Collapse of the WTO’s Doha Round of Trade Talks

The World Trade Organisation was set up as a replacement to the General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs in 1994 during the latter’s Uruguay round of trade talks. It was conceived as both a permanent forum for trade negotiations and as an arena within which the mediation of multilateral dispute resolutions could take place. Lori Wallach, trade lawyer for Public Citizen Watch, in her ground-breaking book “Whose Trade Organisation” is less charitable, describing it as a “neoliberal trojan horse” designed ostensibly to push through Friedmanite policies of unrestricted “free trade” but which in reality operates as a corporate-controlled vehicle for further prising open weakened economies – a “slow motion global coup de’tat“.

The attempt to launch a new trade round in Seattle in December 1999 concluded in general disarray, with rich and poor countries stalemated amidst much acrimony and scenes of often violent protest by what the media simplistically dubbed as “anti-globalisation” supporters. The breakdown in fact occurred over the hubristic top-down management of the globalisation process with key issues being the developed countries protectionist barriers to agricultural imports from the developing world, the inflated subsidies paid to rich-world farmers, particularly in the US, EU and Japan, the call by developing countries for greater protection against the “dumping” of heavily subsidised agricultural produce and the refusal of the poor countries to accept an expansion of the WTO’s remit to include certain non-tariff related trade issues; the so-called “Singapore Issues”.

In an increasingly interconnected world with rising trade volumes Western advocates of neoliberal free trade have consistently pointed to the need for a global set of trade rules and the dismantling of trade barriers, yet too often they fail to apply these standards on their own trade distorting protectionist activities. Rich countries of the industrialised North, whose politicians appear to be hopelessly aligned with farming lobbies spend over $300 billion annually supporting their domestic agricultural markets – a figure equal to the GNP of sub-Saharan Africa and six times the amount given in bilateral aid.

Before Doha even began the EU wished to include three new areas for discussion; investment and competition policy and new rules governing trade and the environment even though many developing countries don’t even have competition authorities. However, of these new issues, the environment-related provisions proved the most difficult point of contention with the EU looking for assurances that the “precautionary principle” would be written into WTO law thereby protecting their citizens from the potential dangers of uncertain science as with GM foods. Developing countries on the other hand saw the EU’s environmental concerns as a back door to further protectionism; envisaging in a low-tariff environment the blocking of their exports over “green” issues through the insistence of eco-labelling and so forth.

The reluctance to embrace this expanded agenda at the expense of a focus on developing world concerns was seen in the months leading up to the Doha Ministerial by the October 23rd 2001 statement by the G-77 and China warning that the rich countries must put helping the poor at the centre of discussions. Mike Moore, Director-General of the WTO, reiterated these sentiments the following week endorsing the call for a development-focused round of talks.

There was also some outstanding issues left over from the Uruguay round. The agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) needed to be revised in light of the AIDS crisis – South Africa, Brazil and India wanted a blanket exemption so they could supply their populations with affordable generic drugs whilst patent-holding lobbyists sought guarantees against their re-export into Western markets. In addition there were also over a 100 agreements identified by developing countries which had as yet to be effectively implemented. The most important of these “implementation issues” from the point of view of the global South related to the North’s obligations to open their markets more fully for developing country exports.

For example, many African, Asian and Latin American countries still faced restrictions in areas where, in the absence off trade-distorting domestic subsidies provided by the EU, US and Japan they would otherwise have a competitive advantage due to their low-cost environment. In addition to this subsidy regime they had asked that provisions governing the practice of “tariff escalation” be revised as promised to allow for greater access of Southern products into industrial nations. Tariff escalation simply entails the successive raising of import levies indexed on the amount of processing underwent by basic commodities. Some decried the practice from the point of view that it encouraged developing countries to produce only those goods which would receive a lower tariff;and thus discouraged the development of local industries in the global South that focused on providing highly processed end-products. One need only look at the number of Fortune 500 companies in the agri-business sector that source their raw materials cheaply from producers in the South to realise the kind of lobbying power opposed to any changes which would realign the “natural” competitive advantages here.

Related to this, was the call by the poorest African states, prior to Doha, to be exempted from the Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs), set for implementation by 2003. Under these measures, they were obliged to remove from their statute books legislation protecting local businesses and industry – the very agents that would be poised to take advantage of an environment more conducive to the export of highly processed goods – from open competition with those foreign companies who would avail of a more liberal FDI regime. Prior to the commencement of the Doha round the US continued to state that it supported the “full and faithful implementation” of the WTO agreements, meaning that developing countries must meet the obligations they took on in Marrakech (where the Uruguay round was completed in 1995), and within the agreed-upon time frame.

Yet, despite all these reservations and unfinished business left over from the Uruguay round on November 14th 2001 in Doha, Qatar, the WTO’s 142 members agreed, 18 hours after their talks deadline, that they were ready to begin a new round of trade talks. African countries were eventually won over by a declaration that the TRIPS agreement should not prevent them dealing with the AIDS crisis; i.e. they could produce generics and exceptions to patent controls could now be made on public health grounds. Other poorer countries were given more time to work on the “implementation” issues and promised help with “capacity-building”.

India almost pulled out of negotiations citing their wariness of embracing the EU’s insistence on including the Singapore Issues (investment and competition policy, trade and the environment) on the talks agenda along with the US reluctance to liberalize textiles and soften their anti-dumping measures, particularly with regard to steel which is protected by powerful lobby groups in Washington. Activists from the South perhaps understood something of the bind Robert Zoellick, the US Trade Representative was in, in this respect, given that Congress had yet to approve Fast-Track negotiating authority for the Bush Administration. Later called Trade Promotion Authority this had been pulled by Congress in 1994 and if approved in 2002 would grant the Bush Administration the ability to present a negotiated trade agreement as a “yes” or “no” vote to Congress. Without TPA it was considered doubtful whether a Doha Trade Agreement would survive a process of congressional nit-picking given the powerful political connections of the cotton and steel lobbyists.

The EU for their part were forced to accept a stronger commitment to phase out their export subsidies and to make cuts in their domestic supports, despite fierce opposition from the French. But as one African said at Doha, issues that “may lose elections in France are life and death in Tanzania.”

Commitments from the North were also made to reduce their peak tariffs on heavily processed or industrial goods such as textiles. This was a key concession as Lesser Developed Countries (LDC’s) were hitherto obliged to specialise in the export of primary commodities because of the lower import tariffs. This had the effect of help driving the overall price for commodities down as they were competing against other LDCs who were likewise taking advantage of the lower tariff band. It also addressed one of the main grievances that developing countries felt were largely due to the Uruguay round – in the nine years from the birth of the WTO in 1994 to 2003 nonpetroleum primary commodity prices plunged to historic lows falling on average by more than a quarter.

This was disastrous in terms of generating foreign currency since 70% of export revenues for developing countries comes from agriculture. According to the September 2002 Journal of International Trade Statistics in the period from 1995-2001 cereal prices were down 31%; coffee was down 65%, cocoa 24%, food commodity prices were down 24%, timber was down 18%, cotton 51%, wool 26% and rubber prices were down 62%. Likewise, in UNCTAD’s 2002 Trade and Development Report it was noted that extreme dollar-a-day poverty rose for people in these primary-commodity exporting countries where the percentage of people earning less than a dollar a day grew from 63% of the population in 1981-83 to 69% in the 1997-99 period.

However, the success of the Doha talks was limited to the adoption of a framework for discussion and the setting of a timeline to accomplish an agreement. Nothing as yet had been decided. As the Economist put it;

“The Doha agenda is based on a gamble: that poor countries, who felt they were given a raw deal by the previous Uruguay round of trade negotiations that ended in 1994, will now feel that rich countries are prepared to open their markets. If poor countries are not convinced of this, the Doha round will fail.”

