive history: roads have been tolled at least since the seventeenth century and the system has recently made something of a comeback, with some countries allowing the private sector to build toll roads for profit. Thus, following the example of South Africa and Morocco, in 2009 Zimbabwe instituted tolls on its major roads. The system is not fool-proof, however, and Mbara et al. (2010) report such problems in the operation of the toll system as revenue mismanagement, mistrust between revenue collectors and users, high costs and insufficient traffic. Despite these problems, the toll road system has almost doubled the money available for the O&M of Zimbabwe’s roads.

In Kenya, tolling was introduced in the 1990s but collapsed under the weight of corruption, as did the issuance of road licenses, the other common source of funds for roads. Levik (2002) cites another example, from Ethiopia, which established a road fund in 1997 to maintain all public roads. This was funded by a levy on fuel, which was paid directly to the fund by the fuel companies. Although this meant an increase of 12.5 per cent on pump prices, the public – exasperated by the continuing deterioration of the nation’s roads and persuaded of the potential benefits of the system – accepted the new tax without undue complaint. Kenya has now instituted the same system and each new or repaired road carries signs saying the work was paid for from levy funds.

These relatively encouraging examples notwithstanding, the history of road funds in Africa, Latin America and Asia has generally been characterized by insufficient revenue, poor governance and low operational efficiency (WEF, 2014). On the positive side, WEF (2014) reports that the Austrian road fund has avoided underfunding by annually adjusting its toll pricing using a formula based on the consumer price index.

In the water sector, Kelly (2009) summarizes a report prepared by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) criticizing donors, governments and NGOs for installing boreholes and wells in Africa without ensuring their long-term sustainability. The IIED report examines the specific example of Katine, in Uganda, where the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) found a well so badly constructed and full of soil and animal faeces that it made local people sick. In response to such problems, AMREF has been training local communities to operate and maintain their water points safely. As Kelly (2009) points out, “there needs to be a proper assessment of just how much local people are able to finance these water points. It is not enough to drill and walk away”. Levik (2002), stresses that, no matter how small the maintenance budget, it will still make a difference, especially if accompanied by proper planning and the right priorities.

3. INADEQUATE SKILLS

Even when development programmes make appropriate provisions for O&M, they must often surmount the challenge posed by the lack of skilled personnel. In many technical assistance projects, O&M activities are outsourced: those related to capital assistance to large-scale projects generally do not cater for O&M. Some countries have established government O&M units to repair vehicles and other equipment; elsewhere this function is outsourced to the private sector. Frequently in African countries responsibility for O&M – especially that relating to roads and buildings – is assigned to the ministry of public works. According to WEF (2014), however, most O&M units are understaffed or under-skilled because the jobs on offer are unappealing to professionals.

Fortunately, there are good examples that African countries can follow. One described by WEF (2014) is the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), which, although it does not have its own university, decided to set up an apprentice school at which it has now trained over 8,000 employees. In addition, ACP has dedicated maintenance professionals. Further, organizations such as the worldwide hotel chains Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide and Intercontinental Hotels Group have set up a department in each hotel for engineering and maintenance that conforms to local environmental, health, safety and building codes, standards and regulations. These and other examples around the world should be instructive to African countries, suggesting good practices that may be espoused. Moreover given that the importance of O&M the African governments should encourage hands-on training and the periodic upgrading of skills.

4. LACK OF O&M POLICY

In many African countries there is no specific policy for O&M: most of the work in this area is performed on an ad hoc basis. Yet an O&M policy could regulate, for instance, the types of boreholes and wells that are installed and the manner in which they are maintained. Added to which, an O&M policy would assist African governments at various levels, local, national and regional, in conducting regular assessments of the existing assets and securing the projected O&M funding. This exercise, as indicated by WEF (2014), would ensure coordination with individual donor agencies, ministries, departments and other stakeholders.

In the transport sector, it makes perfect sense that African governments should turn to road maintenance contractors for the provision of O&M (World Bank, 2005). This approach has been successful because of the strong commitment of local communities, reinforced in particular by the employment of local people in various functions alongside the roads, and, in turn, this has created the incentive to keep the roads in good repair (World Bank, 2005). In its report (2005), the World Bank demonstrates how the governments of Lesotho and Zambia adopted a policy of using local road maintenance contractors to maintain rural and urban roads, and this in turn helped create further employment opportunities.

These examples, together with similar cases from Latin America, offer valuable lessons to the countries of Africa. The overwhelming message from all such success stories is that well-designed strategies and policies on O&M boost the efficiency of countries’ infrastructure services, strengthen their competitiveness and foster socio-economic progress and prosperity. At the same time, effective O&M policy helps increase the effective use, expands the availability and prolongs the life of their assets.

5. RECORDS AND DATA

Generally speaking, African countries lack the necessary data to help plan and coordinate their O&M activities with other functions and, except in certain individual projects, it is difficult for them to determine the costs of O&M. The World Bank (2009) agrees that estimating the costs of O&M is a challenge for many programmes: these costs vary in accordance with the type of investment, technology and design options and local conditions (World Bank, 2009). Notably, data on the cost of adequate maintenance programmes for a range of water facilities are inadequate. There is a lack of data on which technologies work best, and where, and there are no documented best practices for sustainable rural water services (Rukunga et al., 2005). Reliable financial data would also help implementers design appropriate maintenance programmes for different facilities. Such data would also assist in the development of sustainable financing and maintenance initiatives

CONCLUSIONS

From the foregoing, it is clear that a determined and systematic approach to O&M is indispensable to the proper planning, budgeting and implementation of project and programme activities in Africa. Given the steady decline in external assistance, O&M should be seen as a responsibility shared with all stakeholders. In this context, we may look at schools as an example: many of them include the costs of maintenance in their reports to school management boards and parents.

