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G20 leaders are “not in a state of denial”

30. November 2022 - 14:39
Indonesian economist assesses results of Bali summit in November 2022

We are living in multiple crises, and inflation is compounding all other problems. In a way, inflation is also a response to those crises because it is redistributing purchasing power and thus resources, though in an unplanned and uncoordinated way. The G20 declaration shows awareness of the problems and encourages central banks to manage the situation. To me, this message is confusing because central banks are now in a kind of race to raise interest rates, trying to keep their respective currencies competitive and make other countries bear a greater burden (see André de Mello e Souza on www.dandc.eu). The G20 was launched in 2008 to coordinate macroeconomic policy. Is the group shying away from that task?
No, I do not think so. My impression is that all policymakers involved understand that the current polycrisis is more complex than they used to assume. Covid-19, the war in Ukraine, the economic slump, food shortages, global warming, the dwindling of ­biodiversity and inflation reinforce one another in ways that make them almost intractable. After the summit, I am actually a bit more optimistic than I was before. I find it encouraging that the world’s most important governments are not in a state of denial and have done a lot to find common ground.

But that does not add up to a strategy to control inflation.
Well, there is only so much a group of 20 governments can do. Two things are driving up prices:

  • One is the return to normal monetary policy after years of super-cheap money. Ever since the financial crisis of 2008, central banks of high-income countries had kept interest rates extremely low. The policy was called quantitative easing and it served to stimulate sluggish economies. Loose monetary policy, of course, makes asset prices rise, with eventually inflation increasing. It was obvious that it would take off sooner or later, and now it has.
  • This development was triggered – and exacerbated – by real-economy shocks. One was the coronavirus pandemic which severely disrupted supply chains. Another one was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which drove up food and energy prices. You can also count increasingly devastating extreme-weather events as real-economy shocks too. On the demand side, consumption, which was subdued in the pandemic, has resumed, especially among high income groups.

So we are now living in a perfect storm. In this setting, it makes sense for the summit declaration to reiterate the role of independent central banks and call for vigilance.

But don’t we need more?
You cannot expect a two-day summit of heads of state and government to sort out everything, especially as they really are not close allies, but competitors and even adversaries. A big contradiction is that they all know that international cooperation is necessary, but they also feel the pressures of decoupling and de-globalisation. The sense of rivalry among them has grown, and there is an international trend towards more regional and national decision-making. It is therefore promising that Joe Biden and Xi Jinping had a long bilateral meeting in Bali. It shows an interest in cooperation in spite of many disagreements. It is equally encouraging that the declaration mentions all of the big problems that must be solved. Even though Russia is a G20 member, for example, the declaration spells out that the war in Ukraine is compounding macroeconomic problems. It also states that threats to use nuclear weapons are unacceptable in the eyes of most participants. The language of the statement is surprisingly clear.

Acknowledging that the war adds to macroeconomic problems does not end the war – and it does not reduce the problems.
No, it does not, but that is the most the G20 was able to do. It is ultimately an informal setting with a macroeconomic mandate. It really can only express intentions and, if things go well, coordinate policies to make them come true. In terms of intentions, important global goals were reconfirmed, including food security, the mitigation of climate change, the protection of ecosystems, the stability of the financial architecture, the rule-based trade order, inclusive growth and so on. The document includes a commitment to speed up action towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. It also points out that women, smallholders, youth and vulnerable groups deserve particular attention, so no one gets left behind.

The declaration also calls for new investments to promote related causes – from eco-friendly infrastructure and clean energy to better pandemic preparedness through to education and waste management. But it does not say where the money will come from, apart from hints that the private sector must play a role and multilateral institutions should be involved. Isn’t the greatest problem we face today that all nations lack the fiscal space they need? I think the declaration says too little about related topics, from taxes to climate finance to sovereign debt.
I empathise with your wish to see a grand global plan. However, the lack of it does not amount to an unwillingness or an inability to respond to problems. The G20 are doing so in incremental steps. The declaration endorses OECD efforts to improve international cooperation on raising taxes and stemming tax avoidance, and it refers to the UN summit on development finance in Addis Ababa in 2015, which emphasised that developing countries must improve their tax system to mobilise  domestic resources.

It may look piecemeal, but don’t forget, the G20 are a club of 20 powerful but competing governments. They really cannot do much more than to support – and perhaps strengthen – existing international and multilateral initiatives. In regard to the fiscal space of least developed countries (LDCs), moreover, the G20 actually did take important steps. G20 members are increasingly allowing LDCs to use for developmental purposes special drawing rights (SDRs) which belong to the G20 members. SDRs are an internal IMF monetary reserve asset. They are distributed according to each member’s quota proportion at the IMF. The Fund issued new SDRs in 2021 to ease fiscal constraints in the pandemic and distributed them according to countries’ quota of IMF shares, so the high-income countries got much more than the LDCs. It is promising that G20 members are becoming less hesitant to letting LDCs use those assets (also see Kathrin Berensmann on www.dandc.eu).

What about climate finance?
Well, the declaration does reiterate that all existing promises must be fulfilled. It also indicates that more is needed. From the Indonesian perspective, the deal to phase out the country’s coal-fired power stations in the next 10 years was most important. It was concluded in the context of the summit but does not feature in the declaration. The deal is worth $ 20 billion and includes support from the EU, other G20 partners and the private sector. A similar deal was concluded with South Africa last year, and another one is planned with Vietnam. These are all sensible steps in the right direction.

My hunch is that sovereign debt issues, which are getting worse in many places, deserved more attention.
But the declaration does take account of them. It explicitly mentions the cases of Zambia, Chad and Ethiopia, where it appreciates the stance taken by the IMF. It also expresses concern for debt problems increasing in middle-income countries – and all of this reveals a willingness to act eventually. Without the suspension of least developed countries’ debt servicing during the pandemic, the situation would be much worse today. The G20 made the suspension happen.

Isn’t the real problem that the G20 do not agree on what to do regarding debt restructuring. China has a pattern of extending, but not forgiving loans. Some policymakers of high-income countries accuse Beijing of ensnaring LDCs in debt traps. In many ways, Chinese lending has resembled development lending by established donors in the 1970s or 80s, focusing on infrastructure in the hope of triggering growth, but ultimately leading to over-indebtedness. Obviously, the governments of high-income countries are not fond of debt relief either, but, unlike China, they have the experience of how useful multilateral debt relief was around the turn of the millennium.
Yes, those are interesting issues, but I think the strong point of the G20 summit was that it did not relitigate the past. So if western governments had started admonishing China for its lending, China could have responded by complaining about quantitative easing. It was wise to stay away from blame games and look forward instead.

Iwan J. Azis is a professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and visiting professor at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta. He served as a research advisor to the Indonesian central bank, participating in several pre-G20 seminars.
http://iwanazis.com/

Kategorien: english

Climate impacts compound Pakistan’s pre-existing problems

30. November 2022 - 14:09
Why this summer’s floods will reduce food security in Pakistan in the long run

This summer’s devastating floods have caused massive damage in Pakistan. By mid-October, the losses amounted to more than $ 30 billion, and at least 1700 people had died. According to the national government’s assessment, 2.3 million houses and more than 13,000 kilometres of road were washed away or damaged. At least 7.9 million people have been displaced, according to the UN.

Agriculture was painfully hit. The water destroyed standing crops throughout the country, so the supply of food items has decreased. This applies to vegetables, fruit and cereals. Soaring food prices mean that many people can no longer afford to buy what they need.

The disaster affected about 2.6 million hectares of cultivated land, according to a report published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). That was a bit more than one third of the country’s agricultural land. Cotton production suffered too. This is an important export commodity, on which masses of livelihoods depend (see my previous article on www.dandc.eu).

Parts of the territory were still inundated in early October. Farmers in those areas were not able to sow wheat and other crops for the next season.

The floods have also destroyed irrigation infrastructure, machinery, seed stocks and fertiliser stores in many places. Because of the shortfalls, farms will become less productive. The FAO states that production forecasts for rice, maize, sorghum and millets need downward revisions.

Livestock depletion

Farmers lost 1.2 million livestock animals moreover. Accordingly, milk and meat have become scarcer – compounding nutrition problems. Protein-rich food has become more costly after all, with reduced supply exacerbating the inflation problem the nation was facing even before extraordinarily heavy monsoon rains inundated the country from mid-June on.

It was not the first extreme weather calamity this year. Abid Qaiyum Suleri of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), an independent Islamabad-based think tank, says that heat waves earlier in the year had already caused a 30 % decline in the expected wheat yield.

In his eyes, the floods broke the back of the economy however. Food security in particular has deteriorated. As Suleri points out, it depends on three things:

  • supply must be sufficient,
  • people must have adequate purchasing power, and
  • their bodies must be able to absorb food.

The climate crisis, he argues, is affecting all three. As poorer harvests reduce supply, rising food prices overwhelm ever more people’s spending ability. Moreover, clean drinking water is not available in many flood affected areas, causing people to disturb their digestive systems and thus affecting their ability to absorb food. Suleri reckons it will take five months to restore access to clean drinking water in the populous southern province of Sindh.

Public-health crisis

Waterborne diseases have spread fast. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated in October that around 8 million people needed essential health assistance. Stagnant water and inadequate sanitation provided breeding opportunities for mosquitos. From July to October, according to Richard Brennan of the WHO, over 540,000 malaria cases were reported. Diarrhoea is another serious health threat. There have been outbreaks of dengue fever, measles and diphtheria. Brennan also expresses concern about the high rates of acute malnutrition. Especially women and girls are ex posed to disaster impacts (see Sundus Saleemi on www.dandc.eu).

