IPS Blog

“Non-Member Observer Status” a Hollow Victory for Abbas

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

When the State of Palestine was declared a non-member state at the UN General Assembly last week, it was hailed by the Palestinian leadership as key victory for the Palestinians in their struggle to establish their state. The vote at the UNGA where 138 countries voted in favor of Palestine with only nine states against it was an important moral and symbolic victory for the Palestinians, and perhaps, unfortunately, nothing more.

For President Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority ( PA), this vote was not a necessary part of a national strategy to achieve real statehood for the Palestinians — in the absence of any peace process with Israel — rather a last-minute attempt to boost his increasingly diminished relevancy and to cover for the Palestinian leadership historic failures. This political victory is also significant in terms of its political and historic ironies.

By the time the Jewish settlers in Palestine, the “Yishuv,” declared their state of Israel in 1948, they had by then an established and experienced army numbered over 60,000 men and immediately after that an air force. For the Palestinians on the other hand, by the time the UN declared their statehood, last week, they have abandoned all of the military capabilities they had in the past and ended up making themselves helpless and defenseless.

In reality, moreover, the new status of Palestine as state is meant to compensate for the failure of the “peace process” with Israel that was supposed to lead to the same conclusion. More importantly, however, it exposes the Palestinian national-secular movement failure to address in reality the continuing statelessness of its people, the issue of Palestinian refugees and their right of return, and what will become of the Palestinians who ended up becoming Israeli citizens after the establishing of Israel in 1948 and the fate of the Palestinian diaspora.

It is worth noting ,meanwhile, that the new Palestinian “victory” and the new status at the UN came only after President Abbas failed last year to submit an application for Palestinian statehood to the UN Security Council under pressure from the US. Abbas could have submitted the application for the UNSC, last year, which would have been denied anyway, but he could have turned to the General Assembly to force it to act in place of the Security Council, and to hold a vote for full membership to the UN in which case he would have won .

But president Abbas did not use that strategy for fear of full confrontation with the US and Israel. This explains why he opted to submit an application for a non-member observer status, a watered-down status from a full-member state.

To sell this “victory” to Palestinians, PA officials have argued publicly that with this new status, Palestine can join the International Criminal Court ( ICC) and other UN agencies, thus threatening to punish Israel over its war crimes and violations of international law. Although this is all true, to activate the ICC investigation, the Palestinian leadership is required to make a declaration to accept the ICC jurisdiction as it did in 2009 and also can join the ICC on an ad-hoc basis.

But this is easier said than done. If and when the Palestinian leadership decides to take Israel to the ICC for its war-crimes violations against Palestinian civilians as per the findings of the Goldstone Report, Israel can at the same time lodge a complaint against Hamas officials accusing them of committing war crimes against its citizens. In this albeit unlikely scenario, the Palestinians will risk having Hamas leaders being prosecuted by the ICC alongside Israeli leaders.

Palestinians ended up in this political limbo ever since the late Yasser Arafat started this “peace process” with Israel over 20 years ago. In order to stay relevant in the regional politics, the Palestinian secular nationalist movement, represented by the PLO, abandoned all of its military means in the hope that negotiating peace with Israel would alone deliver them the state of Palestine on the 1967 borders.

This strategy has proven itself to be self-destructive for the secular nationalists as evident by this hollow victory. At the end of the day this new status changes nothing for Palestinians, while Palestine as envisioned by the UNGA resolution and president Abbas, is increasingly disappearing from the map due to constant illegal Israeli settlement building.

As for Hamas, while labeled as a terrorist organization by most of the world major powers, all that it has to do is to present itself as a credible alternative to the secular nationalist model, especially in light of its recent victory in Gaza, while waiting for the PLO to eventually self-destruct.