As indicated earlier, despite some challenges, the introduction of tolls and user fees could be expanded to assist with the O&M of roads and bridges. African governments should develop national policies mandating the inclusion of O&M issues in programme documents and should ensure that the necessary funds are allocated in their budgets. In addition, government organizations should all have peripatetic, qualified teams to carry out basic O&M on project and programme equipment: if the work is complex, then it should be outsourced to relevant private sector providers.

As WEF (2014) confirms, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to O&M, and different approaches are needed according to country, sector, asset size and criticality. Given the necessary political will by policymakers and recognition by stakeholders of its critical importance, O&M can be institutionalized in Africa. Regular and properly administered O&M will reduce the rate of deterioration and prolong the life of assets, slow the need for costly replacements and, most important, save much time and money.

* Ambassador Dr. John O Kakonge is a freelance Principal Consultant and Adviser.

REFERENCES

1. Dillions (2015) Operational and Maintenance, Sustainable sanitationhttp://www.sswm.info/content/operation-and-maintenance-0 [accessed: 31 Dec 2015].
2. Emerson (2003), Reducing operational and maintenance costswww.plantweb.com, [accessed: 20 Dec 2015]
3. Kelly, A (2009) Money wasted in water projects in Africa. The Guardian 26 March 2009 [accessed: 2nd January 2016]
4. Levik , K (2002) How to sell the message Road Maintenance is necessary to Decision Makers http://trid.trb.org/view.aspx?id=688272 [accesed:31 Dec 2015].
5. Guillian, K, Vivien Foster, Rodrigo Archondo-Callao, Cecilia Briceño-Garmendia, Alberto Nogales, and Kavita Sethi (Et al 2008) The burden of maintenance: roads in sub Saharan Africa, Ken Gwilliam, [accessed: 23 Dec 2015].
6. Mbara, T.C, M. Nyarirangwe, T. Mukwashi (2010) Challenges of raising road maintenance funds in developing countries: An analysis of road tolling in Zimbabwe. Journal of Transport and Supply Chain Management; Vol 4, No 1 (2010), 151-175
7. World Economic Forum (2014), Strategic infrastructure steps to operate and maintain infrastructure efficiently and effectively.http://www.weforum.org/news/new-report-best-practices-operating-and-maintaining-infrastructure, [accessed: 2nd Jan 2016]
8. World bank (2015), Operations and maintenance of rural infrastructure in community driven development and community based projects lessons learned and case studies of good practice,http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2015/10/25208959/operations-maintenance-rural-infrastructure-community-driven-development-community-based-projects-lessons-learned-case-studies-good-practice [accessed: 31 Dec 2015]
9. Rukunga. G, Kioko. T and Kanyangi. L (2005), Operation and maintenance of rural water services in Kenya well Country Note 15.1http://www.lboro.ac.uk/well/resources/Publications/Country%20Notes/CN15.1.htm[accessed: 1 Jan 2016]
10. World Bank (2015), Why road maintenance is important and how to get it done. Transport note TRN-4. [accessed: 0 Jan. 2016].
11. World Bank (2012), Operations and Maintenance of Rural infrastructure in community driven development and community – Based Projects: Lessons Learned and case studies of good practice.http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2015/10/25208959/operations-maintenance-rural-infrastructure-community-driven-development-community-based-projects-lessons-learned-case-studies-good-practice [accessed: 10 Jan 2016]

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World Bank punches South Africa’s poor and coddles the rich

NOVANEWS

Subsidised white capitalists, radical scholars and oppressed activists are amongst those who “must not be named”

Patrick Bond

Despite abundant evidence of pro-corporate bias, the Bank endorses the government’s “sound policy” on redistribution because Bank researchers cannot grapple with the core problem that best explains why South African capitalism causes poverty and inequality: extreme exploitation systems amplified after apartheid by neoliberal policies.

“South Africa can claim to have one of the world’s most redistributive public purses,” argues Johannesburg Business Day newspaper associate editor Hilary Joffe, drawing upon World Bank research findings. But not only is this nonsense. The Bank’s silences about poverty and inequality speak volumes.

To illustrate this in next-door Lesotho, Stanford University anthropologist James Ferguson’s famous book The Anti-Politics Machine criticised the World Bank’s 1980s understanding of Lesotho as a “traditional subsistence peasant society.” Apartheid’s migrant labour system was explicitly ignored by the Bank, yet remittances from Basotho workers toiling in mines, factories and farms across the Caledon River accounted for 60 percent of rural people’s income.

Ferguson explained: “Acknowledging the extent of Lesotho’s long-standing involvement in the modern capitalist economy of South Africa would not provide a convincing justification for the ‘development’ agencies to ‘introduce’ roads, markets and credit.”

Using Michel Foucault’s discourse theory, Ferguson showed why some things cannot be named. To do so would violate the Bank’s foundational dogma, that the central problems of poverty can be solved by applying market logic. Yet the most important of Lesotho’s market relationships – exploited labour – was what caused so much misery.

Three decades on, not much has changed. Today, the Bank’s main South Africa research team reveals a similar “Voldemort” problem. Like the villain whose name Harry Potter dared not utter, some hard-to-hear facts evaporate into pregnant silences within the Bank’s latest “South African Poverty and Inequality Assessment Discussion Note.” Bank staff and consultants are resorting to extreme evasion tactics worthy of Harry, Ron and Hermione.

THE BANK’S POINT OF VIEW

From the Bank’s viewpoint: “South Africa spent more than other countries on its social programs, with this expenditure successfully lifting around 3.6 million individuals out of poverty (based on US$2.5 a day on a purchasing power parity basis) and reducing the Gini coefficient from 0.76 to 0.596 in 2011.”

Ahem, this is worth unpacking.

1) “Spent more than other countries”? Of the world’s 40 largest economies, only four – South Korea, China, Mexico and India – had lower social spending than South Africa, measured in 2011 as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

2) “Millions lifted out of poverty?” In fact many millions have been pushed down into poverty since liberation from apartheid in 1994. Unmentioned is poverty that can be traced to neoliberal policies such as the failed 1996-2001 Growth, Employment and Distribution plan co-authored by two Bank economists, which made South Africa far more vulnerable to global capitalist crises.

