Sunday, March 04, 2007

We are not alone

Another occasional mention of a few items to remind us as Americans that our concerns are not the only ones and the issues that concern us are not the only ones people of the world have to deal with. Except as noted, the items in this edition come courtesy of BBC News.

- March 2: Nigeria looking for debt relief
Nigeria has agreed a deal for US investment bank Merrill Lynch to take on most of its $500m (£257m) debt. ...

The government hopes the deal will make Nigeria more attractive for foreign investors and clear debt before it leaves office in May.

"The only debts that will remain would be those owed to multilateral institutions and a few bilateral loans," said the government.

The deal comes after the Paris Club - another group of creditors - gave Nigeria a debt relief package worth $18bn.

As part of the deal, Nigeria used money from oil revenues to pay back $12.4bn.
Debt relief has been part of the agenda for the developing world for some time, in the conviction that getting poor nations out of the cycle of taking on debt to pay past debt in a downward spiral - that is, creating a clean slate - is more important and more effective than direct aid.

Unfortunately, many of the "restructuring" conditions put on nations in order for them to get relief threaten to simply switch them from being vassals of world financial institutions to being vassals of world corporate institutions. Nigeria's hope that clearing a hunk of its debt will make it "more attactive for foreign investors" rather than, say, "more able to provide services to its people" illustrates the problem.

This is despite the fact that programs aimed at such investors and often revolving around production for export rather than domestic consumption (because that provides more return for the investors) not only run contrary to the needs of the populace but the benefit of the environment, as an emerging movement known as "food sovereignty" argues:
Food sovereignty is all about ensuring that farmers, rather than transnational corporations, are in control of what they farm and how they farm it; ensuring too that communities have the right to define their own agricultural, pastoral, labour, fishing, food and land policies to suit their own ecological, social, economic and cultural circumstances. ...

Combinations of indigenous and modern methods lead to more environmentally sustainable agriculture, as well as reducing dependence on expensive external inputs, reducing the cost-price squeeze and debt trap in which the world's farmers are increasingly caught.

Ecological agriculture has been shown to be productive, economic and sustainable for farmers, whether their external inputs are low or high. ...

Food sovereignty is not against trade and science. But it does argue for a fundamental shift away from "business as usual", emphasising the need to support domestic markets and small-scale agricultural production based on resilient farming systems rich in biological and cultural diversity.
Footnote: Because, I expect, of its oil wealth, Nigeria was not among the 38 "Heavily Indebted Poor Countries," or HIPC, eligible for restricted relief under an IMF/World Bank program.

- March 2: Blasts in Mogadishu
Six explosions have hit the Somali capital, Mogadishu, seriously injuring six civilians - a day after Ugandan peacekeepers left for Somalia.

Two children were among those injured in a market where some of the mortars exploded during Friday prayers.

Dozens have been killed by insurgents since the Ethiopian-backed government forces defeated Islamists last year.

The African Union is planning to send 8,000 peacekeepers to Somalia, but has only raised half the number required.
So far, Uganda has pledged 1,700 soldiers; Burundi, another 1,700; and Nigeria, some 850.
Somalia enjoyed a six-month lull in the insecurity that has dogged the country for the last 16 years when the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) was in power.

But violence has escalated in the past two months. ...

More than 10,000 civilians have fled Mogadishu in the past two weeks, the United Nations estimates.
- March 4: Possible peace deal in the Ivory Coast (or, if you prefer, the more formally correct Côte d'Ivoire).
The Ivory Coast government and the rebel movement have signed an accord in a fresh attempt to revive the country's stalled peace process.

The two sides agreed to form a new power-sharing government within five weeks and to set a joint army command. ...

Its aim is to unite Ivory Coast, which has been split since rebels seized the northern half of the country in 2002. ...

The buffer zone between the two sides - known as the confidence zone - is to be removed. It is currently patrolled by 10,000 French and UN troops. ...

The deal sets a timetable for disarmament and for a mass identification programme to give identity cards to the millions of Ivorians who do not have them.

