Everybody wan chop from Ghana – why Ghana’s economic ‘success story’ is an imperial myth

“It is said, of course that we have no capital, no industrial skill, no communications, no internal markets, and that we cannot even agree among ourselves how best to utilise our resources for our own social needs.

“Yet all the stock exchanges in the world are pre-occupied with Africa’s gold, diamonds, uranium, platinum, copper and iron ores. Our CAPITAL flows out in streams to irrigate the whole system of Western economy. Fifty-two per cent of the gold in Fort Knox at this moment, where the USA stores its bullion, is believed to have originated from OUR shores. Africa provides more than 60 per cent of the world’s gold. A great deal of the uranium for nuclear power, of copper for electronics, of titanium for supersonic projectiles, of iron and steel for heavy industries, of other minerals and raw materials for lighter industries – the basic economic might of the foreign Powers – comes from OUR continent.

“Experts have estimated that the Congo Basin alone can produce enough food crops to satisfy the requirements of nearly HALF the population of the whole world and here we sit talking about regionalism, talking about gradualism, talking about step by step. Are you afraid to tackle the bull by the horn?”

Kwame Nkrumah, Address to the Conference of African Heads of State and Government, May 24, 63, can be found at page 237 of the book Revolutionary Path

Last week I walked in on a conversation between my friends where we live (for the moment) just outside of Accra, Ghana. “Ghana ye hye – Ghana is hot” one of them said to me. After some initial confusion (it was a cool day), they explained; “Pure water sachets are going up to 30 pesewas.” That’s a 50% increase.

After a quick news search I found out that from today (1st February) a sachet of water will go up from 20 pesewas to 30 pesewas and a bag of sachet water will sell at 5 Ghana cedis (an increase of 1 cedis 50 pesewas).

I asked them how they were feeling; “worried” was the instant reply; and then: “in our own land there is no peace”; “it’s impossible to sleep at night” and (laughing) “we’ll have to move to Togo”.  My friends are 24 years old and already fed up of politics, President Mahama and his party NDC, who have presided over an increasing number of price hikes and taxes; water by 67%, electricity by 59% and fuel by 28% – all the basic staples required to keep a country and its people running. In 2010 Ghana drilled for oil, but last year the IMF forced deregulation and the end of government subsidies and fuel prices increased by 13% in May, 4% in June and 15% in July. If the fuel prices go up, the cost of everything goes up. Except wages of course.

While doing some research on the price hikes to write this, I stumbled across this Guardian article published on Tuesday: ‘Ghana’s success story built on gold, oil and cocoa is foundering‘. The journalist gives an account of the protests taking place in Accra and the “difficulties facing the economy as the country heads towards presidential and parliamentary elections in November”, but also describes:

“Once an African success story, built on gold, oil and cocoa, Ghana leveraged its natural resources to produce strong economic growth in the early years of this century.”

This sentence stopped me in my tracks. I re-read it a few times, feeling a growing sense of frustration at the easy way hundreds of years of often oppressive and defining history can be erased in a single sentence; how easy it is to slip into comfortable neoliberal, imperial narratives.

I believe it does Ghanaians a huge disservice to place full accountability for their economic, political and societal problems at the feet of corrupt national governance and the autonomy of markets. I feel that the article has misplaced what is, in fact, a nuanced accountability for the crisis by failing to look at the historical and conscious international systemic contexts that Ghana exists within. Yes the Governance here is problematic, but this is a problem that is compounded and perpetuated by external and historical factors.

So, to elaborate on the story, let’s revisit some history and take a closer look at the international system that has contributed to Ghana’s economic problems…

Raw materials and cash crops – colonialism lives on

The dominant reason for the scramble and partitioning of Africa at the Berlin Conference in 1884-85 was economic exploitation. Namely, as articulated by Jules Ferry, the then Premier of France in 1885: to have free access to raw materials of the colonies; to have ready made markets for the sale of manufactured goods of the colonising countries, and; to use the colonies as fields for investment of surplus capital.

During the colonisation of Ghana (Gold Coast) in the 1890s, the colonialist agricultural policy was to turn the colony into a producer of raw materials for export and the importer of manufactured goods for consumption. The policy encouraged, educated and advised farmers to produce crops for export and gave little support for small-scale farmers producing food for the local market. Under the Colonial Department of Agriculture, Ghana saw a rapid growth in production of export crops to meet the demands of colonial authorities and expatriate merchants at the expense of non-export crops. Within 30 years of its introduction Cocoa accounted for over 80% of exports. Ghana had become a crop export nation and an import dependent economy. For various political reasons things did not improve for non-export crops after ‘independence’ either; colonial policy remained and the new government embodied the “modernisation and industrialisation craze” as the key to economic development. (Read more here.)

Today, agriculture accounts for approximately 42% of Ghana’s GDP and employs 54% of its workforce. Despite some diversification, cocoa still remains the primary export. It is this imposed over-reliance on export cash crops and raw materials that has left Ghana so vulnerable to the effects of the plummeting global commodity prices. The export revenues for cocoa, oil and gold declined from $8.2bn between January and September 2014 to $5.8bn just a year later.

This vulnerability is further compounded by the fact that Ghana is still operating primarily as a producer of raw agricultural product (e.g. cocoa, cotton, palm oil etc), which is then transported abroad to be processed. Without the infrastructure to process the products, Ghanaians are forced to re-import the processed results of their raw products back into the country – much of the chocolate and cotton fabric sold here has been processed elsewhere, transported back and sold at a profit – which is galling. Few African countries process their own raw materials – rather, the value is added elsewhere, for the benefit of others.

I’ve only very briefly touched on Ghana’s colonial past here – it’s almost impossible to ever do it justice, but I recommend reading Walter Rodney’s ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’ for an eye-opening account. To think that Western governments, corporations and elites have ‘evolved’ beyond colonialism and exploitation today is evidently absurd – a quick Google of words like ‘foreign’, ‘exploitation’, resources’, ‘Ghana’, will bring up a range of news articles. Despite independence in 1957, the legacy of European colonialism across the African continent lives on and is today joined by neo-colonialism in the form of intervention from the US, China and foreign corporations, particularly when it comes to raw materials.

According to Dr Eric Twum, Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of Green Growth Solutions in Ghana, the country loses large amounts of revenue through non-renegotiation of most contracts with multinational companies. He suggests that “between 2011 and 2012, the country lost about $90 million and $70 million due to stability agreements in the mining and oil and gas sectors respectively,” and continues:

“Legislatively, so much control seems to have been given to foreign investors regardless of their natural resource use methods and its associated impacts in Ghana. A recent report (by Daily Graphic) indicates the problem of ambiguity in our tax laws which make them not fully applicable due to the varied interpretations. Additionally, our legal framework regulating natural resource use does not fully promote maximum benefit gains from foreign investors due to low tax charges. Before the introduction of the structural adjustment programme, the government of Ghana controlled at least 55% shares in all large mining operations. However, foreign companies now control an average of about 70% of shares in these mines with government controlling 10% free share in each mine, with the option to acquire an additional 20% at the prevailing market price. Furthermore, there are issues regarding protecting the interest of the Ghanaian worker in the event of a redundancy action as brought to bear by the unfavourable redundancy action by AngloGold Ashanti and Newmont Ghana Gold Limited in 2014 that rendered almost 6,000 workers jobless – bearing in mind that most of our natural resources are non renewable.”