The Bank’s South Africa poverty line was $2.5/day in 2011 , the date of the last poverty census. In contrast, the official state agency StatsSA found that food plus survival essentials cost $124/month or about $4/day that year, and the percentage of South Africans below that line was 53 percent. (University of Cape Town economists argued convincingly that StatsSA was too conservative and the ratio of poor South Africans is actually 63 percent.)

For a net 3.6 million people, i.e. more than 7 percent of South Africans, to have been “lifted out of poverty” is plausible only if the Bank’s much lower $2.5/day line is used. But by local standards, the number of poor people has soared by around 10 million given the rise of 15 million in population since 1994.

3) The Bank adjusts the Gini Coefficient (measuring income inequality on a 0-to-1 scale) “from 0.76 to 0.596” by including state social spending that benefits poor households. But here another silence screams out. The Bank dare not calculate pro-corporate subsidies and other state spending that raise rich people’s effective income through capital gains.

Such wealth accruing through rising corporate share prices is enjoyed mainly by richer people when companies benefit from new, state-built infrastructure in their vicinity. Also ignored by the Bank, radically lower corporate taxes (from 48 to 30 percent) mainly benefit the rich in the same way. (Until the mining industry’s post-2011 crash, South African firms’ after-tax profits have been among the world’s very highest, according to the International Monetary Fund in 2013.)

Indeed the Treasury’s single biggest fiscal policy choice has been to condone “illicit financial flows.” These escape through bogus invoicing and other tax avoidance strategies. The Washington NGO Global Financial Integrity recently estimated they cost South Africa an annual $21 billion from 2004-13, peaking in 2009 at $29 billion. The Bank dare not mention these flows or the resulting capital gains enjoyed by South African shareholders.

Capital gains are extremely important in raising the wealth levels of those who are already wealthy. To illustrate, the United States Congressional Budget Office calculated that, in 2011, the share of total US income from capital gains enjoyed by the top 1 percent of earners was 36 percent; for the bottom 95 percent it was only 4 percent.

In South Africa, shares on the super-bubby Johannesburg Stock Exchange constitute much of household wealth. For aggregate South African households in 2011, wealth was composed of an extremely high 77 percent in the form of financial assets and 23 percent non-financial assets (in contrast to India where the ratio was 12 percent financial to 88 percent non-financial assets). This aspect of class apartheid appears to be beyond World Bank comprehension.

4) The Bank was most impressed by government’s “provision of free basic services (mainly water, sanitation, electricity, and refuse removal), and social protection mainly in the form of social grants, primary health care, education (specifically no-fee paying schools), enhancing access to productive assets by the poor (e.g. housing and land), as well as job creation.”

But the Bank evades vital details, such as how “free basic water” was piloted in Durban in 1999 before becoming national policy in 2001. After a tokenistic 6 free kiloliters (kl) per month, the price of the second block of the water within the tariff was raised dramatically (in Durban and most municipalities). Overall, by 2004 the price had doubled. In response, the lowest-income third of households lowered monthly consumption from 22kl to 15kl, while in contrast, the highest-income third cut back by just 3kl/month, from 35kl to 32kl (they enjoy home swimming pools and English gardens). The Bank turned a blind eye.

5) Another unmentionable concerns the Bank’s largest-ever project loan: $3.75 billion granted in 2010 for the corruption-riddled, oft-delayed Medupi coal-fired power plant, the biggest now under construction in the world. Repayment of that loan plus other financing has hiked the price of electricity to poor people by more than 250 percent since 2007.

But neither the loan, the borrower, the project nor the soaring price of electricity are mentioned. Nor are Eskom’s special pricing agreements with the mining mega-corporations BHP Billiton and Anglo American, that cut electricity prices to a tenth as much as what poor households pay.

6) The Bank applauds a grant that “now reaches 11.7 million children. Grant payments have risen from 2.9 percent of GDP and now amount to 3.1 percent.” But a meagre 0.2 percent of GDP suggests the amounts provided are tokenistic. The child grant of just $21/month is about a third of today’s StatsSA poverty line.

IGNORING QUALITY IN EDUCATION

Another example, education, the single largest budgetary commitment, illustrates how dubious the alleged social spending benefits for recipients can be. Most public schools produce extremely low-quality education, thus locking in inequality with regard to life chances.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2015–16 rated South African education as the worst of 140 countries in terms of science and mathematics training, and 138th in overall quality. As local expert Nic Spaul remarked after studying the 1994–2011 outcomes: “South Africa has the worst education system of all middle-income countries that participate in cross-national assessments of educational achievement.”

It’s not just class that plays out in educational inequality, but also race. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development observes that “in 2008, only 1.4 percent of working-age Africans held a [university] degree, compared to almost 20 percent of working-age Whites. This proportion for Africans has hardly increased since 1993, while the proportion for Whites has grown by 5.4 percent.”

Given such outcomes, it could just as easily be argued that inequality is amplified by the manner in which public education is provided to the low-income majority. This story is fairly typical of maldistributed state resources. As senior Treasury official Andrew Donaldson acknowledges, “In areas such as education, health care and urban transport, service provision tends to evolve in differentiated ways […] the result is a fragmented, unequal structure in which the allocation of resources and the quality of services diverge.” Combined with semi-privatised systems, such public spending, he admits, “entrenches inequality between rich and poor.”

Other areas of state spending have similar biased effects, but the Bank simply does not consider large chunks of South Africa’s budget, e.g.:

• 13 percent for “Defence, public order and safety,” which is likely to have a strong bias towards protecting the lives and property of wealthier classes;

• 10 percent for debt servicing, for which wealthy financiers and other bondholders are the main beneficiaries, taking their gains in deferred income (although a fraction of the working class who are fortunate to have a retirement fund also invests indirectly in debt securities); and

• 9 percent for aspects of “Economic affairs” – economic infrastructure, industrial development and trade, and science, technology innovation and the environment – items that, arguably, disproportionately benefit corporations and the higher-income groups that own their shares.