For 2021, the US Department of Agriculture estimated that not quite 40 % of the people suffered food insecurity. According to government data, some 55 million Pakistanis lived below the poverty line at the start of this year. The World Bank reckons that the flood disaster may ultimately push the number up by another 9 million.

Poor governance is a long standing issue in Pakistan. Too little was done to prepare the country for the climate crisis (see my contribution on www.dandc.eu). Pakistan did little to cause global heating, but its impacts are now compounding each and every pre-existing problem (see Sundus Saleemi on www.dandc.eu).

A host of huge challenges

The multiple crisis is indeed daunting. Pakistan’s multi-party government is weak, and the populist leader Imran Khan, whom it deposed democratically earlier this year, was recently wounded in an attack when he was campaigning against it. The political situation is tense. The debt scenario is difficult and the climate crisis, which Pakistan did little to cause, is compounding the problems.

Macro-economic stability is fragile. Inflation is in double digits. International trends such as the strong dollar, high oil prices and rising food prices are important drivers. Government debt is an issue too. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) resumed a loan programme in August, but that money will eventually have to be paid back too.

In early October, Moody’s, the globally respected ratings agency, downgraded Pakistan’s sovereign credit rating by one notch. It mentioned increased risks regarding government liquidity, extern vulnerability and debt sustainability. Pakistan’s government contested the decision – and its initial estimates put the economic losses of the floods at $ 30 billion.

In October, the United Nations raised its aid appeal for Pakistan from $ 160 million to $ 816 million, as fear of growing hunger rises. The country clearly needs support.

Imran Mukhtar is an Islamabad-based Journalist.
imranmukhtar@live.com
Twitter: @imranmukhtar

Kategorien: english

More fiscal space is needed when states prove too “small”

24. November 2022 - 9:29
In response to multiple crises, governments must be able to invest assertively

This distorted worldview has been very powerful since the early 1980s. Back then,  Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was a  protagonist of the paradigm shift towards the “small” state.  Now the short tenure of Liz Truss in the same office in 2022 may prove to be another turning point. 

In Thatcher’s tradition, Truss wanted to impress financial markets by cutting taxes. To provide essential services, she planned to increase sovereign debt. She hoped that policy would attract investors to Britain. Instead, the markets she wanted to please rejected her reckless approach. To stabilise the pound, the central bank had to raise interest rates drastically, making real-economy investments in Britain less attractive. Higher borrowing costs, moreover, now exacerbate Britain’s budget constraints.

Multiple crises reinforced by inflation

The international community must cope with multiple crises, which are reinforced by inflation. The Covid-19 pandemic was disruptive, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has compounded problems. We have seen how costly the neglect of healthcare and pandemic preparedness can be. The war, moreover, ended any notion of the peace dividend that the end of the Cold War offered.

Growing need makes social-protection spending more important. Military spending is going up in many places too. Subsidies to help businesses survive in difficult times are indispensable as well. National budgets are stretched accordingly. Sovereign debt has increased fast in many places. While things are especially desperate in developing countries, all governments currently lack the fiscal space they need. Prudent taxation and debt sustainability thus belong high on policymakers’ agenda. How to make urgent investments feasible in times of rising interest rates is another important issue.

The key to solving global problems is international cooperation. Unfortunately, the complex and fragmented landscapes of multilateral institutions is not up to task (see Anna-Katharina Hornidge on www.dandc.eu). These institutions report to national governments, and an individual country can sabotage global consensus. As the sense of rivalry between major powers has grown, multilateral policymaking will remain incremental and piecemeal.

Nationalist egotism is unacceptable

It bears repetition that the nationalist egotism that motivates Russia’s imperialist war in Ukraine is unacceptable. It is compounding all other global problems and thus amounts to an attack on all of humankind (see a previous comment of mine on www.dandc.eu).

Nationalist egotism of the Brexit variety has proven harmful too, of course. The campaign to leave the EU was an example of plutocrat populism, sponsored by super-rich individuals who made people believe they were worse off due to the EU’s pooling of sovereignty (see another previous comment of mine on www.dandc.eu). What those oligarchs really resented was coordinated regulation across the EU, which protects people and the environment from market dynamics’ external effects. They hoped Brexit would result in race to the bottom.

Humankind does not need small states. We need competent and responsible governments.

Hans Dembowski is editor in chief of D+C Development and Cooperation / E+Z Entwicklung und Zusammenarbeit.
euz.editor@dandc.eu

Kategorien: english

UN climate summit in Egypt did not deliver on mitigation

21. November 2022 - 15:40
In spite of land mark decision on loss and damage, COP27 was a disappointment

Prosperous nations, which historically have caused most greenhouse gas emissions, are expected to pay, whereas poorer nations, which have hardly contributed to global heating, but suffer the worst impacts, will receive money to repair damages. Developing countries and emerging markets have been demanding such a fund for a long time. It will be set up quite late, however, as extreme weather is already wreaking havoc in many places. The floods submerging large parts of Pakistan this summer, for example, affected more than 33 million people, and the damages amount to a double-digit billion dollar sum (see Imran Mukhtar on www.dandc.eu). The new fund is meant to enable fast and adequate responses to such calamities.

Unfortunately, the scheme still is quite vague. Who will contribute how much, is an open question. China, currently the country with the most carbon emissions and historically the second runner behind the USA, does not want to pay. Western governments insist that the world’s most potent export power cannot keep hiding behind its traditional status as a developing country. Success will ultimately depend on China’s willingness to cooperate.

So far, burdens have not been shared fairly. High-income countries are still not living up to their old pledge to mobilise an annual $ 100 billion in support of climate mitigation and adaptation in low- and middle-income countries. Many disadvantaged countries, moreover, are heavily indebted, so they can hardly take new loans to respond to the climate crisis – and to the extent that they are still able to do so, such fiscal action will ensnare them more tightly in debt traps after every new drought or flood. It plainly does not make sense to discuss climate finance without considering debt problems (see Kathrin Berensmann on www.dandc.eu).

Prosperous nations must obviously bear responsibility for covering climate damages. It would be even more important, however, to put a brake on global heating. In this respect, the summit in Egypt was a failure, even though it reconfirmed the goal of the Paris Agreement concluded seven years ago to limit average temperature increases to 1.5°C. The problem is that humanity has not made significant progress on getting there.

That would require radical reductions in the use of fossil fuels. Sadly, the summit declaration only mentions the phasing down of coal, but not oil and gas. Opposition from fossil industries and major producing countries such as Saudi Arabia and Russia proved too strong. Moreover, there was a lack of nation states scaling up their climate commitments made so far.

Time is running out. The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere keeps growing. Scientists tell us that the policies currently in place will lead to a temperature rise of 2.8°C by the end of this century (see Suparna Banerjee on www.dandc.eu). However, irreversible tipping points, such as the melting of Arctic and Antarctic ice, are likely to be crossed somewhere between 1.5°C and 2°C. As a result, climate damages would escalate far beyond what we have seen to date. To prevent the worst, cooperation of as many countries as possible, including the EU and the USA, is needed. They must scale up climate efforts fast, regardless of what is declared at global summits. The transition to renewable energy makes economic sense anyway. Never before has it been so cheap to generate solar and wind power. Moreover, the current energy crisis, which was triggered by Russia’s attack on Ukraine, proves how devastating the dependence on fossil imports from despotically ruled countries can be.

International cooperation is indispensable if humankind is to get a grip on the climate crisis. Nationalist egotism of the Russian kind must not be allowed to undermine it. How hot the planet will become by 2100, depends on whether such a transformative coalition of the willing succeeds. The credibility of the western governments  depends on it too, by the way.
 

Jörg Döbereiner is a member of the editorial team of D+C Development and Cooperation / E+Z Entwicklung und Zusammenarbeit.
euz.editor@dandc.eu  

Kategorien: english

The billionaire’s blue bird is in trouble

21. November 2022 - 15:11
Lessons to be learned from Twitter’s current crisis

The background is that multibillionaire Elon Musk bought Twitter and is reshaping it. He is known for provocative statements and erratic decision-making, so it is impossible to tell what he really wants to achieve. He has declared himself to be a “free-speech absolutist”, and it is obvious that he wants to increase profits.

His endorsement of free speech is meant to display a progressive approach to human rights, but it actually amounts to a threat. He publicly disagreed with the Twitter management’s decision to ban former US President Donald Trump from the platform after he instigated the insurrection of 6 January 2021. Now Musk has allowed Trump back onto the platform after a flimsy poll held on the billionaire owner’s personal account. Musk himself could not say whether bots and fake accounts had voted.

Abandoning users and staff in India

Probably worse, Musk has in the past criticised Twitter for filing a legal case in India to protect users and staff against the national government, which is run by Hindu supremacists who have a pattern of harassing opponents. One method they use is to accusing critics of the colonial crime of “sedition” for expressing their views. Nonetheless, Musk declared Twitter’s law suit in India to be risky because it might hurt the corporation.

Pressed to clarify his stance on free speech, Musk has eventually said that he considers any statement that does not violate a law legitimate. His reasoning was that democratic governments implement their people’s will, so there is no further need for content moderation.

He is wrong. Any competent human-rights lawyer will tell you that governments as such are not the institutions you should entrust the freedom of expression to. After all, they have strong incentives to mute criticism. That is one reason why democracy depends on the independence of law courts, media and civil-society organisations. Musk’s idea of free speech severely limits this fundamental human right where dictators are in power or where elected governments with authoritarian tendencies are making efforts to undermine the constitutional order to strengthen executive power.