It is estimated that elections, which have been postponed twice already, could be held in 10 months.
On the other hand, previous such deals have been ignored and so fallen apart, but
this deal is a result of direct dialogue between President Gbagbo and [rebel leader Guillaume] Soro and this will incite cautious optimism....
- March 4: Iranian women arrested
Iran's authorities have arrested more than 32 women activists protesting outside a courthouse in Tehran.

The protesters were showing solidarity with five women on trial for organising a protest last June against laws they say discriminate against women.

The five have been charged with endangering national security, propaganda against the state and taking part in an illegal gathering. ...

The BBC's Frances Harrison, reporting from the demonstration, says almost all the leaders of Iran's women's movement were arrested. ...

The women believe the authorities are trying to intimidate them to prevent any kind of protest during International Women's Day on 8 March.
- March 4: Riots in Copenhagen over housing
Unrest has continued in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, for a third night but a heavy police presence has prevented any serious violence.

Fires were lit at a number of locations but protests in the Noerrebro and Christiania districts were dispersed.

About 50 arrests were made overnight, bringing to more than 600 those held since the unrest began on Thursday.

The riots started after an anti-terror squad raid to evict squatters from the Youth House (Ungdomshuset) building.
Left-wing activists seized the then-abandoned building as part of a squatters movement nearly 25 years ago and it has been occupied since. In 2000, the city sold it to a Christian fundamentalist group which last year got a court order to evict the occupants. However,
the activists vowed not to leave, saying the council had no right to sell the building while it was still in use.
This is the second time disturbances have broken out over eviction attempts; in December, more than 300 were arrested in the wake of protests.

- March 4: UK to establish huge fingerprint database

This item was through The Times (UK).
Children aged 11 to 16 are to have their fingerprints taken and stored on a secret database, internal Whitehall documents reveal.

The leaked Home Office plans show that the mass fingerprinting will start in 2010, with a batch of 295,000 youngsters who apply for passports. ...

The plans are outlined in a series of “restricted” documents circulating among officials in the Identity and Passport Service. They form part of the programme for the introduction of new biometric passports and ID cards. ...

Under the new passport and ID scheme, everyone over 16 who applies for a passport will have their details — including fingerprints and eye or facial scans — added to the National Identity Register from next year. ...

Children under 16 will not be part of the ID card scheme. But the documents show that from 2010 they will still have to be fingerprinted for a new passport.

The prints will initially be stored on the directorate’s database. Once children reach 16 their fingerprints and other personal information will be passed for storage on the register, along with those of nearly 50m adults. ...

The prime minister has hailed the ID cards scheme as the centrepiece of efforts to combat terrorism and illegal immigration, as well as identity theft and benefit fraud. But opponents dismiss it as a “Big Brother” scheme that is too expensive, poorly planned and unlikely to function efficiently.

The Tories have pledged to scrap the scheme if they win the next election.
- March 4: Elections in Abkhazia
People in Abkhazia, a Black Sea region trying to break away from Georgia since a 1990s war, are voting in parliamentary elections.

Georgia's government has vowed to re-assert control over the region.

Abkhazia is a key factor in the long-running political conflict between Georgia and Russia, which has expressed support for the separatists' ambitions. ...

More than a decade after the war, negotiations to end this conflict have stalled.

The results of this election are unlikely to bring a peace settlement any closer.
The article says that the international community agrees the elections are not legitimate because the region is still part of Georgia. I'll accept for lack of contrary evidence that such is the world's general opinion, but that does raise an interesting question: Short of a treaty with the former parent government, how does a "breakaway" region establish its "legitimacy?" What are the standards, even informal ones, for becoming recognized by the "international community" as an independent region? Are there any?

Note well that I'm not passing judgment on Abkhazia's claims, as I simply do not know enough to do so. But I still find it interesting to compare the reluctance of that international community to look with kindness on Abkhazian claims - even though the Abkhazians defeated the Georgian army in that 1990s war (such military victories often being a source of conferred legitimacy) - with the almost unseemly rush to embrace the roughly-contemporaneous breakup of Yugoslavia. Is it a matter of national self-interest? Or does it really, at the end of the day, just come down to "ah, who cares about them?"

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