Last year Ghana’s former Ambassador to the United Nations, James Victor Gbeho called on the government to enact a law that would help curb the control of foreigners exploiting the country’s natural resources. Gbeho suggested that the country had “lost 95 percent of its tropical forest since independence while very little royalties were paid to chiefs in communities endowed with gold, bauxite, timber, manganese, among other resources.”

I spent some time at Lake Bosumtwi in the Ashtanti region last year, which is considered a sacred lake. According to traditional belief, the souls of the dead go there to bid farewell to the god Asase Ya. Because of this, fishing in the lake is allowed only from wooden planks. I was staying nearby and was told by locals that foreigners had appeared unexpectedly and had drilled beneath the lake’s floor to explore for minerals. Not only had the intervention disturbed a sacred place, but I was told that it had killed huge numbers of the fish living in the lake, causing huge problems for the local community who depend on it. (This report would seem to back the story up.)

Not only are Ghanaians suffering from the effects of neoliberalism and imperialism with the destruction of their environment, they are then also missing out on any much-needed revenue generated by it. Instead the money resulting from the looting of their natural resources is going straight into the pockets of foreign companies who are focussed solely on making and repatriating profit.

China’s burgeoning relationship with Ghana has been problematic from the start; not only because there are a huge number of (largely) Chinese companies operating here illegally, but also because Chinese investment in Ghana has caused the collapse of Ghana’s manufacturing sector; proliferation of small arms in gold mining cities as a result of illegal mining activities; and increased unemployment due to the export of Ghanaian jobs to China through over-reliance on Chinese goods and services. Oh, and China is certainly not the only country playing this game – mining by foreign multinationals (as well as local companies I’m sure) displaces hundreds of thousands of people, destroys farm and forest land, and contaminates water supplies and pollutes the air causing disease and poor health.

The problem extends far beyond raw materials too; the desperation to attract Foreign Direct Investment has also left Ghana missing out on much needed finance. In 2008 the European multinational company Vodafone purchased a 70% stake in Ghana Telecom and, under the Sales Purchase Agreement, enjoyed a five year holiday from paying tax to the government. During that period the company made huge profits, all of which have gone to shareholders while Ghana saw very little, including little improvement to service quality (and in fact Vodafone prices have just gone up).

Ghana and the International Monetary Fund

“By far the greatest wrong which the departing colonialists inflicted on us, and which we now continue to inflict on ourselves in our present state of disunity, was to leave us divided into economically unviable States which bear no possibility of real development….”

Kwame Nkrumah, Speech OAU Summit Conference Cairo7/19/64 can be found on pages 282-4 of Revolutionary Path

As with the majority of economically ‘developing’ countries, Ghana has not escaped the clutches of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Today Ghana maintains a relationship of dependency with the organisation, and by that I mean that the IMF depends on Ghana as one of several countries required to underpin its neoliberal agenda…

One such example of their involvement is the three-year electricity ‘crisis’ that Ghana is still in the midst of (‘dumsor’, or power blackouts have been a daily reality here for the duration). The IMF blames the power cuts on “lower rainfall on hydroelectric power generations and disruptions to the supply of gas from Nigeria,” but there is much evidence to suggest that the organisation itself is at least partly responsible. Former UK diplomat Craig Murray wrote last year that Ghana once had “the most reliable electricity supply in all of Africa and the highest percentage of households connected to the grid in all of Africa”. Murray believes that the success of this publicly owned and run enterprise posed too much of a threat to the neoliberal ideology of the World Bank and the IMF, and so, when Ghana needed some temporary financial assistance (against what he calls a ‘generally healthy background’), the IMF insisted that the Volta Region Authority be broken up. This resulted in the separation of electricity into production and distribution and the introduction of private sector Independent Power Producers to the market.

You only have to have spent a few days here over the past few years to know that the situation is a disaster for homes, public services and businesses that need a reliable power supply, especially as running a generator is so expensive (although the supply has seemed to be more consistent this year for those who can afford it…). According to Murray, there have been more power cuts in the country than ever in its history as an independent state. He claims that in July last year Ghana was producing 900 MW of electricity, which is half of what it was able to produce ten years ago, and suggests that the (mostly foreign owned and foreign financed) private sector Independent Power Producers were providing less than 20% of the electricity generation to the grid, but taking over 60% of the revenues.

To add insult to injury, as part of its loan conditionality the IMF and the USA then insisted on the privatisation of Electricity Company Ghana (ECG), the state utility body which provides electricity to the consumer and bills them. According to Murray, “the rationale behind this is that a privatised ECG will be more efficient and ruthless in collecting revenue from the poor and from hospitals, clinics, schools and other state institutions.” Or in other words, collecting revenue and channelling profits straight into the pockets of foreign businesses and banks. I know from living in the UK that the argument that privatising utilities means better service and prices is completely rubbish – it only profits the rich at the expense of the poor. (You can read a counter-response to Murray’s article here.)

The IMF has just approved a third disbursement of $114.6 million to ‘help tackle Ghana’s economic recovery’, which will undoubtedly see the country face further hardship while it tries to meet the IMF’s strict conditionality in order to ‘restore fiscal discipline and macroeconomic stability’. In the 1980s, implementation of the IMF’s ‘conditionality’ saw much needed subsidies wiped and public sector jobs cut while wages were kept low – under austerity many suffered.

These conditionalities look like structural adjustment policies, sound like structural adjustment policies and sure as hell smell like them, but no, the SAP has taken a trip to the marketing department and been rebranded as a ‘partnership’. The Managing Director of the IMF Christine Lagarde reportedly said herself:

“Structural adjustments? That was before my time. I have no idea what it is. We do not do that anymore. No, seriously you have to realise that we have changed the way in which we offer our financial support. It is really on the basis of partnership.”

“There is always in partnership a bit of hardship to go with it. If the Fund is called upon to help, it is that the country feels that it cannot decide certain things on its own. It needs backup support, financing to make sure that it has access to enough funding to finance itself.”

What IS so generous of the IMF (note the sarcasm) is that is has been considerate enough to offer “technical assistance and capacity-building” to Ghana with the opening of its fifth Regional Training Center in Accra. Lagarde states that the purpose of the centre is to offer ‘surveillance’ and try to ensure policy that is “more sophisticated, better adjusted to the new economy, more connected, more balance between the various regions and areas of the world” (Read: to ensure Ghana is behaving itself).

The burden of debt

“…the problem is how to obtain capital investment and still keep it under sufficient control to prevent exploitation; and how to preserve integrity and sovereignty without crippling economic or political ties to any country, bloc or system”

Kwame Nkrumah, Africa Must Unite

Ghana is a resource rich country. Aside from vast agricultural production, it also BLEEDS gold. You might ask yourself how a country built upon gold can be indebted to the rest of the world; but it is in debt… to the sum of 90bn cedis (£16bn), which, coupled with an apparent rise in public spending, gives the country a debt-to-gross domestic product ratio of more than 70%.