So, given that the Doha round was now accepted as being a pro-poor “development round” with liberalization of agriculture as its central plank the first nail in its coffin was surely provided by the 2002 US Farm Bill. This election year extravaganza passed by the House and Senate in May 2002 was a remarkable boon for farmers comprising an additional 80% boost in agricultural spending for market losses amounting, roughly, to a figure of $82 bn over ten years. The bill, as the Economist remarked “extended or re-introduced subsidies for a host of farm products”. For America’s biggest crops; soybeans, wheat and corn it invented new payments related to price and production and thus were highly trade distorting; exactly the opposite of what Doha was supposed to be about. Moreover, three quarters of the cash would go to the richest 10% of farmers making US subsidies per farm three to four times that of European levels. In the Uruguay round countries had agreed to cut and set ceilings for their trade-distorting subsidies. At this time, America’s had been $19.1 bn. The 1996 Freedom to Farm Act had aimed to phase out subsidies for most agricultural products but as prices fell in the late 90’s (see above) farmers cried foul and Congress capitulated with emergency payments pushing up total support which threatened US commitments under Uruguay. As the Economist put it at the time;

“The political clout of farm states in an election year led to this gross subsidy-fest, with lawmakers falling over themselves to dole out cash to farmers The signal to the rest of the world is unambiguous. American officials in Geneva (WTO H.Q.) may be talking about freer trade in agriculture, but Washington politicians are sending American farmers exactly the opposite message.”

And all it seems to win over tight seats in the November Senate elections in states with powerful farming lobbies such as Iowa, Missouri and South Dakota. Clearly the Farm Bill sent all the wrong messages to other OECD WTO signatories who had been hard-pressed under the Doha framework of talks to relinquish their support to farmers. Europe, who were loathe to make any commitments on CAP reform could now point to the example of the US’s most recent protectionist surge and, in fact, the following October, the French president, Jacques Chirac, made a deal with the German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, to keep CAP spending broadly unchanged until 2013. After the Farm Bill, US support to farmers amounted to 25% of the value of agricultural produce. This, however, still lagged behind the coddled European farmers who still accounted for half the EU’s budget of $200 bn and who receive 35% of the value of agricultural produce in supports and Japan who give their farmers an outrageous 60% of its value in 2002.

In August, Congress voted 215-212 to grant Bush Fast-Track negotiating power but this authority now appeared devoted to the pursuit of bilateral trade agreements such as CAFTA, NAFTA and the FTAA rather than the multilateral “development round” of Doha. The slow motion coup detat was evidently giving itself a bilateral makeover pressing for regional negotiations in an attempt to dilute LDC bargaining power. Meanwhile, poor countries became increasingly skeptical before the Cancun ministerial. Apart from the US, EU and Japan’s seeming unwillingness to do anything to liberalize their agricultural sectors they were actively reneging on the solemn promises delivered in Doha which got the second round of talks going in the first place. The tariff reductions to allow easier access to their imports never materialized along with the promises of cheap access to medicines for TB, malaria and AIDS; America refused to endorse a formula for transfer agreed upon by all the other parties.

On August 30th , less than a month before the Cancun ministerial, a deal was cut which allowed poor countries to import generics ‘in case of emergencies’. The tepidness of this solution on such an emotive issue was lost on no-one. By April 03 James Wolfenssohn, the World Bank president was prompted to describe the talks over subsidy cuts as “a dialogue of the deaf”. For many, a litmus test of the supposed pro-poor agenda of Doha was the fate of the West African cotton exporter group – Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad and Benin. America gives 36% ( of its 25,000 cotton farmers $3bn a year in trade-distorting subsidies that produce $4bn worth of cotton that depress world prices and wreaks havoc on the livelihoods of traditional exporters. That the draft text produced half-way through Cancun could make only vague pledges “to review the textiles sector” and then suggested that perhaps the African countries may be “encouraged to diversify out of cotton”, told participants in other discussion groups all they needed to know – nothing had changed since the Uruguay manipulations; US and EU politicians were still shamelessly in hock to their pampered robber baron farmers.

The Singapore Issues were next on the agenda. The South refused to budge still reeling over the extent of the betrayal on cotton subsidies. Two days later 90 countries signed a letter saying they were not prepared to move into talks in these areas. Pascal Lamy, the EU’s chief negotiator whittled them down to three then two and finally just before the talks imploded insisted they should at least discuss “trade facilitation”. In the end the outraged African countries refused to discuss any of the four Singapore issues and South Korea said it could only accept negotiations on all four. At this point, Luis Ernesto Derbez, Mexico’s foreign minister and chairman of the Cancun meeting canceled the conference under the premises of an impasse of interests.

Clearly, the developed countries had either completely misread the South’s determination to end the scandal of subsidies or they had no intention of ever coming to an agreement; being happy with the spoils they had already received after Uruguay. Bilateral trade agreements now appear to be the order of the day and why not as from the rich country perspective this dilutes their counterparty’s bargaining power and makes it impossible for them to apply the leverage required to phase out the scandalous system of subsidies.


CIA Crushes ‘Spiritual Socialism’ in Guatemala

The 1944 Guatemalan revolution saw “the little Napoleon of the tropics”, Jorge Ubico, overthrown amid scenes of jubilation and demands for democratic reforms. Once described by Tomas Borge as “crazier than a half dozen opium smoking frogs” his apparatus of power was dismantled and a new constitution adopted which for the first time extended the suffrage to all adults. Jose Arevalo, a popular teacher among the poor, was returned as the new president with an overwhelming 85% of the vote.

Under his new programme for reform, dubbed “spiritual socialism” a third of government income was set aside to address pressing social needs; hospitals and schools were built, a programme of immunizations was put in place and a nationwide literacy campaign established. Harsh vagrancy laws were abolished and in 1947 a new labour code was adopted giving workers the right to strike and form unions. Some coffee farms were turned into cooperatives, tenants were protected from summary eviction and a new national development agency was set up to provide technical assistance and lines of credit to peasant farmers. Obviously these reforms came at a price, stirring resentment among some old-school military figures of the Ubico era, wealthy landowners and foreign businesses who had extensive holdings in the country – especially the United Fruit Company (UFCO).

Nicknamed El Pulpo (the Octopus) by locals the UFCO controlled vast territories and transportation networks throughout Central America, Columbia , Ecuador and the West Indies. In How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World’, Peter Chapman called it a law unto itself’, and the first of the modern multi-nationals’ which specialised in coup d’etats and the support of repressive regimes’.

After the 1944 revolution, Guatemala had become a mecca for socialist radicals including the young Che Guevara who in 1953 wrote to his family in Argentina; “Along the way I had the oppurtunity to pass through the dominions of the United Fruit … I have sworn before a picture of the old and mourned comrade Stalin that I won’t rest until I see these capitalist octopuses annihilated. In Guatemala I will perfect myself and achieve what I need to be an authentic revolutionary”.

Back in 1901 the government of Guatemala hired the UFCO to manage its postal service but by 1930 it had absorbed over twenty rival firms to become the largest employer in Central America. It held vast tracts of lands which it withheld from farmers who wanted a share of the banana trade.

It was this manipulation of land use rights which eventually led to a conflict with Arevalo’s successor, Jacobo Arbenz, who was elected on a promise to continue the reforms of his popular predecessor. Arbenz was no fool however – well aware of the Monroe Doctrine and the US policy of containment in an era of budding cold war suspicions, sought to distance himself – publicly at least – from some of the more radical leftist elements within Guatemala. After winning the presidential elections of 1950 with 65% of the vote, for instance, he promised to raise the standard of living by transforming the country into “an independent capitalist nation”.

