Tag Archive for 'Zimbabwe'

Why won’t the government of Burma (Myanmar) let aid in?

My sister (in law) wondered why the government, if you can call it that, of Burma (Myanmar) isn’t letting foreign aid into the country after Cyclone Narqis (that’s a hurricane to any North Americans in the audience) ripped through the country earlier this month. My quick-and-dirty response:

  • They’re arseholes. These are generally not nice people and caring about their citizens is, well, not all that important to them.
  • Like North Korea, Zimbabwe and other pariah states, they have an overdeveloped sense of paranoia, believing that any representative of any foreign power will necessarily be seeking to topple them.
  • They’re crazy. And I do mean loopy. The current site of the capital was chosen by astrologers. The people in charge believe in magic.
  • Even if they weren’t crazy arseholes with overdeveloped senses of paranoia, they’re a developing country and it’s The West that’s offering to help. That’s the same West that a couple of months ago was calling them bad names for beating a few (thousand) monks. They don’t like us and even if they need our help, that we offer it appears arrogant to them.

And of course …

  • Even if they weren’t crazy, paranoid arseholes who resent the West, there’s always an underlying shame in asking for help.  It’s almost always seen by somebody, either the giver, the receiver or a looker-on, as symbolic of weakness.
  • What Adam said.

*sigh* (Zimbabwe)

This is from The Independent. It’s a fairly short article, so I’ll include it in full (all emphasis is mine):

Chinese troops have been seen on the streets of Zimbabwe’s third largest city, Mutare, according to local witnesses. They were seen patrolling with Zimbabwean soldiers before and during Tuesday’s ill-fated general strike called by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Earlier, 10 Chinese soldiers armed with pistols checked in at the city’s Holiday Inn along with 70 Zimbabwean troops.

One eyewitness, who asked not to be named, said: “We’ve never seen Chinese soldiers in full regalia on our streets before. The entire delegation took 80 rooms from the hotel, 10 for the Chinese and 70 for Zimbabwean soldiers.”

Officially, the Chinese were visiting strategic locations such as border posts, key companies and state institutions, he said. But it is unclear why they were patrolling at such a sensitive time. They were supposed to stay five days, but left after three to travel to Masvingo, in the south.

China’s support for President Mugabe’s regime has been highlighted by the arrival in South Africa of a ship carrying a large cache of weapons destined for Zimbabwe’s armed forces. Dock workers in Durban refused to unload it.

The 300,000-strong South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) said it would be “grossly irresponsible” to touch the cargo of ammunition, grenades and mortar rounds on board the Chinese ship An Yue Jiang anchored outside the port.

A Satawu spokesman Randall Howard said: “Our members employed at Durban container terminal will not unload this cargo, neither will any of our members in the truck-driving sector move this cargo by road. South Africa cannot be seen to be facilitating the flow of weapons into Zimbabwe at a time where there is a political dispute and a volatile situation between Zanu-PF and the MDC.”

Three million rounds of AK-47 ammunition, 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades and more than 3,000 mortar rounds and mortar tubes are among the cargo on the Chinese ship, according to copies of the inventory published by a South African newspaper.

According to Beeld, the documentation for the shipment was completed on 1 April, three days after the presidential vote.

Zimbabwe and China have close military ties. Three years ago, Mr Mugabe signed extensive trade pacts with the Chinese as part of the “Look East” policy forced on him by his ostracising by Western governments over human rights abuses. The deal gave the Chinese mineral and trade concessions in exchange for economic help.

The shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague called on David Miliband to demand a cessation of arms shipments.

A South African government spokesman Themba Maseko said it would be difficult to stop the shipment.


Killing the worlds’ poor through good intentions

This sort of stuff makes me very, very angry.

Kerry Howley, writing at Reason, does an interview with Robert Paarlberg:

In May 2002, in the midst of a severe food shortage in sub-Saharan Africa, the government of Zimbabwe turned away 10,000 tons of corn from the World Food Program (WFP). The WFP then diverted the food to other countries, including Zambia, where 2.5 million people were in need. The Zambian government locked away the corn, banned its distribution, and stopped another shipment on its way to the country. “Simply because my people are hungry,” President Levy Mwanawasa later said, “is no justification to give them poison.”

The corn came from farms in the United States, where most corn produced—and consumed—comes from seeds that have been engineered to resist some pests, and thus qualifies as genetically modified. Throughout the 90s, genetically modified foods were seen as holding promise for the farmers of Africa, so long as multinationals would invest in developing superior African crops rather than extend the technology only to the rich. When Zambia and Zimbabwe turned away food aid, simmering controversy over the crops themselves brimmed over and seeped into almost every African state. Cast as toxic to humans, destructive to the environment, and part of a corporate plot to immiserate the poor, cutting edge farming technology is most feared where it is most needed. As Robert Paarlberg notes in his new book, Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is Being Kept Out of Africa (Harvard University Press), in 2004 the Sudanese government “took time out from its genocidal suppression of a rebellion in Darfur to issue a memorandum requiring that all food aid brought into the country should be certified as free of any GM ingredients.”

