Archive | August 20th, 2016

Incapacity of the oligarchy in Brazil  

Newmail-ng.com

The ouster of Brazilian President Dilma Roussef and the ongoing process of impeaching her are in fact a coup organized by the wealthy classes in the country with the support of their foreign masters. The objective of this is to roll back important reforms aimed at bettering the lives of the people and instead place in the hands of the oligarchs Brazil’s key industries and resources.

The coup in Brazil, now known as soft coup, raises important questions related to the dominating classes in that country.

A coup is organized when capitalist system fails to manage contradictions or reach a compromise. Imperialism uses the tool to punish economies trying to chart a route distant from the world system’s orbit.

The failure to enter into a compromise or manage contradictions is an incapacity carrying crucial questions. The incapacity is of the classes dominating the scene. Their preferred approach at that given moment – the time of organizing a coup – is to increase conflict.

The “soft” coup – change of regime by manipulation of legal procedures within legislative structure – in Brazil has been organized by the country’s rich in collusion with their external masters. It “produced” the unseating of elected president Dilma Rousseff, the ongoing process of so-called impeachment of Dilma, and installation of a corruption-ridden political arrangement.

In an interview with RT, Dilma said: “This coup is not like usual coups in Latin America, which normally involve weapons, tanks in the streets, arrests and torture. The current coup is happening within the democratic framework, with the use of existing institutions”. (“Dilma Rousseff: Old Brazilian oligarchy behind ‘coup’”, full interview, May 19, 2016)

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has referred to the impeachment process in Brazil with the following words: “Military dictatorships are not needed anymore; they need submissive judges, a corrupt media that even publishes private conversations, which is absolutely illegal.” 

All are present in the Brazil-coup-scene: corruption-ridden “gentlemen’s” external connection, intelligence agent; patronization by class-brothers, major parts of state and media owned by the rich; diplomats with overthrow-government-experience; conspiracy and blackmailing. It’s a political play starred by wealthy players with their characteristically bourgeois conscience!

The commoners in Brazil were just trying to widen their access to essential rights in a reformative manner. But acts of the oligarchy are working as a hindrance to its capacity to co-opt.

The oligarchy’s response to the pro-commoner-changes – PT’s steps to widen the commoners’ access to rights – is anti-co-option as the wealthy are snatching back gains whatever the commoners made so far, although the commoners were not expropriating bourgeois properties, and were not radically changing production relations.

The impeachment, part of the coup, is being carried out, as Dilma said, “to control the state bypassing the new election”. The coup-makers are trying, as Dilma said, “to replace the entire political program that includes both the social and economic development aspects”.  

The oligarchy likes to escape democratic process with sham-arguments and lies, and the mainstream media claiming to be respectable and credible is part of this business with lies.

The order of business of the soft coup-makers registers an incapacity, which bears a crucial message for societies dreaming or striving for creating or widening democratic sphere – democratizing socio-economic-political area – or, facilitating commoners’ access to essentials of life, from which they are permanently excluded.

During the Lula-Dilma phase, the commoners gained in income, health care, housing, education, economic and social rights, agrarian reform, cooperatives. By 2014, Brazil was removed from the UN’s Map of Hunger. Respectable international research literature with findings of positive impact of these is now in abundance.

During the phase, initiatives for political participation in public policy forums by labor organizations and social movements were taken. In the education sector, the poor got better opportunities to flourish their creativity ignored by the rich. Students from the poor families had wider access to higher education. “It took the country 5 centuries to reach […] 3.5 million students enrolled in universities, and only 12 years [2003-2014] to reach the current 7.1 million university students.” At the secondary level, in the hundred years up to 2003, 140 federal technical schools were created; in the last 12 years, it went up to 442. (William J. Mello and Altemar da Costa Muniz, “Class Struggle in Brazil: Who Will Defend the Working Class?” May 16, 2016)

During the phase, the state’s intervention limited financial speculation, expanded internal market, and accelerated investment.

For the poorest, the political effects of the steps were transformative in a country dominated by the rich for centuries. The poor increasingly gained access to aspects of life previously reserved for the rich.

Now, the wealthy group is planning to take away whatever the people have so far achieved: wider access to rights and participation. Their plan includes handover of a part of health care and education to private capital. It’s the old hunger for profit by throwing the poor into the “merciful” clutch of cruel health – and education – markets. Theputschists are trying to implement a program, which is, in plain words, indiscriminate looting.

The rich are eyeing the strategic wealth: sale of public assets, reining in the oil and gas industry, opening up agricultural land ownership and controlling stakes in airlines to the rich, concessions to the rich in the area of infrastructure, and auctioning out ports.

Privatization of public organizations and socially owned properties is equal to taking away people’s power/opportunity to control their resources. The usurpers’ job is to intensify exploitation, and thereby increase profit. It’s transmuting a political effort widening people’s sphere into a booty-making machine.

Assault on people and their organizations has already begun. A group of wealth owners have suggested use of the army in cases of agrarian conflict. The Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) is one of the first targets of the assault.

The Ministry of Women, Racial Equality, and Human Rights has been virtually eliminated as the ministry has been amalgamated into the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Justice is handed over to Alexandre de Moraes, a former security official accused of deploying death squads. The Ministry of Agriculture has been handed over to Blairo Maggi, the billionaire by cutting down millions of acres of Amazonian wilderness, and the recipient of Greenpeace Award for 2005 – the Golden Chain Saw. Maggi, supported by the bancada ruralista, the country’s powerful agribusiness lobby, helped push the Forest Code, which indemnified landowners once engaged in illegal wilderness clearances. (Jon Lee Anderson, New Yorker, “A way forward for Brazil”, June 1, 2016)

The Brazil-political panorama, thus, is the following:

(1) effort to establish and widen people’s sphere is being subverted;

(2) the wealthy are unwilling to accommodate the people with access to minimum opportunity in areas of livelihood and politics; and

(3) there’re hands of the Empire in the entire business of subverting people’s attempt to access minimum conditions of life.

The effort to establish and widen people’s sphere, and ensure people’s access to minimum opportunity in areas of livelihood and politics carry prospect of democracy.

Thus, the questions that emerge are:

(1) Why is the prospect for democracy being subverted?

(2) What class equation, political alignment and structural conditions are garnering the anti-people move?

To the elites, the coup is, it appears, “less costly” than income redistribution and democracy. But, actually, the moves are widening and sharpening area of conflict with the people. An excluded majority ultimately challenges the system. The question, then, is: Why are the wealthy and their masters treading the path of a widened and sharpened conflict?

It’s the ruling interests’ incapacity to concede an area to the people. The propertied classes and their masters don’t have the capacity to make concessions. The masters and their servants are trying to demolish prospect of gaining space by people; and this means, they are not inclined to accept even reformist/welfare measures unless they find them cornered.

It’s, now, a blatant show of the wealthy group’s corruption-based “democracy”, a democracy of the corrupt wealthy interests. A regime without legitimacy, with an image tarnished by corruption and conspiracy, with an image of a puppet of an empire assigned with the job of subverting a people’s effort to improve their life is not accepted by the commoners. Moreover, such a leadership stands on weaker ground while they confront the commoners.

With the conditions – widespread corruption, conspiratorial politics, a group of politicians in the pay roll of an intelligence agency, absence of legitimacy, and intervention by the world masters – wealth-interests, in the long-term, can’t effectively secure its rule. So, the questions that come forth are:

(1) Why the wealthy interests in Brazil are to resort to a corruption-ridden political leadership?

(2) Was there no other option available to the interests as the leadership is without any legitimacy?

It’s a show of incapacity of the Brazilian wealthy classes and their masters. Facing a possibility of weakening of hold on economic and political powers they are taking away people’s gains, even at the cost of widening the area of conflict as they fail to co-opt the commoners although the failure endangers rule of the wealthy and their masters. Along with these, their drive for more intensified exploitation – higher profit, and for greater loot – is active.

Power-grabbers in Brazil are going through the path of failure in co-optation even at the cost of delegitimizing them. An increased role of imperialism aggravates the situation.

The usurpers’ electoral performance, political maneuvering, resorting to conspiracy and manipulation of political process are evidences of their incapacity. Therefore, the wealthy part bent on assaulting the people is failing to carry forward the task of democratization.

There are issues of snatching back people’s gains, which is related to the issues of regeneration of capital and capacity to compromise by the propertied classes.

So, the questions that also come up are:

(1) Why the rich classes in Brazil don’t enter into compromise?

(2) Don’t they need it?

(3) Isn’t it required for regeneration of capital there in Brazil?

(4) What’s the implication of this non-compromise on the working people, especially on those generating surplus value, and on the capital there?

The questions posed above are also related to functional issues of people’s march forward: organization, intensity of movement, alliance. Capacity to organize powerful organization, and to intensify struggle between antagonistic classes plays role in these areas, and also on future flight of political development in Brazil.

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Where is your voice, Mr. President?

Wiki

Where is the Pan-African spirit? The absence of African solidarity with African Americans who are being killed in US cities by state security forces driven by white supremacy is deeply saddening. From all over Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia, Black people must rise up to condemn the killing of our sisters and brothers in the US and offer any support we can to the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Where is your voice, Mr. President?

Mr. President

Let your voice matter

Where Black Lives Matter

My President

Where is our voice?

Africa, Mother Africa

The Womb of Diaspora Africa

Mother Africa, the womb of Pan-Africa

Where is your voice?

While your children are gunned down

Where is your collective voice?

As the blood of your children is let out

In execution manner in the streets

And neighbourhoods of America

Where is your voice Mr. President?

As the police in America

Like their kith and kin the Klux Klux Klan

Humiliate and brutalise our kith and kin

And so brazenly do the American police

Kill our young ones with no white hood

And white cassock but with guns

And in uniform too

Yes, guns and uniforms paid for with public money

To protect the public but not the Black public

As in their eyes

The eyes of the American police

It is the lives of the White republic that Matter?