Arbenz became increasingly radicalised however and it was the law of agrarian reform, passed in July 1952 that finally drew the ire of Washington. A memorandum from Director of Intelligence (Smith) to the Under Secretary of State (Bruce) dated Dec 12, 1952 talks of the Guatemalan government’s radical and nationalist policies’ that are mobilizing the hitherto politically inert peasantry’ and which have the support or acquiescence of almost all Guatemalans’. It also mentions the threat to large landholders and to certain foreign economic interests, especially the United Fruit Company’.

For the first time in Guatemalan history the government had responded to the needs of its indigenous population by attempting to rectify the deeply inegalitarian patterns of land ownership. Idle and state-owned land would be distributed to the landless and the former owners of the land were to be compensated with government bonds. But the value of the land was calculated on the basis of the cosy tax they had been paying, usually a fraction of its true value. And so, between 1953 and 1954 almost 9,000 square kilometres of land were redistributed to some 100,000 peasant families. The landowner most seriously affected by the reforms was the United Fruit Company, which only farmed around fifteen percent of its holdings, and thus lost about half of its property.

But El Pulpo’s tentacles were everywhere. The brother of the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs John Moore Cabot had once been president of United Fruit and Ed Whitman who was United Fruit’s principal lobbyist was married to President Eisenhower’s personal secretary, Ann Whitman. However, it was with the appointment of their own board member and largest shareholder Allen Dulles as head of Central Intelligence in Feb, 1953 that Arbenz’ days became truly numbered. His brother, John Foster Dulles was Secretary of State and pretty soon they both convinced Eisenhower to approve plans to overthrow the most popular government in Guatemala’s history.

In the event, Operation Washtub’s first step was to plant a phoney cache of Soviet arms in Nicaragua and then declare them the unequivocal evidence of nefarious ties to Moscow. As he relinquished his presidency under heavy bombardment on the night of June 27th, 1954, Arbenz called the invading army “a heterogeneous Fruit Company expeditionary force”. The following week, John Peurifoy, the US ambassador to Guatemala, flew the new government to Guatemala aboard a US Air Force plane. So, with the mopping up complete, Carlos Castillo, the son of a large landowner, was given the dictatorship – his party being the only one allowed run in the 1955 elections. In the end, the only recorded evidence uncovered by CIA operatives of Soviet influence’ were two bills to the Guatemalan Communist Party from a Moscow bookstore – for $22.95.

Thus ended ten years of “Spiritual Socialism”.

A Neverending Holocaust

The unconscious has a timeless, pulsatile function and if you were to ask what is a prevailing cause of crisis in this troubled region I would say it is the Israeli mind itself – a mind which needs to be expunged of its darknesses. For the entire process of Holocaust remembrance, of continually revisiting the events both in their public and private lives has obviously had an incalculably strong – and deleterious impact.

There are painful, recurring modes of renewing this compact with fate and these are inevitably transmitted through the generations. A son must deal with the fathers anger at his own powerlessness, the fathers narrative of forcibly subjected shame will bear heavily on him – a virulent offspring will never allow himself to be condemned to the same shameful subjugation. In time, this cruel and vengeful seed from history has come to shape their political discourse and the child who has been beaten now wreaks his own peculiar havoc on the world.

And now, as I recall watching Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, declare a unilateral ceasefire in the midst of their adjudged successes in Gaza it occurs to me that their leadership are indeed in dire need of some form of collective therapy. For, if the deaths of over 400 children are commensurate with having achieved their “objectives and beyond” you may well ask yourself how much further into the abyss they can stare – or how far the rest of the world can afford to let them.

Too far by now, it seems, if the popular support for the incursion/massacre and the swing to the right in the polls is anything to go by. If we were wont to anthropomorphise and characterise Israel how removed would its relations with the Palestinians be from the actions of a common sociopath. Some accuse Israel of playing the Holocaust card to engender sympathy and bolster support but you have to ask what are the deeper imprints on the collective psyche of Dachau, Buchenwald and Auschwitz? Let’s be honest, this barely oedipalised child can’t resist any opportunity to throw its American toys around the Middle East kindergarten. And there is undoubtedly a disturbing remnant echoing the horrors of the gas chambers and their actions seem increasingly more like the acting out of a vicious return of the repressed.

Let’s not also forget that it was Israel who first broke the ceasefire with Hamas back in November which triggered their firing of Qassams into Sdirot and beyond. And of course, no policy maker on the Israeli side is going to respond seriously to the charge that their “considered response” to rockets from Gaza is motivated by unresolved personal issues derived from the Holocaust. These are questions that belong to a different domain from the stages in which politics is carried out. This is not to say they aren’t relevant.

Herder made a name for himself characterising peoples by their inherent ”genius” and Ruth Benedict did much the same in “‘Patterns of Culture””. It was a viable analytic tool in the social sciences until recently – at any event we are always wont to characterise the peculiarity of a people whose customs and manners are strange to us. I realise Zionism was many years in the making and did not emerge from Hitler’s death camps but we cannot ignore profound formative events in the shaping of a nations character.

Usually when a nation attains sovereignty it is achieved at the expense of a departed tyranny such as found in the cases of post-war decolonisation or with the overthrow of an autocratic monarchy. In the case of Israel this sovereignty was attained on the back of landgrabs and ruthless suppressions, something many young settlers were blissfully unaware of until they were of an age to learn of the injustices meted out by their forebears. There are by now too many uncomfortable similarities with the depravities of the Third Reich. The Gaza strip has been declared by many to be the world’s largest open-air concentration camp with the trade embargo having left most of the population below the poverty line. When they managed to tunnel underneath the Rafah crossing and fling open the barricades a third of the population swamped nearby Egyptian towns to stock up on bare necessities such as soap, fuel and water.

Within the stratified West Bank with all its demarcations and no-go zones, we have the harassment and monitoring of checkpoints, the production of identity cards, the continual marshalling from place to place – the intent it seems to ensure insecurity of domicile for the Palestinians. The occupied territories themselves often have the feel of a liminal ghost-like state within international law. Much like the inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto must have felt like when they were being corralled and herded like cattle.

How can the form in which the settlements have taken here be construed as anything other than an inducement to rebellion and violence? The checkpoints have become less a deterrent for would be homicide bombers and more a means of brutally asserting internal regulation because the majority of them are between Palestinian controlled areas within the West Bank and not gateways to Israel itself. “Contiguity” is the current buzz word and the Israeli authorities have been trying to maintain unsuccessfully that this has been somehow achieved by the meandering snakes neck of a wall that loops appropriately here and there to embrace precious groundwater reservoirs and further cut off formerly integrated communities – a ‘Star of David’ form of apartheid if ever there was one.

Israel can now scarcely be conceived a credible state actor in any reasonable world.  Unfortunately, however, we do not appear to be living in one and if I was Hamas I dare say I’d throw everything I’ve got at them too.

Insanity is the only recourse in the face of their daily horror.

Wilson’s King-Crane Commission

It would be an understatement to say that the Arabs of Palestine were unanimously opposed to the establishment of either a Jewish state or of any large-scale immigration of Jews – or any peoples at all for that matter- into their region. They expressed as much consternation towards Zionism as the Irish for instance would today if the province of Leinster were cordoned off and declared the domain of Greater Nigeria. In fact, the 1917 Balfour Declaration made no mention of securing an Israeli state within Palestine only committing Britain to facilitate the establishment within Palestine of “a national home for the Jewish people” and then only on the condition that “nothing may be done which shall prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities ..” .

