Month: February 2013

Coffeeeeeee!

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iFAMINEI’ve been to Africa countless times and there are plenty of reasons that I can see that the Continent should not be in the position it finds itself.  I’ve met a multitude of talented, ambitious, thoughtful and yes entrepreneurial people.  In fact there are parts of Kenya or Tanzania or Uganda I would happy settle and make my life.

The reason Africa is dependent on aid is really a very simple one.   Less than 20% of African exports are manufactured, value added goods, the other 80% are raw materials.  But 65% of the continents imports are manufactured goods.  Africa therefore is a producer of what it does not consume and a consumer of what it does not produce.  The irony of this perverse situation I’m sure isn’t lost.

In Uganda for example coffee is grown in small quantities by about a million households.  In fact Uganda is the 5th largest producer of coffee beans, but it doesn’t have any capacity for processing those beans.  Frankly I was amazed when I read that stat!  This means that less than 1% of the retail value of coffee originated in Uganda is retained by the very farmers who produced the beans.  But here’s the real kick in the proverbials, go to any large hotel in Uganda or Kenya or pretty much any other East African nation and see what brand the coffee is that you get served in a hotel.  My bets are that you get Nescafe and not much else.

Don’t get me wrong here, Africa is blighted by Big Man Politics.  But even this cultural bent is related to how the old colonials left the continent.  For the most part European countries carved-up the continent in search of raw materials, installing a small but well armed band of so called Diplomats & Governors to run the countries they invented (Africa is a continent of nations who do not have socially natural boundaries  check it out there are just too many straight line borders for this to be deniable).  What they didn’t do was educate.  So when the countries found freedom from colonial rule they just didn’t have the educated elite to run the country that was left.  Nett result; a few rose to power and were quickly corrupted.

So we now support Africa with endless aid.  In fact the continent now has a chronic dependence on aid and I don’t see how it actually contributes to or acts to stimulate sustainable economic growth.  The powerful donors have tied the aid to concessions, making the leaders of African nations more accountable to corporate America and EU than to their own people.  In short the structural inequalities generated in the 1950’s & 60’s are perpetuated, promotion of  labour exploitation ensures that the export of primary commodities remains central to the bare survival of those in power.

How to correct this situation?

My suggestion is 3-fold:

  1. Transfer of knowledge, train the people in how to manage their environment to best effect
  2. Provide the technology to do the jobs; this of course is linked intimately to point 1
  3. Build institutional capacity; this is the really difficult one actually.  Good governance, good banks, good savings schemes… the things we probably take for granted

There are without question no shortage of entrepreneurs in Africa, all you have to do is visit Nairobi or Lagos or… you will be accosted with people selling their wares.  No, no shortage here.  The real question is access to funding.  About 3% of adults in sub-Saharan Africa can access funding, the other 97%+ are on their own.

The key to this lock I believe lies with the Western Supermarket Chains.  It wouldn’t take that much effort I’m sure for them to go to Africa, seek out those producers who can make what they need, invest some of their vast wealth in creating capacity and give a listing to those producers who make the grade.  I have no doubt that many will, make the grade that is and I would not complain if I had to pay a penny or two more to get great value, high quality products knowing that a farmer or a producer or co-operative somewhere in Africa is able to feed itself, educates itself, and looks after its own health care.  Now that to me sounds like a win-win all-round.

Its a well used phrase but Trade not Aid is to the point and accurate.  All we have to do is find the will to want to change how Africa is run, how we can economically engage with the vast wealth talented people.  I make but a few suggestions and I’m sure there are people cleverer than me with greater insight than me who can shed much more light on what appears to be a complex problem but actually is quite simple, just immense.

EU Oh Oh!

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The most powerful trading bloc in the world today, the EU and the UK is in it but for how long? The UK’s relationship with the EU can be tetchy at times it has to be said, in fact its utterly hostile at times.

The EU in the UK is painted as the source of horror; out of control red tape, completely over the top human rights laws and to top the lot immigration (inward to the UK that is).   Its these overstated negatives that have influenced the group think in the public at large moving towards a view that EU membership should be put to an in-out vote.

Public and popular concerns are often stated in terms of un-thinking rashness summed-up in a handy sound-bite.  If its not short, punchy and to the point (often wide of the mark actually but you get the drift I’m sure) its not worth making it.  Its actually the responsibility of Government, that would be from all parties, to put the benefit of membership and of the obvious self-interest of remaining a member.  Grandstanding, sabre rattling, shouting about  in-out referendums will bring nothing but contempt from our EU/EEA partners.

