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WHY DO WE IN THE WEST CONTINUE TO FAIL AFRICANS?

In the west we are good when it comes responding to international emergencies like earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis. And when it comes to humanitarian aid we are also not found wanting giving generously to feed the hungry and to provide shelter and clean water along with medical facilities for those in desperate need. These provisions are usually supplied through the Disasters Emergency Committee or international NGOs like Red Cross, Save the Children, Oxfam etc. who themselves are always working away quietly, on behalf of their supporters, in so many poor areas of the world providing constant relief for needy people. It seems we westerners do have a heart and feel for those less fortunate. But we never seem to ask why we have to do this. Why is it that we are asked to put our hands in our wallets/purses to provide support for so many tragedies year in year out?

Adam Smith, the father of economics, argued over 200 years ago that 'little else is requisite to carry a state from lowest barbarism to the highest degree of opulence but peace, easy taxes and tolerable administration of justice.'

And this still applies today.

Peace, sadly, still eludes too many countries today especially in Africa. There, tribal and religious rivalries come to the fore constantly meaning that governance can be a huge challenge and is often irreconcilable. But it shouldn't be for poor countries need a government of all the races, cultures and religions. And it is there that democracy is struggling to work as tribal rivalries are fought out in party politics meaning that there are winners and losers. And the losers are all too often ready to take up arms to get their voices heard. In poor countries, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, a government of all affiliations, from all areas of the country for all the people is a necessity if real and sustained progress is going to be made. And this is just not happening in most African countries and is most noticeably seen in South Sudan, Sudan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.

Tolerable administrations, too, are few in number in Africa. By tolerable governance it has to mean little or no corruption, strong national institutions, able leadership, adherence to the rule of law as well as a determination to improve health, education and welfare and to encourage agriculture and industry. Unfortunately, in Africa today, too many governments are maladministrations failing in too many of those areas leaving hundreds of millions of people living hand to mouth and unable to cope with the unexpected.

And just one look at the just1world world governance table 'in a league of their own' shows how far governments in Africa fall short of tolerable administration compared to the rest of the world.

That means we in the west need to go further when it comes to supporting those in need. We really do need to ask our own governments, international NGOs and poverty campaigners why it is that money spent in overseas aid is not used to encourage good governance as well as relieving poverty and hardship. For in the words of Edmund Burke, the 18th century Irish political theorist and philosopher, 'it is necessary only for good men to do nothing for evil to triumph.' And there are a lot of good men in western governments and NGOs along with campaigners who seek to 'Make Poverty History!'

TRUE COST OF A PLATE OF FOOD

In richer countries, most people spend a small part of their income on feeding themselves. In poorer nations, by contrast, buying the ingredients for a single meal can erase a significant proportion of a person's earnings. And where there is conflict or economic collapse, it can exceed these earnings outright, according to World Food Programme (WFP) research. Measuring the proportion of daily income that a person anywhere would spend on a plate of bean stew WFP calculates the cost around the world as the following:-

New York $1.20
Indonesia $5.50
Guatemala $8.27

India $9.25
Palestine $12.19
Kenya $14.51

Tanzania $27.73
Uganda $30.06
Somalia $42.12

The Gambia $53.38
Mozambique $61.92
Haiti $72.65

Domocratic Rep. of Congo $82.10
Malawi $94.43
North-East Nigeria $200.32

South Sudan $321.70

Whilst someone living in New York might spend just 0.6% of their daily income on the ingredients to make a simple bean stew, someone in South Sudan would need to spend 155% of their daily income. The vast discrepancy in the relative cost of basic foods when compared to income suggests that food systems are not meeting the needs of a large swathe of the world. But in many cases that is down to conflict, poor roads, storage, extreme weather and feckless government.

TEACHERS FAIL TO MAKE THE GRADE

Thousands of primary school teachers in Kaduna in North Nigeria are to be sacked after failing exams they set their 6 year old pupils. Speaking at a meeting with the World Bank in the state capital, Nasir El-Rufai, the state governor said that 21,780 teachers, two-thirds of the total, had failed to score 75% or more in an examination taken by their pupils. He promised to replace them with 25,000 new teachers. Evidently, in the past, the hiring of teachers was politicised but now the aim will be to bring in young qualified teachers to redress any imbalance. He also said the teacher-pupil ratio will also need to be confronted for in some cases the ratio is 1:100.

ONE YEAR ON UN SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS ARE FALTERING

In a survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation for the UN the ambitious goals aimed at ending poverty and inequality by 2030 are seen as moving more slowly than expected and would struggle to get UN approval today. The survey asked policymakers, campaigners and professionals with an interest in the Sustainable Development Goals how they viewed the progress of the blue print of 17 goals and 169 targets that unanimously won support 2 years ago from all 193 UN member states. The long detailed agenda is a global to-do list on such issues as ending hunger and poverty, achieving gender equality and ensuring quality education for all which in total would require an estimated US$3 trillion to be invested annually for success. But the online poll conducted between July and September found two-thirds of the respondents saying that progress on the aims was slower than anticipated with half hinting that they were not confident that they could be met by 2030. Perhaps this huge list of goals and targets was always going to be impossible to reach though so this should come as no surprise. It was just far too ambitious.