When Woodrow Wilson set up the King-Crane Commission in 1919 to investigate the feasibility of the Zionist project it reported that the independent nation of Palestine’ were emphatically opposed’ to the entire Zionist programme whilst the Zionists themselves “looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine” – which at the time comprised over 90% of the population. Correctly gauging the entire project to be ill-conceived from the onset it concluded by expressing “a deep sense of sympathy for the Jewish cause” but ultimately recommended the limitation of Jewish immigration and the abandonment of the goal of a Jewish state on the grounds that it would be “a gross violation of the principle of self-determination .. and of the people’s rights”.

The Commission was the only international study group ever charged with consulting the views of Palestinian Arabs on the Zionist question and could see clearly from reactions it received on the ground that the seeds for perpetual war would be sown if immigration proceeded apace. Its recommendations went largely ignored due in no small part to cloudy emotive reasoning such as evidenced by Balfour himself who in a moment of Shangri-La-ism declared that; “Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit the ancient land.”

Wilson’s fourteen points and the much vaunted Covenant of the League of Nations went out the window under the British Mandate – along with Arab calls for autonomy and representative government. This is most clearly shown by the powerlessness of the indigenous Arab population to prevent the immigration of some 400,000 Jewish settlers between 1920 and 1945 – an influx considerably hastened, it may be added, by the anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia and Europe.

Nevertheless, the indigenous Arab population have always viewed this process as an enforced usurpation, an appraisal that David Ben Gurion himself acknowledged when he said in 1938 at the height of the Arab nationalist revolt; “in our political argument abroad, we minimize Arab opposition to us .. but let us not ignore the truth among ourselves . politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves the country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country, while we are still outside”.  He went on to characterise the revolt as an active resistance by the Palestinians to what they regard as an “usurpation of their homeland by the Jews ”

Israel declared independence on the 14th May 1948, the day the British Mandate expired. It is commemorated annually in the national holiday of Yom Ha’atzmaud. For Palestinians it is known simply as Yawm al-nakba, or Catastrophe Day. The subsequent wars, refugeeism and atrocities (committed by both sides) have cruelly vindicated the early reservations of the Crane Commission and as bad as they have been we can only hope that their worst impacts do not yet lay before us.

Remembering Patrice Lumumba

The legacy of Patrice Lumumba is reflected in the pan-African aims, institutions and policies of the African Union and in the guiding ethos behind the adoption of the Ezulwini Consensus, which proposes a permanent African seat in a reformed United Nations Security Council. His ability to evoke so powerfully the extent of his people’s subjugation derived from a rare understanding of the inherent duplicity of the colonial discourse. As Jean Van Lierde put it;

“He was the only Congolese leader who rose above the ethnic difficulties and tribal preoccupations that destroyed all the other parties. Lumumba was the first real pan-African.”

Seeing clearly these machinations he gave little thrift to King Baudouin’s 1960 Independence Day assertion that the Congo had benefited “from the genius of Leopold”. He could have remained seated and held his tongue but instead stood up and systematically denounced the horrors of Belgian rule. Perhaps the Belgians had the measure of the man and knew because he was one of those rare souls who pined more than anything for justice for his people he would be thus unable to contain himself when Baudouin produced this litany of inflammatory nonsense extolling the virtues of the monstrous Leopold. If this were the case, then they achieved their ends superbly.

Leopold, for his part, halved the 20 million or so population of the Congo Free State in fifteen years. He was motivated not by ideology or necessity but pure greed – the rubber boom had his mind warped by the pursuit of profit. Worst still, he had the hypocrisy of cloaking it all under the veneer of philanthropy and done everything to halt the publication of British Consul, Roger Casement’s report on the atrocities. Leopold was a truly loathsome creature who made even the 1885 Berlin Conference’s pathetic entreaties on human rights look respectable. Lumumba, however, unrehearsed and constitutionally incapable of sustaining the colonial lie, responded on the spot;

“Fighters for independence, today victorious… I salute you in the name of the Congolese government. All of you, my friends who’ve unstintingly fought at our side. We have known mockery, insults… blows from morning to night… because we were negroes. We knew that the law was never the same… for whites and blacks. Who will forget the firing squads… the brutal arrests of those who refused to bow… to the regime of injustice, oppression and exploitation. Belgium has understood the price… that we attach to our liberty and dignity. She understands that we Congolese… will not be hostile. We just want to abolish the colonial system…that was the shame of the twentieth century.”

The Belgian ranks were horrified and Baudouin’s moustache twitched with rage. The following day every international newspaper and local radio station carried the headlines and talked of this “outrageous snub”. Africans themselves were stunned, unused to such defiance. Kasavubu, blinkered by his desire to see a resurgent Kikongo kingdom and offered empty assurances on such by the Belgian paymasters annulled Lumumba’s premiership after he had raised the pay of native Congolese in the armed ranks. Larry Devlin, CIA station chief, was given orders, apparently directly from Eisenhower to “get rid of this man”, who was not “our kind of guy” who would humbly play ball, unlike their protege Mobuto who was being groomed as a counterfoil to a deeply exaggerated and poorly understood Soviet “expansion”. Mobuto would eventually run the country into the ground, preparing more than anything the seeds for a Congolese Civil War in 1998-2003 that would claim 5 million lives, the largest death toll in a conflict since World War II. Devlin was given a tube of poisonous toothpaste which he could slip into Lumumba’s quarters but eventually decided for himself that to assassinate him would be disastrous for the US’s long term interests in the region.

Lumumba was eventually arrested when he tried to halt the Katangan secessionists with the help of a small thousand-strong Soviet troop detachment. Lumumba had declared repeatedly that he was not a communist and nothing in his programme for government suggested he had any intentions of developing a centrally planned economy. The UN had promised to dispatch forces but when they arrived they did nothing to interfere with the Katangan rebels. Katanga, a fifth of it’s land area, was the richest province in the Congo and this uprising was supported surreptitiously by the Belgians with the help of local governor Moise Chombe aka the ‘cash register’ or ‘the Jew’ as Gerard Soete described him, the Belgian police officer who was eventually charged with dismembering Lumumba and burning his remains in acid.

Earlier, when Lumumba had slipped under the net of the Belgian authorities and was making good his escape through the rough interior of the Congolese jungle he was compelled by tribal leaders through each village he passed to give them a briefing on the “real” independence struggle, as opposed to the propaganda now emanating from Kinshasha. Thousands gathered at each of these multiple stops and despite reports of Mobuto’s men closing in, Lumumba, with scant regard for his own personal safety would stay for hours at a time to impress upon all the need to abandon their divisive tribalism and adopt the pan-African philosophy of political engagement, which he had learnt from his mentor Joshua Nkrumah in Ghana.

In the end, it was this passion to engage his people, at all costs, which led to his capture. Mobuto’s forces caught up with him, took him to Katanga, and there, under the eye of the Belgian authorities, was brutally murdered. His family weren’t even given a body to mourn; they were told he had tried to escape and was slain by local villagers. A pathetic fabrication that fooled no-one, least of all Laurent Kabila, one of his most able deputies, who fled to South Kivu, just north of Katanga, where he would wait almost thirty years before having the satisfaction of deposing the autocratic stooge with a penchant for palace-building, Mobuto.

Patrice’s daughter, Julianna Lumumba, who remembers sitting quietly in his study while he penned letters to party supporters back in the late 50’s and who is now the Secretary-General of the African Union’s Chamber of Commerce has called his murder a “crime against humanity”. She is not bitter, however, and instead shares her father’s compassion and broader understanding. I will leave you finally the with the words of his friend Jean Van Lierde, a salutary reminder to that invidious dimension of colonial paternalism that found itself incapable and unwilling of absorbing the most passionate voices of dissent;

“The image he projected, by his use of vocabulary and his manner, frightened some people. He gave the impression that he was not a man who could be dominated. And a man who could not be dominated was dangerous.”