Bill Clinton put it as “it’s arithmetic!”  A market that’s 500 million people with a GDP of around £11/€13 trn, no tariffs, customs duties and right next door has got to be the opportunity of a life-time, several life-times actually for jobs, business, prosperity and safety.

Around 3.5 million jobs are directly & indirectly linked to EU/EEA in the UK.  So basically a massively compelling reason to stay put, not rocking any boats of any kind.  The economic fortunes of the UK are undeniably linked to the EU/EEA.

Business has been absolutely consistent in supporting continued membership and really cannot understand the uncertainty created by the prospect of a referendum.  Who in their right mind would want to invest in the UK knowing the prospect of trade with the EU/EEA is almost certain to get more difficult in the future I ask you? A No vote in 2017 and you can close the City of London; financial trading will move to Paris or Frankfurt.

We are already on the outskirts having passed on the Euro and the Schengen Agreement. We have an opt-out on the Working Time Directive and point blank refused to sign-up to the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights or the presently proposed Banking Union.

No-wonder then that our European partners are frosty sometimes.  They must be exhausted with our constant hedging of bets. Change is best effected from within, we all know this but we stand firmly outside staring in, complaining bitterly that its not they way we would do things; childish tantrums.  As a position of influence its doomed to failure, often does fail as well.

And what happens after we’ve left? the next day? who would be our partners then?

The US has made it more than clear that we are only important in the EU.  Any perceived ‘special relationship’ over, immediately.  The Americans have questioned the exit strategy and found it wanting.

So what about the Commonwealth?  Lord Howell of Guilford, father-in-law of George Osborne recently said “The Europeans are our neighbors, the Americans our friends, but the Commonwealth is our family.”  Regrettably he was looking out over the Commonwealth wearing his very special rose coloured glasses.  And how do I know this? Well India is buying £12/€14.5 bn worth of French fighter jets instead of the UK (Commonwealth partner) jets despite the millions of pounds of aid that the UK has continued to contribute to one of the fastest growing economies on the planet.  I don’t get a sense of family here!

No, the Commonwealth is the place that Brits go for a better way of life; Austrailia, Canada, New Zealand… But I don’t see too many going to India, South Africa or Pakistan, just not appealing.

I’m quite sure that the EU/EEA isn’t perfect and much change is needed, this will be on-going.  But standing squarely up to the EU/EEA and demanding change or off we go probably isn’t the best way of going about getting what you want, what’s important. What ever the differences are, no matter how strongly held opinions are consensus is ultimately in the best interests of all; EU/EEA and UK.

Engage-Vous

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I am sad today, very sad today in-fact.  The world has lost one of the most inspiring people overnight.

Stephane Frederic Hessel – RIP

Born to Jewish parents in Berlin 20 Oct. 1917 he first arrived in France when he was 8 years old.  He became a naturalized French person in 1939.  His parents, Franz and Helen were the inspiration for Francois Truffaut’s romantic film Jules And Jim which became a classic in France.  Based on the Book Jules and Jim by Henri-Pierre Roche.  His parents inspired the books characters Jules and Kathe (Catherine in the film adaptation).

Stephan became a prominent member of the French Resistance during WWII and was imprisoned in Buchenwald and Dora concentration camps after being discovered and arrested by the Gestapo.  Plainly he survived and became a diplomat after the war representing France at the UN where he was a member of the team who drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

According to Gilles-William Goldnadel, a French Jewish Activist; France’s leftist press idealized the former Resistance fighter, a strong critic of Israeli policy, as a “secular saint”.  He championed the cause of France’s Illegal immigrants and the rights of the oppressed generally.

In 2010 he published his thoughts in his manifesto Time for Outrage (Indiginez-Vous) inspiring social protesters, world wide, its even thought he may have in part inspired the Occupy Movement.  It expresses his outrage at the growing gap between haves and have-nots, France’s treatment of illegal immigrants and damage to the environment.  It was a best seller, selling over 3.5 million copies world-wide.

In his essay he argues that French people must re-learn how to be outraged.  In the book he calls for peaceful and non-violent insurrection by the people, for the people.