Hamas’s victory last month against Israeli attempts to destroy its military capabilities in Gaza shows that Hamas political thinking stands a better chance of establishing a Palestinian state if it shows political flexibility and moderation. Needless to say, Hamas cannot win an outright war with Israel, but maintaining a military capability that in itself can create both deterrence and a leverage against Israel, can be a winning formula to achieve a real statehood for the Palestinians. With those elements in mind, it would not be far-fetched to imagine a deal between Hamas and Israel whereby Palestinians can establish their real state under better conditions.

Ali Younes is a writer and analyst based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at: [email protected] and on Twitter at @clearali.

AlterNet: Five Job-Destroying CEOs Trying to “Fix” the Debt

In poll after poll, the American people say they are far more concerned about the jobs crisis than the “debt crisis.” A powerful coalition of CEOs says they have an answer for both problems.

Give us more tax breaks, they say, and we’ll use the money to invest and create jobs. The national economic pie will expand and Uncle Sam will get plenty of the frothy meringue without having to raise tax rates.

That’s the line of the Fix the Debt campaign. Led by more than 90 CEOs, this turbo-charged PR/lobbying machine is blasting the message that such “pro-growth tax reform” should be a pillar of any deficit deal (along with cuts to benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare).

And it might be a good line — if not for some pesky real-world facts. You see the same corporations peddling this line have already been paying next to nothing in taxes. And instead of creating jobs, they’ve been destroying them. Here are five examples of job-cutting, tax-dodging CEOs who are leading Fix the Debt.

1. Randall Stephenson, AT&T
U.S. jobs destroyed since 2007: 54,000
Average effective federal corporate income tax rate, 2009-2011: 6.3%

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Photo by Alternet.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Photo by Alternet.

Randall Stephenson presides over the biggest job destroyer among the Fix the Debt corporate supporters, having eliminated 54,000 jobs since 2007. The company also has one of the largest deficits in its worker pension fund — a gaping hole of $10 billion.

Can Stephenson blame all this belt-tightening on the Tax Man? Not exactly. Over the last three years, AT&T’s tax bills have been miniscule. According to the firm’s own financial reports, they’ve paid Uncle Sam only 6.3 percent on more than $43 billion in profits. If the telecom giant had paid the standard 35 percent corporate tax rate over the last three years, the federal deficit would be $12.5 billion lower.

So where have AT&T’s profits gone? A huge chunk has landed in Stephenson’s own pension fund. His $47 million AT&T retirement account is the third-largest among Fix the Debt CEOs. If converted to an annuity when he hits age 65, it would net him a retirement check of more than a quarter million dollars every month for the rest of his life.

While his economic future is more than secure, Stephenson emerged from a meeting with President Obama on November 28 “optimistic” about the chances of reforming (i.e., cutting) Social Security as part of a deal to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

2. Lowell McAdam, Verizon
U.S. jobs destroyed since 2007: 30,000
Average effective federal corporate income tax rate, 2009-2011: -3.3%

Another telecommunications giant, Verizon, is close behind AT&T in the layoff leader race, with 30,000 job cuts since 2007. Like its industry peer AT&T, Verizon also has a big deficit in its pension accounts. It would need to cough up $6 billion to meet its promised pension benefits to employees and another $24 billion to meet promised post-retirement health care benefits.

Did the blood-sucking IRS leave Verizon no choice but to slash jobs and underfund worker pensions? Far from it. The company actually got money back from Uncle Sam, despite reporting $34 billion in U.S. profits over the last three years. If Verizon had paid the full corporate tax rate of 35 percent, last year’s national deficit would have been $13.1 billion less. Had that amount been used for public education, it could have covered the cost of employing more than 190,000 elementary teachers for a year.

Verizon’s new CEO, Lowell McAdam, already has $8.7 million in Verizon pension assets, enough to set him up for a $47,834 monthly retirement check. McAdam’s predecessor, Ivan Seidenberg, who has also signed up as a Fix the Debt supporter, retired with more than $70 million in his Verizon retirement package.

Wanna see who is rounding up the worst five? Read the rest at Alternet.

People, Machines, and Challenging the Election Results in Ghana

Ghana President John Mahama.

Ghana President John Mahama.