Land, the Media and Mugabe by Bob Seery



Anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave will come to expect a very predictable viewpoint expressed in the media on the subject of Robert Mugabe. We are told variously that he is a tyrant, a dictator or a monster and that his policies have turned Zimbabwe from breadbasket to basket case. All of this nonsense is unpalatable garbage of course but the wonder is that this myth has managed to sustain itself for so long. My only explanation is that when it comes to the punch most international journalists are willing to write anything that sells copy. Off hand, I can still remember what Mugabe said when there was accusations of tampering in the elections of 2002; “They talk to us of human rights, there was no human rights here, none at all, until the people of Zimbabwe began to fight”.

The thing is that most foreign press, academics and bureaucrats are institutionally hot-wired to accept the dominant explanatory narrative emanating from their respective political centres when it comes to issues of foreign policy, and especially when all their interests are entwined. All of it, the great tidal wave of negative emotion directed at that this single person has been deliberately engineered in response to the decision by the ZANU government to “allow” the War Veteran’s Association to reclaim thousands of hectares of prime arable land held almost exclusively by a white minority of the population. That is the issue in a nutshell. There are no other issues in Zimbabwe. Elections get rigged all the time in the developing world so we’re told and cholera is an ever-present, along with so many other deficits inherent in having a cash-strapped economy but when rich whites in Africa have their property forcibly seized by native blacks the heads of political mandarins everywhere begin spinning. Their world-view has been completely subverted and they are left with having to displace and falsify an essentially social phenomenon by licensing a campaign of personal demonisation.

What is at stake in any potentially seismic historical event if not ownership and control over the means by which that event will be depicted and portrayed to the world? Underneath the glossy fodder that we are fed daily; the spinball concoctions of the campaign trail, the market prices, the jobs figures, lies an uncomfortable reality attached to the ownership of the world’s resources. They are generally speaking not owned by indigenous peoples any more but held privately by corporate multinationals and wealthy investors. Just recently, for the first time since the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia there were more people living in urban centres than making a living plowing their own land. There are many factors at play of course; the attraction of ‘higher standards of living’ is often cited, but for the majority of those who have become integrated into the cities the choice was not theirs to make – land has been appropriated from them either indirectly through the withdrawal of supports and subsidies, through competition with cut-price mass produced agricultural goods or through forced government seizures. Many of these dispossessed are now filling the slums and shanty towns on the outskirts of the very cities whom their land now feeds.

What the fuss is about with Mugabe and it is still is a considerable one despite the Unity Government is the question of his “re-seizure” land policy being repeated elsewhere; in South Africa, Namibia, Kenya or Botswana, all areas with comparable distortions in land ownership between whites and blacks. This is not a racial issue but one to do with the inequitable concentration of land ownership. Further afield we may look to Latin America whose swing to the left has been largely abetted by populist leaders promising either redistributive land reform or the more equitable sharing of raw resources. Fifty years ago, when most African countries had yet to decolonise, many of it’s brightest and most promising students received scholarships to study in Joshua Nkomo’s newly liberated Ghana. The philosophy here was simple; in order to survive, the new post-colonial states had to transcend their tribal differences and embrace the principles of pan-Africanism. Robert Mugabe was one of the earliest graduates and when he returned home he was quickly elevated to the leadership of ZANU. It was to be oppressed and driven underground and Mugabe would spend ten years in Smith’s jails in Rhodesia, essentially risking his life so that his people could cast a vote.

Leaders within the African Union would find it laughable at the media’s distortion of Mugabe’s character were it not for their awareness they too could be next in line for this focused villification by the west. It is no accident that China has become the heaviest investor in the continent. When the largest delegation of heads of African state ever to assemble on a foreign soil were greeted with a red carpet reception by the Chinese authorities three years ago one of the first words of the host was to comment on their mutual history of colonisation. When has the EU or the US ever attempted to hold a gathering of this nature? They don’t extend them this courtesy for the simple reason that they’ve always viewed and treated them as vassals of their own extended sphere of influence. Moreover, the Chinese were welcome to do business as they don’t lay down the endless conditionalities to assistance; the “neo-colonial” forced privatisations of natural resources in exchange for aid, debt relief and balance of payments support; a system which only fosters the corruption we never tire of talking about.

Mugabe has been villified not because he doesn’t uphold human rights but because he’s actually stuck his head above the parapet and attempted to enforce them. This process of his demonisation has been facilitated by the cross-pollination of share ownership with boards of directors at Newscorp, Time Warner and the other half a dozen media conglomerates that determine what’s on the global menu on any given day and what we’ll all be gabbling about over breakfast being indistinguishable in aims and ambitions from the rest of the Fortune 500 who have key investments to protect in the developing world. Open markets and porous borders certainly, but above all the sanctity of private inward investment.

The premium value of land has now become apparent with the rush to biofuels and the need to produce more grain to feed the livestock that will have to supply the increasing protein demands of growing populations and GDPs in south east Asia, a need which makes apparent the level of urgency with which “Capital” attended the Zimbabwean decoupling from the Washington Consensus.

Darfur Intervention throttled by Israel/Palestine

Some have argued that Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court should be forced to halt indictment proceedings against Sudanese President al-Bashir by invoking Article 16 of the Rome Statute on the grounds that the country is at least ‘stable’ and that we don’t want it to turn into ‘another Somalia’.

Well, I don’t think there’s anything particularly stable about it and its already proven worse than Somalia. I mean how many independently commissioned reports and fact-finding missions are required to mobilise the international community into action?

Yes, intervention is necessary and the threat of a Chinese veto is not an insuperable obstacle; they did after all abstain along with the US on the vital Security Council Resolution 1593 that gave the ICC the original mandate to pursue their investigations. The 2010 downturn will significantly impact Chinese demand for imported crude and we should work to ensure that it is the Sudanese exports that are curtailed. Sudan’s allies in the Arab League, OPEC and the Organisation of Islamic’s Conference can be brought onside by a reinvigorated commitment to a two-state solution for Palestine – a return to the 1967 borders. There is no point any more in pretending that these two issues aren’t inextricably linked.

Now to the supposedly stable situation on the ground. We have a stalled peace process which has managed at least to produce a workable blueprint document – the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement – but there are at least a dozen rebel groups; mainly splinter factions from the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) who have refused to endorse it. This should not come as a surprise given that Bashir’s National Islamic Front have already proven themselves poor parties by backtracking on commitments given in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed with the South in 2005. This treaty, which ended the 21yr civil war with the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) provided for an equitable allocation of oil revenues along with a referendum on secession to be held in 2011. It is in reality a peace even more fragile than the non-existent one with the rebel factions in Darfur. Smugglers in the region openly confess to being in for a quick kill; once the referendum on secession is put to the vote “poof”, they say, they will go back to war.

It has to be remembered that the North and South have only once stopped fighting since Sudanese Independence in 1956 – a brief  eight year period between 1974 and 1983. The second civil war began as Chevron discovered oil in the South and the Arab North duly antagonised a rebellion by making Sharia law compulsory for the southern Christians and animists.