Disturbing global trend

In “Freedom on the net 2022”, a recently published report, the Washington-based not-for-profit organisation Freedom House warns that the international scenario has been getting worse for 12 years in a row. In at least 53 of 70 countries observed, “users faced legal repercussions for expressing themselves online”. An increasing number of governments, moreover, are said to control what people can access, hoard data and centralise infrastructure. On the upside, in about one third of the countries, internet freedom improved.

The Freedom House authors point out that civil society, the courts and democratic-minded policymakers should cooperate on protecting internet freedom everywhere. They also emphasise that the private sector must play its role, with content moderation being particularly important. Where public discourse loses credibility, the freedom of speech becomes destructive (see my contribution on www.dandc.eu). Where disinformation is allowed to run wild, democracy is in peril. Erosion of trust, however, also make advertising less valuable, which is why Twitter’s revenues have been dwindling. Unfortunately, that trend is likely to impress Musk more than concern for the viability of democracies.

Content moderation is clearly not what Musk is interested in personally. Indeed, he is personally known to spread fake news occasionally. In a later deleted Tweet, for example, he linked to a made- up story which argued that Paul Pelosi, the husband of Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic policymaker, was not attacked and injured in his home by right wing extremist, but by a gay lover. This is precisely the kind of politically motivated fake news that content moderation must restrict. Musk’s tweet was an excellent example of “plutocratic populism” (see my blog post on www.dandc.eu).

Relaxed content moderation

In the platform’s current crisis, content moderation has been relaxed. Musk has spent $ 44 billion to buy it and thinks it is massively overstaffed. He has cut about half of the jobs, but the exact number is unclear given that the management itself currently did not seem to know who is still working for it. Efforts to ensure the reliability of messages and accounts have obviously declined.

The European Commission has expressed concern that Twitter may have become unable to comply with its new Digital Services Act. The implication is that Musk may be running serious legal risks in Europe. EU institutions largely deserve trust when it comes to internet freedom. Europe has many checks and balances and proudly independent courts. Governments with a more authoritarian attitude to human rights, however, may actually appreciate Musk’s relaxed approach.

If Twitter is to serve democracy, the company must definitely increase moderation efforts. It needs to hire competent staff to detect hate speech and disinformation in local languages in the many countries where it has an impact on public debate.

Internet freedom must not be left to the whims of plutocrats and governments. Prudent regulation is needed – and lacking in far too many places. Twitter potentially serves an important function, but if it does not perform diligently, its collapse may actually be a good thing.

Link

Freedom House,2022: Freedom on the Net 2022.
https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2022/countering-authoritarian-overhaul-internet

Hans Dembowski ist Chefredakteur von E+Z/D+C.
euz.editor@dandc.eu

Kategorien: english

Why “slow politics” may make a difference in India

18. November 2022 - 16:00
Part two of Krupa Ge’s account of Rahul Gandhi’s long march across India

I climbed down the steps of the mosque in Karunagappally and joined the march. It moved at a shocking pace (see my previous post on www.dandc.eu).

Whenever I stopped to photograph some folk artists or unemployed youngsters dressed in their graduation gowns, the leading group left me behind. I tried to keep up for a while, but that was impossible given that I wanted to pay attention to what was going on around me. I steadied my pace and took time to take photos and videos.

On the walk, I met all kinds of people. Party workers, children and old men who seemed too weak to walk but nonetheless kept walking. There were women dressed in the traditional clothes holding roses in their hands which they hoped to hand to Gandhi at some point. There was sloganeering, flag waving, some dancing and lots of music.

No anger, no hate

What was absent entirely was anger and hate. And that seemed to be by design. The yatra felt like a safe space, so it was even more inviting to everyday women and children. Normally, this kind of party-led political event mostly attracts male activists and perhaps a few female party workers. Rahul Gandhi’s Yatra, however, looked more and more like a real mass movement. Hundreds of people waited along the sides of the roads to greet this moving mass of humans. And more people kept joining the march. I lost track of the head and tail of this long rally and simply became part of it.

Rahul Gandhi had succeeded in giving abstract terms such as “unity”, “brotherhood” and “peace” a tangible form. People were putting one foot in front of another, even as they became breathless and the soles of their feet began to feel hot. As the hours approached noon, the temperature rose. People did not complain about sweating however. We all rose to the challenge in a spirit of solidarity.

It was good to experience togetherness in this manner – and it was very different from the aggressive identity politics of our current Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-supremacist party BJP. (In 2019 book, “Malevolent republic”, the Indian journalist K.S. Komireddi did an excellent job of both assessing this matter and elaborating the decades-long decline of the Congress Party (see review by Hans Dembowski on www.dandc.eu). Gandhi now needs to not only defeat the BJP’s machinery of hate, but also help build his own party, whose organisational structure has been weakened across the country, after successive losses.

A kind of time travel

On the walk, I felt I had returned to an India that has long been presumed dead. It made sense once more to speak about togetherness and consider co-existing in the public. Smiling, hugging and speaking calmly felt normal again.

Local Congress activists beside me chanted: “Bolo bolo, Bharat jodo” (Say it loud, say it loud, India unite). They told me they were very happy he was walking in their state, and that the local party unit had become more assertive in the “reply attacks”, with which it responded to aggressive propaganda of the ruling Hindu-supremacist party BJP.

After about 12 kilometres, the morning leg of the yatra ended. Everyone needed a break. Many were nursing blisters on their feet. Rahul Gandhi, however, met unemployed youth to discuss their problems.

The experience was exhilarating. Some of the yatris (the people accompanying Gandhi for a longer stretch or even all the way from Tamil Nadu to Kashmir) are prominent members of parliament, former ministers or current state-level leaders. We know them from TV, but here they were accessible. During the break, they were sitting around as if it was the end of a college festival. However, they would get up again in a few hours and walk for another 12 kilometres or so. And for some of them, that is the agenda for 155 days.

The view of Sachin Rao, a prominent party member

In a quiet corner of the auditorium where everyone rested, Sachin Rao, shared some of his thoughts with me. He is a former member of the Congress party’s Central Working Committee, its highest decisionmaking body and plans to walk for most of the 3500 kilometres with Gandhi. He told me: “I keep getting asked on the road if I am walking all the way to Kashmir. When I say yes, people say ‘Thank you’.” He said he had not expected people to do so.

I asked him about the ideological and spiritual connotations of this walk. Rao said that the yatra was more a practical exercise than a religious ritual. Such a long journey, he said, requires one to leave one’s home and forgo its comfort and protection. “When you walk like this, you are subjecting yourself to physical and mental duress. That process practically brings you closer to the nature of your needs. You come up close to the ghosts inside yourself.”

Was the long walk intended to show the Congress Party as a younger, stronger party, with persons who can walk such a tremendous distance? Rao’s response was that even the strongest person was whimpering after the first two days. A yatra demands dedication, though stamina and determination grow as the journey winds on.  

The force of slow politics

Many people in India are opposed to the right-wing Modi government but doubt the Congress can bring change. Whether the yatra will make a lasting difference remains to be seen. Those currently in power, however, clearly do not know how to respond to the major opposition party’s embrace of a slow politics. They are experts in manipulating and monopolising narratives, but so far they have failed to claim for themselves the political and spiritual symbolism of the yatra.

Is the slowness unsettling the party in government? Rao said, “The yatra is directed at the people, not the party in power.” Will it then unsettle our people and shake them from their current sense of society?  Rao was cautious in his optimism: “I hope so.” The idea was to show that “big change requires big efforts.” He also reflected on “the total collective loss of our understanding of India”. Politics, in his eyes, has been reduced to a theatrical performance.

The Congress last ran India’s central government from 2004 to 2014. In Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s first term, it passed important legislations. In particular, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) made a big difference in some of India’s poorer regions. As expected, the party handsomely won the general election of 2009.

During the next five years, however, the Congress lost most of its goodwill. Its worst blow came from the government’s own audit body which alleged that there was massive corruption scandals. The party did not have another economic reform like the MGNREGA in its kitty to neutralise the negative publicity either. It thus became an easy target for Modi’s aggressive identity politics.

If it wants to become competitive again, it certainly has a long way to go – and Rahul Gandhi’s way of doing exactly that – step by step for 3500 kilometres – may indeed end up slowly changing people’s perception of him and the party he is associated with.

Krupa Ge is a Chennai-based journalist.
krupa.ge@gmail.com

Kategorien: english

Gandhi shows humility in line with South Asian spirituality

18. November 2022 - 15:47
Policymaker attempts to revitalise India’s inclusive sense of nationhood – and the reputation of the Congress Party

In India today, where anger is the primary language and currency in politics, it is not at all surprising that thugs have a free run on the streets. Men brandishing hate in their speeches, swords and sticks in their hands, men are fomenting hate. The mobs are having the time of their lives, even as they shout the rest of us down. They are everywhere, not just on the streets. On TV and the internet, sometimes even in our drawing rooms, Hindutva nationalism and its hatred for other religions has become an all-consuming project in India (also see Afra Khanum Sherwani on www.dandc.eu).

The line between the mob and the state has also long been erased too. I shut down my Facebook account and stopped using Twitter some time ago. The two social-media giants have allowed hate speech against India’s minorities to thrive unabashedly. Even as I write this, television anchors in Indian news channels are cheering policemen on for publicly flogging Muslims, Taliban style. They demand “instant justice” for crimes for which they have no proof, but which they blame on members of India’s many minorities, and especially Muslims.

Bulldozers all too often demolish minority property in front of television cameras – and it would be foolish to expect the police to protect innocent victims. Such state-tolerated and sometimes state-sponsored lawlessness is Modi’s New India.