 

Mr. President

My President

In America of President Obama

Our kith and kin are being assassinated

As was done to Lumumba and as was done to King

By arms of the supremacist establishment order

Who throughout the years

Have kept our communities in a permanent state of disorder

As young men in America are being gunned down

And protests mount

In cities across America, Canada and in the United Kingdom

Crying and moaning and speaking to America thus:

“All we are saying…Black Lives Matter”

Why, Mr. President, Why, My President

Why is Africa not hearkening to the wailings and tribulations?

Our kith and kin are mourning, Mr. President

My President, where is your voice choked with grief?

Why is Africa not rising?

Addis Ababa of the African Union, do you have TV and Radio sets

To set your hearts asunder?

Accra of Kwame Nkrumah, where is your thunder?

Cairo of Gamal Abdul Nasser, where is your lightning rod?

Algiers of Ahmed Ben Bella, where is your steel?

Conakry of Sekou Toure, where is your voice?

Bamako of Modibo Keita, where is your voice?

Lusaka of Kenneth Kaunda, where is your voice?

Kampala of Milton Obote, where is your voice?

Arusha of Julius Nyerere, where is your voice?

Maputo of Samora Machel, where is your voice?

Lagos of Murtala Mohammed, where is your voice?

Harare of Robert Mugabe, where is your voice?

Windhoek of Sam Nujoma, where is your voice?

Pretoria of Nelson Mandela, where is your voice?

The praetorian voice of collective action

That will wake up anon

The resounding voice of New Delhi of Nehru

The arousing voice of Belgrade of Tito

The commanding voice of Jakarta of Sukarno

The inspiring voice of Havana of Castro

 

Why are we not hearing the

Pan-African rallying voice of Port of Spain of Eric Williams?

Pan-African rallying voice of Kingston of Michael Manley?

Pan-African rallying voice of St. George’s of Maurice Bishop?

Yes, the Pan-Africa rallying voice of Ouagadogou of Thomas Sankara?

And the illuminating voice of Georgetown of Walter Rodney?

 

Oh, my President, where is your voice?

Oh, African Union, where is your collective voice?

Oh, Caricom, where is your collective voice?

My Foreign Minister, where is your voice?

Why have you not summoned the US Ambassador?

What are you waiting for?

Pan-African lives are being riddled with police bullets

Day in and day out

In the streets and neighbourhoods of America

Can’t you hear the shrieks of the Souls of Black Folks?

The Invisible Man – this human

Whose blood remains

Remain with us from the slave trading

To plantation life

To Civil War to broken promises

To Civil Rights?

Oh, why is Accra not responding?

Expressing no feeling?

Why is Kampala not responding?

Expressing no pain?

If Addis Ababa will not rise up

Accra and Kampala should

Pronounce to our kith and kin, that

They do not walk alone

Their pain is our pain

Their grief is our grief

Mr. President,

Instruct your ambassador and chancery staff

To carry your flagstaff in solidarity marches

With their own placards attesting firmly that

Black Lives Matter

Let our embassy staff join the human rights protests

For Black Lives Matter

 

Kampala must rise – Otafiire light your fire

Accra must rise – Pratt ignite your ire

Let your voices ring out

…and in funeral dirges to stir and wake up

Museveni

Stir and wake up

Mahama

Into Action

Into Action

Let Africa Rise Up

For Black Lives Matter

My President, when are you going to make the call to your American peer?

My Speaker, when are you going to make the call to your American peer?

To ask them the introspective question

What is it that drove our son to kill five police officers?

Is this not the question that America should rather be dealing with?

Black Lives Matter remains a human rights

And as well as equality and justice issue

And so

Let me feel you as my President

As Bob Marley makes me feel

As I feel for my kith and kin

Crying with them

Mourning with them

Wailing – Equal Rights … Justice

With the call for equal rights, justice … beating in my chest

Justice makes equality right and equality makes justice right

Yes, Freedom and Justice

 

Let me feel you, my President

Let your voice matter where Black Lives Matter

As Nkrumah and Malcolm X felt each other

Yes, As Nkrumah and Martin Luther King felt and for each other

As Jesse Jackson and Harry Belafonte felt with Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo

Hear the voice of Farrakhan

My President, let your voice count

And make that call to the White House

Tell Obama that your flags are flying at half-mast for Black lives

 

Africa must rise up to the occasion

And for a Pan-African response

Hear me African Union Chairperson

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

You are a woman with a womb

Your children sent to the tomb early by racist bullets

What else must be said

To stir you to act

Let’s not take for granted

The African-American solidarity against apartheid South Africa

Let’s not take for granted

The sacrifices of the Dellums, Robinsons, Sullivans, Youngs, Heights, Davies, Angelo, Winfreys

Madam African Union, to put it bluntly

One good turn deserves another

 

Mr. President, what have you instructed your ambassador to do, demonstrate and remonstrate?

African-America rising in solidarity helped with the defeat of apartheid South Africa

And it is Africa rising in solidarity with African-America that will cleanse apartheid America

Africa must rise

And Lift Up Every Voice in solidarity with African-America

Madam African Union, to put it bluntly

One good turn deserves another

 

Let’s not forget how British PM Harold Wilson sided with his kith and kin in Rhodesia

At the expense of Nkrumah

And likewise

How Margaret Thatcher sided with her kith and kin in Apartheid South Africa

At the expense of Samora Machel

 

While Obama orders flags to fly at half-mast for the five police officers

Our hearts fly at half-mast for all blacks executed by American police

As Black Lives Matter

This must be made clear

That, Blacks are human beings first

 

When, when, when in America can our kith and kin shout

Free, Free, I am free

I am free at last

God Almighty, I am free!

 

© Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, Ga West, Ghana. 12 July 2016

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Assessing Russia’s relationship with Africa

AFP

Over the past two decades, Russia’s efforts to regain its Soviet-era influence in Africa have achieved little success because “times have changed significantly, for example, a new economic and political environment, new emerging challenges, new competitive conditions and new bases for cooperation,” according to Nataliya Zaiser, a Public Policy Advisor at Squire Patton Boggs Moscow office covering Russia, the Eurasian Union and Africa, and also the Chair of the Africa Business Initiative.

Since March 2016, Zaiser has been the Chair (Head) of Africa Business Initiative (ABI), created with the support of Russian businesses as a platform for the humanitarian, economic and legal expertise, aimed at strengthening relations between Russia and Africa. The main goal of this organization – to unite the efforts in promoting and supporting the interests of Russian businesses within the framework of broader international cooperation on the territory of the African continent.

In this exclusive interview, Nataliya Zaiser explains some of the aspects of the current Russia-African relations, problems and challenges, and its future perspectives with Kester Kenn Klomegah, an independent research writer on Russia-African affairs, in Moscow.

Q: As one of the participants at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) held from June 16 to 18, what were some of the significant questions raised during the Roundtable discussions on Russia and Africa?

A: The roundtable was very interesting. Both sides (Russian and African) demonstrated a strong desire for cooperation. We talked about some specifics: about the main economic sectors that various African countries are interested in most; about business diversification away from a focus on mining and oil and gas towards infrastructure projects, telecommunications and biotechnologies.

We spoke on the need to encourage the participation of small and medium size businesses in Africa; on bilateral cooperation; on the importance of the legal aspects of all these and on improving the system of legal regulation of projects, from customs and tax matters to the export licenses. The panelists also touched on enhancing cooperation with Africa in the global fight against drugs and epidemiological diseases, and combating terrorism. We listened to the companies that are active and successful on the continent; they shared some of their experiences, particularly good practice in building business relationships.

Q: Why have Russia’s efforts to regain its economic influence achieved little success? Why is soft power softer than Soviet days?

A: We should not say whether the power is “softer” or “harder” than in the days of the Soviet Union. It’s just different. Times have changed significantly. New economic and political environment, new challenges, new competitive conditions, new bases for cooperation. People are different, minds are different, technologies are different. In all that, we have to find absolutely different approaches and strategies to building business relationships. What remains the same is a will, a very loyal mutual attitude between Russia and African countries and strong desire to push forward these mutual efforts.

Q: In your expert view, looking at Russia’s economic power, its global status and as a staunch member of BRICS bloc, how would you assess its current investment and business engagement with Africa?

A: Many organizations are trying to solve local problems and find ways for business cooperation with the African continent. The issue of investment looms, perhaps, particularly large. I think that in cooperating with African states, organizations can be guided by an approach of shared responsibility, including the financial aspects. Russia is clearly showing that open partnership with and support of Africa remains a priority. In the current conditions, it will seek ways of co-financing, co-investment and co-partnership. There may also be opportunities too for international partnerships, whether BRICS or any other groupings, formal or otherwise, on African projects.

Q: Some policy experts have attributed Russia’s economic policy setbacks to the lack of a system of projects and business financing. For instance, China has set up China Africa Development Fund as one major source of support and implementing its projects in Africa. What are your views about this?

A: Russia has developed a number of business councils for cooperation both with individual African countries as well as with its own regions and neighbours. For Africa in particular, the Africa Business Initiative (ABI) offers the chance of a consolidated approach, and an independent organization that can work with the business community in Russia and at the same time combine the interests of the diplomatic community, the state, academic views and so forth.

Q: At this stage when Russia is feverishly struggling to raise its economic profile through dialogues and consultations at the state level, do you suggest that Russia’s financial institutions, especially the banks, get involved in financing corporate projects on the continent?

A: Investors and lenders today understand the potential benefits of investing in emerging markets like African countries. They also understand the critical importance of addressing the political and economic risks that may accompany an investment in such markets. This is the work which needs to be carried out. MIGA (Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency) is one of the biggest international organizations, for example, that helps investors and lenders to deal with such risks by insuring eligible projects against losses.