It’s tough to lose an election. As the United States 2012 election result became evident, Mitt Romney and his team reportedly could not believe that they had been defeated. Apparently, Romney was “shell-shocked.” He did concede to President Obama, but elsewhere in the world, presidential candidates facing defeat don’t always go quietly. In Ghana, where presidential and parliamentary elections have just taken place on December 7 and 8 (the voting was extended into a second day because of technical difficulties), the opposition candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, is challenging the Electoral Commission’s declaration that John Mahama, the incumbent, has won the presidential election.

As Sunday, December 9 in Ghana came to its end and the results of the large majority of constituencies had been accounted for in an 80% turnout election, Mahama had 50.70% of the vote, followed by Akufo-Addo with 47.74%. (Twenty-three political parties are registered, but the system is dominated by only two: the National Democratic Congress and the New Patriotic Party.) Preparing for the eventuality of unrest, armored vehicles surrounded the Electoral Commission building in Ghana’s capital, Accra, where a small and short-lived protest had earlier broken out. Several religious and other leaders put out appeals to Ghanaian citizens to eschew violence of any sort, with the concerted message that the winner of the election is Ghana as a whole.

Mahama’s victory will give him a second term in power. His history as Ghana’s president is unique in that he was the vice-president until July 2012, when the then-President John Atta Mills died unexpectedly and Mahama was sworn in as the head of state. For the most part, he has continued Mills’s policies, running a well-organized campaign based on promises to improve the country’s infrastructure and the general lot of Ghanaians, particularly in view of the country’s newfound oil wealth. A scholar and author, Mahama has been described as affable and approachable. His acceptance speech was short, informal and humble — certainly without any of the soaring rhetoric that Americans sometimes expect from their presidents.

For challenger Nana Akufo-Addo, the defeat is particularly stinging, as it is a repeat of much the same result in his 2008 bid. An economist and lawyer by training, he comes from a family of well-known political luminaries in Ghana’s history. His education in the UK evident from his clipped, British-tinged accent, he may have appeared to some Ghanaians as rather pedagogic and less a “man of the people” than Mahama.

Ghana’s political process is vigorous. Radio and TV debates between opposing groups can be quite vociferous, and huge political rallies include brash highlife music, dancing, and exuberant flag-waving that make the American counterpart look like a dainty English tea party with finger sandwiches.

This is the first time that Ghana has used a fingerprint-based biometric system during the voting process, in order to eliminate any possibility of fraud. As well intended as the idea is, failure of the devices was the primary cause of massive delays and long lines at the polling stations. By the end of Friday, December 7th, many would-be voters had to be turned away. Most returned, but there is no doubt that some did not, or could not. The country has another four years to get the system working. For some reason, no matter the location, electronic machines and elections don’t always get along.

Kwei Quartey is a physician, novelist, and Foreign Policy in Focus columnist.

Y-12 Activists May Be Barred From Bringing up the Morality of Nukes at Their Trial

Remember the activists, including an 82-year-old nun, who infiltrated the Y-12 nuclear weapons complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on July 12? They’re members of Transform Now Plowshares, the current version of the original Plowshares Christian pacifist movement. The Plowshares Eight initiated these kinds of actions in 1980 when they snuck into a General Electric nuclear missile facility in Pennsylvania.

Like their predecessors, the Transform Now Plowshares Three are as physically courageous as they are morally. A lengthy jail term could see at least one of its members, 82-year-old Sister Megan Rice, die while incarcerated.

At the trial in February they each face 15 years in prison and fines up to $500,000. Worse, as the co-director of a nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin called Nukewatch, John LaForge, wrote at the Transform Now Plowshares site, “federal prosecutors have mentioned bringing two heavier charges, including sabotage ‘during wartime,’ which together carry up to 50 years.”

Even worse, the Transform Now Plowshares Three may be left destitute of tools with which to defend themselves. LaForge explains.