AN AFRICAN BRIGHT SPOT

Ever since the the 1987 the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships in Rome, men born and raised in Kenya or Ethiopia have won 72% of the medals on offer in the 10,000m; 5,000m and 3,000m steeplechase. For cultural reasons, women took a little longer to assert their dominance, but since the 1999 World championships in Seville Kenyan and Ethiopian women have won an amazing 81% of medals offered in the 10,000 m and 5,000m. So what is the secret of this astonishing success?

According to Adharanand Finn, an editor on the Guardian newspaper, there are several factors which have come together for this perfect storm. In rural areas of the high altitude Rift Valley, in both Kenya and Ethiopia, children grow up leading active lives running to and from school and doing chores, often in bare feet. All of which is supplemented by a diet rich in rice, beans, maize and kale.

These conditions aren't unique to Ethiopia and Kenya, but what is singular to this part of east Africa is a culture that embraces running as a viable life option. Parents will support children wanting to run whilst other runners will pass on shoes, clothing and advice. And kids also see it as a way out of poverty as running is often the only show in town. Coaching, encouragement, passion and a will to win also lie here in abundance in a land full of opportunity for distance runners.

Middle-distance running then is an amazing African success story which has lasted more than 30 years. In this time, though, running successful governments in these 2 countries, like so many others in Africa, has proved more elusive. And that is why the number of Africans living in extreme poverty has increased by 100 million in the last 30 years, according to the World Bank. Too many governments in Africa, it seems, are running on borrowed time!

WORLD'S MOST RESPECTED PERSONS

Forget politicians like Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron for the world's most respected persons today must surely be Bill and Melinda Gates. Together in 2000 they set up the Gates Foundation which focuses on improving people's health and wellbeing, expanding educational opportunities and helping individuals lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty in the developing world. Together and separately for the last decade they have travelled the world talking to HIV positive prostitutes, trying to eradicate diseases such as polio and tuberculosis, chivvying leaders of rich countries to increase their overseas aid budgets whilst encouraging governments in developing countries to start to get their act together especially on health matters. The largest area for investment has always been health with large sums given over to control infectious diseases, malaria and TB. Massive sums have also been made available to supply condoms to women so that they should not be forced to get pregnant over and over again. In this way women gain control over their bodies and they will make different choices that will effect not only their families but their communities and, in time, their countries. Organisations receiving the most funding from the Gates Foundation are GAVI Alliance, the public-private global health partnership committed to increasing access to immunisation in poor countries; World Health Organisation and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. To date Bill Gates has donated over US$30bn to the foundation. Few people have ever been in the position to change the world but in the case of Bill Gates he has not only done it once (with Microsoft) but twice. And Africa and the developing world owe him and his wife a huge debt of gratitude.

UNEXPLAINED WEALTH ORDER BILL PASSES IN UK

On 27 April, 2017 the UK government passed into law Unexplained Wealth Orders, a provision of the Criminal Finances Bill, in what is deemed by Transparency International (TI) as a significant step in the global fight against corruption. Research over the years by TI has exposed the role of the UK as a safe haven for corrupt money laundered from all over the world, harming ordinary citizens abroad. This Unexplained Wealth Orders will empower UK law enforcement agencies to target corrupt money flowing into the UK and more easily return it to those from whom it has been stolen.

In March TI research identified London properties worth a total of £4.2bn that were bought by individuals with suspicious wealth which some commentators say is only the tip of the iceberg. The anti-corruption watchdog is now calling on the next government to ensure these powers are effectively used to target all suspicious wealth being brought into the UK.

OVERSEAS DEVELOPMENT AID REACHES RECORD LEVELS IN 2016

According to the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) development aid reached a new peak of US$142.6bn in 2016, an increase of 8.9% from 2015 after adjusting for exchange rates. A rise in aid spent on refugees in donor countries boosted the total. Official Development Assistance (ODA) from the 29 DAC member countries averaged 0.32% of Gross National Income (GNI), up from 0.30% in 2015, as aid volumes rose in most donor countries. Measured in real terms - correcting for inflation and currency fluctuations - ODA has doubled (up 102%) since 2000.

ODA spent on hosting refugees inside donor countries jumped by 27.5% from 2015 to reach US$15.4bn. That equates to 10.8% of total net ODA, up from 9.2% in 2015 and 4.8% in 2014. Many donor countries have seen unprecedented inflows of refugees in the last 2 years, and DAC is working to clarify its ODA reporting rules to ensure that refugees costs do not eat into funding for development. Humanitarian aid rose by 85 in 2016 to US$14.4bn.