In Russia, there is EXIAR (The Russian Agency for Export Credit and Investment Insurance) which was established in late 2011 as Russia’s first ever export credit agency. I am sure it has big potential and expect that they will look closely at African projects to support Russian business and guarantee the insurance and safety of their investments. In any case, for a start, it is important that Russia becomes a member or starts cooperation with key major African organizations, such as the African Development Bank, the African Union, the NEPAD, etc. That will significantly extend the boundaries for Russian-African business opportunities.

Q: We have been talking about economic diplomacy between Russia and Africa. And it’s also important to look at the relations as a two-way road. Could you please explain the possible reasons why African business is extremely low or completely absent, compared to Asian countries, in the Russian Federation?

A: This is a good question that I want to address to you as the representative of the African diaspora (smiles). Of course, this is bilateral cooperation. Russia is open. Africa has much to offer Russia, which is a large country and has excellent prospects in the regions, many of which are developing very rapidly and are ready to accept new partnerships, and discuss forms of cooperation. Moreover, Russian regions are facing similar problems with several African countries: the development of the agricultural sector, technological investment and progress which will support a rise in the standard of living of the population. There is a good case for creating a specific program (a roadmap if you will) for cooperation between African countries and the Russian regions.

Q: As an expert with a reputable U.S. law firm, what would you say about the prospects of Eurasian Economic Community (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan)? Explain further what African countries can make out of this economic bloc.

A: There’s often a compelling case for neighboring countries to get together and engage in some kind of union because it can facilitate and stimulate trade relations, reducing barriers without overloading them with tax and customs issues, bureaucratic procedures and other things that may mitigate mutual economic progress. I am sure Africa will take an active part in working with the Eurasian Union as with other international or supra-national organizations and alliances because this kind of cooperation opens the gates to wider initiatives.

Of course, as a global firm our trade practice in particular is a leading advisor on international economic and commercial initiatives – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and Trans-Pacific Partnership are two obvious ones that spring to mind. Squire Patton Boggs works globally, with a powerful geographic reach of 46 offices in 21 countries. We advise clients on a wide range of legal and public policy matters.

As for Africa, by the way, we have a dedicated Africa Practice inside the firm which involves numerous specialist teams and industry groups and individual lawyers and public policy advisors who actively work with clients across the continent. With an understanding of key legal, economic and political issues that surround doing business in Africa we have established ourselves as a premier firm for Africa-based transactions offering in-depth market knowledge, extensive experience and unique transactions and public policy combination that helps companies to achieve their African business strategies.

Q: Finally, tell us more about the newly created Africa Business Initiative (ABI), why it has become necessary at this time, its primary roles or tasks and its overall future plans?

A: The Africa Business Initiative (ABI) was launched and initiated primarily by businesses in Russia. The concept behind this is to develop a focal point for the promotion of business interests, which would consolidate the efforts of existing structures: the diplomats, scientists, academics, consultants and so on. The key participation of Russia’s Institute for African Studies, as a serious platform for research, analysis and database, means that we can add significant insight to the actual experience of corporations that are successfully working on the ground.

The main goal is to create a pool of economic expertise aimed at revitalizing the “chemistry” in African-Russian business relationships. It has been widely acknowledged many times that Africa is on the path towards economic prosperity. The economies of many African states are becoming more balanced and there have been a lot of institutional transformations. We need to fundamentally accelerate the approach, backed by a program of long-term trade, geo-economic relations and strategy that would keep pace with the ambitions of individual states. What African continent needs now is the broad development of infrastructure, agriculture, consumer goods, health care and information technology.

The Africa Business Initiative (ABI) can help outline an approach for Russian companies to come to the African market as a whole, as reliable business partners. Through this framework, it will be able to consolidate the interests of companies in different sectors; to address and promote the development of a common position on a whole range of issues; to establish joint strategic initiatives and to expand its presence in the investment field. The task is not to duplicate or simulate the activity of state bodies.

The participation of and partnership with the Institute for African Studies is very important. Historically, the Institute has been and remains the alma mater for many Africans. It has the most powerful research base in Russia, a deep knowledge about developments on the continent. Education and increasing awareness among Russian businesses is key. To understand the features of successful business in Africa, people should be well-versed in the social and political organization of all African countries, especially in their internal relationships, geographical peculiarities, and culture, in legislation, public administration, and so on.

The role of the Institute, as a partner to Africa Business Initiative (ABI), is to provide maximum assistance. Good knowledge of the legal field, regulation, competent interaction with decision-makers and government structures of African states – all these constitute the key to a mutually beneficial and balanced cooperation. The international experience and global presence of the Squire Patton Boggs, which is also one of the members of the Africa Business Initiative (ABI), allows us to assist businesses in the broader international cooperation, involving foreign colleagues and contacts that are interested in doing business in Africa.

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The market is alright; but not the market economy

Acute by Design

Once we rid ourselves of the false notion that the market economy, as a system, could be objective or benevolent, and we distinguish it from the market as one economic institution instead of a system, we can aptly move towards rejecting the market economy while embracing healthy regulated markets.

I am no fan of the market economy, and I have been so for many years. However in the last few years, with more learning and understanding, I came to the conclusion that, while still no fan of the market economy, I don’t have an ideological problem with the market.

What applies to the market economy, as an economic system, does not necessarily apply to the market itself as an economic phenomenon (a single institution). On the one hand, the market is an arena for trading commodities, where various groups and individuals express their preferences among comparative, complimentary and exchangeable goods that have relative utilities. The dynamics of the market mechanism include competition, promotion, and balances of the utility-quality-price triangle, but only with respect to commodities, not with respect to the whole economic cycle and industries in society. Markets have been known throughout history to do well, under conducive conditions, in circulating goods widely, improving standards of quality, responding to consumer feedback, and promoting innovation in fair competition.

On the other hand, the market economy is quite larger than the market alone, and hence it means something largely different.

The market economy is an economy that puts the market – defined above – in front of the steering wheel of the entire economic life of society: production, relations of production, redistribution, and development provision services. The main idea is based on the postulate that market mechanisms can be self-regulating – i.e. self-monitoring, self-correcting and self-sustaining – and therefore should not be regulated by social or political authorities. Moreover, as they become self-regulating they eventually guide the entire economy in more objective and effective ways that respond and adjust to the real world of supply and demand. Markets naturally support ‘rational choice’, it is argued. Consequently, however, we find that in market economies, decision making in economic matters is generally not a public affair (hence not democratic) and it particularly rests in the hands of a consortium: an alliance between those who control the flow of commodities in national/regional markets and those who wear the hats of policymakers within those same national/regional boundaries (because, after all, it turns out that markets need to have the policies and legal protection in place that allow them to self-regulate). Sometimes we find that a vague voice for scattered, disorganized and underrepresented consumers is added to that consortium (or allegedly so). The underlying assumption is that this consortium simply responds to the objective trends that show themselves in supply and demand.

Karl Polanyi [1] contended that market economies eventually create market societies, market politics, and overall market cultures. It happens because economic life, in any given society, permeates through all of the above (social life, politics and culture), and the market economy needs to control all of them in order to control economic life. Polanyi explained that the market achieves control through a number of major alterations (or transformations), the pinnacle of which is the act of taking things which are essentially not commodities and treating them as commodities. This act is the biggest hat-trick the laissez-faire doctrine ever pulled—creating ‘fictitious commodities’. Polanyi named these as: land, labour, and money—also known as the elements of industry.

Fictitious commodities are called so because they do not meet the original definition of a commodity, but the market economy pulled all the strings it could – theoretical, legislative and administrative – to make them viewed and treated as such. The definition of a commodity is a good that was created or devised for the purpose of trade/sale in the market. The three fictitious commodities, mentioned above, do not meet this definition. Let us take a quick look at each one of them:

(1) Land is not a commodity because it is another word for nature. Humans did not create or devise land; the other way around sounds closer to the truth. When the value of land and its utility is determined by the market it is commodified (i.e. made into a commodity) irrespective of the many complexities that entangle humans and their natural and built environment which cannot be reduced to simple ‘property value’. Generally the market price of land is called ‘rent’ and some other words, and in its absolute versions leads to the disintegration of nature and all sorts of violations of environmental balances and long-standing socio-ecological relations. The alarming ecological degradation in the planet today is largely related to practices of land commodification normalized by the market economy.

(2) Labour is a form of human activity, an extension of the human themselves, combining their physical, intellectual and psychological effort and springing from skills and knowledge earned through learning and experience. Labour cannot be a commodity unless you take a human being and own/control their effort in a particular time and place. Having agreed to it at legal levels does not make it less problematic at the philosophical level. Commodifying labour has an element of commodifying a person’s existence in a particular context, for which the price is paid and determined by others with power. The price of labour in the market is called wage, salary, etc.

(3) Money was created by human societies as a medium of exchanging commodities, but not as a commodity itself. Money took many forms (of currency) throughout history, from salt to minerals to tender paper, yet always as a way to exchange various commodities in the market using a standard method of payment, but not as a commodity itself. The idea of ‘buying money with another money’ seems automatically ludicrous to our sensibilities for that reason. However the market economy succeeded in making a huge ‘market’ for the activity of selling and buying money across the globe—through interest rates, debt financing, derivatives markets, foreign exchange markets, and other  related financial transactions. In such markets, money can literally get you more money without any productive work (value addition) or genuine commodity exchange taking place. Folks can get richer for no other reason than that they are already rich.

From the above it should be relatively easy to see that the commodification of land, labour and money eventually leads to making society and nature under the control of the market, which is a recipe for disaster. Yet it is a recipe that has been normalized under the laissez-faire doctrine to the point that we rarely, if ever, ponder about it in our daily lives.