Peace and togetherness

I long for something different. To promote peace and togetherness,  Rahul Gandhi, the former president of the Indian National Congress, the main opposition party, started a long walk across the country in September. He is accompanied by about 100 supporters. They are welcomed by crowds, wherever they arrive.

When I first read about it, I wanted to see for myself what that India might feel like. What might it be like to go to a part of your country that you have not been to before? Getting to know people of different languages, different cultures and different cuisines? Travelling not as a tourist, but as a curious compatriot? Walking the roads and streets of India in the presence of a politician? Attempting to protect the soul of your nation? It feels quaint, even unrealistic – but it does inspire hope.

Rahul Gandhi, against whom much of the ruling party BJP propaganda machinery has directed its hate, chose the street not to shout his opponents down, but to reach out to people. The full truth is that every other avenue of reaching out to them has been shut for him, as it has been for all political opposition today.

He resigned from his party’s presidentship after losing the general elections in 2019. After dominating Indian politics for decades after independence, the party’s future now seems dark, and not only those who endorse Hindu-supremacism see it in decline. As the son, grandson and great-grandson of former prime ministers, Rahul Gandhi is nonetheless a person of great symbolical relevance.

The long march across the country is called the “Bharat Jodo Yatra”. In Hindi, “Bharat” means India, “Jodo” Unite and “Yatra” Journey. The campaign brims with symbolism.

A padyatra (travel by foot) holds a lot of meaning in India’s political language. Many religions, not only in South Asia, are familiar with a pilgrimage on foot to show penance and humility. The march resonates with Indians at large. A politician’s padyatra reminds people that they are supposed to be the ultimate authority in a democracy. The constitution makes them the lords of this land.

The Mahatma’s example

Mahatma Gandhi showed India and the British, the power of a padyatra. His Dandi March in defiance of the colonial salt monopoly, has a place of prominence in world history. Along with many followers, Gandhi made salt and walked 380 kilometres.

Rahul Gandhi (no relation) is inspired by the freedom fighter’s example, but his Bharat Jodo Yatra is very much a 21st century event. It is livestreamed and instagrammable. Pictures, neatly edited videos and messages are posted online, and some even go viral.

Since the start in September, Rahul and his followers have covered over a thousand kilometres. In contemporary politics, no other politician has live streamed themselves for this long in India.

Seeing the Yatra arrive

It was still early days when I decided to go. All I had heard was that the yatra covered 25 kilometres a day on foot. About 12 to13 kilometres in the morning and the rest in the evening. Delhi-centric Indian national media had done its best to ignore the event. Even those in the media who oppose Hindu-supremacism were conspicuously silent.

I joined the yatra one morning in Karunagappally in Kerala, a southern state. The highway was decorated for the demonstration. As one grew closer to the venue, massive installations adorned street corners. There was even a mini set of Delhi’s Red Fort (from where the prime minister of India delivers the annual Independence Day speech). There were party flags, huge hoardings and cut-outs.

One could see how much this event meant to local activists of the Congress, which certainly did not look like a dying political party. On the streets wherever the yatra went, the revival of the opposition felt real. The sound of drums, dancers, a brass band, the festive buzz…  This was very much like the celebrations politicians organise after an election victory.

Music composed especially for the event was blasting from speakers mounted on a fully decorated jeep. The tune was catchy, and the lyrics were in Malayalam, the regional language. The song had actually been written for the event and celebrated it. For days after I returned from the journey, I found myself humming it.

Crowds everywhere

I climbed up the stairs of a mosque and waited for the yatra to pass by. Everywhere I looked, there were crowds. There was barely any space in the middle of the road for Gandhi’s security cordon.

The government has ample reason to worry about potential threats to his life, and for good reason. His father, Rajiv Gandhi, and his grandmother Indira Gandhi, were both assassinated. Indira was killed while she was serving as prime minister, and Rajiv while he was campaigning to regain that office after having lost it in a previous election.

There were people in front of me, behind me and next to me. There were people all around the mosque. The air of anticipation was palpable. Then suddenly the yatra came to us. Gandhi walked quite fast, but stopped here and there. He turned to where we were standing, smiled and waved.

The shy, old woman next to me was very pleased. She had shouted to get his attention. In the next part of this story, I will elaborate what I experienced joining the march for a day.

Krupa Ge is a Chennai-based journalist.
krupa.ge@gmail.com

Kategorien: english

What pro-Russian protests mean in West Africa

18. November 2022 - 10:00
Burkina Faso’s second military coup in eight months shows that the Sahelian security crisis is getting worse

At the end of September, Ibrahim Traoré, an army captain, grabbed power from Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba, a lieutenant-­colonel, who was serving as Burkina Faso’s head of state. Damiba had toppled the civilian President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré in late January.

As Damiba did then, Traoré now promises to rid the country of terrorism. Indeed, Islamist insurgents are wreaking havoc in Burkina’s north. In October, they controlled about 40 % of the country and perhaps more. Under Damiba, the situation had kept worsening. The sense of public frustration grew, and Traoré and his allies in the military took notice. Their coup fits a current pattern according to which army officers stage a coup because of a worsening security situation (see Vladimir Antwi-Danso on www.dandc.eu).

Burkina Faso is a poor country with a population of about 19 million. Many people live from hand to mouth, and the environmental crisis is making it increasingly hard to eke out a living. People therefore appreciated Traoré’s decision to airlift food supplies to Djibo, a northern town held by jihadists. The humanitarian situation there is desperate.

Tensions within the army

Traoré faces huge challenges. One problem is that the military itself is deeply divided. High-ranking officers enjoy perks, but low-ranking troops are poorly equipped and sometimes even lack food and ammunition on the front lines.

There is a long history of infighting in the armed forces, moreover. In 1987, Blaise Compaoré ousted Thomas Sankara, a charismatic, leftist military dictator. Compaoré was Sankara’s ally until he turned against him, had him killed and became military leader himself. Compaoré relied on a “presidential guard” composed mostly of men from his own tribe. Some say that he also cooperated with the jihadists, paying them to spare his country for many years.

Compaoré lost power in a popular uprising in 2014. However, attempts to establish a well-functioning democracy failed. Traditional chiefs, who wield much influence though they do not have a constitutional role, tend to support military rule in desperate situations. Many of them felt neglected in recent years, moreover.

Celebrating the coup

Rallies of young people celebrated Traoré’s coup in October, with some waving Russian flags. They may hope that support from the Wagner Group, a Russian military-service provider, and other Moscow-­endorsed entities may help Traoré stem the jihadis. However, the pro-Russian stance is best understood as an expression of anti-French feelings.

Those feelings are strong throughout West Africa. People are aware of the country’s oppressive colonial history, and they resent the close ties French presidents maintained to obviously corrupt African counterparts, including Compaoré in Burkina Faso, decade after decade. It also matters that current Sahelian strife began to escalate, particularly in Mali, when massive weapon supplies became available after the fall of Libya’s dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi in 2011. At the time, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron, then the top policymakers of France and Britain respectively, were the main proponents of the UN-endorsed intervention which facilitated Gaddafi’s end, without, however, taking control of the resulting security problems in Libya and the Sahel region.

Today, many see France as a weakening, mid-size power. Its intervention to stop jihadism in Mali failed, and a military government is now in charge there too. As violence kept spreading in the Sahel region in recent years, the attitude of French troops was considered to be condescending towards Africans (see Lori-Anne Theroux-Bénoni on www.dandc.eu).

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) does not have a coherent approach to dealing with military regimes. Some national leaders, like Macky Sall of Senegal and Faure Gnassingbé of Togo, are tolerant of their harsh stance. By contrast, President Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire says he does not like the military in power. He is in favour of a regional force to help put an end to military takeovers.

Quite obviously, Burkina Faso needs effective support. The security situation is desperate – and so are masses of people.

Karim Okanla is a media scholar.
karimokanla@yahoo.com

Kategorien: english

Broadening the tax base by registering informal workers

16. November 2022 - 11:40
So far, only 6 million people pay taxes in Kenya

As payments are mostly made in cash, business records are poor and many entities are not registered. Undocumented transactions, however, often prove impossible to tax. At the same time the people concerned typically do not benefit from government-sponsored social protection or any kind of private insurance coverage. Livelihoods in the informal sector are mostly precarious. Things are similar in many developing countries, especially in Africa and South Asia (for the example of Pakistan, see Marva Khan on www.dandc.eu).

As informal workers’ incomes are unpredictable, their families live hand to mouth. One implication is that attempts to enforce tax legislation across the entire informal sector is likely to cost more money than actually bypasses tax collection. To actually improve government revenues, as Kenya’s government intends to do (see main story), the challenge is thus to include those people in the system who can afford to pay without unduly burdening those who cannot.

According to Kenyan law, all adults must register with the tax agency and obtain a personal identification number. However, people who do not rely on the financial-service industry never need that identification number in their daily lives, so many remain unregistered.

Only 6 million registered taxpayers

So far, there are only 6 million registered taxpayers, of whom 3 million enjoy formal employment and another 3 million work in the informal sector. An estimated 15 million informal workers, however, are not covered.

The tax authority intends to recruit 2 million more taxpayers in the next two years. Ruto’s plan is to set up a special fund to give low-interest loans to the bottom-of-the-pyramid “hustlers”, such as street vendors, handcart pushers or boda boda operators (passenger-carrying motorcyclists). To access the new government fund, these persons will need a bank account, and to get one, they will have to register as taxpayers. Ultimately, value-added and income taxes can be collected as they do business to service their government loans.