From the 1970s, many of the newly-independent African governments began to borrow huge amounts of money from rich countries and the Bretton Woods institutions. Throughout the Cold War such loans were often used as a tool to secure political support from key countries in a wholly non-discriminatory fashion – corrupt governments and those countries who would surely default (e.g. DRC), were given billions of dollars in credit. In Addis Ababa in 1987 at the summit of the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union), the President of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, called for a pan-African united front against debt in one of his most famous speeches. He said:

“We think that debt has to be seen from the standpoint of its origins. Debt’s origins come from colonialism’s origins. Those who lend us money are those who had colonised us before. Under its current form, that is imperialism-controlled, debt is a cleverly managed re-conquest of Africa, aiming at subjugating its growth and development through foreign rules. Thus, each one of us becomes the financial slave, which is to say a true slave…”

It was clear at the time that African countries were becoming increasingly crippled by debt. In the 1980s interest rates rose sharply, but governments continued to borrow more. According to This Is Africa;

“Between 1982 and 1990, African debt doubled from US$140 billion to US$270 billion. Sankara rightly predicted that this would cripple African development for generations to come. Despite debt relief programs, which have resulted in increased spending on health and education in African countries, Jubilee Debt Campaign estimates that in 2008, low income countries paid over US $20 million a day to rich countries.”

Today’s debt crisis in Ghana is unsurprising given the scale of lending to them still taking place and their dependence on fluctuating commodities. However, this debt is further compounded by the devaluing of Ghana’s currency which, in turn increases the real size of its debts.

Debts owed outside the country are valued in dollars or other foreign currencies, so a fall in exchange rate will immediately increase the relative size of debt repayments in domestic currency – a big risk of borrowing in foreign currencies. Even money leant by multilateral institutions like the World Bank and other governments carries this risk because the loans are given in dollars – even though they claim they are ‘risk free’ with a low interest rate of around 0.5% for the most impoverished countries.

According to the Jubilee Debt Campaign:

Between 2004 and 2013, Ghana was lent $2.8 billion by the World Bank, which totalled 3.8 billion Ghanaian Cedis. However, the fall in the Ghanaian Cedi now means that, based on current exchange rates, Ghana will pay back 12.8 billion Cedis, three times more what was lent. The effective interest rate Ghana is now paying on these World Bank loans is 9%.

World Bank interest rates

Source: Jubilee Debt Campaign.

The same applies to loans given to Ghana by foreign private financial markets, through bonds usually issued under English law. In 2013 Ghana borrowed $750 million through a 10-year bond in at an 8% interest rate. Due to the real cost payments increasing with the fall in exchange rates, the Jubilee Debt Campaign calculates that the effective interest rate for Ghana on these bonds is now 27%.

Once again Ghana, which spent over 30% of government revenue on debt payments in 2015, is at the mercy of the IMF, which ‘came to the rescue’ in April last year with a $918m three-year assistance programme to enable these debts to be paid. Essentially the programme equals more debt…and a hell of a lot of pressure on the government to create increase austerity within the country and to create the right conditions for external market forces.

It’s important to recognise that the costs of the commodity price and exchange rate falls are being borne by the people of Ghana and citizens of other countries in similar positions, and not by the lenders, whether that be the IMF, World Bank, private speculators or others. Economic growth will not improve things for Ghanaians – in general those countries heavily dependent on foreign lending grow faster than the average for low income countries, but they make less progress on reducing poverty and inequality is increasing, as this report from the Jubilee Debt campaign demonstrates.

A legacy of colonial leadership

“For the only great men among the unfree and the oppressed are those who struggle to destroy the oppressor.”

Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

My intention with this article isn’t to remove accountability or blame from the Ghanaian government completely – they are heavily indebted to a whole range of organisations, and within the seemingly narrow hallways of power they have been afforded within a system deliberately designed to limit power, they have made some terrible decisions. In fact, the Ghanaian government seems to share many of the incompetencies, failings and self-interests of the government of their former ‘colonial masters’ – in December last year the Ghanaian transport minister was forced to resign after it emerged that the government had spent 3.6m cedis painting pictures of President Mahama and other former leaders on buses. Reports of Mahama’s government lavishly rewarding officials with houses, cars and fuel on top of generous salaries feels as horrifying to me as when we discovered the British expenses scandal.

I’m loathe to patronise Ghanaians – they certainly do have the autonomy to select their own government. I can’t believe that there’s noone that could do a better job than the NPP or the NDC, but then again I also can’t believe that a majority of voting Brits could elect David Cameron and his blood-sucking, Eton romping, austerity wielding, old boys club – apparently anything can happen, and people are misguided and manipulated in myriad ways.

From slavery and colonialism, to independence and the forcible removal of former leaders, to today; Ghana has contributed immeasurably, at great cost, to boosting the coffers of Britain and its counterparts. In his address on the eve of Ghana’s independence, Nkrumah pointed out that of £124 million spent during the course of the Five Year Development Plan, the CPP internal self-government had only received £1.5 million in aid from Colonial Development and Welfare Funds, despite Ghana’s vast contribution to the gold and dollar resources of the sterling. He elaborated:

“The Gold Coast has contributed, on an average, 25% of the net dollar earnings of the British colonial territories, and, taking into account our contribution of  around ₤9 million a year in gold, in the five years from 1951 to 1955 in which the CPP have been in power, the Gold Coast contributed a net positive balance  of ₤150 million to the gold and dollar reserves of the sterling area. It will be seen therefore, that though the Gold Coast is small and, by Western standards, not a very wealthy country, it has made a significant contribution to maintaining the stability of  the sterling area.”

Kwame Nkrumah, “I Speak of Freedom”.

Nkrumah was a leader not without problems, but he was a socialist who loved his country and a pan-Africanist who stood up to imperialism and Western dominance until he was overthrown by a military coup in February 1966. There is much evidence to suggest that the United States of America was complicit in the coup, led by Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka and the National Liberation Party – it was certain a welcome outcome for Western powers. In a memo from the United States President’s Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Komer) to President Johnson in 1966, he wrote:

“The coup in Ghana is another example of a fortuitous windfall. Nkrumah was doing more to undermine our interests than any other black African. In reaction to his strongly pro-Communist leanings, the new military regime is almost pathetically pro-Western.”

Unsurprisingly, shortly after Nkrumah’s removal Ghana realigned itself internationally cutting ties with Guinea in favour of those with Western countries and allowing the IMF and World Bank to take a lead role in managing the economy.

So, is bad governance really surprising when Ghana has faced attempts to limit autonomy, self-determination, self-reliance and powerful leadership at every stage of its ‘modern development’?

Today the system of governance here, like the majority of national government systems across the globe, is incompetent, at least partially corrupt, self-interested and unwilling to stand up to big business, imperialism and neoliberalism. Africa has a legacy of creating great leaders who are thwarted by Western intervention and it is a sad state of affairs that Ghana, like many other countries once under colonial rule, has seemingly been forced into a self-perpetuating cycle of bad government after bad government. It seems that the collective way of operating is kowtowing to carefully marketed Western doctrine, allowing multinational corporations to eat up the country in return for a quick fix or a quick buck and putting self-interest and ‘economic growth at all costs’ first at the expense of citizens, traditional values, pan-Africanism and humanity. What’s worse is that I know most of you will be able to see these traits reflected in your own national governments as I can in mine – where the pursuit of ‘growth’ and of ‘more’ is leading us all.