It should also be now easy to see that the market economy is quite different from the mere institution of the market. Markets can exist and thrive without market economies, as many did earlier in pre-capitalist and pre-colonial history [2]. It can also be reasonably imagined that if the market economy existed in its pure manifestation (i.e. totally loyal to the theory), in any country, it will soon be widely rejected for its monstrosity towards humans and nature under a vague goal of ‘economic growth’ (i.e. assuming that economic wealth is an end in itself, separate from the social ideas and aspirations of prosperity and perceptions of what constitutes a good life). Instead, the countries that today adopt the philosophy of the market economy in theory ameliorate its raw effects in practice with many contrary measures in order to reduce its zeal. Such measures come in the forms of packages of shy social safety net programs, some free public services, some labour rights – just enough to not look bluntly inhumane – and some minimal environmental protection laws (that can be broken if your corporation can afford to pay the fines in a business-as-usual manner), etc. These countries do in practice what they don’t support in theory, and so they do it half-heartedly, and at variations.

That is why I and others find that it is more coherent to reject the market economy, in clear terms, without rejecting markets. Rejecting the market economy essentially means to refuse the commodification of land, labour and money – i.e. to decommodify them – and to carry out economic decision making in society in democratic and inclusive manners, especially including the creators of value in society: the workers. It means running the economy as an adjunct to society, not the other way around. This path can be followed in several ways, and in various accents depending on the society in question (such as agrarian or industrialized economies, low or high income, etc.) once we dispose of the idea of adhering to the market economy framework. This path can be followed though a package of conscious, bold and unapologetic policies for the economy, such as:

– Invoking, encouraging and supporting the development and proliferation of cooperatives (in industrial, agricultural and service sectors) through the framework of cooperative economics.

– Activating and normalizing the redistributive role of the state and its institutions for socioeconomic equity and growth.

– Cementing strong and comprehensive labour rights (including organization and representation in decision making).

– Cementing strong and comprehensive laws and procedures for ecological balance requirements, agrarian reform, land use and tenure, etc.

– Vividly discussing and implementing policies on minimum and maximum purchasing powers to generalize in society [3].

– All the above while also allowing markets to flourish for genuine commodities, through regulating them for standards of quality, customs on selected import goods, monitoring of logistics, consumer protection and fair competition.

It could even be reasonably argued that, once freed from a burden they were not meant to bear, markets may even become better and healthier for genuine commodities, their producers and consumers.

End notes

[1] Karl Polanyi (1944). The Great Transformation. Boston: Beacon Press, 1957

[2] In historical times of early empires and chiefdoms, indeed it happened frequently that there were very big and vibrant markets that did not, however, control the macro-economies and lives of their empires/chiefdoms or all terms of trade. For more details on such cases, see Karl Polanyi, Conrad M. Arensberg and Harry W. Pearson’s (eds.) Trade and market in early empires: Economies in history and theory. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press.

[3] Adam Smith, proclaimed father of capitalism, warned against allowing the existence of extremely rich individuals in society. He explained that such existence is one clear evidence of a failed economy, since a successful economy should enhance the livelihoods of the entire population, but when we have extremely rich individuals that technically requires (and implies) that we have quite poor people in that society as well, which means that the economy at large is not balanced and free, i.e. not a success. Extremely rich individuals, he also contented, have the tendency to monopolize industries and therefore hinder fair competition in a ‘free market’ arena. Putting a general and reasonable cap on how much wealth any individual or conglomerate can accumulate in society is no farfetched idea and is about protecting society from economic tyrannies. This is the argument of an early capitalist who did not live to see the consequences of normalizing the market economy idea.

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Tribute to Fidel Castro on his 90th birthday

Alwaght

On Saturday, August 13, the world celebrated the 90th birthday of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro Ruz, the only individual ever to be acknowledged by the UN as a “World Hero of Solidarity.” It is very hard to think of a more important world leader than Fidel.

The contribution he has made to the world socialist movement, to the Third World liberation struggle and to social justice has been monumental – especially when one considers that he has been the leader of a tiny country with roughly the same population as New York City.

At the current time, the Colombian government and leftist FARC guerillas are engaged in a peace process in Havana, and are very near to reaching a final peace accord, in large part due to Fidel’s efforts.

As Nelson Mandela himself has acknowledged, South Africa is free from apartheid in no small measure due to Fidel’s leadership in militarily aiding the liberation struggles in Southern Africa, especially in Angola and Namibia, against the South African military which was then being supported by the United States.

In addition, The Latin American Medical School (ELAM) in Cuba, which trains doctors from all around the world, but particularly from poor countries, was Fidel’s brainchild. Today, 70 countries from around the world benefit from Cuba’s medical internationalism, including Haiti where Cuban doctors have been, according to The New York Times, at the forefront of the fight against cholera.

As we speak, Cuba has hundreds of doctors working in the slums of Caracas, Venezuela, where Venezuelan doctors fear to tread. There are Cuban-trained doctors in remote parts of Honduras which are otherwise not served by the Honduran government. Patients from 26 Latin American & Caribbean countries have traveled to Cuba to have their eyesight restored by Cuban doctors. Among this list is Mario Teran, the Bolivian soldier who shot and killed Che Guevara. The Cubans not only forgave Mario, but also returned his eyesight to him.  Cuba even offered to send 1,500 doctors to minister to the victims of the Hurricane Katrina, though this kind offer was rejected by the United States.

As Piero Gleijeses, a professor at John Hopkins University, wrote in his book Conflicting Missions about Cuba’s outreach to Algeria shortly after the Cuban Revolution:

“It was an unusual gesture: an underdeveloped country tendering free aid to another in even more dire straits. It was offered at a time when the exodus of doctors from Cuba following the revolution had forced the government to stretch its resources while launching its domestic programs to increase mass access to health care. ‘It was like a beggar offering his help, but we knew the Algerian people needed it even more than we did and that they deserved it,’ [Cuban Minister of Public Health] Machado Ventura remarked.] It was an act of solidarity that brought no tangible benefit and came at real material cost.”

These words are just as true today as they were then, as this act of solidarity is repeated by Cuba over and over again throughout the world. And, it has been done even as Cuba has struggled to survive in the face of a 55-year embargo by the United States which has cost it billions of dollars in potential revenue, and even as it has endured numerous acts of terrorism by the United States and U.S.-supported mercenaries over the years.

Just recently, I was reminded of the fact that, for the past 25 years, Cuba has been treating 26,000 Ukrainian citizens affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident at its Tarara international medical center in Havana. Cuba has continued to do so, it must be emphasized, though even the potential for any help for this effort from the Soviet Union passed long ago.

According to Hugo Chavez, when he came to power in Venezuela in 1999, “the only light on the house at that time was Cuba,” meaning that Cuba was the only country in the region free of U.S. imperial domination. Thanks to the perseverance of Fidel and the Cuban people, now much of Latin America has been freed from the bonds of the U.S. Empire.

That Cuba not only stands 25 years after the collapse of the USSR, but indeed prospers and remains as a beacon to other countries, is a testament to Fidel’s revolutionary fervor and fortitude. Indeed, Fidel’s very life at this point – one that the U.S. has tried to extinguish on literally hundreds of occasions – itself constitutes an act of brave deviance against wealth, power and imperialist aggression. Incredibly, Fidel has survived 12 U.S. Presidents, a full quarter of all the U.S. Presidents since the founding of our nation.

I join the world in honoring Fidel Castro Ruz on his birthday, and hope that he continues to live and to lead for some time to come.

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The destruction of Libya and the US military invasion of Africa  

A I

Libya once was a proud nation that rejected US military presence on the continent, seeing it as an obstacle to Pan-African unity. With the country destroyed, the US has been able to further expand militarily all over the continent. And it has been President Obama, not George W. Bush, who has presided over the rapid neo-colonization of Africa.

Endless war has been a staple of the Obama era. The first Black President’s imperialist record is so expansive that it could not possibly be fit into a singular piece on his legacy. Obama’s endless military incursions in Africa have been the least covered area of US foreign policy in the corporate media. From the outset of his selection in 2008, President Obama quietly militarized the African continent without the knowledge or consultation of the vast majority of the US population. In 2011, Obama’s policy of militarization exploded into full-scale war on the nation of Libya.

The US imperial campaign against Libya marked a watershed moment in the Obama legacy. The overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi by way of US-NATO sorties and jihadists made Obama the first Black President to bomb an African country. In addition, Obama became the first President to invoke the so-called R2P (Responsibility to Protect) doctrine as a justification for what he called a “humanitarian intervention.” The Obama war doctrine rewrote the rules of war in the realm of international law. “Humanitarian intervention” and the “Responsibility to Protect” provided a more effective justification for the destruction of sovereign nations.

Obama’s promotion of racist, colonialist lies about Libya helped muster public support to destabilize the most prosperous nation on the continent. According to President Obama and the corporate media, Gaddafi was a genocidal butcher of his own people. So-called mercenaries loyal to Gaddafi were accused of committing genocide against “peaceful” protesters. The “Libyan Revolution” was thrown into the so-called Arab Spring against brutal tyrants in North Africa. Mythological tales of Gaddafi’s loyalists using Viagra to rape women and children were run around the clock by the corporate media and its masters in Washington.

What actually occurred in Libya was US-NATO sponsored genocide. Obama received plenty of help from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, which provided jihadist mercenaries with the necessary financial and military aid to wage war on Libya. Black Libyans were brutally lynched by jihadist mercenaries in Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte. Over 30,000 US-NATO bombs were dropped on Libya over the course of the six-month military invasion that began in March of 2011. Tens of thousands of Libyans died and the Libyan state was effectively dissolved.

When Gaddafi was illegally murdered by jihadists in October of 2011, Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cackled “we came, we saw, he died” in an interview with the corporate press. The imperial hubris of Secretary Clinton was completely supported by Obama. Not only did he destroy Libya, but also later in 2016 described the aftermath of the intervention as a “mistake.” Yet leaked emails from the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s server scandal have proven that the war against Libya was waged for economic and geopolitical reasons. Libya’s nationalized oil reserves and plans to use gold as the chief reserve currency in Africa threatened US capitalist penetration in Africa. So Obama led the charge to destroy this effort by sending Libya into a state of never ending chaos.