THE SOUTH AFRICANS WHO CANNOT BE NAMED

Notwithstanding such evidence of pro-corporate bias, the Bank endorses government’s “apparently sound policy” on redistribution because Bank researchers cannot grapple with the core problem that best explains why South African capitalism causes poverty and inequality: extreme exploitation systems amplified after apartheid by neoliberal policies.

The most cited scholarly research about post-apartheid exploitation is by local political economists like Sampie TerreblancheHein MaraisWilliam Gumede andGillian Hart – but the Bank dare not reference these books.

To truly tackle poverty and inequality, only one force in society has unequivocally succeeded since 1994. That force is the social activist.

Their successes include raising life expectancy from 52 to 62 over the past decade (thanks to AIDS medicines access), reversing municipal services privatisation, cutting pollution and raising apartheid wages. But the organisations responsible – such as the Treatment Action Campaign, Anti-Privatisation Forum, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and trade unions – are also, from the Bank’s viewpoint, South Africans who cannot be named.

As the pernicious influence of the World Bank researchers’ project grew in the past year, with numerous citations of their dubious data, I queried the work and received a series of (ultimately bureaucratic, denialist) emails from its officials.

Fortunately, upon asking the main Bank inequality consultant, Nora Lustig of Tulane University, why more accurate assessments of the state’s pro-corporate fiscal benefits were not attempted so as to offset the bias from only considering social spending, she took up the challenge with honesty: “Your questions are very valid. Regretfully, we have yet to figure out a solid methodological approach to allocate the burden/benefit to households of the list of interventions you list.”

And regretfully, the Pretoria regime’s pro-rich interventions continue, even though extreme pressure has recently arisen from credit rating agencies to reduce social spending, following a 2015 Budget that cut the real value of welfare grants by at least 4 percent. Much worse austerity is anticipated in the 2016 budget, to be announced on February 26.

So beyond the flaws in measurement, the main risk of the World Bank research on South African inequality is its ghastly political bias. If the alleged improvements to poverty and inequality rates are accepted by the ruling elite as valid, their tendency to cut social spending on (bogus) grounds that already, “South Africa can claim to have one of the world’s most redistributive public purses” is that much more tempting.

Resistance is bubbling up everywhere but the realm of ideologically poisonous research cannot be avoided.

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Europe is built on corpses and plunder

NOVANEWS

Andre Vltchek

The crimes, genocides, holocausts committed by the West on the people of the Planet are too enormous. Most people of Europe don’t want to see, to admit, that their opera houses, hospitals, museums, parks and promenades, are all constructed on the corpses of those who were robbed of everything: from Latin America and its open veins, to Asia and Africa.

[Speech given in Rome at the Italian Parliament on January 29, 2016]

Friends and Comrades, it is a great honor to be standing here – at the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian Parliament.

***

One year ago I was driving through the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, monitoring the situation in the refugee camps there. Winter was approaching and the mountains on the Lebanese–Syrian border were covered by snow. It was cold, very cold.

Some 20 minutes, after leaving Baalbek, I spotted an extremely humble makeshift refugee camp, growing literally from the road, in the middle of nowhere.

I stopped. Together with my interpreter, I walked inside and engaged several people in conversation.

The situation was desperate. Children were hungry and could not register for schools through the UNHCR or through the Lebanese government, which, by that time, had almost collapsed. Many electronic food cards that were issued to the migrants did not function. Work permits were not offered, and without proper paperwork, local social services could not be used. In brief: a total disaster.

I was told that in this area, some Syrian migrants had already been starving.

This was Bekaa Valley, a tough place to start with, and full of ancient traditions, clans, gangs and narcotic-business. Refugees were expected to keep their heads down, or else…

Before I left, two little girls, two sisters, approached me. Both had swollen bellies, suffering from malnutrition. Both were dressed in rugs. Both looked deprived.

But after spotting my cameras, they were mesmerized, smiling at me, showing tongues, laughing.

Their country was in ruins, their future uncertain.

But these were just two little girls in the middle of the mountains, two girls excited about each and every little detail of life. Such innocence! Such hope! People are people, and children are children, everywhere, even during wars.

Unfortunately, I have witnessed too many of them; too many wars. Too many barbarities performed by NATO, by the Empire, by the United States and Europe.

Later, working on the Greek island of Kos and in Calais in France, I kept thinking about those two girls, again and again.

The West (or call it NATO, or anything you like – we all know what I mean!) has, in the most cynical manner, destabilized and destroyed the entire Middle East. As it has in virtually all the continents of the world, it ruined tremendous cultures, plundered all it could put its hands on, turned proud people into slaves. Libya and Iraq are no more! I can testify, as I work all over the Middle East.

And then the West enclosed itself into its gold-plated bunker, slowly and disgustingly digesting its booty!

How many refugees are there that Europe says: “it cannot accept”? 1 million? Tiny, miniscule Lebanon has 2 million, and it is coping; badly but coping!

And Lebanon did not destroy Syria, Libya, Afghanistan or Iraq.

You know how it all feels like? Like observing a woman who was gang-raped, whose husband was murdered in front of her own eyes, and whose beautiful house was looted. Now this woman, just in order to save her starving children from the rubbles, is forced to go to Europe, to the rapists and thieves who destroyed her life, asking for shelter and food. And they spit into her face! They say: “It is too much for us, too difficult to accommodate you and others like you! Woman, you came to take advantage of us. You came to have a better life at our expense!”

This is how it looks from the outside. This is how I see it.

And I want to puke. But there is no time… One has to work, day and night, to stop this madness.

The West, of course including Europe, is too hardened by its own crimes, too cynical, and too unrepentant.

It remains blind, because it simply does not pay to see!

***

There is no Left Wing in Europe, anymore. Not the Left as we understand the term in Cuba and other revolutionary nations.