If the government gets it way, the trial judge will keep facts about nuclear weapons away from jurors and make sure that questions about the Bomb’s outlaw status are left out of jury instructions. … before starting deliberations.

On Nov. 2, federal prosecutors [urged the judge] to “preclude defendants from introducing evidence in support of certain justification defenses.” The motion asks the court to forbid all evidence — even expert testimony — about “necessity, international law, Nuremberg Principles, First Amendment protections, the alleged immorality of nuclear weapons, good motive, religious moral or political beliefs regarding nuclear weapons, and the U.S. government’s policy regarding nuclear weapons.”

The prosecution’s justification? That it is “not relevant.” Even though

The U.S. Attorney’s motion … confesses, “[w]e do not suggest that the deployment of nuclear armament systems does not violate international law, but merely that Congress has power to protect government property.”

The value of the Transform Now Plowshares Three’s efforts was initially depreciated because the only kind of soul searching resulting from their actions was about plant security, not the morality of nuclear weapons. Now, federal prosecutors would move to expunge justification for the existence of nuclear weapons from the trial and reduce it to a simple case of trespass and vandalism at a military installation.

Clearly, the U.S. Attorney’s office fears that admitting discussion of the justice of nuclear weapons to the jurors’ deliberations will only obstruct the progress of the trial. More to the point it probably knows it’s an argument it can’t win.

Foiled Coup Against Sudan’s President Bashir Exposes Growing Islamist Dissent

Cross-posted from the Arabist

Last week, Sudanese security forces arrested the country’s ex-spymaster Salah Ghosh and at least a dozen other people, including high-ranking military officers, on charges of attempting a coup against President Omar al-Bashir. Little information has been made available regarding the alleged plotters, but according to AFP, state media also announced that “[t]his plot is led by some opposition party leaders.”

The arrests came a few days after President Bashir returned from a “minor” operation in Saudi Arabia — one of the few places he can travel without fear of being turned over to the ICC to stand trial for war crimes — and oversaw the appointment of one of his main parliamentary boosters as secretary-general of the nation’s Islamic Movement organization, which Bashir and his cohorts created in 1999 after falling out with the cleric Hassan al-Turabi, who in the 1980s and 1990s led the Islamist organization that helped the current regime seize power. The new appointment was strongly criticized by al-Turabi, who is now the leader of the opposition calling for Bashir to step down, and has been described in Sudanese press commentaries as a defeat for “reformists,” since it further weds the organization to the president’s own political party, the NCP. Alex Thurston notes that the political battle at the Islamists’ national conference may not have been a precipitant for the arrest of the accused plotters and other individuals. According to Thurston, “[t]he combination of military defections and Islamist dissent (and of course there is overlap between military and Islamist ranks) poses a major problem for a regime that has relied on these constituencies as pillars of its support.”

If this was a coup by dissatisfied elements of Bashir’s military/intelligence inner circle, it bears out the worst-case scenario(s) alluded to in Reuters’ and the ICG’s November special reports on Khartoum’s precarious control over the factions the regime feels it must placate to avoid being deposed by an increasingly disappointed and impoverished populace. When students and state employees have come out into the streets this this past year to protest government austerity measures, Bashir has dismissed them as “elbow-lickers,” and his security forces have cracked down on them, reportedly spiriting dozens away to be tortured in “ghost houses.”

As an (optimistic) accounting of the “coup” in Al Quds Al-Arabi opines that “regardless of the validity of the charge against the officers of the detainees, this confrontation may have brought the internal crisis in the system to the point of no return” because “there are even signs that the important components in the security sector in turn has withdrawn its support for the regime and sided with the reform camp.”

This would be extremely dangerous to Bashir’s rule because a significant part of the criticism leveled at Bashir from his fellow Islamists stems from the 2005 ceasefire and 2011 independence of South Sudan from the north. Since then, although Sudan and South Sudan “signed several agreements paving the way for resuming vital oil exports and creating a demilitarized zone along their contested, oil-rich border” in September 2012, South Sudan says Khartoum is delaying the implementation of the agreements because it now has “additional demands on security issues that go far beyond the scope of the 27th September agreements.”