Today, Libya remains in the control of terrorists. The Libya prior to 2011 that possessed free healthcare, education, and numerous subsidies to support the wellbeing of the Libyan people no longer exists. Libya’s role in supporting African liberation in South Africa, Namibia, and Angola has been, for now, relegated to the history books. Libya once was a proud state that rejected US military presence on the continent, seeing it as an obstacle to Pan-African unity. With the Libyan state destroyed, the US has been able to further expand militarily all over the continent.

And it has been President Obama, not George W. Bush, who has presided over the rapid neo-colonization of Africa through military means. Under Obama, the US African Command (AFRICOM) has penetrated every African country but Zimbabwe and Eritrea. AFRICOM has locked African nations into military subservience. In 2014, the US conducted 674 military operations in Africa. According to a recent Freedom of Information Act request by Intercept, the US currently has Special Forces deployed in more than twenty African nations. US imperialism supposedly sees “enemies” everywhere in the form of jihadist groups. Yet it was the US-NATO alliance that empowered the spread of jihadists throughout Africa by arming them to destroy Libya.

The US has fueled instability in Africa as the primary means to undermine Chinese investment in the resource-rich continent. In 2013, China’s investment in Africa was estimated to total 200 billion USD. Nations such as oil rich Nigeria and mineral rich Democratic Republic of Congo have found Chinese investment to be far more mutually beneficial than trade with US multinational corporations. This has threatened the capitalist class in control of the US imperialist system. When Obama was elected, he made it a point to subvert China with the only weapon left in its arsenal: military force.

However, China is a rising global power and the US is not. US imperialism is in crisis and its military policy in Africa is a reflection of decline. The militarization of Africa led by Obama has done nothing but spread chaos from North to South, East to West. China still leads the US by tens of billions of US dollars per year in terms of real investment in Africa. And the regional catastrophes that Obama’s Africa policy has created are not going away. The rise of Boko Haram and the international jihadist terrorist network threatens to make the continent ungovernable. This may not be what US corporations want, but its all US policy is going to give.

President Obama’s staunch support for the US military takeover of Africa has not stopped him from claiming identification with African people. However, Obama’s identification with Africa has not stopped him from condemning the continent for homophobia or chastising African nations to forget about colonialism. Obama has yet to condemn Rwanda and Uganda for their support of proxies that have murdered over 6 million in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1996. The Obama legacy in Africa should thus be characterized as the highest stage of hypocrisy. Obama received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 only to intensify African dependency on US imperialism, especially militarily.

The struggle for African liberation will continue long after Obama is out of the White House. His Africa policy will serve as the largest obstacle to efforts to rid the continent of neo-colonialism once and for all. The US military network currently operating in nearly every Africa country serves the purpose of arresting the ongoing process of self-determination. Solidarity efforts in the US mainland must recognize that the fate of Africa will determine the course of struggle worldwide. Obama expanded the US military state’s footprint in Africa. Africa’s liberation thus means the rejection of everything he has stood for.

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The Ethiopian Intifada is a response to extreme internal repression

Reuters

The Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), the dominant group within the ruling coalition, rules over a deeply divided and aggrieved populace. The TPLF has carried out egregious human rights violations; the regime has become even more repressive with each year by systematically limiting political space, taking 100% parliamentary seats in the Lower House. Ethiopians are sick and tired of the regime in Addis.

Ethiopians cite disputes over land, ethnicity and indiscriminate killings of protestors as the real causes of the Ethiopian “intifada”. But if one believes the Ethiopian spokesman, Mr.Getachew Reda, the protests in Gondar and Oromia are somehow remotely orchestrated and stage managed from Eritrea. Mr. Reda, with his outrageous claims, is increasingly sounding as clownish as the late Saddam’s information minister, comical Ali. He rarely addresses the real causes of the protests: the forceful incorporation of Wolkayt region into Tigray or the daylight land robbery in Oromia― all in the name of “development”. The government spokesman attributes the Oromo, Muslim, and the Wolkayt protests to infiltration from Eritrea, Saudi Arabia or Egypt. This false claim is another example of utter contempt and disrespect for the people by an arrogant government official who is out of touch with the heartbeat of the people.

It is true that there is no love lost between the ruling regimes in Eritrea and Ethiopia but it is absurd to believe that Eritrea, even it so desires can stir up the kind of uprising occurring in Ethiopia. It simply has no such power to do so. The border between the two countries is one of the most militarized borders in the world and one under heavy surveillance. An uprising of this scale cannot be initiated by an outside force. Such a claim is an insult to the pride and intelligence of the Ethiopian people.

The overwhelming narrative in the Western media portrays Ethiopia as a source of stability in a troubled region, as an economic powerhouse with a potential to surpass Kenya and join the club of countries like South Africa as well as a pacifying regional force and a bulwark against terrorism. There is little critical reporting on the country which means international readers have a skewed and partial picture at best. Unless one has the time and the motivation to dig deeper, one would not know that the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), the dominant group within the ruling coalition, has in fact destabilized the region, rules over a deeply divided and aggrieved populace, which in actual fact is responsible for worsening terrorism in Somalia. The core of the TPLF is an ideological group which behaves like a chameleon depending on the audience and responsible for the atmosphere of tension and the expensive militarization of the region.

The TPLF has carried out egregious human rights violations; the regime has become even more repressive with each year by systematically limiting political space, taking 100% parliamentary seats in the lower house, detaining members, discrimination and harassment of Amharas, Muslims and the Oromo; it has all but blocked legal political participation for these groups.

Ethiopians of all stripes and not just the Oromo, are sick and tired of the regime in Ethiopia and the suffering they must endure challenging it while Ethiopia enjoys impunity and protection from the powers that be. The ongoing protests in different parts of the country are not connected or coordinated and appear to be spontaneous protests. Participants in the protests embody resistance to their increasing marginalization, which are ongoing and spreading. More recently, the protesters in Gondar proclaimed solidarity with the Oromo uprising in the South. For a regime that thrives on divide and rule, this solidarity is a worrisome sign and perhaps signals the beginning of its dissolution.

It also seems the tired scapegoating of Eritrea for its own domestic woes is increasingly ineffective. Imaginary scapegoats and bogeymen had served the regime well but there are now indications that ordinary Ethiopians are beginning to see that Eritreans are not natural enemies of Ethiopians, as the regime has depicted. This is a good sign that the populations are beginning to recognize the essential brotherhood of all the peoples of the region: this could be the leap of faith which was missing due to the influence of intensive propaganda by dictatorial rulers for the last six plus decades. Recent headlines also give hope that the era of impunity may end sooner than later. Headlines like these from major newspapers:

(1) Ethiopia must allow in International observers after Killings

(2) Ethiopia’s regime has killed hundreds. Why is the West still giving it aid?

(3) ‘A Generation Is Protesting’ in Ethiopia, Long a U.S. Ally

(4) America’s complicity in Ethiopia’s horrors

are new. The massacre that occurred over the first weekend of august may have jarred the radar of the international media but their overall failure to register the pattern of it has been the norm for almost as long as the TPLF has been in power. The genocidal policies towards the Anuak in the Gambella region received little international publicity.Rioting Muslims were effectively and brutally silenced. The TPLF marginalized both the legal and the extra-legal opposition arresting prominent leaders like Professor Bekele Gerba, a prominent Oromo intellectual and human rights activist. Professor Bekele Gerba and other prominent leaders are protesting their treatment in detention by staging a hunger strike.

Resentment to TPLF rule extends to the movement’s home base of Tigray, where most of the population feel left out by the TPLF elites interested only in making money and investing it in the capital or abroad.

Despite a dishonest attempt to externalize the issue, Ethiopian Muslims, who number anywhere from 40% to 50% of the population, and the Oromo have historically been marginalized, and the protest is very much homegrown and rooted in a long list of grievances. When it comes to the thugs running Ethiopia today, whatever happened to the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect? Rewarding the TPLF with a non-permanent membership in both the Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council, despite its dismal human rights record, is cruel and cynical.

This tribalist regime must go and the criminals at the helm must answer for their crimes. A first step is investigation by aindependent observers as recommended by the UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. Predictably and true to character, the TPLF regime is refusing to allow in neutral outside UN observers. The regime has a pattern of ignoring international norms and laws, when it doesn’t suit it.

The Ethiopian people desperately need relief and healing. The region needs to be spared from this dangerous and fanatical warmongers. Ethiopia deserves imaginative leaders who can prevent fragmentation and are cognizant of the complexity of the society, who can see beyond tribe, and discern and appreciate the mosaic of ethnicities that make the country beautiful and rich. The West should stop enabling this murderous thugs. China should stop bailing out this regime and other African dictators and begin to care about the human rights of Africans!

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From negative leadership to healing leadership: A strategy to remedy African instability

Atlanta Black Star

Only Africa has solutions to African problems. That requires a healing leadership. We need to mobilize the people to reform the current leadership mindset, which is only destructive. Africa needs to address issues of civic education, of citizens being able to elect leaders who will make a difference, and to ensure we have institutions that make it impossible for anybody to act as if there were no laws.

Diagnosis: Negative leadership

In the 1960s, most African countries snatched their independence from the colonialists, but often without a broad and unifying vision to reconcile the leadership with the emancipatory aspirations of the people.  In this context, without considering the specificity of the continent’s history, the victory of emancipation was short-lived or aborted. The new government systems in place could not satisfy the peoples’ aspiration for dignity, or gain the ability to pilot entire nations to achieve true liberty. Post-colonial Africa has gone through extreme odds. Since the 1960s, roughly 40 wars have resulted in 10 million deaths and created more than 10 million refugees.