To us, true left means “Internationalism”, solidarity!

True left is global, egalitarian, and color-blind.

European so-called Left is only concerned with the benefits of its own citizens. It does not care at all where the funds are coming from.

As long as French, Greek, Spanish or Italian farmers get their subsidies and perks, who cares that agriculture in Africa or Asia gets thoroughly ruined. The most important is that European farmers could drive their latest BMW’s, for producing something or not producing anything at all.

I saw absolutely grotesque concepts implemented in countries like Senegal, and other former French colonies: heavily subsidized French food produce flooded West Africa, supermarkets opened, local production collapsed. Then the prices spiked to 2-3 times higher levels than those in Paris. And so, in Senegal where incomes are perhaps only 10% of those in France, a yoghurt costs 3 times more than in Monoprix.

Who pays for those 35-hour workweeks? Who pays for socialized medical care and free education in the European Union? Definitely not the Europeans themselves! Most of the funds used to come from the colonies, from that unimaginable plunder of the world performed by the West.

Colonialism and imperialism are still there, but they often changed forms, although the toll on people in non-white countries continues to be the same.

The Belgian King Leopold II and his cohorts, in what is now Congo, massacred 10 million people, at the beginning of the 20th Century. Between 1995 and now, the West plundered the Democratic Republic of Congo once again, mercilessly, by using its closest allies in Africa – Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya. Again, between 7 and 10 million people died there, in just 20 years, and these are not some inflated numbers, these are numbers provided by the United Nations and its reports, including the so-called “Mapping Report”. All that horror, only so the West could have access to coltan (used in our mobile phones), to uranium, and other strategic materials. I compiled the evidence in my feature documentary film “Rwanda Gambit”.

All those ruined lives and countries, so that European citizens could have their benefits, long vacations, and social services.

When I discussed the issue with my friend, an Italian filmmaker from Naples, he snapped at me: “We don’t want to be like the Chinese. We don’t want to work hard like them!”

I replied: “Then live within your means! Do not allow your corporations and governments to massacre tens of millions of people, so that the companies could have their insane profits, and citizens those outrageous benefits.”

Recently, in Thailand, I overheard a group of unemployed Spaniards laughing about having a vacation in Southeast Asia, paid for by their unemployment benefits.

I know many countries, dependencies of the West, where losing one’s job is synonymous to a death sentence! But we are asked to feel sorry for Spaniards, Italians and Greeks. We are expected to see them as victims.

***

I am saddened to say, but it is not only the United States, but also Europe, which is totally, blissfully ignorant about its role in the world, and about the harm, about the horrors that it is spreading all over our Planet.

This discovery shocked me so much, that I spent 4 years crisscrossing the world, compiling the evidence and testimonies that illustrate the colonialist, neo-colonialist and imperialist legacy of the West, as well as the current neo-colonialist barbarities. The book is 840-pages long and it is called “Exposing Lies Of The Empire”. I hope, one day, it will be available in the Italian language!

The book has been receiving enthusiastic reception, but for me, this thick volume is not the end. Now I am compiling the second installment. The topic is just too enormous. The crimes, genocides, holocausts committed by the West on the people of our Planet, are too enormous.

Everything is linked to them! The entire arrangement of the world uses them as pillars.

In our book “On Western Terrorism – From Hiroshima to Drone Warfare”, written together with my friend Noam Chomsky, I was asked whether the Europeans actually realize what they have done to the world, during the last centuries.

(Just a side note – this book is now available in the Italian language “Terrorismo Occidentale”).

I replied to Noam: “They definitely don’t!”

And I repeat here, again: most of them, the great majority of them, do not realize it! They don’t want to see, to admit, that their opera houses, hospitals, museums, parks and promenades, are all constructed on the corpses of those who were robbed of everything: from Latin America and its open veins, to Asia and Africa. Slavery, unimaginable extermination campaigns, tremendous lists of horrors!

Before Noam and I began our discussion, I spent some time with several top statisticians, and our conclusion was chilling: directly or indirectly, the West massacred between 40 and 50 million people, between the Hiroshima A-bomb explosion, and the time of my long dialogue with Noam – in 2012.

The number of people, who were murdered throughout history, directly or indirectly, by European empires, all over the world, can only be calculated in hundreds of millions, and one of my statistician friends believes that the total accumulative number actually exceeds 1 billion.

***
When I was recently speaking at the China Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, and later in Moscow, having been invited by Russian philosophers and by several members of the Russian Academy of Science, I publicly declared that I am fundamentally against “free medical care and free education in Europe”.

When asked “why?” I explained that the cost is too high, and those robbed and destroyed people, all over the world, are almost exclusively expected to cover it.

But I continued: “I am totally, decisively, supportive of universal free medical care, education and essential social benefits. Or as we say in Cuba: everyone dances, or nobody does!”

Of course I also can tolerate and support free medical care, education and benefits in those countries that do not plunder the world, like Cuba, China, Venezuela, Bolivia, South Africa or Ecuador.

***
Not only the West refuses to face its responsibility for, by now, the almost absolute total destruction of the world, it is also using all sorts of smoke screens and propaganda tactics to divert the attention of the people; it is spreading nihilist economic concepts, propaganda and outright lies.

It is using education as a weapon, offering scholarships to children of elites in the countries it is robbing and controlling. After being indoctrinated, they return home and continue violating their own countries on behalf of the United States and Europe.

And so the vicious cycle continues!

I encountered so many grotesque moments, when for instance, an Indonesian upper class family returning from its vacation in Holland, begins a long litany, about how great are the theaters, trains, museums and public spaces in Netherlands, compared to those in Indonesia.

Of course they are! All built from centuries of Dutch plunder of Indonesia, like those Spanish cathedrals stuffed with gold, growing from corpses.

As Noam Chomsky often says: “not to see all this truly takes great discipline!”
***
The brutality of the Western Empire is unmatchable. Its cynicism is monumental!