This approach is smart and growth-oriented. It aims to boost an informal business to make it strong enough to pay taxes before actually charging taxes. At the same time, it makes the tax base broader and more promising in the long run.

Alphonce Shiundu is a journalist, editor and fact-checker in Kenya.
Twitter: @Shiundu

 

Kategorien: english

Kenya’s new president wants to collect more tax money

16. November 2022 - 11:28
Kenya’s huge public debt is choking public spending and undermining the economy

When Kenya’s new President William Ruto addressed the country’s Parliament after taking office in September, he did something unusual. Typically, presidential speeches in Kenya focus on how the government will spend money. Instead, Ruto told legislators that he plans to collect more taxes.

The national budget is indeed over-stretched. More than half of the national revenues go to paying back the colossal public debt. In the past decade under President Uhuru Kenyatta, the country’s debt increased four-fold, not least due to ambitious infrastructure projects. Ruto is not entirely blameless, since he served as Kenyatta’s deputy president.

External shocks have made matters worse. They include the impacts of Covid-19, food and fertiliser shortage due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, high oil prices, persistent drought in Kenya’s north and the locust invasion in 2020.

The government obviously needs more money and must therefore generate more revenues. The groundwork for the new tax policy and related forms was actually laid by the Treasury in the summer, before Ruto became the head of state. He has proudly adopted the policy.

What he told legislators must have pleased the embassies of high-income countries. After all, donor countries have a long history of demanding that developing countries should “mobilise domestic resources” (see Stefanie Rauscher on www.dandc.eu).

Catching up with donor governments

Indeed, Ruto’s elaborations showed that he wants Kenya to become more like high-income countries in regard to taxation. He stated several ambitions:

  • The rich need to pay more taxes.
  • Taxation must become equitable, efficient and customer-friendly.
  • Kenya has to net more money from wealth, consumption and incomes, rather than relying heavily on foreign-trade related tax and customs revenues.
  • The tax-base must become broader, so more citizens are included.

“The economic principle of equitable taxation requires that the tax burden reflects the ability to pay,” Ruto said. He also insisted that “we are overtaxing trade and under-taxing wealth.”

To achieve the goals, a host of measures will be needed. The greatest challenge is probably to widen the tax base by gradually including more informal workers in the system (see box).

By comparison, it is much easier to change the name of the tax authority from Kenya Revenue Authority to Kenya Revenue Service. This step makes sense because the new name sounds more friendly and can, to some extent, help repair the agency’s reputation of ruthlessness. The Kenyatta administration had weaponised the authority to harass political opponents. This harmful pattern is prevalent in many countries where institutions tend to be weak, and the national administrations feel free to arbitrarily use legal regulations for partisan political purposes. Governance must improve.

Simpler legislation, easier payments

The government wants to make the tax payment process easier. The focus is on simplifying tax laws and procedures as well as setting up more offices, especially outside urban centres. Awareness-raising efforts are underway too.

Another policy adopted by the previous administration will continue. Since January 2021, the tax authority has been running a voluntary tax disclosure programme. Those who retro-actively declare tax liabilities that they failed to pay between July 2015 and June 2020 get full or partial relief on penalties and interest payments.

The new policy anticipates tax disputes and seeks to make the dispute resolution process more credible. In particular, the tax appeals tribunal’s independence has been questioned. The reason is that the head of the tax agency appoints tribunal members in spite of the tax agency being party to disputes. This must change.

All in all, Kenya’s current approach to taxation reflects principles outlined by Adam Smith 250 years ago in his classic book “The wealth of nations”. The policy recognises that everyone should pay taxes according to their ability. The process must be simple, so everyone understands it. Finally, the point of taxation is not to kill the goose that lays golden eggs – taxpayers must keep enough money to create more taxable income in the future.

The need to invest in IT

For good reason, Kenya’s new tax policy proposes more investment in information technology (IT) and continuous IT training of tax administrators. The double goal is to generate revenues from the bustling digital economy and to put a check on cross-border tax avoidance and evasion. Illicit financial flows are a serious international challenge of course (see Ronald Ssegujja Ssekandi on www.dandc.eu).

Kenya’s government deserves some praise for having managed to make internet giants like Amazon, Netflix, Google and Meta pay some taxes. However, the tax agency generally appears frustrated because multinational corporations doing business in Kenya often find ways to avoid taxation. For example, they shift profits abroad and declare them in countries with particularly low tax rates. Too many wealthy individuals move their financial assets to offshore tax havens.

To get a grip on both legal and illegal ways of reducing tax burdens, the government wants to regularly review and update international treaties on taxation. Also, the tax agency will set up a special international unit to:

  • keep track of cross-border transactions and transfer prices,
  • audit multinational corporations and
  • monitor changing international patterns of taxation.
International cooperation

Kenya’s new policy also includes more information sharing with other tax jurisdictions. High-income countries are increasingly doing that to enforce their laws.

Kenya belongs to two, partially overlapping regional organisations, the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). Most other EAC and COMESA members, however, have weaker taxation systems, and statehood is actually quite fragile in some countries. Info-sharing with them may thus not help much.

Indeed, Kenya plans to tighten border controls, not least by applying modern IT. The goal is not just to stem security threats and organised crime, but also to put a check on smuggling, infiltration of counterfeits as well as the misdeclaration and misclassification of goods.

The president’s rhetoric sounds good, and the new policy makes sense. Implementation, however, will be a huge challenge. External shocks such as extreme weather, market disruptions due to war or yet another health crisis may make things even more difficult.

Alphonce Shiundu is a journalist, editor and fact-checker in Kenya.
Twitter: @Shiundu

Kategorien: english

The west must respect international law more consistently

16. November 2022 - 10:53
In the Ukraine war, the US and its allies are paying the price for having badly damaged their own credibility in the past

The territorial integrity of a sovereign state like Ukraine can only be changed by negotiation, not by military force. This principle is spelled out in the UN Charter’s prohibition of the use of force, which is the fundamental norm of the international order. Anyone who violates this norm challenges the world order itself.

Russia has done that. By launching its war of aggression against Ukraine, it committed a fragrant breach of international law. It is daily making matter worse, including with carpet bombings or so-called referendums and subsequent annexations.

The countries of the west are providing Ukraine with massive political, financial, humanitarian and military support. At the same time, they have imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia. They claim their Ukraine policy is designed to defend the prohibition of the use of force and restore the rules-based international order. Not only the US as leading power has taken that stance. German policymakers have done so too, for example Annalena Baerbock, the federal foreign minister.

At the international level, however, the west’s response to Russia’s war of aggression is by no means fully endorsed. The UN General Assembly resolutions of 2 March (explicit condemnation of Russia’s war of aggression) and 12 October (condemnation of the so-called annexations) show that 141 and 143 of 193 states voted in favour and thus sent a clear signal to Moscow. Yet, the practical implementation of this normative call was rather limited. Only about 40 states took tangible steps such as imposing economic sanctions on Russia or providing military support to Ukraine. That is regrettable and astonishing in view of how severely and consistently Russia is violating international law. Several developing countries and emerging markets, in particular, have not sided with the west.

Damaged credibility

There are a number of reasons for this limited global support. They range from injustices committed in colonial times, other post-colonial legacies as well as current Russian support in either economic or military terms for the countries in question (also see Imme Scholz at www.dandc.eu).

It also matters that the west’s credibility has been dented by violations of international law committed by western countries in the recent past. Unfortunately, the list is quite long. The US led invasion of Iraq in 2003 under then President George W. Bush was a particularly important example: it violated the prohibition of the use of force under international law because it was neither sanctioned by a UN Security Council resolution nor justified by the right of self-defence.

More recent incidents include extrajudicial drone executions carried out as part of the United States’ “war on terror”. One more recent example is the killing of Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the Afghan capital Kabul in late July. Such breaches of the law undermine the west’s credibility on international law issues – even if, in many ways, Russia’s breaches are different and arguably worse (see Hans Dembowski at www.dandc.eu).

The ensuing loss of credibility affects not only the United States, but its allies too. Germany and the EU should therefore take a more consistent line on international law than they have done so far, for example clearly rejecting the US policy of extrajudicial executions. They should firmly declare where their interests are in conflict with those of the USA, and they should express criticism and concern where necessary. Unless the west consistently observes international law itself, it cannot credibly defend that law when it is violated as massively as at present in Ukraine.

Book
Ambos, K., 2022: Doppelmoral – Der Westen und die Ukraine. Frankfurt a.M., Westend.
There are shorter versions in English (Journal of International Criminal Justice) and Spanish (Editores del Sur).
https://academic.oup.com/jicj/advance-articles
https://www.editoresdelsur.com/productos/la-guerra-en-ucrania-kai-ambos-autor-leandro-dias-y-lucila-tunon-coord/

Kai Ambos is a professor of criminal law, criminal procedure, comparative law, international criminal law and public international law at the University of Göttingen.
kambos@gwdg.de

Kategorien: english

Earth is headed towards 2.8 degree warming

15. November 2022 - 17:11
UNEP warns that the window to control global warming is closing fast

The international community is not on track. The nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to mitigating the climate crisis, which sovereign governments had submitted to the UN before this year’s summit in Egypt, will only reduce projected global greenhouse-gas emissions enough to keep global warming just under 2.8 degrees in this century. To fulfil the multilateral agreement, emissions must go down 45 % below   than what currently pledged national policies would deliver.