Independence became nothing more than the perpetuation of colonialism as the new states’ leadership could only prevail under the approval of former colonial powers. Most of the time, to become a leader in Africa, you must be loved or accepted by Washington, Paris or London. The leadership did not attend to the needs of the population but instead worked hard to please the former colonial and imperialist powers. The countries ran as if they were still colonies. The legitimacy of today’s African leaders is put to question because it is difficult to work with a clear conscience for the realization of a vision imposed by others. In addition, the use of arbitrary violence to impose an alien vision on the people only aggravates the illegitimacy. Moreover, where there is domination, resistance is bound to emerge.

Political instability in Africa is endemic, cycling to endless violent crisis. It is a consequence of the violent creation of African states by colonial conquests; creation that was sanctioned by the International Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. Africa is a product of 500 years of struggle against a system that remains updated, sophisticated and globalized. It is a product of setbacks endured from the slave trade, the colonial conquests, resource plundering, wars, dictatorial regimes, and neo-colonialism brought by contradistinctions of the Cold War era.

The forms of structural adjustment imposed on the overall society by external forces have given birth to a culture of violence. As Jean de La Fontaine in Fables says: “The motive of the strongest is always the best. (Might is always right.)”. Hence an entrenched tradition of corruption and clientelism.  It is clear that foreign interventionist forces push African governments to kneel to external powers even more than before their own people, whom they are supposed to serve.  If one looks at history, one gets the feeling that instability has always been caused by the difficulty of articulating national interests within the interests of exogenous powers. Africa’s leadership crisis is manifested by trends of corruption, persistent abuse of power, lack of respect for the Constitution, and failure to create an environment where the young generation can have the possibility to nurture with true competence, to make a commitment to social justice and to develop the necessary skills for peace building.

While some first-rate political leaders spearheaded the struggle for independence, the nation-building process has not only failed to produce leaders of comparable stature, but it has also witnessed a decline in its achievements – aggravated by unethical leadership and bad governance (Adamoleku 1988:95). This frustrates the legitimacy of the leadership and their power by creating a toxic leadership and oppressive institutions.

In his first official trip in July 2009 to sub-Saharan Africa, addressing the Ghanaian assembly in Accra, President Obama declared, “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions”. It is only through positive leadership that Africa can create strong institutions. A wicked leader is the one whom the people despise and the good leader is the one the people revere.  The great leader is the one about who the people would say: “We did it ourselves.” (Lao Tzu). Like in the Bible (Matthew 20: 25:27), Jesus says to his disciples: “….You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”

The example of Jesus’s teaching emphasizes a leadership that serves others (servant leadership). Jesus submitted his own life to sacrificial service under the will of God (Luke 22:42), and he sacrificed his life freely out of service for others (John 10:30). He came to serve (Matthew 20:28) although he was God’s Son and was thus more powerful than any other leader in the world. He healed the sick (Mark 7:31-37), drove out demons (Mark 5:1-20), was recognized as Teacher and Lord (John 13:13), and had power over the wind and the sea and even over death (Mark 4:35-41; Matthew 9:18-26). In John 13:1-17 Jesus gives a very practical example of what it means to serve others.  He washes the feet of his followers, which was properly the responsibility of the house-servant.

During the long Cold War, strong states with one-party regimes as an expression of power held sway. However, with the advent of democracy in the 1990s, freedom created by liberal economies brought back the concept of leadership in Africa as a key element of sound management of public affairs. Yet the issue of leadership is still unclear in African mentality due to the legacy of colonialism. This poses the question of the future of post-colonial states, because of recurring socio-political crises and the difficulties of allowing the population to own the leadership. The need to invent a new mode of governance that would not compromise the democratic process became evident starting in the 1990s.

In Africa, during elections, the masses choose the candidate, not based on the issues raised or virtue, but based on subjective considerations such as tribal, regional affiliations or material gain. A new concept of leaderships is needed to bring about peace and healing where it has been violently removed for centuries. This is already seen through the repeated rigging of elections and the gradual return of the military to power.

Our continent has suffered from a lack of leadership able to have a vision that would uplift the population and affirm their strategic position in the globalized world. There should be a leadership that inspires a certain sense of pride and dignity for the people whose conscience is still marked by major traumas. The submissive tendencies and docility that still dominate African minds tend to maintain the continent on the path of incompetency and mediocre performance. This predicament, which dates back to the era of the slave trade, through the colonial period to the successive dictatorships, cannot easily turn a population of over a billion people into peaceful nations.

The excessive concentration of power in the hands of a few is one aspect that has stifled free local initiatives. Gradually but surely, institutions have been emptied of their national and patriotic content, and this has resulted in the ruin of several countries on the continent. The deterioration of the states favored a bureaucratic system, which systematically impoverished a large majority of the population. Because basic human needs, rights and fundamental freedoms are not met, this can only be a foundation for structural and direct violence. Structural violence causes direct violence and direct violence reinforces structural violence; both are interdependent of each other. Structural violence is the cause of premature deaths and avoidable disability that effects people closely linked with social injustice. It is not a coincidence that, “in several sub-Saharan countries, a person can hope to live on average only 46 years, or 32 years less than the average life expectancy in countries of advanced human development, with 20 years slashed off life expectancy due to HIV/AIDS,” according to the UNDP.

As the crisis of ethical political leadership is responsible for Africa’s underdevelopment and insecurity, and its social and structural injustices, we need to rethink the kind of leadership that is needed. The future leadership must focus on serving African populations by taking care of their well being through developing the health, education, economic, security and other critical sectors. The population must be the driving force of this development. The leadership crisis will be transformed if the economy empowers the vulnerable. Economic growth and expansion of the middle class is fundamental for the ‘emergence of a vibrant civil society which in turn places ever greater pressure on the state to establish more participatory forms of governance…’ (Paczynska 2008:238).

In developed nations where the majority of the population are economically stable, civil war is unlikely. Meeting citizens’ human needs is a long-term solution to the leadership crisis. Poverty reduction, employment provision, and economic security ameliorate not only the leadership crisis, but also insecurity (Jeong 2000; Paczynska 2008). Leaders from the public and private sectors and faith communities will consider best practices and proven models that advance social and political stability. We need a leadership that will transform African economies by eliminating war, conquest, looting, and predation to economies of peace, which first serve the needs of the population.

Given the history of war, violence, political and ethnic hatred in Africa, leadership transformation requires a capacity for forgiveness and non-violence from leaders and citizens for peace to flourish.

Healing leadership: the way to peace

Over the past three decades efforts have been made to resolve conflicts in Angola, Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, etc. The success or failure of the dialogue process is always the determining point that shows whether the countries will remain at war or engage toward the road to peace.

In 1992, the Arusha (Tanzania) Agreement collapsed, paving the way to the 1994 Rwandan genocide. A decade later, the Naivasha Agreement signed in Kenya (2005) ended one of the longest civilian wars between South and North Sudan. This led to a referendum in 2009, which won the independence of South Sudan. But independence did not end conflict in South Sudan. The ongoing civil war since 2103, just two years after independence, has displaced some 2.2 million people and threatened the success of the world’s newest country.

When the root cause of the conflict is not well-addressed we have a negative peace, which addresses only needs of those who threaten peace (both rebel and government leaders), and so the victims are not heard. Negative peace refers to the absence of violence (Johan Galtung, 1996). When, for example, a ceasefire is enacted, a negative peace will ensue: violence stops, guns are silenced but still the war is not yet ended.  Positive peace is filled with positive content such as restoration of relationships, the creation of social systems that serve the needs of the whole population and the constructive resolution of conflict (war ended). Therefore, peace is not the absence of conflicts but the absence of violence in all forms (direct or structural violence) and the establishment of creative ways to resolve conflict (healing leadership).

In Kenya, paradoxically, the mediation by Kofi Annan in 2008 prevented a shift in the continuation of violence. In other cases, like in D.R. Congo, after several peace agreements were signed since 2000, the results have been a mixture of success and failure. Both war and peace coexist and prevail in different parts of the country. The regular change of actors involved in the conflicts changes the nature of the conflict itself.

Underlying unsolved conflicts are the root causes of violence, caused by incompatible and contradictory goals; so that pursuit of one’s goal blocks someone else’s goals (clashing goals). Consequently, underlying conflicts as a cause must be identified and solved by making goals compatible in a sustainable way and acceptable to all parties concerned (mediation). When mediation is successful, the peace agreement content can positively affect future outcomes for the country in terms of social life, security and power balance.

However, today another popular concept of peace is imposed on Africa; it is a kind of peace that responds to the demands of those directly involved in the violence (both political and rebel leaders) instead of the demands of the victims. In that way, violent conflict naturally becomes endemic, raising questions on the volatile nature of the peace concluded after these multiple negotiations, mediations and peace agreements. The peace process should be built from the ground up (endogenous); the victims or the affected should be the starting point in terms of what kind of peaceful society is needed. The population needs to be empowered by creating specific institutions that will make them realize how important it is to protect their interest, and when it comes to selecting leaders, how important it is to change them if they’re not doing what the community wants. Therefore, the national government should not act from commands from outside more than from the needs of the population inside.

That is why we need to transcend toward a healing inspired leadership. Even for the whole world, poor leadership within the global institutions may create disaster internationally, bringing the possibility of nuclear war or a nuclear accident that can destroy humanity, or a global recession, famine, or even an epidemic. It is therefore clear that the question of leadership is crucial. A healing leadership creates a framework through which it helps people to understand and confront the problem, however painful it may be, and finds solutions together after having examined all possibilities. It creates a culture of “we win together” (solidarity) instead of “we win against the other”.

On the other hand, negative leadership will tend to present itself as the only key to problem solving. Remember the strong charisma of the likes of late dictator Mobutu of the Zaire, who said once: “Après moi, c est le deluge” meaning “After me, the deluge”? (“The world could collapse after I’m gone, no big deal”). It was an expression attributed to Louis XV, or the phrase may have been coined not by the king himself, but by his most famous lover, Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764). This kind of negative leadership, when removed, will leave a serious sequel for society; it is a kind of leadership that demands destruction, removal and silencing of other opinions before rendering services. This is too familiar in Africa.