Look at those so-called “terrorists” in Muslim countries, scarecrows that Western governments and media keep waving in front of our eyes!

Islamic culture is greatly socialist and socially oriented. After World War II, secular, socialist, revolutionary and anti-Western governments ruled the most important Muslim nations: Egypt, Iran and Indonesia.

Within two decades, the West overthrew them all, implementing fascist regimes.

It then invented the Mujahideen and injected them into Afghanistan, in order to finish with the Soviet Union.

And once it felt the need for some monumental enemy to replace Communism, it manufactured and then armed, trained and educated groups like al-Qaida, al-Nusra and ISIS.

This move served two important goals: to justify astronomical military and intelligence budgets, and to portray the Western/Christian civilization as “culturally superior”, fighting “Arab terrorist monsters”.

Of course, the great majority of the people in Europe and North America are so indoctrinated, intellectually self-righteous and defunct, that they remain blind when faced with those Machiavellian pirouettes.

For the European public, there are plenty of “good reasons” to stick to those inherently racist beliefs, and to protectionism. There are even better reasons for hiding those millions of heads in the sand!

And so it goes.

***
I am here, in Italy, and today I do not want to discuss the United States, Israel, or other colonies and client states of the West. We can do it some other time, if I am invited back.

I spoke about Europe.

And I spoke about those two Syrian girls I met in Lebanon.

They are your responsibility, too, Italy! They suffer from malnutrition because your part of the world is ruining their country. It is because your country is a member of NATO, and NATO is behaving like a fascist thug with some clear mafia behavioral patterns.

I know you have heart!

I grew up on you films, on Fellini and de Sica, Rossellini, Antonioni and others. I greatly admire your poetry and music. They had tremendous influence on my work, and on how I see the world.

But your heart, it seems, lately goes only to your own people. It is not an internationalist heart. It does not believe that all people are equal.

I came here to say this, because not too many people dare to.

I came here because I still care for your country.

But as a determined socialist realist, I care about Italy as it “could and should be”, not “as it is” at this moment.

Thank you!

Posted in EuropeComments Off on Europe is built on corpses and plunder

Why Hillary Clinton doesn’t deserve the Black vote

NOVAEWS

Image result for Hillary Clinton CARTOON

Michelle Alexander

From the crime bill to welfare reform, policies Bill Clinton enacted—and Hillary Clinton supported—decimated black America.

Hillary Clinton loves black people. And black people love Hillary—or so it seems. Black politicians have lined up in droves to endorse her, eager to prove their loyalty to the Clintons in the hopes that their faithfulness will be remembered and rewarded. Black pastors are opening their church doors, and the Clintons are making themselves comfortably at home once again, engaging effortlessly in all the usual rituals associated with “courting the black vote,” a pursuit that typically begins and ends with Democratic politicians making black people feel liked and taken seriously. Doing something concrete to improve the conditions under which most black people live is generally not required.

Hillary is looking to gain momentum on the campaign trail as the primaries move out of Iowa and New Hampshire and into states like South Carolina, where large pockets of black voters can be found. According to some polls, she leads Bernie Sanders by as much as 60 percent among African Americans. It seems that we—black people—are her winning card, one that Hillary is eager to play.

And it seems we’re eager to get played. Again.

The love affair between black folks and the Clintons has been going on for a long time. It began back in 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for president. He threw on some shades and played the saxophone on ‘The Arsenio Hall Show’. It seems silly in retrospect, but many of us fell for that. At a time when a popular slogan was “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand,” Bill Clinton seemed to get us. When Toni Morrison dubbed him our first black president, we nodded our heads. We had our boy in the White House. Or at least we thought we did.

Black voters have been remarkably loyal to the Clintons for more than 25 years. It’s true that we eventually lined up behind Barack Obama in 2008, but it’s a measure of the Clinton allure that Hillary led Obama among black voters until he started winning caucuses and primaries. Now Hillary is running again. This time she’s facing a democratic socialist who promises a political revolution that will bring universal healthcare, a living wage, an end to rampant Wall Street greed, and the dismantling of the vast prison state—many of the same goals that Martin Luther King Jr. championed at the end of his life. Even so, black folks are sticking with the Clinton brand.

What have the Clintons done to earn such devotion? Did they take extreme political risks to defend the rights of African Americans? Did they courageously stand up to right-wing demagoguery about black communities? Did they help usher in a new era of hope and prosperity for neighborhoods devastated by deindustrialization, globalization, and the disappearance of work?

No. Quite the opposite.

* * *

When Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, urban black communities across America were suffering from economic collapse. Hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs had vanished as factories moved overseas in search of cheaper labor, a new plantation. Globalization and deindustrialization affected workers of all colors but hit African Americans particularly hard. Unemployment rates among young black men had quadrupled as the rate of industrial employment plummeted. Crime rates spiked in inner-city communities that had been dependent on factory jobs, while hopelessness, despair, and crack addiction swept neighborhoods that had once been solidly working-class. Millions of black folks—many of whom had fled Jim Crow segregation in the South with the hope of obtaining decent work in Northern factories—were suddenly trapped in racially segregated, jobless ghettos.

On the campaign trail, Bill Clinton made the economy his top priority and argued persuasively that conservatives were using race to divide the nation and divert attention from the failed economy. In practice, however, he capitulated entirely to the right-wing backlash against the civil-rights movement and embraced former president Ronald Reagan’s agenda on race, crime, welfare, and taxes—ultimately doing more harm to black communities than Reagan ever did.

We should have seen it coming. Back then, Clinton was the standard-bearer for the New Democrats, a group that firmly believed the only way to win back the millions of white voters in the South who had defected to the Republican Party was to adopt the right-wing narrative that black communities ought to be disciplined with harsh punishment rather than coddled with welfare. Reagan had won the presidency by dog-whistling to poor and working-class whites with coded racial appeals: railing against “welfare queens” and criminal “predators” and condemning “big government.” Clinton aimed to win them back, vowing that he would never permit any Republican to be perceived as tougher on crime than he.