Even within the context of the limited value of the DPA which has now produced a more representative transitional authority’ under Milla Minawi’s SLA, the government in Khartoum has yet to withdraw funding and support for the Janjaweed’s militia and to provide the compensation stipulated in the agreement for the dispossessed Darfur populations. Much of the Janjaweed itself has now reportedly fractured and is turning its guns on one another, the Khartoum government, rebel groups in Chad and members of the hybrid AU/UN peacekeeping mission (UNAMID). According to some observers, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement reached between Khartoum and the mainly Christian SPLA in the South will be further jeopardised if the DPA is eventually agreed upon. The SPLA say that a revision of this will be a disaster since its settlements in the CPA refer to the entire region of Sudan; a situation they say will have to be reversed if the referendum on autonomy for the three regions of Darfur, as agreed in the DPA, goes ahead as projected in 2010. The SPLA have fought hard for representation in Khartoum and seem to be viewing the peace talks as a threat to their interests – but this shouldn’t be the case given the natural alliances, on material grounds alone, between themselves and the Darfur rebel coalition.

There is also the further potentially destabilising factor of the involvement of Sudan’s neighbours. The Eritrean and Chad governments have been reportedly funding the rebel groups in Darfur and through the Eastern Front rebel alliance while Sudan itself has been funding rebel groups in Chad. There are additionally reports of the Lords Resistance Army raiding village settlements in southern Sudan, an action which has seen the SPLA authorities there arming civilians and villagers; further compromising internal security. I myself know some people from the Fur region – a member of the JEM who was in peace talks in Tripoli taught me anthropology 15 yrs ago, and he in fact recently gave me a copy of the famous Black Book which was distributed in mosques back in 2000. Much of the resentment among the black Muslims arrives from their exclusion from major administrative posts – whilst this is a fact and is well documented in the Black Book – there is a popular notion that it has been done so on the grounds that their Islamism isn’t as ‘pure’ as that practised by the northern Sudanese in the ‘Arab belt’ – a dangerous half-truth that could further ethnicise the conflict.

The consolidation of Arab power in the north was actively pursued by Ghadafi back in the 80’s and he has been consistently vocal in support of a policy of non-intervention. The Arab League have always viewed the Sudanese government as one of the principal vanguards of the ‘Islamic Resurgence’ (to use Huntingdon’s phrase) – and see nothing but ‘double standards’ from the ICC on account of their inaction over Palestine. The fact that the Chinese have provided military and technical support in exchange for crude is tempered by the observation that the US has had oil companies in the south for decades. Though President Clinton imposed sanctions on Sudan in 1997 and declared them a state that ‘supports terrorism’ the Heuston-based Marathon Oil have only recently (2008) sold their stake in the Abyei southern block – to France’s Total. Having said this, the US are the only members of the Security Council not vacillating over an Article 16 suspension and therefore are the best chance for seeing objective justice being performed on behalf of the people of Darfur.

In brief then, there is nothing inherently stable about any of this. Ocampo should be allowed proceed with his brief and as Chief Prosecutor should be given the power to over-ride an attempted suspension of the issue of an arrest warrant. The ICC must surely be allowed and be seen to be an autonomous body capable of independent action, otherwise what’s its point. Besides which, the further the indictment is pushed the more leverage can be put on Khartoum to honour its commitments in the DPA; withdrawal of forces and compensation. Both the terms of the DPA and CPA should be revisited with suitable international moderation with a view to synchronising their respective referenda on secession. This should be enough to tempt the rebel splinter groups back into the process; those that don’t should be outlawed – at the end of the day they are being offered an autonomous government and a new constitution. Their security concerns can be addressed by a beefed up AU and UN mission. But none of this can be achieved without the co-operation of the Arab League, which is why, as always, we are drawn back to the Israeli/Palestine conflict and, who knows,perhaps Ocampo’s next brief will be the Israeli war cabinet of Olmert, Livni and Barak.

Somali Piracy – Solutions lie on land, not at sea

The current problem of piracy resides in the collapse of the Somali state back in 1991. Until such time as a legitimate government is installed, which importantly, has the support and confidence of the majority of the population, will we be in a position to see the territorial integrity of the Somali coastline restored.

Many of the prisoners languishing in the jails of coastal towns in Puntland are former fisherman charged with piracy. It is known that once the anarchy began and the Somali state was no longer capable of protecting the integrity of its coastline, foreign fishing vessels swooped in and drastically overfished their waters. Today’s catch is on average 10% of what it was a decade ago. Many of the pirates aren’t fisherman at all of course, just opportunists looking to make a quick buck and were it not for the lives being put at risk, I would generally be in favour of any measure that transferred largesse from foreign multinationals, into the African economy.

Be that as it may, in the meantime, corrective measures fall far short of what is required because the costs are just too prohibitive. Currently there are some 20 warships patrolling an area of 1.1 million sq. miles in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. It is estimated that it would take 140 warships to fully secure the Gulf of Aden and ten times that amount to secure transit in the Indian Ocean. So merchant ships are often left to provide their own security measures. Some use barbed wire and hose pipes and other “passive” deterrents, while others prefer more aggressive methods but at the end of the day the solution lies on land, not at sea.

The Transitional Federal Government which is now attempting to secure Mogadishu, has received the support of the UN, the EU and the US but it may be suffering from a crisis of legitimacy among the Somali people themselves.

There are three reasons for this as far as I can tell;

(1) The government was not elected by the people.

It received it’s mandate from the Djibouti peace process and these “elected” representatives are powerful figures drawn from the four “noble” clans. It thus appears to be perpetuating the very divisions that sowed so much discord in the aftermath of the civil war when the major warlords emerged. Recent internal wrangling has stemmed from clan divisions with each clan and sub-clan looking for more representation. This is a major distraction to the real problems at hand.

Even the Federal Charter of the TFG allows a minimum number of major posts to be allotted to members of either the Darod, Dir, Hawiye and Isaaq clans. This may appear to be a natural response to practical exigencies, reflective of the real politik of powerbrokers but it as yet remains essentially undemocratic. The mass of resignations that accompanied Pres. Yusuf Ahmed’s decision to sack his last Prime Minister seemed to be made entirely on the perception that their clan had somehow been shafted or sidelined in favour of another. There seems to be a fundamental class cleavage here with the (externally) engrafted political class, alienated from the conditions of ordinary Somalis on the ground.

(2) The invasion of Ethiopian troops at the end of 2006 to secure Mogadishu for the installment of the TFG, was a disaster.

This only reinforced the impression that the TFG were ‘stooges of Ethiopia’. Ethiopia is a secular government with roughly 70% Christian population, whereas Somalia is almost wholly Sunni Muslim. They were referred to as ‘Crusaders’ in some quarters. Even more, it has been well attested that the only brief period of law and order enjoyed by Somali’s in the past decade and a half, was the six month interval in which the Islamic Courts Union held authority in the southern half of the country.

According to the respected Somali human rights campaigner, Salia Ali Aden, women could leave their homes without fear of being raped or robbed, vast municipal clear up projects were begun, a viable corridor for humanitarian aid was set up and the dreaded warlords responsible for so much random violence, kidnappings and the pilfering of this aid were finally expelled from the cities. Whatever one’s personal prejudices towards Shari’a Law are, it appeared to be a solution that worked for the Somalis themselves and one in which they vested much confidence. It was organic and grew wholly naturally from the grassroots – a Somali solution to a Somali problem that didn’t require outside intervention.

The International Crisis Group, in an influential study, has shown that the decision by the CIA to financially support these same warlords (who were initially ran out of Mogadishu by the ICU), has had the unsurprising effect of further radicalising Islamists. Many of those from the ICU who may have joined the TFG/Djibouti process of inclusion, have instead opted to align themselves with either Al-Shabata or Hizbul Islam – the splinter groups that emerged from the ICU.

The decision by the US to designate the former a terrorist organisation, has been greeted with some satisfaction by its leaders – membership at once shot up and they are now the most powerful entity in the region. This brings us to the third factor which has undermined the TFG’s credibility;

(3) The radical groups that have emerged from the ICU, espouse the populist doctrine of Pan-Somalism.