To frame Ghana as a ‘once African success story’ begs the question; successful for whom? Ghana is a country that has forever been considered ‘developing’. It’s poor. Since it began its relationship with the West it’s gone from slavery, to colonialism, to neoliberalism; with poverty and inequality consistent themes throughout. The only people who have truly benefited from its gold, oil and cocoa are foreign governments and companies. Ordinary Ghanaians have seen little benefit from strong economic growth.

To call Ghana a ‘failure’, is also a misnomer, because actually it’s still doing exactly what it was designed to do, very successfully. If you rub off the sheen of ‘independence’, underneath is a country very much allowing largely free access to its raw materials, offering ready made markets for the sale of manufactured goods of foreign companies and allowing investment of surplus capital (to be repaid with interest).

A truly successful Ghana would be a Ghana bolstered with reparations for the many damages done to its economy, its people and its resources, one that is able to exist within an international system of true equality and respect, where foreign companies and countries follow the rules instead of making them and where Ghana is allowed to invent itself however the people decide – free from the shackles of neoliberalism, imperialism and being developed in the Western image, for Western benefit.

I’m not here to tell Ghanaians what they should be doing or how they should be doing it – there are enough people doing that. What I hope for with these words is to encourage those of us in the UK and in the Western world; who read articles like this one; believe in the narrative that tries to hide the fact that poverty and inequality are created; and disconnect ourselves and our lives from playing any part in it; to ask questions of these these stories. Our governments, our money, our history, our silence are all implicated in the poverty and inequality of others. Are we really surprised by the economic misfortune of a country deliberately constructed to serve foreign interests? Why is its success measured only by economic growth? How is poverty created? Who’s developing whom? Why not connect the dots?

I welcome your thoughts…

Further reading:

Sources:

  1. https://www.modernghana.com/news/118977/1/historical-odyssey-of-our-agricultural-policies.html
  2. http://gipcghana.com/17-investment-projects/agriculture-and-agribusiness/cash-crops/287-investing-in-ghana-s-cash-crops.html
  3. http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/IMF-backs-gov-t-to-snub-labour-410535
  4. http://myjoyonline.com/news/2015/July-4th/former-uk-diplomat-blames-us-imf-for-ghanas-economic-woes.php
  5. http://www.graphic.com.gh/business/business-news/57024-ghana-the-bumpy-road-to-economic-recovery.html
  6. http://jubileedebt.org.uk/blog/commodity-price-crash-causes-debt-payments-to-soar
  7. http://www.graphic.com.gh/features/opinion/45562-the-fallacy-of-britain-leaving-huge-sums-of-money-for-kwame-nkrumah-s-government.html#sthash.dI9Rij5j.dpuf
  8. https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v26/d201
  9. http://jubileedebt.org.uk/reports-briefings/report/the-new-debt-trap 
  10. http://www.panafricanperspective.com/nkrumahquotes.html
  11. http://ghana-news.adomonline.com/opinion/2015/March-17th/natural-resource-governance-and-management-in-ghana-the-stride-towards-an-efficient-use-of-our-natural-resources.php#_ftn4
  12. http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Chinese-money-for-Ghana-s-natural-resources-283400
  13. http://www.graphic.com.gh/features/opinion/21413-govt-must-review-tax-incentives-to-multinational-companies.html
  14. http://citifmonline.com/2015/03/29/diplomats-demand-laws-to-stop-foreign-control-of-ghanas-resources/
  15. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-33643385
  16. http://www.newsghana.com.gh/an-analysis-why-akufo-addo-and-bawumia-are-right-imf-cannot-solve-ghanas-economy/
  17. http://www.newsghana.com.gh/imfworld-bank-bailout-will-bad-ghanaians/
  18. http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/features/Ghana-lost-us-6-004-billion-in-oil-revenue-five-years-into-oil-production-389583
  19. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/jan/26/ghana-success-gold-oil-cocoa-economic-downturn
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Video

I name this video: “Enthusiastic majority white progressives saving the world in a Western lecture hall while multicultural stock video beneficiaries from across the globe dance with happiness and gratitude’

#Facepalm. #WhiteSaviours

Does anyone singing this song realise how much they (we) are part of the problem, or that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are NOT going to fix a system that has inequality and oppression built into it?

I don’t really want to give this any more oxygen. But. Really?

News: GJN asks – is the Gates Foundation always a force for good?

If you’ve read the blog, you might be aware that I’m not exactly the greatest supporter of The Gates Foundation. Our team at The Rules criticised their ‘Narrative Project’, which invested much in pushing foreign aid as a solution to global poverty and inequality; and I have called them out on here for Melinda’s use of patriarchal language to talk about ‘development‘ and the organisation’s neoliberal agenda – I just don’t think they’re good news.

So it was really good to see UK organisation Global Justice Now releasing an important research project today: ‘Gated Development – is the Gates Foundation always a force for good?’, which examines how it is pushing a corporate vision of development features.

The report demonstrates that the trend to involve business in addressing poverty and inequality is central to the priorities and funding of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and argues that this is far from a “neutral charitable strategy but instead an ideological commitment to promote neoliberal economic policies and corporate globalisation. Big business is directly benefitting, in particular in the fields of agriculture and health, as a result of the foundation’s activities, despite evidence to show that business solutions are not the most effective.”

Global Justice Now suggests that, for the foundation in particular, there is an overt focus on technological solutions to poverty. They argue that while technology should have a role in addressing poverty and inequality, long term solutions require social and economic justice which “cannot be given by donors in the form of a climate resilient crop or cheaper smartphone, but must be about systemic social, economic and political change – issues not represented in the foundation’s funding priorities.”

One of the most poignant parts of the report for me is where it highlights the fact that despite the Gates Foundation’s aggressive corporate strategy and extraordinary influence across governments, academics and the media, there is an absence of critical voices. Global Justice Now is concerned that the foundation’s influence is so pervasive that many actors in international development, which would otherwise critique the policy and practice of the foundation, are unable to speak out independently as a result of its funding and patronage – this is something I certainly have witnessed explicitly speaking to organisations and people working within the development sector.

Specifically, the report calls on the OECD to undertake an independent international review and evaluation of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and the UK’s International Development Select Committee to conduct an inquiry into the relationship between DFID and the foundation and the impact and effectiveness of any joint activity in addressing poverty and inequality.

Read the full report here >> www.globaljustice.org.uk/gateddeveloped

It’s also been featured in the UK’s Independent newspaper, which you can read here.

Let me know what you think – is the Gates Foundation a force for good or an exercise in rampant neoliberalism…?

My environmentalism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit

The environmental movement will never save the planet unless it actively focuses its ire clearly on those who are most to blame for the crisis – the powerful.

There is no such thing as neutrality. If you are neutral in situations of oppression, you have chosen to side with the powerful. Desmond Tutu’s mantra is a key tenet of my recently adopted trade – journalism. It is often uttered by activists in movements against injustice – a cry of those attempting to shake people out of passivity. In the world I live in at least, it has become a platitude.

Like all platitudes, it’s easy to ignore. But to do so is risky. Whether it’s class or gender or race or sexuality or disability or nationality or religion or age, our civilization is built on pyramids of oppression. If politics is the art of living together, then any conversation about politics, including environmental politics, is in part a conversation about people of unequal power living together, and so a conversation about injustice.