Just weeks before the critical New Hampshire primary, Clinton proved his toughness by flying back to Arkansas to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally impaired black man who had so little conception of what was about to happen to him that he asked for the dessert from his last meal to be saved for him for later. After the execution, Clinton remarked, “I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I’m soft on crime.”

As president, Bill Clinton mastered the art of sending mixed cultural messages.

Clinton mastered the art of sending mixed cultural messages, appealing to African Americans by belting out “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in black churches, while at the same time signaling to poor and working-class whites that he was willing to be tougher on black communities than Republicans had been.

Clinton was praised for his no-nonsense, pragmatic approach to racial politics. He won the election and appointed a racially diverse cabinet that “looked like America.” He won re-election four years later, and the American economy rebounded. Democrats cheered. The Democratic Party had been saved. The Clintons won. Guess who lost?

* * *

Bill Clinton presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. Clinton did not declare the War on Crime or the War on Drugs—those wars were declared before Reagan was elected and long before crack hit the streets—but he escalated it beyond what many conservatives had imagined possible. He supported the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which produced staggering racial injustice in sentencing and boosted funding for drug-law enforcement.

Clinton championed the idea of a federal “three strikes” law in his 1994 State of the Union address and, months later, signed a $30 billion crime bill that created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for some three-time offenders, and authorized more than $16 billion for state prison grants and the expansion of police forces. The legislation was hailed by mainstream-media outlets as a victory for the Democrats, who “were able to wrest the crime issue from the Republicans and make it their own.”

When Clinton left office in 2001, the United States had the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Human Rights Watch reported that in seven states, African Americans constituted 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to prison, even though they were no more likely than whites to use or sell illegal drugs. Prison admissions for drug offenses reached a level in 2000 for African Americans more than 26 times the level in 1983. All of the presidents since 1980 have contributed to mass incarceration, but as Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson recently observed, “President Clinton’s tenure was the worst.”

Some might argue that it’s unfair to judge Hillary Clinton for the policies her husband championed years ago. But Hillary wasn’t picking out china while she was first lady. She bravely broke the mold and redefined that job in ways no woman ever had before. She not only campaigned for Bill; she also wielded power and significant influence once he was elected, lobbying for legislation and other measures. That record, and her statements from that era, should be scrutinized. In her support for the 1994 crime bill, for example, she used racially coded rhetoric to cast black children as animals. “They are not just gangs of kids anymore,” she said. “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”

Both Clintons now express regret over the crime bill, and Hillary says she supports criminal-justice reforms to undo some of the damage that was done by her husband’s administration. But on the campaign trail, she continues to invoke the economy and country that Bill Clinton left behind as a legacy she would continue. So what exactly did the Clinton economy look like for black Americans? Taking a hard look at this recent past is about more than just a choice between two candidates. It’s about whether the Democratic Party can finally reckon with what its policies have done to African-American communities, and whether it can redeem itself and rightly earn the loyalty of black voters.

* * *

An oft-repeated myth about the Clinton administration is that although it was overly tough on crime back in the 1990s, at least its policies were good for the economy and for black unemployment rates. The truth is more troubling. As unemployment rates sank to historically low levels for white Americans in the 1990s, the jobless rate among black men in their 20s who didn’t have a college degree rose to its highest level ever. This increase in joblessness was propelled by the skyrocketing incarceration rate.

Why is this not common knowledge? Because government statistics like poverty and unemployment rates do not include incarcerated people. As Harvard sociologist Bruce Western explains: “Much of the optimism about declines in racial inequality and the power of the US model of economic growth is misplaced once we account for the invisible poor, behind the walls of America’s prisons and jails.” When Clinton left office in 2001, the true jobless rate for young, non-college-educated black men (including those behind bars) was 42 percent. This figure was never reported. Instead, the media claimed that unemployment rates for African Americans had fallen to record lows, neglecting to mention that this miracle was possible only because incarceration rates were now at record highs. Young black men weren’t looking for work at high rates during the Clinton era because they were now behind bars—out of sight, out of mind, and no longer counted in poverty and unemployment statistics.

To make matters worse, the federal safety net for poor families was torn to shreds by the Clinton administration in its effort to “end welfare as we know it.” In his 1996 State of the Union address, given during his re-election campaign, Clinton declared that “the era of big government is over” and immediately sought to prove it by dismantling the federal welfare system known as Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC). The welfare-reform legislation that he signed—which Hillary Clinton ardently supported then and characterized as a success as recently as 2008—replaced the federal safety net with a block grant to the states, imposed a five-year lifetime limit on welfare assistance, added work requirements, barred undocumented immigrants from licensed professions, and slashed overall public welfare funding by $54 billion (some was later restored).

Experts and pundits disagree about the true impact of welfare reform, but one thing seems clear: Extreme poverty doubled to 1.5 million in the decade and a half after the law was passed. What is extreme poverty? US households are considered to be in extreme poverty if they are surviving on cash incomes of no more than $2 per person per day in any given month. We tend to think of extreme poverty existing in Third World countries, but here in the United States, shocking numbers of people are struggling to survive on less money per month than many families spend in one evening dining out. Currently, the United States, the richest nation on the planet, has one of the highest child-poverty rates in the developed world.

Despite claims that radical changes in crime and welfare policy were driven by a desire to end big government and save taxpayer dollars, the reality is that the Clinton administration didn’t reduce the amount of money devoted to the management of the urban poor; it changed what the funds would be used for. Billions of dollars were slashed from public-housing and child-welfare budgets and transferred to the mass-incarceration machine. By 1996, the penal budget was twice the amount that had been allocated to food stamps. During Clinton’s tenure, funding for public housing was slashed by $17 billion (a reduction of 61 percent), while funding for corrections was boosted by $19 billion (an increase of 171 percent), according to sociologist Loïc Wacquant “effectively making the construction of prisons the nation’s main housing program for the urban poor.”