Those “issues” are, according to the Sudan Tribune, Khartoum demanding that South Sudan oversee the disarmament of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – Army North (SPLM/A-N), which is fighting an insurgency against the Sudanese Army in several provinces bordering the new South Sudanese state, provinces which have been absolutely devastated by the ongoing conflict, in which thousands of civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands more made refugees.

Sudan denies there is a humanitarian crisis, of course, yet still does its best to bar aid and outsiders from entering the region as it carries out military operations. Bashir’s government is not going through with the much-needed September agreement because it claims that the SPLM/A-N gets its marching orders from Juba, and there is some truth in this charge.South Sudan says it has no control over the SPLM/A-N, and this is also partly true because even if it is a kind of “stay-behind” organization, as Khartoum charges, like all “stay-behind” organization the SPLM/A-N has its own parochial interests to consider – Khartoum having been quite clear it is willing to pay a high price in civilian lives to secure this region, one of its few remaining oil sources. Moreover, Juba has enough problems trying to disarm militias within its own borders.

Leaving the military matters aside for now, though, there are still sufficient non-South Sudan-related grievances to hound Bashir. According to Reuters:

Perhaps the biggest threat facing Bashir comes from inside his party. The movement that seized power in 1989 in a burst of religious fervor has atrophied. Younger and mid-level officials are angry that the same people have been running the country for more than two decades. Many educated officials are unhappy because Sudan’s isolation curbs their career prospects.

And, from the ICG:

The NCP is in a state of confusion, extensively fractured and with no coherent strategy for addressing multiple security, political and economic challenges. Members are deeply unhappy with the leadership, its policies and massive corruption. Discontent is rising, and local chapters are increasingly challenging decisions, as well as the party’s general orientation. Internal divisions are spilling into the open in the form of critical memorandums and calls for reform. Different parts of the NCP – right-wing factions in the youth movement, the parliamentary bloc, the army and the student movement – have independently sent written protests to the leadership.

Both centers and the ICG also note that Bashir is earning a reputation as a less-than-sincere Islamist among hardliners in the clerical establishment, such as those who helped organize the anti-Western protests this fall that saw the German embassy in Khartoum assaulted and gutted by fire over the film “Innocence of Muslims.”

Bashir may believe he can dismiss the “elbow-lickers” – his security services moved quickly to cow them of stating any repeat mass demonstrations – and rely on old men like his Islamic Movement secretary-general appointee to hold the Young Turks in line, but given how he rose to power, he cannot be so dismissive of such dissenters as his former spymaster Ghosh and ex-special forces men known as the “Al Sa’ihun” who had been deployed in the conflict with the SPLA up until 2005.

And unfortunately for the two Sudans, if there is one undertaking Bashir can score points on despite the fuel shortages, “ghost houses” and arrests, it is upping the ante on the southern border.

Nuclear Weapons Laboratories National in Name Only

Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG) recently returned from another one of his trips to Washington, during which he meets with congressional and executive-branch officials and analysts about nuclear weapons. First, he followed up on the proposed nuclear-pit laboratory at Los Alamos, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF), which has now been delayed five years, in large part due to the efforts of LASG.

He reports in LASG’s most recent newsletter that, despite the delay, the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, “will almost certainly contain (as does the House version) … a requirement to continue CMRR-NF design and construction.” As of this date, I’m unable to ascertain if that’s the case with the bill, which passed in the Senate yesterday (Dec. 5). Next a House-Senate committee reconciles their separate bills and sends the final version to the president.

Mello gives us an idea of the opposition the LASG has been up against in trying to put “a stake through the heart” of the CMRR-NF just locally in New Mexico (emphasis added).

When and if these provisions pass, they will do so in substantial part because of strong efforts of New Mexico Democrats (Heinrich, Udall, Bingaman, and to a lesser extent Lujan), who have consistently allied with the most hawkish members of Congress to achieve this end.