This doesn’t mean that the injustice is always mentioned. Just as you can talk about the weather without referring to the climate, it’s possible to discuss politics without talking about power. When detailing the intricacies of a technical issue, it’s often easy to lay to one side the various pertinent inequalities. In individual conversations this can be fine. You can’t be expected to always mention everything about an issue all at once.

But as rain becomes rivers, conversations become narratives. And as rivers shape the land, narratives shape our politics. If a national political conversation takes place without discussing power, then we are being silent in the face of injustice. We are siding with the powerful. For most of the environmental movement, the main influence we have is our contribution to the flow of public debate, so how we use it has to matter.

Talking about power in general isn’t sufficient either. Because power is complex. Injustices are manifold. There is a word, coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw which explains this: ‘intersectionality’. “My feminism will be intersectional” Flavia Dzodan famously wrote “or it will be bullshit”. The point is that if you seek to attack one power structure but do so by treading on other oppressed groups, then you are still perpetuating oppression. This is an immoral thing to do. But if you believe that injustices stem from a system, and if you therefore wish to dismantle that system, then it is also strategically foolish. The person you just stood on should have been your key ally. We need to build links – intersections – between movements against all kinds of oppression. Our struggles are bound up together.

cartoon – @miriamdobson, Creative Commons

When feminists or anti-racists or disability rights activists call for intersectionality, the point they are making is that it’s not good enough to have feminist campaigns which ignore race, or disability, or class. Because to be silent in the face of injustice is to side with the oppressor. And too often, it’s easy to accidentally be worse than silent. We live in a racist, patriarchal, heteronormative, imperialist, classist, transphobic, disablist, xenophobic, ageist world. If we aren’t the person being oppressed by any one of those dynamics, then society is built in such a way as to encourage us, unthinkingly, to perpetuate them. Simply by standing still in our place in the pyramid, we squash those below us. Those injustices which stubbornly survive do so like genes or memes not so much because of those who mean to perpetuate them, but because of those who do it unthinkingly.

If these principles are true, then they are true for environmentalists too. In fact, before the word ‘intersectional’ was used to describe how power systems interlock, there was another term often employed to describe this web of different dynamics: ‘ecology’. When what is now ‘the Green Party’ was called ‘the Ecology Party’, the point wasn’t that it was in favour of trees (though it was). It was a metaphor: just as an ecosystem is an interlocking, mutually dependent complex, so too is human society. These days, it might have been called “the intersectional party”.

There’s a difficulty though. It’s easy to end up talking about saving the planet without discussing power relations. In fact, often it’s easier. Because it’s simpler to attract money if you don’t stand up to the wealthy. It’s not as difficult to court short term political support if you allow the old boy’s network to go unchallenged. But more often, people don’t talk about power for a more subtle reason – which is about neoliberalism, the manufacturing of consent and the grip of capitalist realism.

If we want to understand certain elements of our system, it’s often best to look across the Atlantic. There is an expression in American politics which I have always found fascinating: “what are your issues?”. Voters or candidates don’t have an ideology, or a vision or an analysis. They have ‘issues’. Because the analysis is all the same. They are all neoliberals. It’s just some are neoliberals who want to talk more about banning abortion or not whilst others are neoliberals who want to talk more about invading other countries or not and there are even some who are neoliberals who want to talk about not destroying the planet. Of course, many Americans yearn for a different politics entirely. But the official conversation doesn’t allow that. As the saying goes, it’s become “easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism”.

Capitalism turns politics from a power analysis into a shopping list. Neoliberalism survives by encouraging us to take its architecture as a given so we only argue about the colour of the paint on its walls. And too often, environmentalists just join in that conversation, and shout “green!” whilst ignoring that the building itself is a coal power station, and just talking more about the environment will do little to change that. But the building is a coal power station.

Capitalism, and particularly neoliberal capitalism, is a system which will always tend towards extracting more natural resource than is sustainable – because those who profit from it most are those who will suffer from this exploitation least; because it’s easier for those who own the centralised power of capital to control natural resources than it is for them to empower labour; because a sole concern for short term profit requires ignoring long term loss. Most importantly of all, if we want humanity to save the planet, we need to end a system which divides us, which teaches us to be selfish and drives us to forever ‘keep up with the Joneses’. As long as people are alienated from the world, they will do nothing to save it.

If humankind is to rescue ourselves and the earth upon which we depend, therefore, we need to see the system, in its complexity, not just take out a green pen and underline the word ‘environment’ on the shopping list of issues in the next election. And we need to understand that our allies are those who are oppressed by the same system; the people who suffer most from the neoliberal, patriarchal, xenophobic, transphobic, disablist, classist, racist, heteronormative, imperialist, ageist complex in which we live – the same people, not by coincidence, who will be hit hardest by almost every environmental crisis.

In fact, you don’t even need to believe that the whole economic system needs to be replaced to think that greater power equality is key to success for the environmental movement. When academics pulled together the data on income inequality vs carbon emissions across 138 countries from 1960-2008, they found that in the developed world, the more unequal a country is, the higher its carbon emissions. In fact, they found something even more remarkable than that. As they put it in the abstract of their paper: “for high-income countries with high income inequality, pro-poor growth and reduced per capita emissions levels go hand in hand”.

When explaining this remarkable finding, they cite another paper, which explains that “in more unequal societies, those who benefit from pollution are more powerful than those who bear the cost. Therefore, the cost-benefit predicts an inefficiently high level of pollution. This implies a positive correlation between income inequality and pollution”. I suspect the relationship is also because inequality rips society apart, and makes us unable to solve collective problems. But either way, it seems that equality of power is vital to reducing pollution.

What does this mean in practice? First, it’s important to see the link between power and responsibility. Those who have power are those who are almost by definition more responsible for causing the problems of the world, but they shirk this duty by forever shifting blame onto those with less power or onto the population in general. They rarely do this explicitly – almost never pointing a finger and crying “witch”. Instead, they do it subliminally. They tell the first half of a story, and let us infer its corrupted moral. We’re used to this outside the environmental context: “there’s a big deficit and that person’s cheating on their benefits” they say, or “there’s no jobs and lots of migrants”.

These narratives dominate because of the psychological power of blame, and because the individual elements of them are, to a limited extent, true: the odd person does break the social security rules, there is currently more immigration into the UK than emigration out of it. It’s just that the complexities of causation and correlation are swept aside, and by focussing on the ways that people without power can be blamed, and excluding the ways those with power can be seen as responsible, the public understanding is bent towards the interests of our rulers, and the true causes of these problems therefore become harder to solve. It’s not through lying that spin doctors deceive, but by selecting the truths they tell with care.

The powerful have long played the same trick with climate change: “there’s all this climate change” they say, “and you haven’t changed your lightbulbs”. Of course changing lightbulbs is good, but the effect is that the government can get away with not mentioning their friends in BP and Shell, and how they subsidise them; not talking about those who really have their hands on the levers needed to make real change happen as fast as is needed.