In 2011 his latest (and last) writings were published in Engage-Vous (Get Involved) where he makes the case for people to save the environment, embrace the positive and emphasizes the importance of good luck.  The book became a best seller in France and has been translated into 15 other languages.

French President Francois Hollande said he had learnt “with great sadness” about Hessel’s death.  “His capacity for indignation knew no bounds other than those of his own life,” he said in a statement. “As that comes to an end, he leaves us a lesson: to refuse to accept any injustice.”

He was a great favorite at the BBC, because he was unfailingly courteous. Diplomacy was his natural calling. He would often wear a dark suit and a homburg hat – then, put before the microphone, argue gently but irresistibly on the subject at hand.

He lived in the 14th Arrondissement where he had first settled in 1927! A Parisian at heart and a true French Hero committed to Liberte, Egalite et Fraternate!

Whilst I do not hold with all of his views he was never-the-less a great inspiration and leader of thought.  Gentle, thoughtful and resourceful whilst maintaining a keen intellect into his mid-90’s.  He will be missed by many.

Deliverance!

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If you find yourself driving around Jewish districts tomorrow you’ll probably see people out and about, particularly children visiting friends and relatives with gifts of sweets and cakes.  Tomorrow is the festival of Purim, the date to remember the Jewish people’s deliverance from a royal death decree around the fourth century BCE, as told in the Book of Esther.

Synagogues will be crowded during Purim. Many people will wear their best clothes while others dress up in colorful costumes and masks. If you find yourself lucky enough to be in Jerusalem during Purim this a great spectacle indeed.  Children in particular enjoy dressing up as the characters found in the Book of Esther. Purim gift baskets are exchanged on this occasion. Many Jewish people also donate to charity around this time of the year.

Jewish people comprise a rich cultural mix in the United Kingdom today, where festivals such as Purim are celebrated. Purim commemorates the time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination by the courage of a Jewish woman called Esther. The strange thing is that the celebration is about deliverance!  The Jewish people were to be slaughtered, one of the first recorded instances of ethnic-cleansing so to speak.  Jewish people through-out history have endured genocides and pogroms and still they celebrate deliverance.  How can this be? you may ask.  Well go to Purim celebration and the people will tell you.  Not through words but through their actions and smiling faces.  We could all learn well from the Jewish people.

There are many places around the world today where people just cannot get around to just living their lives.  They are concerned with how others live theirs, of destroying or dominating how they live their lives.  This is not living.

Take for instance the case of George Galloway a British MP, his party is called RESPECT.  He was engaged by the Christchurch College SU to be part of a debate about Israel & Palestine.  His response; He was speaking for the motion that ‘Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank’. When the Respect MP for Bradford West learned that Eylon Aslan-Levy, a student opposing it, was an Israeli citizen, he leaves, saying ‘I don’t debate with Israelis’. Attendees were heard accusing Galloway of racism as he exited the room.

This was not respectful I venture.

Neither was it in any way helpful to what is a very complex and demanding situation.  Israel is a nation recognized as such by the UN.  Palestine by contrast is not, yet they too are recognized by the UN.  Whilst the West Bank is a tense place of that there is no doubt, it is never-the-less relatively peaceful when compared to its sister territory Gaza.  Gaza is dominated by Hamas, an organisation founded on hate.  Not just any hate but hate of Jews.

Hamas could lean much from the history of the Jews and how Purim is celebrated in particular.  Hamas should know (if only they had the intellect) that the Jewish people will never go away, they will persist.

Now look at the instance of Cambridge University who invited Marine Le Pen to speak.  Sabby Dhalu, a member of Unite Against Facism (UAF), said: “It is a shame Britain’s intelligentsia have not learnt the lessons of history. Cambridge Union’s decision to invite Marine Le Pen is giving her and the Front National a platform and publicity.”  I’m not sure I could say it any better, the point is made with irony and intelligence.

Front National policies are racist, discriminate against disabled and homosexual people and are antisemitic.  In the UK we have Nick Griffin from the BNP to contend with, a more odious man I’m not so certain you could meet.  The BNP hold similar views about the world.

These views are at best unintelligent and limited, but are without question hateful.  Thankfully Front National in France and the BNP in the UK are minority, although dangerous, political parties.  They have not learnt the lesson of history.

It is our duty in my mind that we seek out those who are subjected to hate, who are vulnerable and find it in our hearts to be their Esther.