The report emphasises that incremental changes are not enough. Comprehensive economy-wide transformations are required. The authors state that the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic led to a massive, but short lived reduction in global emissions in 2020. In 2021 they rebounded to 2019 levels.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are highly uneven across regions. About 55 % of global emissions result from international transport and the top seven emitters, which are China, the EU, India, Indonesia, Brazil, the Russian Federation and the USA (not in that order). According to UNEP, it is the G20 members who are especially far behind in delivering on their climate mitigation commitments.

By early November, 88 sovereign governments have adopted net-zero targets, which basically means they set a timeline by when they will no longer emit GHG which they cannot capture or compensate for, the report states. They account for 79 % of global emissions. Another 19 governments have pledged to adopt such a target. The problem is that things are happening too slowly. Emissions must be phased out faster than promised, according to UNEP.

The UNEP experts point out that change is particularly urgent in four sectors:

  • electricity supply,
  • industry,
  • transport and
  • buildings.

According to UNEP, most progress has been made in the power sector because the costs of renewables technology has declined fast. For building operations and road transport, ­efficient technologies exist too, but must be adopted. New technologies are needed in ship transport and aviation, zero emission technologies need further development. The UNEP reports recommends three strategic approaches:

  • Avoid building new infrastructure that will require fossil-fuel use for many years or even decades.
  • Promote the development of new ­zero-carbon technologies.
  • Apply those technologies.

Moreover, UNEP calls for change in agriculture, which is not only a driver of global warming but also contributes to the dwindling of biodiversity (see Chimezie Anajama on www.dandc.eu). Eco-friendly reforms are indispensable.

Action in the financial sector

According to the authors, the financial system must be geared to promote the massive structural changes they consider to be necessary. They identify six approaches:

  • Financial investors need better information on climate risks if they are to make more environment-friendly decisions. Raising awareness and stronger institutional guidelines can serve that purpose.
  • Carbon pricing can be done with carbon taxes, which are levied on emissions, or cap-and-trade systems, which set a maximum level of emissions subsequently letting companies bid for amount of fossil fuels that correspond to that level. Both give investors incentives to keep emissions low.
  • Financial markets are marked by incomplete asymmetry, risk aversion and herd behaviour. Taxation and regulations can change investor attitudes and influence investors in a positive way.
  • Market incentives matter. Public policies can create new markets for low-carbon technology and encourage innovation through public finance. Multilateral banks can support this approach.
  • Central banks and financial regulators should modify their policies in ways that encourage eco-friendly investments and discourage harmful ones (see Uli Volz on www.dandc.eu).
  • Set up climate clubs and cross-border finance initiatives.

Link
UNEP, 2022: Emissions Gap Report 2022
https://www.unep.org/resources/emissions-gap-report-2022

Suparna Banerjee is a Frankfurt-based political scientist.
mail.suparnabanerjee@gmail.com

Kategorien: english

Small loans for rural women

15. November 2022 - 16:00
Micro loans help rural women to start small businesses and to get more financially independent

Many of these women are largely excluded from mainstream financing systems. Banks often require collateral security as a precondition for financing businesses.

HYCF has come up with financing options which can easily be accessed by the predominantly poor women. They offer loans as low as 50,000 Kwacha (50 Euros) to the women to start small scale businesses. HYCF hopes the women will be enabled to get financial independence through successful business ventures.

24-year-old Caroline Munthali who lives in Mwenelondo, a rural community in Karonga, had for long been unemployed and only relied on her husband’s small income from his barbershop to support their family. “It was really tough for me and my husband, I felt sorry for him because he had to earn everything for me and our children,” she says.

In April 2022, Munthali secured a micro loan from HYCF. This money helped her to start a small business. She sells roasted fish, and the profits she makes help to support her family. “It is good to do something for a living other than depending on a man for everything,” she says. “Times have changed, and couples need to work hard to support children. I now feel empowered because I can buy food for the family.”

So far, the HYCF has given loans to 20 women in Mwenelondo. “Women’s economic empowerment is key to the country’s growth. Therefore, it is important to empower these women to be self-reliant,” says David Ghambi, founder of HYCF.

Financial literacy is critical if the women are to thrive in business. Without it, it is likely that the loans will be misused. HYCF therefore trains the women in business-management skills to increase their likelihood of success.

23-year-old Esther Mwalwimba, borrowed 50,000 Kwacha (50 Euros) to start a meat shop. She also benefited from HYCF’s financial literacy training. “The training equipped me with skills to run my small business. I will repay the loan on time so that others can borrow and benefit just like I have done.” She says the business income helps to pay school fees for her child.

HYCF’s David Ghambi is hopeful that the programme will expand to more communities in Karonga district and serve more rural women. “It is nice to see that this loan programme has transformed the lives of vulnerable women. These women are now able to give their children more nutritious food and send them to school, so indeed, there is need of scaling up this initiative in many areas because we have seen how impactful it has been,” he says.

Rabson Kondowe is a journalist in Blantyre, Malawi.
kondowerabie@gmail.com

 

Kategorien: english

Sign language is crucial for integration

15. November 2022 - 15:54
Deaf and dumb people in Zimbabwe are mostly excluded from social and work life because not enough people can use sign language

In Mufakose, a densely populated suburb of Harare, lives a deaf 27-year-old single mother Lizzy Chinopa. She lives a life of solitude with just her nine-year-old daughter for company. Many of her neighbours are unable to communicate with her. “People fear talking to my mother because they don’t know how to use sign language,” says Michele, Lizzy’s daughter.

Using sign language, some of which was being interpreted by her daughter, Lizzy speaks about her ordeal. “We have not enough to eat and sometimes my daughter goes to school without food. We always wait for well-wishers from local churches to bring us food.”

Sign-language use is still a very big challenge in the country. Many Zimbabweans cannot communicate with deaf and dumb people. Moreover, there are not enough sign-language experts in the country to help spread its use. Pro-Sign language activist in Harare, Lydia Chikate, says that “the more people don’t understand sign language, the more the deaf and dumb suffer in Zimbabwe”.

Inability to communicate also excludes deaf and dumb people from employment. “Maybe there are just a few deaf and dumb people working in government, but I can tell you most of them, even if they may have gone to school, are suffering on the streets as beggars or vendors,” Chikate says.

There are approximately 1.5 million people or even more who are deaf and hard of hearing in Zimbabwe. Barbra Nyangairi, who is executive director for Deaf Zimbabwe Trust, a voluntary organisation advancing the rights and interests of the concerned people, explains: “There are no actual statistics on disability disaggregated by the nature of disability hence basing on the national statistics agencies in Zimbabwe, we cannot demystify the actual figures of people who are deaf and hard of hearing. She regrets that a lot of people have a negative attitude towards sign language. “People find it of no use learning sign language when they don’t have relatives or friends that are deaf,” she adds.

The government deserves blame for the plight of visually and auditory impaired persons in the country. No steps have been taken to document and standardise sign language in the country. Moreover, educational institutions are not prepared enough to handle such people. “The curriculum of sign language is developing at a slow pace resulting in deaf people borrowing signs from other sign languages,” Nyangairi says.

The rights of special interest groups such as deaf and dumb people matter. Governments must do more to care for them and allow them to live active lives just like other citizens.

Jeffrey Moyo is a journalist based in Harare.
moyojeffrey@gmail.com

Kategorien: english

Why we believe in our Digital Monthly

4. November 2022 - 8:34
What purposes our Digital Monthly serves, and how it differs from the print issue

Our Digital Monthly compiles four weeks’ worth of content on our website. Anyone who downloads it, can read it off-line. We believe that the Digital Monthly is valuable, especially in places where internet connectivity cannot be taken for granted. To ensure the download is feasible, we have reduced the size of the e-Paper, and plan to keep it below five MB consistently.

In countries under authoritarian rule, moreover, it is safer to download an e-Paper fast than to stay on our website for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, not all governments welcome our insistence on good governance and human rights. Spy agencies increasingly monitor the web, but keeping track of e-Papers is very difficult.

Those who read the Digital Monthly as soon as it is published will find that it includes several items that have not yet appeared on the website. Our team is too small to cover breaking news, and we make sure we post something on our website at least six times per week. All of our contributions are original content  written for D+C/E+Z.

Our Digital Monthly differs from our print issues, which we publish every two months. The print issues only include a selection of the articles we post on the website. In the past, we published 11 print issues per year, but postal services are expensive and snail mail is slow. We therefore decided to reduce the number of print issues and produce more content online.

For those of our readers who were used to the monthly rhythm, however, we kept producing the Digital Monthly. Back copies are accessible in our archive. If you like, you can download all e-papers we produced since 2016 free of charge. The archive is a long-term resource.

At the beginning of every month, we post the Digital Monthly on our homepage. If you want to be made aware of every new issue, please subscribe to our newsletter.

If, on the other hand, you’re interested in the print issue, free subscriptions are currently available here.

Kategorien: english

Making a village healthier

3. November 2022 - 14:27
The German Institute for Medical Mission is supporting health care in Malawi by encouraging communities to take the initiative

Health care in Malawi is characterised by limited resources, misallocation and chronic understaffing. Foreign assistance in this area has often been well intentioned. However, for decades it has cemented the dependence of the country’s poorest on external aid.

The German Institute for Medical Mission (Difäm) – a charitable Christian organisation that has worked in global health development for over 100 years – is relying on the ASSET approach to support Malawi. The abbreviation stands for “anerkennen (recognize), stimulieren (stimulate), stärken (strengthen), engagieren (engage) and transformieren (transform)”.

The core of ASSET is the old but nevertheless still valid credo of “helping people help themselves”. The programme directs attention to resources that even the poorest have access to: sand, stones, water, land, their muscle power, their social systems and their faith. People should become empowered to establish their own primary health care by employing these resources in a targeted way.