Bill Clinton championed discriminatory laws against formerly incarcerated people that have kept millions of Americans locked in a cycle of poverty and desperation. The Clinton administration eliminated Pell grants for prisoners seeking higher education to prepare for their release, supported laws denying federal financial aid to students with drug convictions, and signed legislation imposing a lifetime ban on welfare and food stamps for anyone convicted of a felony drug offense—an exceptionally harsh provision given the racially biased drug war that was raging in inner cities.

Perhaps most alarming, Clinton also made it easier for public-housing agencies to deny shelter to anyone with any sort of criminal history (even an arrest without conviction) and championed the “one strike and you’re out” initiative, which meant that families could be evicted from public housing because one member (or a guest) had committed even a minor offense. People released from prison with no money, no job, and nowhere to go could no longer return home to their loved ones living in federally assisted housing without placing the entire family at risk of eviction. Purging “the criminal element” from public housing played well on the evening news, but no provisions were made for people and families as they were forced out on the street.

By the end of Clinton’s presidency, more than half of working-age African-American men in many large urban areas were saddled with criminal records and subject to legalized discrimination in employment, housing, access to education, and basic public benefits—relegated to a permanent second-class status eerily reminiscent of Jim Crow.

It is difficult to overstate the damage that’s been done. Generations have been lost to the prison system; countless families have been torn apart or rendered homeless; and a school-to-prison pipeline has been born that shuttles young people from their decrepit, underfunded schools to brand-new high-tech prisons.

* * *

It didn’t have to be like this. As a nation, we had a choice. Rather than spending billions of dollars constructing a vast new penal system, those billions could have been spent putting young people to work in inner-city communities and investing in their schools so they might have some hope of making the transition from an industrial to a service-based economy. Constructive interventions would have been good not only for African Americans trapped in ghettos, but for blue-collar workers of all colors. At the very least, Democrats could have fought to prevent the further destruction of black communities rather than ratcheting up the wars declared on them.

Of course, it can be said that it’s unfair to criticize the Clintons for punishing black people so harshly, given that many black people were on board with the “get tough” movement too. It is absolutely true that black communities back then were in a state of crisis, and that many black activists and politicians were desperate to get violent offenders off the streets. What is often missed, however, is that most of those black activists and politicians weren’t asking only for toughness. They were also demanding investment in their schools, better housing, jobs programs for young people, economic-stimulus packages, drug treatment on demand, and better access to healthcare. In the end, they wound up with police and prisons. To say that this was what black people wanted is misleading at best.

To be fair, the Clintons now feel bad about how their politics and policies have worked out for black people. Bill says that he “overshot the mark” with his crime policies; and Hillary has put forth a plan to ban racial profiling, eliminate the sentencing disparities between crack and cocaine, and abolish private prisons, among other measures.

But what about a larger agenda that would not just reverse some of the policies adopted during the Clinton era, but would rebuild the communities decimated by them? If you listen closely here, you’ll notice that Hillary Clinton is still singing the same old tune in a slightly different key. She is arguing that we ought not be seduced by Bernie’s rhetoric because we must be “pragmatic,” “face political realities,” and not get tempted to believe that we can fight for economic justice and win. When politicians start telling you that it is “unrealistic” to support candidates who want to build a movement for greater equality, fair wages, universal healthcare, and an end to corporate control of our political system, it’s probably best to leave the room.

This is not an endorsement for Bernie Sanders, who after all voted for the 1994 crime bill. I also tend to agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates that the way the Sanders campaign handled the question of reparations is one of many signs that Bernie doesn’t quite get what’s at stake in serious dialogues about racial justice. He was wrong to dismiss reparations as “divisive,” as though centuries of slavery, segregation, discrimination, ghettoization, and stigmatization aren’t worthy of any specific acknowledgement or remedy.

But recognizing that Bernie, like Hillary, has blurred vision when it comes to race is not the same thing as saying their views are equally problematic. Sanders opposed the 1996 welfare-reform law. He also opposed bank deregulation and the Iraq War, both of which Hillary supported, and both of which have proved disastrous. In short, there is such a thing as a lesser evil, and Hillary is not it.

The biggest problem with Bernie, in the end, is that he’s running as a Democrat—as a member of a political party that not only capitulated to right-wing demagoguery but is now owned and controlled by a relatively small number of millionaires and billionaires. Yes, Sanders has raised millions from small donors, but should he become president, he would also become part of what he has otherwise derided as “the establishment.” Even if Bernie’s racial-justice views evolve, I hold little hope that a political revolution will occur within the Democratic Party without a sustained outside movement forcing truly transformational change. I am inclined to believe that it would be easier to build a new party than to save the Democratic Party from itself.

Of course, the idea of building a new political party terrifies most progressives, who understandably fear that it would open the door for a right-wing extremist to get elected. So we play the game of lesser evils. This game has gone on for decades. W.E.B. Du Bois, the eminent scholar and co-founder of the NAACP, shocked many when he refused to play along with this game in the 1956 election, defending his refusal to vote on the grounds that “there is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I do or say.” While the true losers and winners of this game are highly predictable, the game of lesser evils makes for great entertainment and can now be viewed 24 hours a day on cable-news networks. Hillary believes that she can win this game in 2016 because this time she’s got us, the black vote, in her back pocket—her lucky card.

She may be surprised to discover that the younger generation no longer wants to play her game. Or maybe not. Maybe we’ll all continue to play along and pretend that we don’t know how it will turn out in the end. Hopefully, one day, we’ll muster the courage to join together in a revolutionary movement with people of all colors who believe that basic human rights and economic, racial, and gender justice are not unreasonable, pie-in-the-sky goals. After decades of getting played, the sleeping giant just might wake up, stretch its limbs, and tell both parties: Game over. Move aside. It’s time to reshuffle this deck.

Posted in USAComments Off on Why Hillary Clinton doesn’t deserve the Black vote

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