To bring about healing leadership, we will need to mobilize the people locally to take responsibility to change the current leadership mindset, which is only destructive for society. Africa needs to address issues of civic education, issues of being able to elect people who are going to make a difference, and to make sure we have the institutions that make it impossible for anybody to function as if there were no laws.

Conclusion

Africans’ aspiration to control their destiny is growing. In 1998, when the UN released its first major report on the “causes of conflict” in Africa, 14 countries were at war. This report was based on consultations between African states, civil society groups, academics, and various departments and United Nations agencies. The main message of the 1998 report remains true today: “Only Africa can find solutions to African problems”.

Today there is a decline in violence, but most of the countries are still affected by the impact of armed conflict; they are politically fragile and institutions are weak. The economies are in jeopardy, producing a high rate of unemployment among the youth. A multitude of new challenges arises, ranging from climate change to cross-border crimes. These problems, if left unresolved, can revive old conflicts or provoke new crises.

At the African Union Summit in 2010, African leaders proclaimed 2010 as a “Year of Peace and Security”. According to Jean Ping, the then Chairperson of the AU Commission, the leaders expressed their determination “to put an end to the scourge of conflicts and violence on the continent. Today’s leaders must not bequeath the burden of violent conflicts to the future generations “.

Africa can claim tremendous progress toward peace in the last decade but also various enlightening initiatives such as the establishment of AU (African Union) in 2002 to replace the defunct and ineffective Organization of African Unity (OAU). The AU has set up several institutions and mechanisms to prevent and manage conflicts, including the Peace and Security Council that has implemented a series of peacekeeping operations: the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) in 2004 for the Darfur conflict, African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in 2007; the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) in 2013, and the Eastern Africa Standby Force (EASF) in 2002. Currently, the UN provides logistical support to 6,200 AU troops in Somalia and is working alongside the organization in a joint operation in the Darfur region in western Sudan.

To many observers, to make these initiatives successful, they must not be imposed from outside. But they should be taken over and run by the communities involved and enjoy the full participation of local institutions and organizations, in particular civil society, women, youth and children.

To avoid renewed violence in post-conflict countries – and to prevent the outbreak of new conflicts elsewhere on the continent – the leadership capacity need to improve. For Africa to address the many problems that cause conflicts – such as widespread corruption, economic inequality and exclusion of certain ethnic and social groups – it is essential to have democratic, well-governed states. To achieve peace and stability, Africa must reform its current leadership by putting emphasis on the demilitarization of minds and political institutions.

* Rais Neza Boneza is an author of fiction as well as non-fiction, poetry books and articles. He was born in the Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is also an activist and peace practitioner. He is co-convener of TRANSCEND Global Network; a peace development environment network. He also uses his work to promote artistic expressions as a means to deal with conflicts and maintaining mental well-being, spiritual growth and healing.  Boneza has travelled extensively in Africa and around the world as a lecturer, educator and consultant for various NGOs and institutions. His work is premised on Art, healing, solidarity, peace, conflict transformation and human dignity.

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Posted in AfricaComments Off on From negative leadership to healing leadership: A strategy to remedy African instability

Turkey and Iran Reach Agreement on Conditions for Syria Peace

NOVANEWS

By Gareth Porter

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey leave after holding a joint news conference, at the White House in Washington, May 16, 2013. (Doug Mills / The New York Times)

President Obama and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey leave after holding a joint news conference, at the White House in Washington, May 16, 2013. (Doug Mills / The New York Times)

In a stunning diplomatic surprise, Turkey and Iran have announced a preliminary agreement on fundamental principles for a settlement of the Syrian conflict.

The dramatic turn in the diplomacy of the Syria War was revealed in Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s regular weekly speech to the ruling AKP Party in the parliament and confirmed by a senior Iranian foreign ministry official Tuesday.

Both Yildirim’s speech and the Iranian corroboration were reported Tuesday by Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Al-Hayat, Arabic-language newspapers published in London, but the potentially pivotal development has been unreported thus far in Western news media.

The common approach to a Syria settlement outlined by Turkey and Iran represent what appears to be the first significant diplomatic break in a five-year international conflict on Syria that has been immune from any real peace negotiations up to now. International conferences on Syria under UN auspices have generated no real moves toward compromise.

The new negotiations between Iran and Turkey are the result of a major policy shift by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan toward diplomatic cooperation with Russia and Iran on Syria and away from alignment with the United States and its Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Turkey has been coordinating military assistance to the armed opposition to the Assad government — including jihadists and other hardline extremists — with Saudi Arabia and Qatar since early in the war. However, Erdogan began searching in May for an alternative policy more in line with Turkey’s primary strategic interest in Syria: containing the threat of Kurdish demands for a separate state.

The announced agreement on broad principles for ending the Syrian crisis is only the beginning of a process of negotiations on the details of a settlement, as Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari made clear. “This agreement on the general lines will contribute to creating an environment suitable to solving the Syrian crisis,” Ansari said, according to Al Hayat.

It is also possible that Turkey may be planning to use the threat of allying with Russia and Iran on Syria to force the United States to reduce its own reliance on Kurdish forces in Northern Syria — the main issue dividing US and Turkish policies toward the conflict. But Yildirim had already hinted last month — before the failed military coup in Turkey and the launching of a new offensive by al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front around and in Aleppo — at Turkey’s intention to revise its policy toward Syria in order to prevent Kurdish forces in Syria from establishing their own mini-state.

Yildirim said in his speech Tuesday that the solution to the Syrian crisis would require “two basic conditions: first to preserve the territorial unity of Syria and second, establishing a system of government in which all ethnicities and religions are represented.”

In the context of the territorial unity issue, Yildirim raised the specter of an international drift toward the partitioning of Syria. “Someone would come and say, I will give the West of Syria to one,” he said, “and the south to another and the north to the Kurds.”

“This is not possible,” said Yildirim, meaning that Turkey would not stand for it.

The Turkish prime minister’s reference to the threat of partition in general and Kurdish inheritance of much of northern Syria in particular was clearly aimed at the Obama administration’s de facto military alliance with the YPG militia units of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the war against Daesh. That policy has encouraged the Kurds to continue to extend their territorial control westward along the Turkish border.

Turkey is especially upset that the YPG units have already moved west of the Euphrates River, which was Turkey’s publicly announced “red line,” and don’t intend to stop. Turkey has been demanding that the United States keep its promise that the Kurds will retreat to east of the Euphrates, but the YPG has said it intends to link Manbij — the city west of the Euphrates that it has just helped recover from Daesh — with Afrin and then gain control of al-Bab city on the border, thus uniting two previously separate Kurdish zones of control.

Turkey fears that a consolidation of Kurdish power over such a large territory on the Turkish border will embolden the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey to demand its own state. “A Kurdish state in the Middle East,” Yildirim declared, “will not bring a solution.”

On the second condition for a settlement, Yildirim said there is a “possibility to establish a Syrian administration in which all of Syria’s religious communities and ethnicities can be represented….” After that was accomplished, he said, “there will be no obstacle to reaching a solution.”

Al-Hayat quoted Ansari as saying that a third principle discussed but not agreed on was that “the Syrian people will decide their own fate.” That was apparently a coded reference to the fate of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Turkey has publicly insisted in the past that Assad must step down before a settlement can be reached.

Yildirim’s language on the second principle and Ansari’s further clarification suggest that Turkey is dangling before Iran and Russia the possibility that Assad could remain in the government if Turkey is satisfied with a set of reforms to assure that all ethnic and religious communities in Syria have adequate political representation. Despite speculation by pundits that Iran would not mind having Syria carved up into a set of enclaves under foreign protection, Tehran has responded with unconditional endorsement of the Turkish demand.

The principles that have been announced indicate that Turkey will insist on Russia and Iran using their weight in Syria to pressure the Kurds to retreat from their territorial gains in the northwest. Turkey, in return, would have to halt all support for the armed opposition, starting with its favorite Syrian military client Ahrar al Sham and that group’s close political-military ally, the newly renamed Jabhat Fateh al-Sham — the al-Qaeda affiliate formerly called Jabhat al-Nusra.

Russia was instrumental in initiating the new diplomatic approach with Turkey. On August 8, just before Erdogan met with President Putin in St. Petersburg, Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister for Middle East and Africa, met with Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmet Yildiz for four hours, Iran’s Ansari told Al-Hayat.

After that summit, Bogdanov briefed Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the Russian-Turkish discussions related to Syria. That led to Zarif’s crucial visit to Ankara last Friday — including a meeting with Erdogan — which Ansari said was necessary to the formulation of the framework that was agreed to by Turkey.

The two countries will try to keep the diplomatic momentum toward an agreement this coming week, when Turkey’s Yildiz will travel to Tehran for more negotiations on the framework, according to Al-Hayat. Although it is still partial and tentative, the framework appears to offer far more hope for peace than any cooperation between Russia and an Obama administration without any consistent strategy.

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The Climate Catastrophe Cannot Be Reversed Within the Capitalist Culture

NOVANEWS

By Ashley Dawson

(Photo:  Adrian Maidment)

Two elephants graze for food in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania. Twenty-five thousand African elephants were slaughtered for their ivory in 2011 alone. (Photo: Adrian Maidment)

Did you know that the Earth loses about one hundred species every day? InExtinction: A Radical History, Ashley Dawson ties together history, science and political theory to explain the impact of humans and capitalism on the world’s ecosystems. Get your copy of this book by making a tax-deductible donation to Truthout!

The following is the introduction to Extinction: A Radical History.

His face was hacked off. Left prostrate in the red dust, to be preyed on by vultures, his body remained intact except for the obscene hole where his magnificent six foot long tusks used to be. Satao was a so-called tusker, an African elephant with a rare genetic strain that produced tusks so long that they dangled to the ground, making him a prime attraction in Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park.