Mello was also in Washington to reemphasize his concerns with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which is becoming increasingly privatized.

The last sliver of NNSA which is not a management and operating (M&O) contractor (just 3%, by dollars spent) is not making many decisions. To say there is a leadership vacuum is an understatement.

In fact, writes Mello:

There is very little space left in which a vacuum could form. When it does, the big nuclear labs and plants (i.e. the contractors) automatically fill it.

Worse

… when NNSA needs “independent” advice, it generally turns to more contractors to help out. The U.S. nuclear warhead business – and it is a very big business, with sweet multi-decade contracts for the vaguest sort of work that run more than $30 billion in total value in the case of [the Los Alamos National Laboratory] (just to pick one) – has very little federal character left.

Mello explains.

The proposals of the nuclear hawks basically amount to unshackling the contractors even more – giving them even more money to begin even more projects with even less accountability. Despite the appearance of occasional inter-party conflict, the federal government – really all parts of it, at the moment – have basically circled the wagons to protect the contractors who run the warhead complex.

He can only conclude that

… most members of Congress do not really understand the degree of privatization involved, or that the nuclear weapons laboratories are actually corporate actors, not federal.

Is the World Bank turning up the heat?

Daphne Wysham on Al Jazeera discussing the World Bank and climate change:

“It was 1992 when the World Bank was asked at the Rio Earth Summit to begin to marshall the funds to address the climate crisis, to help the developing world move away from fossil fuels, and they have done the exact opposite.”

Daphne Wysham is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and works with the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network. See the interview on Al Jazeera’s website here.

The Private Sector’s Murky Role in Climate Finance

While the costs of mitigating and adapting to climate change rise and thus the need for climate finance in developing countries grows, wealthy governments shift focus from public support to private finance. But can the private sector meet the needs of those most impacted by climate change?

Climate Justice

In the halls of the UN climate negotiations in Doha, Qatar, you will hear a mantra that’s being echoed by developed country governments from their capital cities to international forums. It goes something like this: We’re broke. There’s no public money. And so, we have to use the scarce resources we do have to leverage massive wealth in the private — and particularly the financial — sector.

You’ll also find in the halls of the annual climate summits the faces of private interests — industry reps, investors, and carbon traders. They’re a regular fixture here, but this year the private sector has taken centre stage in debates over climate finance.

At COP18 there are seven times as many side events about getting private finance and carbon markets engaged in climate action as events highlighting the role of public funds.

There has also been a strategic shift in the rhetoric of developed countries away from talking about “providing” climate finance to speaking about “mobilising” money. The former implies public flows. The latter suggests countries are shifting emphasis toward looking outside national budgets for financial resources.

Nowhere is the trend toward privileging the private sector more apparent than in the Green Climate Fund (GCF) — the newest financial institution under the climate Convention. After many contentious debates during the Fund’s design phase, industrialised nations succeeded in creating a sub-fund that guarantees the private sector direct access to the fund.

Countries did win one concession — a ‘no-objection procedure’ that is meant to keep multinational corporations and international investment banks from going directly to the Green Climate Fund to undertake work in countries without the knowledge of national capitals. But investors are already starting to push back, saying that any kind of vetting process by the UN would make private sector engagement untenable.

In light of these challenges, the GCF’s board will have to grapple as they write the Fund’s business model this year with the question of what the ultimate purpose of the Green Climate Fund is — to maximise the involvement of the private sector, or to support low-carbon, climate-resilient sustainable development in poorer nations as its mandate states?

While these two aims don’t have to be mutually exclusive, lessons from existing private sector institutions – like the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation – show that private finance often bypasses low-income countries, fails to reach the poor in middle-income countries, and prioritises large corporations over small and medium enterprises.

In addition, the use of financial intermediaries to repackage and channel capital leads to serious challenges in transparency and public accountability. Particularly important is the fact that private sector money flows where the profit potential is greatest. For a climate fund this means big, mainly mitigation activities — not community-scale projects, adaptation, or disaster relief.