Starved for Science includes forwards by both Jimmy Carter and Norman Borlaug, the architect of Asia’s Green Revolution and the man credited with saving more human lives than anyone else in history. Paarlberg, a Professor of Political Science at Wellesley and a specialist in agricultural policy, wants the West to help small African farmers obtain promising technologies just as it helped Asia discover biological breakthroughs in the 60s and 70s. Instead, he says, a coalition of European governments and African elites are promoting a Western vision of rustic, low-productivity labor.

Do read the entire thing. Megan McArdle offers her comment here:

My understanding at the time was that this was even worse than ignorance: Africans keep out relief grain because they know that farmers will hold some of it for seed. They were afraid that if GM entered the food chain, they would that never, ever be able to export any plant products to Europe because of their stringent regulations (these have, I believe, been somewhat relaxed). So even if the president of Zambia knew GM was harmless, he couldn’t risk permanently impairing his country’s economic future.

In fact, let me quote some more from Howley’s interview with Paarlsberg:

reason: Can you give us a sense of what an average African farmer in, say, Zambia, is currently working with?

Paarlberg: It would be a woman and her children primarily, and they would plant not a hybrid maize, but a traditional openly pollinated variety, and they would time the preparation of the soil and planting as best they could for when they thought the rains would come. But the rains might not come in time, or they might be too heavy and wash the seeds out of the ground. It’s a risky endeavor. They can’t afford fertilizer, and it’s too risky to use fertilizer because in a drought the maize would shrivel up and the fertilizer would be wasted. They don’t have any irrigation. As a consequence, even in a good year their yields per hectare will be only about one third as high as in Asian countries, 1/10 as high as in the United States.

reason: Just as it used to be in Asia.

Paarlberg: Everywhere!

reason: No African government other than South Africa’s has made it legal to plant GMOs. You call this “out of character” for the same governments.

Paarlberg: They have not yet enacted the law, set up the biosafety committee, and granted approval, which is the laborious process that [the United Nations Environmental Program] and the European governments have coached them into adopting.

It’s interesting. In no other area are governments in Africa particularly concerned about hypothetical environmental risks. They know better than to invoke the precautionary principle when it comes to unsafe food in open air markets. They know that they need to first get rid of actual food shortages and raise income; then and only then can they afford to impose the same extremely high standards of food safety on open air markets that are imposed on supermarkets in Europe. Yet curiously when it comes to GMOs they adopt the highly precautionary European standard, which makes it impossible to put these products on the market at all. I take that as evidence that this is not an authentic African response, it’s a response imported from Europe.

reason: So the romanticization of bucolic farm landscapes unmarred by scientific advance has an American and European pedigree.

Paarlberg: It’s not what we do at home—only two percent of agricultural products in the US are organically grown. And many of those that are organically grown are grown on industrial scale organic farms in California that don’t bear any resemblance to small bucolic farms. But it’s the image we promote in our new cultural narrative. It’s something that affects the way we give foreign assistance.

reason: Many of the anti-agricultural science gurus you mention in your book have a spiritual dimension. Can you talk a bit about Sylvester Graham?

Paarlberg: Sylvester Graham, the father of the modern graham cracker, was opposed to the modern flour milling industry. He didn’t like the industrialization of bread production, and he wanted women to go back to grinding flour. He was a religious man, a minister, and he had all of the narrow minded prejudices we might associate with a New England clergyman from the 19th century. He thought that women should stay in the home, he believed people should be vegetarians because that would keep their sexual appetite back. We sometimes forget what goes along with the food purist zealotry. It’s often zealotry about more than just a certain kind of food to eat.

In Zambia today there are expatriate Jesuits from the United States who have come to believe genetic engineering is against God’s teaching, though this is not a belief that is embraced by the Vatican. They believe that all living things, including plants, have a right not to have their genetic makeup modified. Of course we have been modifying the genetic makeup of plants ever since we domesticated them 10,000 years ago, but these particular fathers are focused only on genetic engineering.

reason: Isn’t it paternalistic to blame Europeans for the decisions of African governments? Is this something African elites are at least as complicit in?

Paarlberg: It’s a codependency. The African elites depend upon Europe for financial assistance, they depend upon European export markets, they depend on NGOs for technical assistance, it’s just easier for them to follow the European lead than to go against that lead. And to some extent the European governments depend upon having dependents in Africa that will, despite the difficult experience of colonization, continue to imitate and validate and honor European culture and taste.

reason: What exactly have European NGOs done to discourage productivity in farming? You quote Doug Parr, a chemist at Greenpeace, arguing that the de facto organic status of farms in Africa is an opportunity to lock in organic farming, since African farmers have yet to advance beyond that.

Paarlberg: Some of it is well intentioned. The organic farming movement believes this is an appropriate corrective to the chemical intensive farming that they see in Europe. In Europe, where prosperous consumers are willing to pay a premium for organic products, it sometimes makes sense to use a more costly production process. So they think, “Well it’s the wave of the future here in Europe, so it should be the future in Africa as well.”

So they tell Africans who don’t use enough fertilizer that instead of using more they should go to zero and certify themselves as organic. That’s probably the most damaging influence — discouraging Africans from using enough fertilizer to restore the nutrients they mine out of their soil. They classify African farmers as either certified organic, or de facto organic. Indeed, many are de facto organic. And their goal is not to increase the productivity of the organic farmers, but to certify them as organic.