Celebrate Purim even if you are not Jewish, it is good for your spirit I suggest.

Deeply Dippy

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Cambridge University Union have invited Marine Le Pen to speak next Tuesday; yes that is correct a Student Union has invited a Fascist to speak at a public hearing.  I had to read the news a few times before it actually sunk in.  I thought these people were supposed to be intelligent, you know the cream, our future leaders no less.  I must be mistaken I’m sure, I thought but no sadly I read correctly.  She will speak, and she will speak just a few days before the English Defense League (EDL) march through Cambridge.

What you have to understand is that she heads the Front National Party, the French far right, a modern fascist party which is deeply racist.  UAF (United Against Fascism) plan to hold a rally outside while she speaks but so far have got just 140 people to attend or commit to attending, not enough by any standard.

The really worrying thing is that the FN is France’s third largest party and as an outsider it looks frightening (but more later on why this isn’t the threat it might at first appear).  No the worry is not for the French, but for other countries who might have a less stable populace, who might actually vote in one of these utterly detestably parties after taking encouragement from the FN and Le Pen.

Roslyn Old of the CUSU has withdrawn from speaking at similar events where the far right has a presence.  She said “The invitation by the Union Society to Marine LePen is more than just insensitive, it will have a direct effect on the safety of many of our students. It disregards the realities of fascism and the current context of Cambridge.”

However, Jinho Clements in a blog for the Huffington Post said that the best way of confronting the kind of repulsive views of people such as Le Pen is to invite them to speak, to engage in debate.  He goes on to try to defend free speech saying allowing the kind of people such as Le Pen rights to speak openly is in some way defending the rights of all.  I beg to differ!

By allowing Le Pen and others of her kind the public space legitimizes what she has to say.  Worse still though, it promotes hatred of ethnic minorities, homosexuals, the disabled, and antisemitism.  Her views are unapologetic and divisive, they are the views of hate.

Marine Le Pen follows her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in leading the FN, he was given a 3-month suspended sentence for calling the Nazi occupation of France “not particularly inhuman”.  Le Pen came second to Jacques Chirac in the 2002 Presidential elections, a victory of sorts you might think.  Actually he polled 19% of the overall vote in the first round and then polled 19% of the vote in the run-off; no increase in voters!  But the blow came when he lost the majority of his voters to Nicolas Sarkozy the next time round.

It would seem that the now ex-President secured the votes on a “national identity” ticket.  So his voters were in-fact protest votes against the left, not real votes.

We will never rid ourselves of the repulsive views of Le Pen and her type, but I also wonder about the logic of giving them free speech and public platforms.  We in Britain have our own BNP problem; one Nick Griffin, a more dis-likable so called politica sort I’m sure you couldnt meet.

Simply put these people are dangerous, not for what they do but for the ideas they have.

KEEP THEM QUIET!

V-Day 14 Feb. 2013

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One in Three women world-wide WILL be RAPED or BEATEN in her lifetime! (this is probably an understatement)

This is a difficult statistic to read, its shameful, its an ATROCITY!

And the violence will be done mostly by men.

KARACHI, Pakistan — At the age of 11, Malala Yousafzai took on the Taliban by giving voice to her dreams. As turbaned fighters swept through her town in northwestern Pakistan in 2009, the tiny schoolgirl spoke out about her passion for education.  She was shot for her courage of speaking her dreams.

“If you wouldn’t have been there on that night, this wouldn’t have happened to you” Judge Jaqueline Hatch told a woman sexually assaulted in an Arizona Bar.  The offence was committed by Police Office Robb Gary Evans, yes a man, but not just any man; a man in authority who should be protecting women not beating and raping.

But that’s not the end of it.  The sentence was 30 months imprisonment but was reduced to 100 hours community service work as the guilt was passed to the victim.

But those are the extreme cases.  Violence happens in the homes in our communities.  Its not class specific, its not specific to a particular religious faith and not specific to an ethnic group, it happens no matter what.

But violence against women affects men.  These women are our wives, partners, mothers, sisters, daughters… We cannot leave women to fix this problem on their own, that’s just not possible, its a man thing.  Men run the Police, run the Courts, run the Government, they set the rules  If they really wanted men could stop this on-going atrocity, change the dynamic.