A 1988 rule allows donor countries to count certain refugee expenses as ODA for the first year after their arrival. Austria, Germany, Greece and Italy used over 20% of ODA budgets on refugee costs. Australia, Japan, South Korea and Luxembourg spent nothing.

Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and UK all met or exceeded the 1970 UN target of spending 0.70%GNI on overseas aid.

TIME for ACTION

Nelson Mandela once said that the African National Congress (ANC) would work tirelessly for the heart and soul of the people. But that seems a pipedream today as President Zuma and his ANC government are accused of greed, impotence, inefficiency and cowardice. Hugely inflated contracts are awarded for inadequate roads, houses and water systems leaving millions of people struggling to trade whilst living in shacks without access to safe water; criminals pay policemen to drop cases against them whilst pupils fail exams because the education department has stolen the funds allocated for textbooks. And the sacking of the incorruptible Pravin Gordham will only underline this profligacy as South African government bonds receive a junk rating. Meanwhile President Zuma and his cronies fiddle whilst the economy burns. For the sake of the country President Zuma needs to be replaced.

WORSE THAN APARTHEID

In a recent speech, Jackson Mthembu, ANC chief whip, said 'the party leadership of Jacob Zuma had become worse than its apartheid predecessors and the time had come to make changes'. Murky corruption charges and gross mismanagement of the economy are piling up on this president's watch.

TOWARDS A MORE DYNAMIC UNITED NATIONS

According to Dag Hammarskjold, the second United Nations (UN) secretary-general, the UN was not set up to take the world to heaven but to save it from hell. And in the 70 year since 1945, with just a few worrying moments, this has certainly been the case. However, although no third world war has broken out in the intervening years there have been numerous occasions when countries have turned in on themselves leading, in many instances, to mass genocide. And the UN has stood by unable or unwilling to intervene. This cannot any longer be acceptable for civil war all too often is calamitous leading to mass destruction and killings which push peoples over borders into neighbouring countries which then have to deal with the problem.

Syria is a case in point. When the Arab Spring was unleashed in 2011 opposition to President Bashar Al-Assad mounted and the country soon found itself with a dictator who would stop at nothing to stay in power. Since then many towns and cities have become devastated battlegrounds where innocent men, women and children have had to withstand cluster bombs, chemical weapons, massacres and rape on an apocalyptic scale with an estimated 300,000 losing their lives. At the same time, out of a population of 20,000,000, 4,800,000 have fled to neighbouring countries whilst 8,000,000 have been internally displaced creating the worst refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War. And now Russia has entered the mix and with its air power bombs indiscriminately creating nothing short of Armageddon in cities like Aleppo.

And now there is Yemen where misery is being heaped upon misery in that decrepit land. Here the people are crying out for help and, apart from some brave and determined international aid organisations, the world stands idly by on the sidelines as Saudi Arabia and Iran fight a proxy war.

Civil wars like this cannot be tolerated any longer and a solution needs to be urgently sought.

Although the UN has created some solid institutions like the International Court of Justice it has now become dated and dysfunctional. This can be seen in the use of the veto by Russia which all too often stifles moves towards peace in countries like Syria where the UN should be able to step in as an arbiter of conflict. This also undermines the the UN's credibility. So it is now time for change.

This is easier said than done, of course, in an organisation where, in matters regarding peace and security in nations, the veto in the UN Security Council by any of the Permanent Members (China, Russia, US, UK, France) means that intervention is difficult if at all. So a way round this situation needs to be found. One way to do this would be to continue to allow Security Council members the use the veto but, if any do and then the UN General Assembly votes by a 2/3rds majority to null that veto, then the UN can intervene in the affairs of a country enduring civil war.

If this had been in place in 2011 a sizeable UN force calling on both sides to lay down their arms may have made a difference in Syria. And in the intervening ceasefire a government of national unity could have been set up at the insistence of the UN. And any party unwilling to accept such a proposal would have been isolated and forced out.

The same result for Yemen would have saved the lives and suffering of countless innocent people allowing a government of national unity to be set up under the authority of an independent UN governor.

PANAMA PAPERS

The leaked papers made public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in early April, 2016 connects thousands of prominent figures to secretive offshore companies in 21 tax havens around the world, and reveal the opaque workings of the offshore finance industry. The documents focus on the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, with its 210,000 clients, and has led to allegations that the firm aided public officials and multinational corporations to avoid taxes. Mossack Fonseca deny this.
According to Craig Fagan, Senior Policy Co-ordinator at Transparency International, 'this is just the tip of the iceberg and you can be certain that there are many other law firms in places like even London, Hong Kong, Miami and New York that are operating similar structures.'
At the same time Oxfam claims there is at least US$18 trillion hidden in tax havens across the globe with two-thirds of this offshore wealth hidden in European Union related tax havens. The charity also suggests that between US$100bn - US$160bn is lost to developing countries every year through tax dodging by multinationals.
In a timely exercise the UK government is due to hold an anti-corruption summit on May 12 which will bring together world leaders, business and civil society to try to agree a package of measures to expose and tackle corruption.

 
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