To be neutral on questions of responsibility is to side with the powerful, but too many environmentalists are worse than neutral. Too often, we use the power we have to make statements which are true (it would be a good thing if everyone changed their lightbulbs) but, by prioritising them above other statements which are also true (it would be good if oil companies were banned from taking oil out of the ground) in a context in which the powerful are blaming those with less power, we’re joining in on a blame game, and picking the wrong side. And telling someone they are to blame – more than they actually are – is just about the worst possible way to get someone on side. It’s no surprise we’ve descended into a ‘climate silence‘.

The most obvious example of shifting blame from the powerful to the powerless is probably Malthusians, who focus their energy on talking about the challenges presented by growing global population. Of course total human population is one of many factors contributing to overall resource use. But by focussing on statements which function to shift blame onto those who have lots of children (poor people), rather than those who have lots of power (rich people), they are, in effect, siding with the powerful, whether they mean to or not. They are making it less likely that real change can be secured.

Or we can look at the kinds of personal behaviour changes which tend to be called for. As Dagmar Vinz argues, campaigns highlighting individual carbon footprint reduction tend to focus on the domestic sphere. In the world as it is, this means it’s women whose behaviour is being challenged most, despite men arguably being responsible for more personal emissions and certainly holding more of the powerful jobs in the companies most driving climate change.

Another example is the habit of European NGOs who campaign on biodiversity to focus on former European colonies. Of course we should save the tiger. But three of the world’s six most endangered felines as listed by Scientific Americanlive exclusively or largely in majority white countries, including one in Scotland. A fourth lives in Japan. Why do we never hear about them?

An Iberian Lynx – one of the world’s most endangered big cats/Wikimedia

We should insist that Indians live alongside large carnivores, but are we not hypocrites if we don’t also demand that people in the UK (which, after all, has a lower population density than India) live alongside our own native carnivores – wolves and bears? Or at the very least invests much more in saving Scottish Wild Cats – which are as endangered as any Indian big cat? The princes are right to campaign against elephant poachers, but what of the Highland landowners, not so far from their Balmoral, who poison endangered Hen Harriers so that Britain’s upper classes don’t have competition for the grouse they want to shoot? Or do we only care about animals that are ‘exotic’?

While double standards perhaps aren’t the biggest injustice on their own, once you place them in the context of a former colonial relationship; and when you think of the way that imperialism was and is justified through orientalism by making peoples seem exotic and different in order to make them seem ‘other’, then perhaps we need to ask our wildlife charities to dedicate a little more time to restoring Europe’s formerly magnificent temporate rainforests as well as protecting those overseas? And when we think about who is implicitly blamed for the ‘poaching’ of African wildlife (it’s ‘poaching’ when poor people do it, when rich people do, it’s ‘hunting’), again, we need to tread carefully.

Again, blame is key here. A report from the Climate Outreach and Information Network highlighted that, during the recent UK floods, the public narrative was so keen to find someone to finger for the crisis that the climate change message was squeezed out of the national media. This tells us something key about why environmental movements have failed so disastrously in recent years. When something goes wrong, people want someone to blame. And because the most powerful are usually those who are responsible, they will always quickly take control of the public story, and ensure that the finger is pointed at anyone but them – this time, struggling Environment Agency staff.

The response that “well, this is really about climate change” just didn’t cut it when people were out for blood. In part, this is because of the psychological power of blame narratives, and that we have all been taught that we are all just about equally to blame for climate change. If people feel they are being allocated blame out of proportion to the power they have to change the situation, then they will, understandably, react badly. Had we said “blame the oil companies”, I wonder if it would have been a different story?

But an intersectional environmentalism – an ecological environmentalism – has to be about more than just not actively being oppressive. We can do better than not contributing to stories which blame or ‘other’ the victims of oppression. We must also understand that to be neutral in the face of injustice is to side with the powerful. And that means that we can’t talk about consumerism without differentiating between those who are driving it and those who are suffering from it; we can’t talk about growth without distinguishing between those who gain from it and those who are losing out. We can’t talk about climate change without being absolutely clear who it is that is driving the changes in our climate and who is suffering from them.

There is a habit in too much of the environmental movement, I fear, of talking about politics in a way which avoids questions of power, which fails to actively stand in solidarity with the marginalised. This isn’t because these environmentalists intend to oppress, but because messages which don’t confront power are promoted by the powerful. Messages which do challenge are made controversial, and attacked. And so life is easier if you never confront those who are actually most able to change things. But you don’t make any difference in the world by having an easy life, and unless we actively avoid the traps laid by oppressive systems we will inevitably fall into them. All of this has long been understood by the environmental justice movement, the climate justice movement, movements against environmental racism and in solidarity with indigenous people, eco-feminist movements and many more besides.

What they understand is that, ultimately those who profit grotesquely from killing the earth won’t save it, and neither will an oppressed, divided, alienated people. The activists, organisations and movements who have been working for years on the principle that environmentalism and justice are inextricably linked have long shown the way. If we wish to save the planet, we cannot be silent in the face of injustice: the path to sustainability and the route to liberation are two tracks on the same dirt road. My environmentalism will be intersectional, it will be ecological, or it will be bullshit.

This article was written by Adam Ramsay and originally published on openDemocracy on 25 March 2014.

Why is economic growth our measure of human progress?

Whether you believe that ‘money makes the world go round’ or that it’s the ‘root of all evil’, increasingly humanity is waking up to the fact that money can’t ‘buy you happiness’ and that it’s certainly no longer an accurate or helpful measure of planetary progress. Our world faces multiple crises of which continuing economic growth has often been the cause and less often the solution.

Today the planet is a miserable and frightening place for most of its inhabitants. Many of the rich are not happy, while the gap between the rich and poor gets wider. The wealthiest 80 people in the world have the same wealth as the poorest 50%, or 3.5 billion people. Our pursuit of economic growth means that we are ruining the planet at such a rate that – sooner than most people can imagine – large parts of it will become uninhabitable. Our soils and forests are disappearing, our oceans are being vacuumed of fish, unstable financial markets lurch from crisis to crisis, disengaged people vent their anger and frustration at oppressive governments and we live in an economic system that rewards our greed and immorality and that forces those living in rural areas and no longer able to support themselves, more than a billion people, to swarm towards cities where there is no work for them.

In 2014 young people in 20 countries around the world were asked ‘to what extent, if at all, do you feel that today’s youth will have had a better or worse life than your parents’ generation or will it be about the same?’ On average, only 37% of young people living in the ten wealthiest countries ranked by gross domestic product (GDP) thought that life would be better for their generation than it was for their parents. In the US, the richest country, only 26% thought it would be better.

  Country GDP in millions of US$ (World Bank, 2013) % of people aged 29 or under who believe that today’s youth will have had a better life than their parents’ generation (Ipsos Mori, 2014)
1 USA 16,768,100 26%
2 China 9,240,270 76%
3 Japan 4,919,563 41%
4 Germany 3,730,261 30%
5 France 2,806,428 16%
6 UK 2,678,455 22%
7 Brazil 2,245,673 48%
8 Italy 2,149,485 21%
9 Russia 2,096,777 41%
10 India 1,875,141 46%
  AVERAGE(Rounded to the nearest whole) 4,851,015 37%

When the future is looking bleak for the wealthiest countries on the planet, it’s perhaps time to reconsider GDP as a measure of progress.