I just find that to be lacking in moral clarity.

John Pilger versus “the great game”

John Pilger (biography on Wikipedia) has a new piece out in the New Statesman, “The ‘good war’ is a bad war.” This is the central part of his essay:

The truth about the “good war” is to be found in compelling evidence that the 2001 invasion, widely supported in the west as a justifiable response to the 11 September attacks, was actually planned two months prior to 9/11 and that the most pressing problem for Washington was not the Taliban’s links with Osama Bin Laden, but the prospect of the Taliban mullahs losing control of Afghanistan to less reliable mujahedin factions, led by warlords who had been funded and armed by the CIA to fight America’s proxy war against the Soviet occupiers in the 1980s. Known as the Northern Alliance, these mujahedin had been largely a creation of Washington, which believed the “jihadi card” could be used to bring down the Soviet Union. The Taliban were a product of this and, during the Clinton years, they were admired for their “discipline”. Or, as the Wall Street Journal put it, “[the Taliban] are the players most capable of achieving peace in Afghanistan at this moment in history”.

The “moment in history” was a secret memorandum of understanding the mullahs had signed with the Clinton administration on the pipeline deal. However, by the late 1990s, the Northern Alliance had encroached further and further on territory controlled by the Taliban, whom, as a result, were deemed in Washington to lack the “stability” required of such an important client. It was the consistency of this client relationship that had been a prerequisite of US support, regardless of the Taliban’s aversion to human rights. (Asked about this, a state department briefer had predicted that “the Taliban will develop like the Saudis did”, with a pro-American economy, no democracy and “lots of sharia law”, which meant the legalised persecution of women. “We can live with that,” he said.)

By early 2001, convinced it was the presence of Osama Bin Laden that was souring their relationship with Washington, the Taliban tried to get rid of him. Under a deal negotiated by the leaders of Pakistan’s two Islamic parties, Bin Laden was to be held under house arrest in Peshawar. A tribunal of clerics would then hear evidence against him and decide whether to try him or hand him over to the Americans. Whether or not this would have happened, Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf vetoed the plan. According to the then Pakistani foreign minister, Niaz Naik, a senior US diplomat told him on 21 July 2001 that it had been decided to dispense with the Taliban “under a carpet of bombs”.

That is fascinating stuff. I am glad that people like Pilger exist as journalists because he really does push to uncover the truth. Any lie by any government is shameful. Nevertheless, while I am happy to accept the facts that Pilger presents as true, it’s difficult to read this article and to know what he actually wants other than to continue his vociferous criticism of Western foreign policy and that of the United States in particular.

On the one hand, he highlights above some of the awful aspects of an Afghanistan ruled (let’s not say governed) by the Taliban: no democracy, no freedom of religion, little (if any) freedom of speech, the utter subjugation of women, an economy based on the extraction and capture of wealth. On the other hand, he later speaks of the …

… historic ban on opium production that the Taliban regime had achieved. A UN official in Kabul described the ban to me as “a modern miracle”. The miracle was quickly rescinded. As a reward for supporting the Karzai “democracy”, the Americans allowed Northern Alliance warlords to replant the country’s entire opium crop in 2002. Twenty-eight out of the 32 provinces instantly went under cultivation.

But he doesn’t bother noting that the Taliban were only able to enforce their ban by killing anyone who violated it. I’m pretty sure that Pilger opposes the death penalty. I’m absolutely certain that he opposes it when it’s instigated without any recourse to defence in a fair trial.

I agree entirely with Pilger that the main priorities of the U.S. in looking at other countries have been political stability and economic liberalism, with the rule of law being a distant third and anything else almost entirely off the radar. I likewise agree that this is principally because these represent minimum conditions for the inevitably large U.S. companies to do business in those countries. I say “inevitably” because small U.S. companies are not in a position to invest internationally. Pilger views this as a modern form of imperialism. It’s a tempting position, but I tend to think of it more as the U.S. looking out for it’s own and leaving other countries to sort out their own particular rights and values. It is not non-interventionism, but a sort of ideally-minimal-but-occasionally-dramatic-interventionism.

I would understand if Pilger thought that the West ought to promote the good things it has aspired to itself: women’s rights, religious freedom, the welfare state and so forth. But Pilger is apparantly against humanitarian intervention, which he describes as the work of the ascendant, “narcissistic, war-loving wing” of liberalism, so I am again left confused as to what he wants the West to actually do. Does he want complete isolation?

Let me put it this way: Zimbabwe is in a terrible state. From once being described as the “bread-basket of Africa,” it is now the basket-case of the continent. It’s inflation is so high as to become unmeasurable. A third of it’s population has fled the country. It has no democracy. The opposition, when they attempt to rally, is beaten. For it’s part, the West has imposed sanctions, but China has happily handed truckloads of cash to Mugabe’s regime in exchange for Zimbabwe’s natural resources. What does John Pilger think the foreign policy of the U.S.A., the U.K. and the rest of the West ought to be towards Zimbabwe?