The approach can be traced back to a conference organised by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1978 in present-day Kazakhstan: in the Declaration of Alma-Ata, the WHO affirmed that health care should be provided at the local level – expressly with the active participation of the local people. The declaration is referring to primary health care, which should be available everywhere.

Village health centres save lives

In Malawi, for example, Difäm used this approach to implement a project in the village of Chintembwe in the centrally located Ntchisi district. Prior to its start, a team of trained village volunteers surveyed people about which health care problems they wanted to address first. The team went from door to door and listened to residents. Only then were priorities set and the actual work began.

The most important visible changes are the newly erected village clinics. While the villages in the region already had health surveillance assistants, they often spent only two days a week in the villages due to a lack of housing opportunities and good working conditions. Since Chintembwe is about 20 kilometres away from the nearest health centre, the village was undersupplied with medical first aid (for more on health care in rural Malawi, see the article by Sumeya Issa on www.dandc.eu).

As part of the ASSET project, a total of 20 village clinics were built. The local people organised and paid tradespeople and also fired bricks themselves. The chiefs provided the land. Thanks to additional financing, the clinics could be equipped with solar power. ASSET acquired only those building materials that were not available locally.

A health-care professional who can be reached around the clock now lives and works in every village with a clinic. Most clinics are also well supplied with medications and provide the most important treatments. The clinics have dramatically improved the health care of pregnant women and small children in particular. The most common diagnoses in children are malaria, diarrhoea and colds. If they cannot receive help quickly, they are at risk of dying. Since the village clinics were opened, death rates have declined significantly.

“In the last three years, I have never presided over a funeral of an under-five child,” Chief Vuso Jere said happily. He is the highest traditional authority in the region. He describes the many problems his people faced before the project was implemented: “Before ASSET came, there was so much filth in this community. People used to relieve themselves in the streets, but now the village is clean. You can walk long distances and will not see any human waste on the streets.”

Sustainable toilets

In Chintembwe, the latter development is due to the fact that so-called V.I.P. toilets were installed as part of ASSET. The abbreviation stands for “ventilated improved pit latrine”. It has a corrugated metal roof and a kind of chimney that heats up in the sun, drawing odours and flies upwards with the rising air. A metal screen at the end of the hot pipe traps the flies. They burn up, which interrupts the transmission pathway for diseases in the neighbouring kitchen. The toilet’s brick walls ensure privacy. The project provided the metal parts and the poured concrete floor. Everything else was contributed by the village community.

The starting shot for the first ASSET project in Chintembwe was fired at the end of 2011. Now, eleven years later, the last round of renewals is running out. Fixed in the collective memory of the village is the fact that, prior to the project, about six children under five died every year. Most recently, three children died within three years among 100 households.

Improvements in agriculture

Another visible change has occurred in Chintembwe: whereas in the past, the parched streets, squares and yards were only home to sand fleas, numerous fruit trees now provide coolness and shade. Their fruits enrich the villagers’ daily menu. Together with professionals from relevant government departments, such as Forestry and Agriculture, the project showed people in the village how to plant fruit trees and vegetable gardens and how they could raise seedlings and manufacture natural fertilisers.

The soil, which has been depleted by decades of agriculture, no longer produces much without additives. Chemical fertiliser is too expensive, but natural fertiliser costs almost nothing and has helped multiply yields. Everyone in the village gets three meals a day, with corn, potatoes and other vegetables as well as protein from legumes or meat.

The visible changes in the project villages are only the outward manifestation of a deeper transformation – including in people’s minds. For example, women in rural areas are subordinated to traditional roles and expectations and rarely trust themselves to speak up in public. Thanks to their experiences in the community groups, however, they have gained the confidence to openly advocate for their interests. As a result, child marriage and teenage pregnancy were eradicated in Chintembwe after the village discussed the risks.

The common good is the top priority

In the beginning, one of the project’s major challenges was to explain to volunteers and agencies that they would receive no payment for their work, other than the gratitude of the communities. The common good is the top priority. Vital to the project’s success was the communication between people and systems that had previously simply existed alongside each other. Through tireless mediation, the Malawian project manager succeeded in bringing various participants together: local communities, church and state, health-care facilities, as well as the Ministries of Agriculture and Health. In the villages themselves, groups formed that also strengthened relationships between residents.

Numerous group discussions, training sessions and free-time activities spurred further developments. During an evaluation it became clear, for example, that cases of domestic violence had dropped and young people were abusing alcohol and drugs less frequently. According to the evaluation team, about three-fourths of the ASSET households were able to acquire some assets at the household level. About half began to raise chickens or other small animals. Radios, telephones and furniture were purchased and around a quarter of village residents could renovate their houses, or even build a new one.

The ideas did not catch on

However, the hope that neighbouring communities would be influenced and take similar action was largely disappointed. The toilets were copied here and there, and in one case communities even came together to build a school. Otherwise the neighbours themselves mostly remained passive.

The project demonstrated that achieving long-term, sustainable change requires endurance – and money. A ten-year project period cost a total of € 350,000. The village health clinics and toilets were financed with an additional € 160,000 provided by the Agnes-Philippine-Walter-Stiftung in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany.

Olaf Hirschmann is a worldwide consultant for Primary & Mental Health at the German Institute for Medical Mission (Difäm).
hirschmann@difaem.de

Kategorien: english

Fear and anguish added to pandemic pain in India

3. November 2022 - 13:09
An Indian Covid-19 survivor shares his experience

In mid-April 2021, I was fighting for my life in a Covid bed in the trauma-care facility of a government hospital in Singur, a small town near Kolkata. A the time, India was struggling with the deadly second wave of the pandemic (see Roli Mahajan on www.dandc.eu).

I was lucky to get admission to the hospital. A friend of mine is a Kolkata-based doctor, and he helped me. The hospital had doctors, nurses and oxygen cylinders, so the situation was comparatively good.

Nonetheless, I saw dead bodies being removed from my ward every other day. In many cases, the patients died not because of a lack of doctors or shortage of oxygen. There was, however, a lack of basic human care.

Death under a hospital bed

I remember a patient in his late sixties. He had severe breathing problems one day and was administered oxygen immediately. He was too weak to make any sort of physical movement by himself. The day went well, but the next morning he was found dead under his bed. He was probably trying to reach his oxygen mask when he breathed his last breath. The mask was found right beside him. Apparently it had come off as he fell out of the bed. At night, nobody was there to help him. We other patients were either sleeping or feverish, and the hospital staff was absent.

This kind of deadly neglect has several interrelated reasons. Nurses’ work load during the pandemic was high, so many were plainly exhausted. The night shift may have been under-staffed. There is, moreover, a pattern of some government staff in India neither being very competent nor highly motivated. Moreover, people with political connections and influence tend to get better treatment. As is true in many countries, it also matters to what community one belongs. People tend to feel solidarity with those who are from their own population group, but not necessarily with others.

Some people, however, do not even trust their own family. I remember a nurse asking an elderly Covid-19 patient why he had brought a huge sum of money to the hospital. He replied that his family had bade him farewell as though he would never return home alive. He therefore decided to take all his money along in case he might need it. The implicit message was that he was prepared to pay bribes. I cannot tell what became of him because I was shifted to another hospital soon after listening to this exchange.

Anguish and awkward behaviour

The pandemic caused very much anguish. A general pattern was that people withdrew from one another. After being hospitalised, I recovered in a small town called Bandel, where I live with my wife and daughters. When I arrived home in a government ambulance for coronavirus patients, I had to enter the house through the backdoor to avoid panic among our neighbours.

The news spread eventually, of course, and some neighbours, with whom I had previously interacted normally, began to behave awkwardly. When I went out on to our terrace, for example, they avoided eye contact with me even from a distance. Quite obviously, they thought that I was a dangerous infection risk, even after I had been released from hospital. They did not understand that the virus does not spread over distances in the open.

Fear and ignorance thus disrupted social life. It did not seem to make a difference that quarantine rules were actually enforced quite stringently. As hospital patients, we were isolated from the outside world. My wife was not allowed to visit me at the hospital, even though she tried daily. I found it very comforting to know she was waiting outside, hoping to see me. This psychological encouragement helped me fight the disease.

I suffered common long-Covid symptoms. For many weeks, I felt weak. I lost my breath fast and only slept irregularly. I suffered from indigestion and wild mood swings. After a while I noticed that I had become slow in responding to people’s queries. That was the case in direct personal interaction, but also on the phone. Close friends and family members told me I had become forgetful. I began to worry about mental decline. Things improved eventually, but it took a long time.

Both government agencies and non-governmental organisations made considerable efforts to help Covid patients and needy families. Oxygen cannisters, free food and other important resources were distributed to needy people in our area. However, mental health care and basic human empathy were sadly missing.

Village life

I am from Bishnubati, a Santal village. We Santals are an Adivasi community with a language of our own (see my article on www.dandc.eu). Our community has a history of marginalisation.

At first, I kept my Covid infection secret from the village community. I did not want to scare people. But when they learned about my plight, not only may parents, but the entire village wanted me to come home. Apparently, they did not fear I might spread the disease.

The background is that the pandemic has largely bypassed our village. Corona­virus did not take a single life in Bishnubati and the neighbouring Santal village Ghosaldanga. What I wrote about our villages in the first year of the pandemic (see my contribution to www.dandc.eu), basically stayed true throughout it.

Indeed, the district we live in was not as severely affected as many other parts of India were. The official data are disputed disputed (see Suparna Banerjee on www.dandc.eu), and the true infection numbers are impossible to tell, especially because there was less testing in rural areas than in urban ones, not least because of high costs.