These beautiful tusks also made him particularly valuable to ivory poachers, who felled him with poison arrows, carved off his face to get at his tusks, and left his carcass for the flies. The grisly death of Satao, one of Africa’s largest elephants, is part of a violent wave of poaching that is sweeping the continent today. In 2011, twenty-five thousand African elephants were slaughtered for their ivory. An additional forty-five thousand have been killed since that time. If the present rate of slaughter continues, one of the two species of African elephants, the forest elephant, whose numbers have declined by 60 percent since 2002, is likely to be gone from Africa within a decade.

The image of Satao lying faceless in the dust is a haunting one. While the elephant as a species will probably not go extinct (since some individuals are likely to be kept alive in game reserves and zoos), the decimation of their numbers in the wild reminds us of a broader tide of extinction, the sixth mass extinction Earth has witnessed. Only tens of thousands of years ago, during the Pleistocene epoch, Earth was home to an immense variety of spectacular, large animals. From wooly mammoths to saber-toothed cats to lesser-known but equally exotic animals like giant ground sloths and car-sized glyptodonts, megafauna roamed the world freely. Today, almost all of these large animals are extinct: killed, most of the evidence suggests, by human beings. As they spread across the planet, Homo sapiens decimated populations of megafauna everywhere they went. Humanity essentially ate its way down the food chain when wiping out biodiversity. Africa, our ancestral home, is virtually alone in harboring some remnants of the Pleistocene biodiversity. In the grisly death of Satao and his fellow elephants, we are witnessing the final destruction of the world’s remaining megafauna, the endgame of an epoch of epic defaunation or animal slaughter.

But it is not just charismatic megafauna like elephants, rhinos, tigers, and pandas that are being pushed to the brink of extinction. Humanity lives amid, and is the cause of, a massive decimation of global biodiversity. From humble invertebrates like beetles and butterflies to various terrestrial vertebrate populations like bats and birds, species are going extinct in record numbers. For example, since 1500, 322 species of land-based vertebrates have disappeared, and the remaining populations show an average 25 percent decline in abundance around the world. Invertebrate populations are similarly threatened. Researchers generally agree that the current extinction rate is nothing short of catastrophic, clocking in between one thousand and ten thousand times the rate before human beings began to exert a significant pressure on the environment. The Earth is losing about a hundred species a day. In addition to this tidal wave of extinction, which conservation biologists predict will eliminate up to 50 percent of currently existing animal and plant species, the abundance of species in local areas is declining precipitously, threatening the functioning of entire ecosystems. This mass extinction is thus an under acknowledged form — and cause — of the contemporary environmental crisis.

Although this wave of mass extinction is global, the vast majority of species destruction is concentrated in a small number of geographical hotspots. This is because biodiversity is unevenly distributed. On land, tropical rainforests are the primary nursery of biodiversity. Although they cover only 6 percent of the Earth’s surface, their terrestrial and aquatic habitats harbor more than half the known species on the planet. As E.O. Wilson puts it, the tropics are the leading abattoir of extinction, their great verdant expanses chopped up into quickly dwindling fragments, their plant and animal species struggling to adapt to habitat destruction, invasive species, over harvesting, and, increasingly, anthropogenic climate change. From the great Amazon basin, to the rainforests of West and Central Africa, to the jungles of Indonesia, Malaysia, and other parts of Southeast Asia, human beings are eliminating the homes of millions of species. In doing so, we are not only condemning vast numbers of species (the great majority of them still unidentified) to extinction, but we are also imperiling our own tenure on this planet.

(Image: OR Books)

(Image: OR Books)With the publication of accessible works of science journalism such as Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, the word has begun to get out about the dire plight of the planet’s flora and fauna. Kolbert’s book takes readers on a terrifying tour, interviewing botanists who follow the tree line as it vaults up the side of mountains in the Andes and marine botanists who track the acidification of the oceans. The current wave of extinction, she explains, follows five previous mass extinction events that have devastated the planet over the last half billion years. This wave is predicted to be the worst catastrophe for life on Earth since the asteroid impact that destroyed the dinosaurs. Reflecting on this melancholy reality, humanities scholars have begun to write about “cultures of extinction.” In response to such increasing concern, the Obama administration recently set up an interagency task force on wildlife trafficking, and has begun to discuss the trade networks linking the slaughter of elephants and rhinos to guerrilla groups and crime syndicates such as the Janjaweed and al-Shabab, which are using the high profits from the illicit wildlife market to fund their operations.

All too often, however, initiatives such as Obama’s result in a “war on poachers” that ignores the underlying structural causes that are driving habitat destruction and overharvesting of animals. The planet’s biodiversity hotspots, after all, are located in what Christian Parenti calls the “tropics of chaos.” In the planet’s tropical latitudes, Parenti identifies a catastrophic convergence, a supremely destructive alignment of three factors: 1.) militarization and ethnic fragmentation related to the legacy of the Cold War in postcolonial nations; 2.) state failure and civil discord linked to the structural adjustment policies imposed on the global South by institutions like the World Bank in the name of debt repayment since the 1980s; and 3.) climate change-fueled environmental stresses such as desertification. Parenti writes at length on the impact of this catastrophic convergence on postcolonial people and states, but the picture he provides of the stresses affecting the global South is incomplete without a consideration of the relations between humanity and the natural world in its fullest sense. We cannot understand the catastrophic convergence, that is, without discussing the decimation of biodiversity currently unfolding in the global South. Nor, conversely, can we understand extinction without an analysis of the exploitation and violence to which postcolonial nations have been subjected.

Extinction is the product of a global attack on the commons: the great trove of air, water, plants, and collectively created cultural forms such as language that have been traditionally regarded as the inheritance of humanity as a whole. Nature, the wonderfully abundant and diverse wild life of the world, is essentially a free pool of goods and labor that capital can draw on. As critics such as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have argued, aggressive policies of trade liberalization in recent decades have been predicated on privatizing the commons — transforming ideas, information, species of plants and animals, and even DNA into private property. Suddenly, things like seeds, once freely traded by peasant farmers the world over, have become scarce commodities, and are even being bred by agribusiness corporations to be sterile after one generation, a product farmers in the global South have aptly nicknamed “suicide seeds.” The destruction of global biodiversity needs to be framed, in other words, as a great, and perhaps ultimate, attack on the planet’s common wealth. Indeed, extinction needs to be seen, along with climate change, as the leading edge of contemporary capitalism’s contradictions.

Capital must expand at an ever-increasing rate or go into crisis, generating declining asset values for the owners of stocks and property, as well as factory closures, mass unemployment, and political unrest. As capitalism expands, however, it commodifies more and more of the planet, stripping the world of its diversity and fecundity — think about those suicide seeds. If capital’s inherent tendency to create what Vandana Shiva calls “monocultures of the mind” once generated many local environmental crises, this insatiable maw is now consuming entire ecosystems, thereby threatening the planetary environment as a whole. There are at present no effective institutions to deal with the “cancerous degradation” of the global environment that David Harvey argues is brought about by capital’s need for continuous exponential growth. And yet capital of course depends on continuous commodification of this environment to sustain its growth. The catastrophic rate of extinction today and the broader decline of biodiversity thus represent a direct threat to the reproduction of capital. Indeed, there is no clearer example of the tendency of capital accumulation to destroy its own conditions of reproduction than the sixth extinction. As the rate of speciation — the evolution of new species — drops further and further behind the rate of extinction, the specter of capital’s depletion and even annihilation of the biological foundation on which it depends becomes increasingly apparent.

Extinction: A Radical History is intended as a primer on extinction for activists, scientists, and cultural studies scholars alike, as well as for members of the general public looking to understand one of the great but all too often overlooked events of our time. Extinction is both a material reality and a cultural discourse that shapes popular perceptions of the world, one that often legitimates an inegalitarian social order. In order to respond adequately to this planetary crisis, we need to transgress the boundaries that tend to keep science, environmentalism, and radical politics separate. Indeed, extinction cannot be understood in isolation from a critique of capitalism and imperialism. Extinction: A Radical History begins with a discussion of the notion of the Anthropocene, using this term not simply to ask fundamental questions about when the sixth wave of mass extinctions began, but also about whom exactly is responsible for extinction. The second section outlines the different facets of extinction that are products of capitalism, from early modern forms of defaunation such as fur hunting to the episodes of mass slaughter such as whaling that arose in tandem with the industrial revolution. This section also discusses forms of collateral ecocide such as coral bleaching and extinction related to invasive species, as well as forms of ecological warfare such as the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam and the polluting of the Niger Delta. The third section of Extinction: A Radical History looks at disaster biocapitalism : the variety of political, economic, and environmental responses by capital to the extinction crisis.

This section highlights not just the glaring failure of efforts to address extinction within a capitalist framework, but also the increasing trend to open a new round of accumulation using synthetic biology to address the crisis. Finally, the section on radical conservation explores various anti-capitalist solutions to the extinction crisis, approaches grounded in social and environmental justice.

The specter of extinction haunts the popular imagination today. Contemporary culture is filled with depictions of zombies, plagues, and other spectacular representations of ecological catastrophe. For those who inhabit the wealthy nations of the global North, such representations are portents of a terrifying world to come. But for the billions of people around the world whom Ranajit Guha and Juan Martinez-Alier call “ecosystem people,” whose fate is intimately intertwined with the planet’s flora and fauna, the question of extinction relates directly to their own present and future survival.  The butchering of an elephant such as Satao may enrich a few poachers, but it dramatically impoverishes the ecosystem he inhabited. We are only just beginning to understand the impact of the liquidation of large wildlife like elephants on the habitats they inhabit, but it is becoming clear that such holes punctured in the web of life have a dramatic cascading effect. As millions of species are snuffed out, the biodiversity that supports the planetary ecosystem as we and our ancestors have known it is imperiled. This catastrophe cannot be stemmed — let alone reversed — within the present capitalist culture. We face a clear choice: radical political transformation or deepening mass extinction.

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