Certainly, the private sector plays a critical role in any economy – and without its participation in making the shift away from dirty energy and polluting industry there will be no transition to a low-carbon future. But the private sector efforts that the Green Climate Fund should support are domestic enterprises that will reinvest wealth to meet the climate priorities of the people and communities most impacted by global warming.

Free Elections Encourage in Sierra Leone, But Most Left Behind by Western Development

The citizens of Sierra Leone have failed to benefit from booming oil exploration and the mining industry.

Cross-posted from The New Context.

Sierra LeoneThe people of Sierra Leone are to be commended for performing their democratic duty—in droves. On November 17, more than 2.2 million voted, almost 90 percent of eligible voters, and no serious violence was reported. Five days later, the National Election Commission (NEC)—responsible for Sierra Leone’s entire voting system, from biometric registration to counting—announced that President Ernest Bai Koroma of the All People’s Congress party (APC) was re-elected to another five-year term. Since Koroma received more than 55 percent of the ballots cast, the run-off election some anticipated was not necessary.

His main opponent, former military leader Julius Bio Maada of The Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), received 37 percent of the vote while seven other presidential candidates split roughly 5 percent. Local races, from councilors and mayors to parliament seats, also comprised the election.

The SLPP leadership, which has traded political power with the APC since 1961, refused to recognized the overall election results and called for its winning parliamentarians and council members to boycott the government until an “independent international assessment” of the voting can be done.

This was a slap at the NEC and its apparent lack of interest in addressing SLPP complaints of election fraud—including charges of APC ballot-stuffing and vote-buying. The NEC has noted the complaints on its website, asking for the accusers to provide solid proof.

The United Nations chief observer Richard Howitt, who lauded the election as peaceful and transparent, acknowledged reports of APC bribery at several polling stations. But cases of tampering in some districts, according to Howitt, have been the “exception, not a trend.” The chief observer did admit that the ruling APC held a strong advantage in campaign resources and media airtime.

Indeed, the majority of English-language press outlets that cover Sierra Leone back the current administration —some more subtly (The Sierra Leone Times, This Is Sierra Leone) than others (Cocorioko, “Sierra Leone’s biggest and most-widely read newspaper”). The most outspoken English-language outlet supporting the opposition SLPP (that doesn’t formally bill itself as SLPP) has been the Sierra Leone Telegraph. (Read a critique of Sierra Leone’s media during the 2012 election here.)

But polarization in the Sierra Leone media—obviously exaggerated during election season, as in the developed world—only represents more problematic political divisions. Voting is generally done by blocs, not by individuals, who benefit from a patronage system that resembles the special interest groups of First World lobbies. From Think Africa Press

The APC draws majority support from the Temne, Limba and other northern tribes, and Krios of the Western Area, while the SLPP are favoured by the Mende and tribes of the southeast. Elections are regarded as “winner takes all” contests with defeat entailing exclusion and disadvantage for the losers, and their regions…. Both parties, when in power, have used their position to fund political campaigns and buy voters. This practice remains widespread. Political parties continue to organise and condone the intimidation of voters, often perpetrated by their youth wings.

Another problem for the frustrated SLPP leadership: Hundreds of international monitors were on the ground, from the European Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as well as the African Union, the UN and the U.S. Carter Center—some observers had been in-country for months. The consensus? A free and fair election in Sierra Leone. The international community bestowed its legitimacy and the only group crying foul is the losing party—not a particularly objective group.

The NEC, an organization steeped in international money and credibility, is not concerned about the SLPP’s accusations—nor is it beholden to Sierra Leoneans. Ernest Bai Koroma was sworn in by the NEC the day after the results were announced, and he has been congratulated by the likes of President Obama, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton. The 2012 election is over.