The perception that the TFG is aligned with Ethiopia, whose troops stand accused of killing 7,000 civilians during the two year occupation, means that the Ogaden separatists and those who support them within Somalia are more likely to align themselves with Shabata. Siad Barre, in an attempt to dilute the power of the clans back in ’77, prosecuted a war with Ethiopia over the Ogaden region which is populated almost entirely by ethnic Somalis.

Lying in the east of Ethiopia, it is now called Somali Region and for the past two years due to the escalating activities of the Ogaden National Liberation Front, it has been subject to a virtual media blackout. Back in 2006, nine Chinese oil workers were executed by the ONLF and reporters from the New York Times who went to cover the story were arrested and imprisoned for five days.

Brutal reprisals to match a determined nationalist upsweling are undoubtedly taking place in this area, yet little or no reliable information is emerging. A recent submission to the US sub-committee on Foreign Affairs revealed an air of trepidation that their Ethiopian allies in the region may be roughing it too much here – further increasing the likelihood that both confrontations will eventually dovetail.

Until the Federal Government of Somalia secures legitimacy in the eyes of its people, piracy – the symptom of this malaise – will continue to express itself.

Anthropocide – A Last Gasp for Gaia?

One of the virtues of the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is that they must be seen to transcend ideological debates in order to present scientifically rigorous data. Written to inform the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and predating Kyoto ratification they are intended as the principle contribution towards debates on international policy formation. Though not intended to dictate policy they nevertheless presuppose a steady increase in anthropogenic Green House Gas emission rates. Thus, the narrative of the IPCC’s ‘Special Report on the Regional Impacts of Climate Change’ is most often embedded in an imagined future-world of 750 parts per million volume CO2.

In the section dealing with the effects of climate change on Africa some ammunition is supplied to the right of the political spectrum through several examples of ‘positive’ transformations. For instance, in a doubly concentrated CO2 atmosphere C3 crop species such as wheat, rice, barley, cassava and potato will increase their water-use efficiency (WUE) and C4 plants such as maize, sugercane and sorghum will remain relatively unaffected. Also, grasslands will become more resilient to drought and highlands will become more suitable for cropping due to increased temperatures and the lack of frost. Under optimum conditions of nutrient availability overall biomass can increase by an estimated 300% . However, the overall message is clear; temperature rises will significantly increase the hardships already encountered by the average African.

Case studies of the Nile and Zambezi basins showed that ‘runoff decreases in these basins even when precipitation increases, due to the large hydrological role played by evaporation’ . Rising temperatures will thus increase the rate of evapotranspiration and reduce the runoff that supplies an already diminishing water-table. The report admits that its Global Climate Models have ‘no model memory of groundwater depletion in the preceding year’ and so they dramatically underestimate the effects that back to back droughts can have on reservoir levels, food security, agriculture and water quality itself. More worryingly, the report adds; “The temperature-precipitation-CO2 forcing of seasonal drought probably is less significant than the prospect of large-scale circulation changes that drive continental droughts that occur over several years. A change in the frequency and duration of atmosphere-ocean anomalies, such as the ENSO phenomenon, could force such large-scale changes in Africa’s rainfall climatology.” (1)

A major criticism of the Atmosphere – Ocean Global Climate Models used in the 2001 IPCC Third Assessment Report such as the Hadley CM3 is that they do not include positive biosphere feedbacks. Likewise the 35 Special Reports on Emissions Scenarios that provide the raw data for these models are based upon demographic, technological and economic ‘driving forces’ that exclude consideration of alterations in ecosystem dynamics once the temperature rises resulting from these changes actually begin to occur. It seems extraordinary that we can readily quantify data relating to the shrinking of the per capita income gap ratio between developed and developing countries and somehow extrapolate from these imponderable complexities an emissions value that can be used as a variable in climate modelling, yet we cannot, for example, track the path of non-sentient methane molecules escaping uniformly from a melting permafrost.

Development professionals will be no doubt delighted to be informed that the worst case scenario with respect to the per capita income gap between ‘North and ‘ South’ is a ratio of 9:1. Given that the gap has in reality widened from 16:1 in 1990 to today’s 25:1 it is to be hoped that this particular speculation is not reflective of the quality of the science found elsewhere in the document. However, this is a critique perhaps that belongs elsewhere, for the present we must note that the consensus viewpoint urges us towards talk of “global mean temperature rises” but what is most striking, in fact, if the data can be relied upon, is the non-uniform manner in which these rises are taking place.

Thus, in the HadCM3 coupled ocean-atmosphere climate change model depicting temperatures for the year 2100 using the IS92a scenario (used in the IPCC SAR) which assumes ‘mid-range economic growth’ with ‘no measures to reduce GHG emissions’, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have doubled from present day levels.

In this scenario it is noted that ‘business as usual’ unregulated emissions will result in a differential distribution of temperature increases and the greatest increases will occur precisely in those areas that have the potential to produce the largest positive feedbacks; the Antarctic ice sheets, the Amazonian rainforest and the methane held in ice clathrates in the Western Siberian permafrost. According to Sergei Kirpotin, a botanist at Tomsk State University, the western Siberian sub-arctic region has warmed faster than almost anywhere else on the planet, with an increase in average temperatures of some 3°C in the last 40 years. The permafrost concerned covers a peat bog the size of France and Germany combined and contains some 70 billion tonnes of methane. To put this figure into perspective we may note that in the decade or so of consciousness raising since the landmark Earth summit at Rio in 1992 total global emissions have risen from 20 billion tonnes CO2 equivalent to over 27 billion tonnes CO2 e today. As we know, methane has a strong global warming potential over a 100yr period; its molecule is 22 times more effective than carbon dioxide at absorbing solar radiation. However, over a shorter time period, such as twenty years, its GWP is 64 times that of CO2. So, if only 1% of this total were emitted over the next decade and assuming a loss of half that figure again due to an air fraction ratio of 50%-60% we would still have an atmosphere engorged with an extra 21.4 billion tonnes of CO2e.

Moreover, there are positive feedbacks to be considered as the melting of shiny reflective surfaces reduces the natural albedo effect and the newly exposed dark under surface instead becomes a net absorber of energy thereby increasing overall ambient temperature. Kirpotin noted that melting in this region had only begun in the last 3 or 4 years so some kind of threshold may have already been reached. The question is how rapidly will this gas be released and in what form because under certain conditions the methane may oxidise to form carbon dioxide. The sudden release of methane hydrates have been implicated in at least two of the five ‘great’ extinction level events; the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum and the Permian-Triassic extinction event or as geologists refer to it ‘The Great Dying’.

However, this is only one major ecosystem among thousands in the natural world that function as complex open systems. Relations in these systems are always non-linear meaning the effect is not necessarily proportional to the cause. In chaos theory a small perturbation, ‘the butterfly’, in the initial conditions of a dynamic system may produce large scale variations over the long term behaviour of that system. Peter Cox of the Hadley centre estimates that a temperature rise of only 2°C ‘ is all that is required to turn rainfall patterns upside down, leaving the Amazon dry, and prone to all-consuming fires that will sweep across thousands of kilometres’. The Amazon forest, the ‘lungs of the earth’ currently absorbs one tenth of the total carbon we emit each year. Could this be the ‘butterfly’ that consumes Gaia? The truth is we cannot know for certain, but what we do know is that the further temperature deviates from its current levels today’s improbabilities are more likely to become tomorrow’s certainties.

