This piece by the always excellent Chris McGreal in today's Guardian explains why the resignation of Thabo Mbeki is long overdue. Like many though, I fear it will take more than a change of leader for South Africa to escape its current predicament. The country is a perfect example of how economic growth can do absolutely nothing for society, if its fruits are not widely distributed.
Another good piece on the democracy debate prompted By David Miliband's speech earlier this week. This time from Adrian Hamilton in The Independent who concludes:
If I were the new Foreign Secretary, I would drop the word democracy
altogether. It is in danger of becoming too devalued as a concept.
Concentrate instead, in our discussions with China, the Gulf States and
Africa, on the things that make up democracy: freedom of speech, an
independent judiciary and equal human rights for all. On those we can
talk with some (although not complete) authority and may hope to make
some difference, step by step.
Of course we cannot speak with any authority on the question of helping to create conditions for economic justice in a globalised world, which is, presumably, why Hamilton fails to mention this other crucial prerequisite for democracy.
It never fails to amaze me how, in the debate about promoting democracy, so few politicians or commentators are prepared to consider the relationship between improving economic justice and the entrenching of democratic institutions in society.
Admittedly the relationship is a complex one. In the case of the developed western nations, a early taste of economic justice gave ordinary people an appetite for more, and democracy was the mechanism through which they chose to pursue a more equitable society.
Today, however, we appear to have all but given up on the principal of economic justice within the mature democracies, and certainly between nations, so we can have little of value to offer those societies where democracy is struggling to get a foothold.
A rather confused piece, I thought, by Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society in yesterday's Independent. He argues that there will be no genocide in Kenya, because the Kenyan situation is quite different from that of Rwanda in 1994 when up to a million people were murdered in four months. Instead of explaining the differences (which are considerable), he ends up highlighting the similarities between the two countries' situations.
Rwanda was, and Kenya is, a product of a flawed modern political system being imposed on a society where tribal allegiances still figure prominently in consciousness of many people. Not because people are innately tribal in a way that westerners are not, but because the colonial and post-colonial history of each country has seen one group assuming power over, and restricting the economic opportunities of, others.
The Rwandan genocide was a political act, planned and commanded from the highest levels of government. Kenya's current violence may not be a result of explicit instructions from senior political figures (although the murder yesterday of opposition politician Mugabe Were looks to be more than a random killing), and it has certainly not been planned in advance (in Rwanda hundreds of thousands of machetes were imported from China in the year before the genocide) but the warning signs are there, which is why every possible effort must be made to avert a further escalation in the violence.
Dowden may be right to argue that whatever happens in Kenya it will not be genocide, but we should hardly draw comfort from this. Unless the violence can be brought to a rapid end, many thousand could die, to add to those already being displaced.
The only solution is to hold new elections under the supervision of an international body (perhaps the African Union). A date should be set some months ahead to allow for proper organisation of an election which produces a legitimate and unchallengeable result. It is hard to envisage any other solution while President Kibaki remains in power on such a dubious mandate.
Dowden concludes by saying:
This is going to be horrific and puts Kenya and the entire East African region at risk of economic collapse.
Although a stolen election was the catalyst, surely it's the perception of economic injustice among certain ethnic groups and the total disregard for those perceptions among politicians that underlie this conflict. And that's inevitable given the level of cultural development in Africa, and the overly competitive, scarcity-based western economic model under which all Africans are now forced to live.
Barbara Stocking, Chief Exec of Oxfam, has a brave piece at comment is free. She defends the presence of Oxfam at the World Economic Forum in Davos, arguing that
For every selfish capitalist, there is an enlightened businessperson
inspired by the challenge of global poverty and committed to changing
the way they operate to help end it. They are important not solely
because they care, but because many of them in are in positions of
significant influence and can therefore do something about it.
It's a difficult one, for while Ms Stocking may have some very productive conversations with some of the attendees, and may well obtain support or sponsorship for some of Oxfam's initiatives and projects in the developing world, she is not likely to persuade anyone that the problems of the poor world are a direct consequence of the way in which the global economy is structured.
And it is the structure of the economy that has enabled those who go to Davos to make their fortunes. I'm not saying the poor are poor because the rich are rich, only that under the current system, the means by which the rich get rich necessarily reduce the life chances of those at the bottom, be they in rich countries or poor ones.
There is a rapidly growing band of African millionaires, but this has led to no change in the situation of most Africans, and nor will it.
When it comes to poverty alleviation, there are two options: Allow a minority to exploit an unjust system, and then lobby for them to give a share of their wealth to reduce poverty, as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and George Soros have done very generously. Or, arrange things so that the disadvantaged have a fair chance in life and can access the means to their own economic security. This would permanently reduce the amount of suffering in the world, whereas charitable aid often amounts to little more than short-term sticking plaster.
Ms Stocking is in a difficult position. If she spent her time attacking the means by which the wealthy get rich, she probably wouldn't be invited to Davos. But it is to be hoped that organisations like Oxfam remember the true roots of poverty, and don't just settle for crumbs from the tables of the rich and powerful.