It is a brutalized view of the world if men see this only as a women problem.  Addressing this problem is empowering for men as well as women, it’ll be liberating.  There are some men (and women it must be said!) who feel threatened by women’s campaigns like International Women’s Day.  It’s as if it’s conceding to women something we men are not able to have for ourselves, but is that really a problem anyhow? It has been International Men’s Day in most of the world for most of the time (another understatement?) .

By addressing the issues and being truthful with ourselves women’s lives may well improve to that of men.  This is not (although it is in some ways) about criminality, its about equality, decency, sharing our common goals, aspirations and hopes.

I urge any man to join with women in 1-BILLION RISING

ONE BILLION RISING IS:

A global strike
An invitation to dance
A call to men and women to refuse to participate in the status quo until rape and rape culture ends
An act of solidarity, demonstrating to women the commonality of their struggles and their power in numbers
A refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given
A new time and a new way of being

Wag the Tail

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Germany’s deputy Finance Minister said before the financial world imploded “there was no credit boom in Germany.  Property prices remained flat.  There was no borrowing for consumption.  This behaviour is totally unacceptable in Germany.  This is what German people are.  This is deeply in German genes.  It is perhaps a left-over of the collective memory of the Great Depression and the hyperinflation of the 1920’s”.

Over recent years it should come as no big surprise that power is shifting from Brussels to Berlin and therefore what Berlin values is what Europe values.

German house ownership is about 42%, one of the lowest levels in Europe.  In Britain on the other hand house ownership is at the 69% mark.  In fact in Berlin house ownership is as low as 10%, so you can see the obsession with house prices and fluctuation just isn’t there.  And if it isn’t there its not a source of income to spend on whatever takes your fancy.  To illustrate, over the last decade the price of UK houses all but doubled, while in Germany they have risen about 3%.

So the British obsession with remortgaging to generate ‘income’ has been nothing if not a super heated flame applied to the economy.  Having capitol generated from housing is not productive!

Angela Merkel the Chancellor remains living in a modest flat.  She sets the example that she would dearly love those party animals, the Greeks to follow.  The Greeks are ever so resistant to becoming more German and partaking in paying just a few taxes and spending a little less.

The Germans have never allowed the tail to wag the German Shepherd.  They make stuff instead of being overly clever with moving money around to ‘add value’.  Although the Germans are not afraid of exploiting low interest rates for themselves, selling what are admittedly high quality goods to those they are seeking to bail-out in the olive-belt.  The same people and nations they are expecting to pay 4 or 5 times more then they do for borrowing money.

The Germans export!  The margins they make on manufactured goods are remarkable; to illustrate, the direct cost of making a BMW 5 Series is roughly speaking the same as making a Ford Mondeo.  The BMW will sell for about £10 – £14k more!  Point made I’d say.

But please don’t go getting your German phrase book out just yet.  The German model cannot be scaled.  It only works because the rest of our economies don’t.  We just cant all start making stuff and exporting it, where would it go? who would buy it?

The German dream has a course to run and will come to an end.  German domestic demand is low, and the average German is not much better off than they were 10 years ago.  Real disposable income has fallen over this period by about 7%, compared to Spain where real income has risen about 13% in the same period.

While we partied the Germans had an early night its probably fair to say.  They worked hard, saved and they are getting angry that they have to bail-out the olive-belt.  The reality is, is that some (but not all) Germans are looking for a return of the Deutschmark, national pride, and nationalist sentiment is on the rise in Germany, they are developing a feeling of superiority I fear.

The truth is that the Germans have looked after themselves very well thank you and are looking to be installed as the new masters of Europe.  Well they would be utterly useless in such a position, they are non-intergratory by nature.

The fact is that the economic crisis will run its course and we will come out of it at the end. But for the best outcome the Germans will have to be a bit less German and those of us in those countries where our economies are a work of fiction (Grease, Spain, Italy, Ireland, UK) will have to be a bit more German.

Me, I’m with the French on this kind of matter.  They have no aspiration to be at the center of Europe, it makes them nervous.  They have learn the lessons of history well and whilst not a shining example of how to do things in all cases they are never-the-less a great (probably the best) example of how to bring together a disparate group of people and instill national pride without the unsavory expansionist leanings of political nationalists.

If Angela gets here way and along with the Spaniards, Italians and Greeks we all save but don’t spend, the crisis will go on for much longer than it need and we will remain miserable, jobless and a burden on the German state.