So what has been the international policy response to over three decades of environmental lobbying culminating in the contributions of thousands of scientific specialists worldwide who are unanimous in the view that ‘the question is not whether climate will change in response to human activities, but rather how much (magnitude), how fast (the rate of change) and where (regional patterns)? Is the Kyoto Protocol, a legally binding international treaty which finally came into force on February 16th 2005 and which commits ‘developed’ countries to reduce their GHG emissions by 5.2% by the year 2012 compared to 1990 levels capable of being the panacea its drafters hope for?

First of all, its ratifiers amount to only 61% of global emissions; Australia and the US (who alone produces a quarter of the world’s emissions) have refused to sign. For those on board, national politics can have a decisive influence over the efficacy of future compliance. Canada, whose emissions are currently some 60% above 1990 levels and who, if the Protocol were to be strictly enforced would in my estimates be liable for a fine of between $4 and $6billion have, unfortunately, returned the Conservatives in their recent general election. Stephen Harper, the Conservative leader, said during the campaign that he would abandon Canada’s Kyoto target and ‘that the Liberals’ plan would force Ottawa and polluting industries to buy billions of dollars worth of emissions credits from other countries’. The centrepiece of the Liberal’s plan was a $5 billion Climate Fund, which would pay $15 to farmers, businesses, government agencies and others for every tonne of greenhouse gas reductions achieved by small and medium-sized projects. Bill Hare, of Greenpeace International described the result as ‘not a positive development’.

The UNFCCC’s Richard Kinley reports that ‘as a whole, developed countries emissions in 2003 were down 5.9% compared to 1990 levels‘. This figure, however, is achieved almost entirely on the back of the massive drop in emissions that followed post-1990 economic stagnation for the ‘transitional’ economies of Eastern Europe. All Annex 1 countries or developed countries negotiate their own quota for the first period of implementation (2005-08). If they succeed in limiting emissions below this margin they are given the option to sell quotas to those countries who exceed their limits. Japan has set theirs at 6%, the EU at 8% and Russia, because of its massive drop in emissions from 3billion CO2e to 1.8 billion CO2e have been presented with special arrangements to ensure that their not in the absurd position of making billions of dollars of profit from trading unused and, in fact, unusable quotas. Within the European Emissions Trading Scheme (EETS) a ton of carbon has stabilised at around 25 euro while the penalty for a company overshooting its quota is 45 euro per ton. For the EU, the scheme at present only covers six key sectors; steel, energy, cement, glass, brick making, and paper/cardboard; industries that compose some 60% of emissions. A monitoring and evaluation system is currently in place to assess the difficulties posed by further extensions that will have to include other key areas such as transport.

A caveat to this implied market incentivisation to transfer ecologically sound technologies is the arguments put forward by Gregory C. Unruh with respect to ‘carbon lock-in’. He argues that a Techno-Institutional Complex has developed through a path dependent, co-evolutionary process and points especially to the many inter-related components of many carbon fuelled technologies and their relationships to networks of supply and demand that have succeeded in entrenching fossil fuel dependency. According to Nick Robins of Henderson Global Investors the EETS has created an estimated 35billion euro market and Chris Rowland, a City analyst, in typically upbeat mode calls it “ possibly the biggest change the European utilities industry has seen since the industrial revolution”. Many find the logic of emissions trading irresistible and argue that as along as the fines remain sufficiently high and are strictly enforceable (which they appear to be otherwise the market for cheaper quotas would have collapsed)that in ideal circumstances the system is capable of forcing businesses into seeing that the adoption of renewable energy alternatives is their only cost-effective way to stay in the marketplace. What the green lobby must do, and there hasn’t been too much evidence of it as yet, is to continually press for greater fines thereby driving up the price of carbon credits.

Many critics of Kyoto rightly focus on the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and the questionable allocation of carbon credits to companies who have initiated carbon sequestration projects (such as tree plantations) whose precise value in terms of alleviating GHG emissions is notoriously difficult to define. Graham Erion argues for instance that; “75% of all carbon credits certified to date are for projects capturing landfill gas (methane) or hydro fluorocarbons, neither of which contribute to sustainable development but generate enormous carbon credits as their gasses are much more potent than carbon dioxide”. CDM’s, by their nature will inevitably produce a flurry of applications from questionable projects. Applicants must be penalised heavily for evidently wasting the CDM Executive Board’s time with ludicrous claims. One supplier of anti-flatulence supplements for cattle in Uganda, for instance, has claimed thousands for his novel methane reduction measures. More serious is the saga of the Brazilian Plantar project’s attempt to secure millions of carbon credits for 21,000 hectares of eucalyptus trees which will eventually be felled to provide charcoal for pig-iron processing. Despite the fact that Plantar have been using eucalyptus for this very purpose for the past 20yrs they are claiming that this ‘new’ plantation is an ‘avoidable fuel-switch’, a transfer to a more GHG friendly technology and ‘threatens’ in the absence of being granted credits, to resort to using fossil fuels. The corporations in the state of Minas Gerais acquired the land during the military dictatorship of the 60’s and 70’s and in the process of expelling the Tupinikim and Guarani Indigenous peoples burned millions of hectares of ‘cerrado’ (native vegetation) and atlantic forest. Researchers for the World Rainforest Movement assessing Plantar’s claim for certification discovered that the ‘cerrado’ itself made up at least 20% of the fuel for the pig-iron processing.

Sinkwatch rightly points to the hypocrisy of the World Bank’s disproportionate funding of fossil fuel projects whilst vaunting its Kyoto credentials through the support of carbon projects. It may also be added that the entire thrust of IMF/World Bank ‘structural adjustment’, be it called SAP, ESAF or PRSP by switching subsidies from subsistence production to export cash-cropping and facilitating a trade liberalisation that undercuts domestic suppliers has transformed formerly food-sovereign rural homesteads into areas for nitrate-intensive monoculturing. The surplus labour force is then readily absorbed by the now ubiquitous Export Processing Zones and their ‘wage’ integrated into the unsustainable consumption patterns of urban life.

It is worth bearing in mind that carbon projects under the CDM, Joint Implementation (JI) and the World Bank’s Prototype Carbon Fund as yet constitute a relatively small proportion of the overall carbon market but their potential for unravelling the ‘spirit‘ of Kyoto cannot be underestimated. In the village of Chapaldi, India, women who make biofuel from pongamia seeds and use it to power a small electricity grid and irrigation pumps, sold, in 2003, 900 tons of CO2e emissions to Germany for $4,164; ‘the equivalent of a year’s income’ our reporters jubilantly observe. While this is good news for the village it also means that Germany has received 900 tons of carbon eight times cheaper than it would have found it on the European market. Has the surplus value swelled the coffers of the Global Environment Facility only to spawn similar projects that provide virtually free carbon or has it merely being pocketed by business astounded by the naivete of the entire system?

 One way of overcoming this difficulty is to set a universally applicable absolute value per quantity of carbon based upon a predetermined finite amount that can be emitted in the future and this is the notion that underlies the so-called ’Contraction and Convergence’ scheme of the Global Commons Institute. Based upon the IPCC TAR’s WG1 a figure of 450ppmv has been determined by the GCI as ‘not safe’. A ‘contraction budget’ derived from an internationally negotiated rate of linear convergence is then to be distributed equally per person globally. The resultant ‘currency’ has already been boldly christened as International Energy Backed Currency Units or EBCU’s. Richard Douthwaite of Feasta even envisions this new monetary unit becoming the world’s reserve currency thereby reversing seignorage or ‘unearned’ royalties currently obtained in their trillions by the dollar, yen and euro into the hands of the commons.

Because of its implacable good sense and unquestionably democratic credentials it is however, unlikely to impress the ‘powers that be’ whom I suspect are unlikely to yield their position of privilege quite so dramatically, even, and perhaps especially, in the face of an environmental meltdown where increasingly scarce resources can be commodified to their nth degree.

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