Monday, March 30, 2009

Africa’s Economic Slowdown Linked To Global Recession, Fiscal Crisis

Africa’s dependency on foreign powers has now made the continent the most vulnerable victim of the global recession. For decades, foreign investment from Europe, America and

China flooded into African countries, in exchange for cheap mineral resources and cash crops. But now, economists are predicting the global linkages, which once contributed to the creation of enormous amounts of wealth, will further drive peripheral African nations deeper into poverty.

Senegalese economics student and blogger Masake Kane said African countries are finally showing signs of the global recession facing more advanced economies.

“African economies are expected to suffer a $578 billion loss in export earning over the next two years,” said Kane. “While the initial effects of the financial crisis were slow to materialize, the impact is now clear.”

Kane said jobs, firms, mines and livelihoods are being swept away each day. Beyond the numbers, she believed African families are going to bare the brunt of the downturn.

“On a micro-economic level the purchasing power of many households is going to decline, and because the stocks of foreign reserves are running low, many countries will not be able to import food, medical supplies and other basic needs,” Kane said.

In most African countries, production in key sectors is oriented towards meeting Western demand. Diamonds are just one of many commodities facing price deflation as Europeans and Americans purchase less. British diamond company De Beers is halting production in much of Southern Africa, as demand for precious stones have collapsed in the wake of the recession.

The British government has pledged that African countries’ problems will be addressed at the G-20 London summit in April. The summit will gather 20 nations with the largest economies to redeem the struggling global economy. G-20 nations combined own 85 percent of the world’s GDP. The only African nation that will be in attendance is South Africa.

G-20 leaders are pledging to provide more financial resources to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to assist African nations during the crisis. Lord Malloch-Brown, British Minister for Africa, has said that “without addressing issues facing Africa, and allowing African voices to be heard, the G20 will fail morally.”

Not everyone is convinced that coordinated action by the G-20 and the existing banking system will help Africa at all.

In the lead up to the G-20 summit, Brazil’s president, Luis da Silva, blasted “white blue-eyed bankers” who dragged the world’s non-Western countries into a mess he believes they created.

Ben Woods is the president of the Graduate Political Science Association (GPSA) at Howard University and agrees with President da Silva. Woods said Africa should remember the current cycle of debt and poverty was created by Anglo-inspired institutions like the IMF and the World Bank.

“The IMF was becoming irrelevant, but now with the G-20 trying to give them more money and influence, these global financial institutions could make a comeback. I don’t really expect to see much change under the status quo.” Woods said.

Thursday, Woods and the GPSA are hosting a forum at Howard with representatives of the Venezuelan Embassy and a Howard University professor to discuss alternatives to the existing global crisis. Woods said he worries today’s window of opportunity could close quickly as the global powers work to preserve the world-system.

Kane is hopeful, however, that such an alternative may be on the horizon. She said Africa is already taking some steps to minimize the impact of the current crisis. “I think there may be a general move away from export-oriented economies toward stimulating domestic and regional demand within the continent. This would represent a huge change in Africa,” she said. “Whether or not it translates into a sustained shift or not, we will have to wait and see.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Message to Obama: Negotiate With Hezbollah

There are several gems of truth the Obama administration should note in Roger Cohen's short article entitled, "Middle East Reality Check" in the International Herald Tribune. Like Cohen I too applaud Britain's decision to recognize militant group Hezbollah as a legitimate political force in Lebanon. Future recognitions of groups like Hezbollah and Hamas will be central to any lasting peace process in the Middle East. Following the lead of our western European ally in recognizing Hezbollah is a logical step for an Obama administration centered around a message of change. The US should also move to fully engage with Hamas as they are a legitimate governing force in the Palestinian territories. Like it or not, Hamas and Hezbollah represent vibrant social movements and legitimate forces of resistance.

Monday, March 2, 2009

South African Youth Prepare for Country’s Upcoming Defining Election

The upcoming election in South Africa is nothing less than an all out battle for the future direction of the country, and youth are to play a key role in the outcome. South Africa’s youth, falsely accused of political apathy, have emerged as a powerful new force in the general elections to be held on April 22. According to the Independent Electoral Commission, a total of 6 million youths under the age of 29 are now on the voters’ roll, compared to 4 million in 2004.

The African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) and the Young Communist League (YCL) have been active across the country to mobilize the youth to vote for change in South Africa. They are concerned with the pro-business policies of the last South African president, Thabo Mbeki, which they say seriously deteriorated the conditions of the nation’s poor and working class youth. The top issues among the groups include decent work and sustainable livelihoods, education, health and the fight against crime and poverty.

The first black South African president, Nelson Mandela, recently attended a mass rally in support of current ANC candidate Jacob Zuma. Many believe April’s vote is as important as it was in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected and ushered in black majority rule in South Africa.

The ANCYL, YCL and other youth groups see a golden opportunity in the campaign for Jacob Zuma to strengthen grass roots forces within the ANC. Zuma has been a popular figure among young South Africans. They hope that Zuma will advance the country toward a fairer redistribution of wealth, job security and affordable education for young people.

“The YCL will be going far and wide to campaign for the ANC, especially in areas where it is believed that the ANC is an underdog,” said Buti Manamela, president of the YCL in South Africa. “The youth vote will determine the president of the republic, and we will do everything in our power to ensure that Jacob Zuma is president.”

Although predicted to win big in April, the ANC faces tough challenges to the election of Jacob Zuma. A new party called Congress of the People (COPE) split from the ANC largely out of resentment at the way the South African Communist Party and its allied Congress of South African Trade Unions moved to oust then president Thabo Mbeki and install Jacob Zuma as deputy president of the party. COPE is comprised of more conservative politicians who support neoliberal free-market economic policies. COPE is running Reverend Mvume Dandala as their candidate, appealing to a more conservative middle-class base.

Jacob Zuma is likely to face renewed corruption charges even if he assumes the presidency. Zuma is under investigation for a role in an alleged arms racketeering scandal.
The ANC is hoping young people will still come out to the polls in large numbers to support Zuma. “Why do you want to subject him to the hands of the few, the judiciary, the judges and the media? Leave it to the voters – 23 million must decide whether Zuma becomes president or not, not the judges,” said Julius Malema, president of the ANCYL.

Youth activists throughout the country have been engaging in door-to-door campaigning to highlight the greatest concerns of the South African people: jobs, food security and the global economic crisis. South Africa’s major political parties are campaigning ahead of the April 22 national and provincial elections. A dozen people were injured at an election rally for Jacob Zuma in the KwaZulu-Natal province filing into a stadium designed to seat 20,000.

Mari Harris, political analyst at research company Ipsos Markinor, is confident the youth will come out to the polls in unprecedented numbers.
“In general, this election is far more interesting than the 1999 and 2004 elections,” Harris said. “Young people believe that this time their votes may actually count. This year we expect a higher voter turnout.”