Gross domestic product, or GDP is the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a specific time period, but usually calculated annually. GDP has traditionally been used to measure progress economically, but fails to take into account social and environmental ‘wealth’ or causes of social tension or inequality, something that I believe is essential to truly understanding if, how and where human progress is being made.

GDP measures everything “…except that which makes life worthwhile.”

“Our Gross National Product…counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armoured cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities…, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”

Robert F. Kennedy, speech at the University of Kansas, March 18, 1968

There is already an abundance of measurements that we could call on to replace GDP and give a fairer, more useful picture of what is and isn’t working and how we go about creating a world that works for all, not for the few. So far, suggestions range from birth weight (usually a good indicator of a child’s likely future quality of life) the number and sound of birds in a city (a good indicator for biodiversity); and ownership of washing machines (with the assumption that their requirement for piped water and electricity make them a good measure of development); to the economic emancipation of women. I’m sure you can think of more…

Today, I’d invite you to think about why our leaders and big businesses measure economic growth as a measure of human progress and how we can move beyond measuring success by how much we makerather than how we live.

What do you think human progress is? And why is growth the only answer? #WhyGrowth

This post was originally posted on The Rules website on 11th September 2015.

World Women’s Movement: “a way of building alternatives”

In the context of the Fourth International Action of the World Women’s Movement a debate meeting was held between the members of the South Cone. A place for analysis of the international context, with the goal of encouraging reflection on the challenges that popular feminism faces and the strategies that the Movement can adopt.

During the days of August 22, 23 and 24, the Southern Cone subregional meeting of the World Women’s Movement (Spanish:Marcha Mundial de las Mujeres, MMM) with the participation of militants from Paraguay, Brazil, Colombia, Turkey, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina, in the Eva Perón Amphitheater of the union ATE National –State workers Association-.

The Movement begun in 1995, in a context where neoliberalism was strongly hegemonic and imposed a single line of thought that proposed individualist ways to emerge from the crisis. Opposing this logic, social and women’s movements proposed alternatives of collective construction and a state of permanent mobilization. It was so that, after a demonstration made in Canada by more than a thousand women that traveled 200 kilometers in a struggle for their basic rights, emerged the need of sharing and replicating this experience in a women’s movement.

There, women organized in the United Central of Workers (Central única de Trabajadoras y Trabajadores – CUT) of Brazil became aware of this initiative and, together with other organizations, they participated in the first meeting in 1998, in Quebec, Canada. In this context they elaborated the platform of the Movement, which comprises 17 demands that include the end to poverty and of violence against women. Since the year 2000, international actions are being carried out, which commence every March, 8th —Day of the Working Women— and finish every October, 17th —International Day Against Poverty—. In this way, they make visible the explicit relation between Capitalism and Patriarchy.

This March 8th begun with the Fourth International Action, with the goal of strengthening the regional areas of the MMM in face of the need to unify the struggle for the women’s territories: their own bodies as well as the lands in which their life, work, community and struggle are carried out. The Southern Cone subregional encounter was a place for reflecting and making balances upon the current situation. Organized in panels, talks and workshops,  different experiences were shared, and the meeting ended with a demonstration outside the headquarters of the transnational company Monsanto, which is a clear example of the transnational violence imposed by the capitalist and patriarchal system on the bodies and the territories.

After welcoming the internationalist comrades that were present, the meeting started by pointing out the “current continental challenges”, which were a core topic in the formative debate. There, at the beginning, Nalu Farías, regional coordinator of the MMM from Brazil, recognized the complexity that feminism faces in the current juncture, since “this is a moment that demands a lot from us, because we are perhaps the movement with the harshest critics against the hegemonic domination system”.

Farías expressed that, although nowadays feminism has regained a relevant place in political debates —which she considers a positive situation of recomposition of feminism—, paradoxically, there is also the risk of settling upon a “legitimated and watered-down version of feminism catered to the market”, far from the organized and politicized feminism that the Movement proposes. Instead, the market regurgitates a feminism disembodied from its political roots, from the class struggle, it is an individualist feminism, tinted with postmodern and queer ideology. What the Movement strives for is feminism as a collective struggle, as organization from below, from the bases. The spokeswoman said that the goal is to “build a common political project from the articulation with other political forces but integrating the feminist perspective”.

Claudia Korol, popular educator from the group Scarves in Rebellion (Spanish: Pañuelos en Rebeldía) described the meeting as a positive event for unity and a key to the construction of the “identity of what we call popular feminism”. She emphasized the importance of having opened the event with a hommage to the 12 comrades, especially the 4 women, that were executed by the military in the city Trelew, during the de facto government of Lanusse in Argentina between 1971 and 1973. Because, she said, “our memory is a piece in this political construction”, because there is continuity in the different revolutionary struggles. She expressed that “walking and marching on with the subversive memories of our whole continent and search for the same unity that existed” is similar to the kind feminism “that we try to embody”, because “each body that is imprisoned is a defeat for us all, as well as each victory in freedom is a victory for all of us”.

To conclude, the militant said that, in these days, “we have to think about a unified anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal and anti-colonialist horizon, disarming the violence that support these systems”.

After the opening act, six simultaneous workshops were held, where the common challenges of popular feminism across the continent continued to be shared, but this time from the experience of each of the women present in the meeting. The topics were:

  • “Sovereignty over our territories and common goods: the struggle against mega-mining, fracking, hydrocarbon exploitations, mega-dams and shortages in power supply”
  • “The right to decide over our bodies and sexualities”, with the presence of members of the National Campaign for Legal, Safe and Cost-Free abortion, among others.
  • “Forms of violence against women: trafficking, sexual exploitation, femicide”, a struggle that had a very visible side a few months ago when a massive demonstration took place all across Argentina with the slogan “Ni Una Menos” (Not One Woman Less), in response to the many crimes against women committed in the country, of which the most vulnerable are trans women.
  • “Militarization, criminalization and judicialization in the face of the advance of extractivism and the hegemonic model in the region”, which was nourished by the participation of the comrades of the People’s Congress of Colombia and by Relmu Ñamku, Mapuche activist persecuted by the justice for defending her lands against an oil company. She called for solidarity with each comrade, and to understand that there is a dual nature of struggles: there is a the common, shared criticism towards the model which unifies them all, but at the same time each struggle is singular and has its needs, therefore it is essential to accompany those who carry the struggle forward with their own bodies, in every possible way.
  • “Women and work. Gender division of work, reproductive work, formal work and precarious work. The economy of care”, where the topics included the role of working women and the tension this generates between social organizations, unions and daily life.

The following day, the conclusions elaborated at the workshops were collectively shared and the exposition of singular experiences, initiatives and struggles continued, around the core topic of confronting the mercantilization of life. There was participation of the members of the National Campaign Against Violence Towards Women and members of the Women’s House of the Dignity Popular Movement (Movimiento Popular La Dignidad), Network of Abortion Assistants (Socorristas en Red), Neighborhoods on their Feet (Barrios de Pie) and the Union of Workers of Argentina (CTA).

Sunday ended with a plenary in which all of the statements of solidarity with criminalized comrades were read, and then a general debate was held about the discussions that had taken place over the weekend.