However, one does not need official statistics to notice that our area did not have a dreadful surge of deaths. Farming and other daily activities in our villages went on normally, but there was less exchange with the nearby town of Bolpur. The comparatively casual attitude that dominated in our villages is surprising nonetheless, given that the pandemic was profoundly traumatic in other places.

Media matters

I think an important reason is our approach to social media and television. Both played an important role in making people aware of Covid-19, but they also spread disinformation which inspired fear. Of course, digital devices have become very common in our villages, but our people do not pay much attention to angry agitation and sensationalist news programmes. As we are not part of mainstream society, we do not belong to the typical target groups of social-media or TV agitation. Our people are more interested in sports, music and games.

It also matters that the sense of solidarity within our communities is strong. Santals believe that the physical and mental support of family and friends has a great role to play in keeping people safe in times of crisis. Such psychological aspects are particularly important for a marginalised community that typically still lacks access to modern medical services, which tend to be unaffordable. There has been notable progress in our region, but many Santals lack the documents they would need to access to governmental health facilities. In difficult times, we depend on one another.

Boro Baski works for the community-based organisation Ghosaldanga Adibasi Seva Sangha in West Bengal.
borobaski@gmail.com

Kategorien: english

Caring for teenage mothers

3. November 2022 - 11:58
Young mother establishes homes and shelter for abandoned and vulnerable children in Malawi

Malawi has one of the highest teenage-pregnancy rates worldwide, currently at 29 % of the population. Adolescent mothers are overburdened with giving birth, caring and providing for their children while they are still children themselves and lack practical child rearing skills.

To help deal with increasing numbers of vulnerable children and young women in rural Malawi, 23-year-old Tusaiwe Munkhondiya established an organisation in 2020 to care for children and young mothers. YANA, which stands for “You Are Not Alone,” runs several homes and shelters for vulnerable women and children.

Tusaiwe experienced a traumatic childhood and teenage pregnancy herself: “My mother abandoned me when I was just 9 months old. Today, I foster abandoned children and love them as my own. I do not want other children growing up with absence of their parents, and that is why I am here giving love to these children.”

She adds: “I got pregnant at 16. People from home started looking down on me, I lost many friends and even dropped out of school at that time. That was the time I experienced that being a single mother is hard,” Tusaiwe Munkhondiya says.

Tusaiwe through her initiative has taken up the responsibility of parenting abandoned infants, street children, orphans, children with disability and teenage mothers. They find a safe space to live and access basic needs like food and health care including mental-health support services.

Mental-health specialist Precious Makiyi appreciates the work of YANA. He says, it is vital to advocate for mental health in rural communities as it helps break the stigma and cultural beliefs associated with mental health conditions. “People in rural communities associate common mental conditions to factors like witchcraft and other beliefs. Such narratives compromise the healing process,” he adds. Psychosocial support services help the children and teenage mothers to deal with their past trauma.

“It is important to remind these children and anyone going through any form of mental illness that they are not alone and that with the right support they will heal”, Makiyi says.

YANA relies on the good will of donors and funding agencies to raise money for its operations. They currently have over 40 children under their care and this number is predicted to rise. The foundation is running a crowdfunding campaign dubbed “Help us build YANA village in Mzuzu, Malawi” with a goal of raising £ 1,000,000. So far, contributors have raised over £ 75,277. Tusaiwe Munkhondiya continues to rally support for the foundation through social media.

Sumeya Issa is a freelance journalist in Malawi.
sumieissa@gmail.com

Kategorien: english

In Sharm el-Sheikh, loss and damage must be on the agenda

3. November 2022 - 8:42
A Bangladeshi perspective on this year’s UN climate summit

The worst recent incident was the devastating flooding in Pakistan. For good reason, Antonio Guterres spoke of “climate carnage” when he visited the country. People suffered due to pollution they did not cause (see Imran Mukhtar on www.dandc.eu).

Scientists can show how such events are linked to human-induced global warming. Pakistan’s government now insists that compensations for loss and damage must be on the agenda of the UN Climate Conference in Egypt that starts today. Pakistan currently chairs the group of all developing countries at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Last year, at COP26 in Glasgow, developing countries had proposed to set up a Finance Facility for Loss and Damage (FFLD). The developed countries rejected it. Instead, the Glasgow Dialogue on Finance for Loss and Damage was launched, which would carry on for three years before delivering any tangible results (see my contribution on www.dandc.eu).

Vulnerable countries cannot afford to lose so much time. For progress to made faster, all countries must adopt Pakistan’s loss-and-damage item at the beginning of the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh. Should one or more high-income countries block that decisions, the developing countries should simply declare the COP dead before it even begins.

An urgent matter

To understand the urgency, consider the example of Bangladesh. Ian Fry, the UN’s special rapporteur on climate change and human rights, recently came here. He clearly stated that polluters have caused global heating, and that the impacts are causing serious suffering in our low-lying delta country. Victims must be compensated.

The World Bank recently published a similar analysis. It estimates that, in Bangladesh’s coastal areas, losses will amount to an annual $ 570 million, unless measures are taken to minimise the impacts fast. The report points out, for example, that the rise of the sea-level is increasingly leading to the salinisation of surface water – with serious implications for both agriculture and availability of drinking water. Moreover, the risks of flooding and cyclones are growing.

To control these risks, investments in infrastructure are needed. The government of Bangladesh has already taken action accordingly. Several things are obvious nonetheless. The slowly escalating climate emergency will cause significant losses and damages in the years to come, even with successful adaptation technologies and measures.

As stated above, High-income countries have been dragging their feet in regard to the loss and damage topic. However, the subnational governments of Scotland, Wallonia and other places  have taken commendable steps to tackle the matter. More recently, Denmark became the first sovereign high-income country to join them, hopefully setting a new promising trend. At the same time, the finance ministers of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) have set up a loss and damage finance facility of their own. It is designed to fast-track funding to communities who are already suffering. The CVF countries have provided some of the funding themselves and received donations from philanthropic foundations.

Good news regarding adaptation funding

The good news, however, is that the developed countries have agreed to double their funding on climate-change adaptation in developing countries. For vulnerable nations, the challenge is to make good use of the money. Typical problems include corruption and unnecessary expenditures due to overrunning project times and budgets.

More generally speaking, it is time to confront the fossil-fuel companies who are the real criminals behind the climate crisis. They have knowingly caused harm for the sake of profits. They also spent decades spreading lies to deny climate change and lobbying politicians in polluting countries. They are the reason we are facing this crisis. Both governments and fossil-fuel companies must be held to account accordingly.

Link
World Bank, 2022: Continued investment in coastal resilience is critical for sustainable growth in Bangladesh.
https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2022/09/11/world-bank-continued-investment-in-coastal-resilience-is-critical-for-sustainable-growth-in-bangladesh

Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB) in Dhaka.
saleemul.huq@icccad.org
http://www.icccad.net/

Kategorien: english

Taking the risk

2. November 2022 - 14:49
Cheap and fast illegal commuter taxis are a popular alternative to public buses in Zimbabwe

Mushika-shika means “quick-go”. Most vehicles used are old beaten-up and discarded cars shipped mainly from Japan. They emit dirty fumes and are often in poor technical conditions.

Worsening inflation  makes the alternative taxis a massive job opportunity for thousands of chronically jobless youths who act as drivers, mechanics, cashiers – and thousands of the urban poor desperate for affordable transport.

Mushika-shikas were banned in Zimbabwe, because they are un-roadworthy and breaking every road traffic rule. Anyway, they continue to operate. In Harare, millions of urban working-class people cannot be absorbed in existing public transport infrastructure. On a typical working day, between 7 am and 4 pm, thousands of workers squeeze into bus terminals for a few state-owned urban commuter buses. In these humiliating queues, sometimes women are even molested in the scramble for scarce bus seats.

Seeing a money-making opportunity, the mushika-shikas sneak up and down Zimbabwe’s city highways, playing cat and mouse with police, whisking commuters for just 30 cents. Their attractiveness, apart from ultra-low prices, is their ability to quickly manoeuvre in the thinnest of city alleyways and ferry thousands of the urban poor to their workplaces quickly.

28-year-old Tonderai Gato, works on such a commuter vehicle as a conductor. However, his role goes beyond loading passengers. He sometimes acts as the mechanic to repair the vehicle when it breaks down, what could happen to the car at any time. “My job is letting the taxi drive on with doors open, my body outside in the air, the car speeding at 40 miles an hour so that passengers fit comfortably inside the car,” he says.

For Tonderai, his ‘quick-go’ vehicle means everything. “My family hospital bills, meals, children school fees depend on the earnings. I am willing to absorb the risk,” he says.

“Designed to carry a maximum of four passengers, mushika-shika squeeze a mind-boggling 12 passengers into each sedan. The drivers often drink on job and the cars hardly bear passenger injury insurance,” says Zano Sikhosana, a trade unionist in the capital Harare. Zimbabwe police have their hands full trying to waylay the illegal taxis, but the task is huge as a flood of these sedans dominates the streets.

A World Health Organization (WHO) report says that Zimbabwe’s roads are the deadliest in the southern Africa region with an average of 665 people killed each year in road fatalities. The mushika-shikas are a contributing factor. “It’s a choice between a fire and hot pan,” says Gladys Wemba, a hairdresser in Mutare. “Choose the $ 20 cents mushika-shikas and probably get your legs broken by squeezing or accident or take a safer state bus; arrive an hour late at work and get fired.”

Progress Mwareya is a freelance journalist based in east Zimbabwe.
progressmwareya2@gmail.com

 

 

Kategorien: english

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