At the closing of the event, Nalú Farías, spokeswoman of the MMM, said to the media that the event was “very positive because we accomplished the goals we had set beforehand, which were, on one hand, to define the actions for the subregion, and on the other, to call and coordinate Argentinian woman”. She also celebrated the demonstration against Monsanto because “it states our position as a Movement and our struggle. This symbolic action was chosen to express our rejection towards transnational companies and the model that they represent”, and said “our people do not need Monsanto, they need food sovereignty”.

This news story originally appeared on The Dawn  on August 26, 2015 and was written by Camila Parodi. The original source of the story is: Marcha.org 

Life-changing letters – An open letter to international development charities…

Dear Mercy Ships and Plan and the many others for whom this is relevant,

I know that you have the best of intentions. I know that really I should be writing to the corporate elite, the banks, the investors, the off-shorers, the mining multinationals, the Big Pharma, the fund managers…

But the letters I received through the door from you the other morning are dangerous. They’re dehumanising, they’re ‘othering’, they’re disempowering, they’re telling people in the UK stories that aren’t true; making them believe that the world’s problems, and their guilt, can be alleviated ‘for less than the price of a packet of crisps’. And you need to take responsibility for that.

Let’s examine the stories you’re telling…

Plan

“You could change a life for less than the price of a packet of crisps”

“Children like Rosa are waiting for a sponsor – a sponsor like you”

“One in five children born in the poorest countries won’t live to see their fifth birthday. The lack of something simple as clean water to drink, leads to the appalling loss of so many promising young lives. Millions of children go without education or opportunities, and live without hope of things ever changing… But if you become a child sponsor with Plan, you could make a better life possible for a child, their family and their community.”

Mercy Ships

“Without urgent medical care, children like Memuma will die. Will you help us reach them before it’s too late?”

“I had to warn you. I had to let you know that the picture of Memuna that you can see above is upsetting.”

“…without Mercy Ships, children like Memuna, in the remotest, poorest parts of our world, don’t have a chance. Without medical care, they’ll never be able to see, walk or be free of deformity again.”

“If it [Memuna’s tumour] had gone untreated it would have killed her in the most agonising way imaginable. But thanks to kind supporters just like you, I was able to remove her tumour.”

“Thank you on behalf of every child we can save together.”

NB: I also completely take issue with the name of your charity. Mercy = “compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” With this choice of name you have immediately elevated yourselves to a position of power over those you want to ‘help’, disempowering them and reducing their ‘salvation’ to an act of mercy, rather than a matter of social justice, equality and humanity.

Your words and images reduce people to a spectacle. You remove their agency and their power. You make them ‘different’. You reduce them to graphic photographs, to heart-wrenching descriptions, to painful voyeurism, to their problems. You take away their history and their experiences, their feelings and the full spectrum of their being. You make the impossible seem possible. You make them a salve for a consciousness that ignores that fact that in the world today people are poor, because ‘we’ are rich. You put value on ‘promising young lives’ and not lives; You reduce lives to the value of a packet of crisps.

Most dangerous of all, is that you allow people to think that we’re separate from all of ‘this’. That we’re different. That the actions we take here, the system we’re complicit in, the things we buy, the choices we make, don’t affect people around the world. You’re not telling the truth. You’re telling stories. And that’s why things aren’t changing.

All I keep playing over and over in my head are the words of Nick Dearden, Managing Director of Global Justice Now, who recently wrote in an article in Red Pepper:

But over the past two decades, the war on global poverty has been subverted and co-opted. In an age when obscene wealth became once again something to boast about, those big campaign groups and politicians concerned about poverty moved with the times. To keep ‘poverty’ relevant to Thatcher’s children, they gutted it of political content. Through the new concept of ‘extreme poverty’, it became possible both to believe in me-first individualism and free market economics, and to care about the very poor.’

Not possible. The two are mutually exclusive.

I really appreciate what you’re trying to do, and I’m sure a lot of people will diasgree with me, but, it’s time to tell different stories, and campaign for real change. Honestly, we all know that Ali from Finsbury Park’s 50p a week isn’t going to change the fate of developing countries and those living in them, when the West is taking billions of pounds resources out of Africa every year, when the World Bank is run by a handful of powerful countries, when John in New York’s congratulating himself on moving another $50m into his offshore account. It’s a big task I know, but you’re in the position to educate people about what’s going on and call for real, lasting, earth-trembling change. I know it’s not going to happen overnight, but telling the truth is a good start…

Yes Memuna has a tumour, and she’s unlikely to have access to medical care. But why not talk about the fact that “The World Trade Organization (WTO) enforced the privatisation of health care and opened the developing countries health markets to Western Health Care industries. In 1995 the WTO-GATS agreement (on trade and services) prevented signatory governments from providing subsidised goods and services in the health sector for which there is market demand.” This is just ONE tiny example of how Western neoliberalism isn’t playing fair in healthcare, you can read plenty more here.

Yes Rosa lives in a “tiny one room shack with her mother, sister and another young family…She was forced to leave school, as her mother could no longer afford the fees.” But, before you get me started on the effect of neoliberalism on education; Rosa’s life isn’t going to improve with a daily donation of 50p from a Western saviour. What we need is an international political and economic system that’s equal. Where all countries have a say in making the rules, where trade is actually fair, where countries have autonomy over their choice of leadership and over their economies, their politics and their cultures. Where we talk about how much Europe benefited from colonialism and slavery and continues to do so. Where leaders who challenge Western models of capitalism and neoliberalism aren’t assassinated. Also, don’t tell people that Rosa’s sat in (insert African country here), waiting for a sponsor like them, as if that’s all she knows and all she has to live for. You know that’s not true, although you probably haven’t asked. You haven’t given her a voice.

I know it’s a tough position to be in, but you’re in a position of serious responsibility. Real justice isn’t going to come from a place of guilt. It’s not going to come from a place that perpetuates damaging stereotypes or misinformation. I don’t have the answers, but:

  • Why not stop writing to the public asking them for money, and instead write to them (because I agree that we should all take more responsibility for what’s going on on this planet) to let them know what’s really going on. Tell them what the UK government and the businesses we buy from are really responsible for, so people can make informed choices about who to vote for/buy from. You can also ask them to campaign/educate/raise awareness and demand change.
  • Ramp up campaigns targeting those who lead global inequality and that we blindly follow.
  • And finally, if you insist on continuing with donor-supported fundraising requests. PLEASE please PLEASE sort your messaging out. For many people living in the UK, their only experience of ‘developing’ countries comes via you lot, or the media, and we know how representative that really is… You have a responsibility to tell the TRUTH about what’s really going on in these countries and for the people living in them.
  • And why not actually AMPLIFY the voices of those you speak of. Instead of searching for stories of woe and projecting your own stories to suit your aims, why not ask people in developing countries what they want the UK to know? Why not speak to the hundreds of thousands of vocal, mobile, passionate people living in ‘developing countries’ or ex-pats who are angry and active on these issues and give them more air time here.

Do you really think things in the world are going to change if everyone in the UK thinks that everyone in the global south needs ‘saving’ and that it’s something that we’re capable of giving with a fleeting moment of guilt and a monthly financial donation. That it’s possible without giving anything up or standing up, without learning and listening and taking responsibility for the lives we live, the systems we create and the world we make every day?