Boomtown

In spite of its wealth of mineral deposits, Sierra Leone is one of the world’s poorest countries. In 2011 it placed 180 out of 187 on the UN Development Index, which ranks life expectancy (49), maternal mortality (970 per 100,000), income per capita ($340 a year) and adult literacy (41 percent). It is slowly creating an infrastructure—based almost entirely on foreign aid and investment—but roads, running water, electricity, health care and telecommunications are still relatively scarce. The average Sierra Leonean’s lack of education and skills limit potential of individual advancement and societal growth, particularly by Western metrics.

And yet according to Businessweek, Sierra Leone has the fastest growing economy in Africa.

Sierra Leone’s $2.2 billion economy will expand 21 percent this year and 7.5 percent in 2013, fueled by diamond mining and iron-ore production by London-based African Minerals Ltd. (AMI) and London Mining Plc (LOND), according to the International Monetary Fund [IMF]. Foreign direct investment soared to $3 billion so far this year from $200 million in 2007, Koroma said in an interview … on Nov. 10.

A UN Security Council report in August had the IMF projecting “extraordinary growth of 35.9 percent in gross domestic product in 2012″ and a Chinese steel company pouring in $1.5 billion.

Earlier in November, a major US evaluator of good governance (to encourage public and private investment) gave the international community a new green light to do business in Sierra Leone. Freetown sent this press release:

The Government of Sierra Leone is pleased to inform the general public, development partners, civil society groups and the media that on November 7th 2012 Sierra Leone passed the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) scorecard for the first time since the international ratings initiative was established in 2004. The MCC is a United States government aid agency that gives funds to low income countries as a reward for good governance. The decision on which countries to give funds to is based on annual performance scorecards consisting of 20 indicators that measure social, political and economic issues.

This news was not picked up by the British press (who regularly cover West Africa), despite the fact that Sierra Leone did not pass the MCC score card in 2011. Perhaps this information didn’t gel with the media narrative, which hyped the election as tight and warned of political violence. The blurb-style coverage in the West rehashed the civil war from a decade ago and never went without the “Sierra Leoneans live on less than $1.25 a day” factoid. Meanwhile, Freetown had improved, within the year, in MCC categories including Freedom of Information, Girls Primary Education Completion Rate and Trade Policy—yet fell short in Natural Resource Protection and Inflation.

Though the mining industry has boomed, and oil exploration is looming, foreign industrial development has not improved the lives of most Sierra Leoneans. But there is potential for Chinese agriculture funding and hope that prolonged peace can build tourism. The promotion of the concept of free and fair elections has been crucial for private investment, which President Koroma is keen to get.

The NEC Goes International

Ernest Bai Koroma was an insurance broker in 2001—a smart businessman who took advantage of postwar restructuring to win the APC’s presidential nomination in a stunning 2002 upset. (He went on to be defeated handily by SLPP incumbent Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.) In 2007, as minority leader of the All People’s Congress, he defeated the vice president of the SLPP, which had been in power for most of the last decade (when not interrupted by coups).

The NEC played an important role in Koroma’s victory. Though a National Election Commission had been enshrined in the 1991 Sierra Leone constitution, the United Nations effectively made it over as an independent organization in 2005, disconnecting it from the national government. In 2006, Dr. Christiana Thorpe, a former government minister with an impeccable human rights résumé, was named Chief Electoral Officer. (During the 1991–2002 civil war, she was politically and socially active and helped found the Sierra Leonean chapter of Forum for African Women Educationalists [FAWE]. She received various international honors, such as the “Voices of Courage” in 2006.) An impartial, independent NEC, seen as above party loyalty and headed by a respected humanitarian, lent the Commission legitimacy going into the 2007 election.

The 2007 presidential election, not this year’s contest, was the true test of Sierra Leone’s national fortitude (despite the media’s natural inclination to exaggerate this November’s historical significance). Just five years after the war, it was the first election to occur without thousands of UK troops deployed. Buoyed by plenty of funding and technical support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and international donors, Thorpe and the NEC saw to it that the election was given a worldwide stamp of approval as free, fair and generally nonviolent.

The peaceful transfer of power from the Sierra Leone People’s Party to the All People’s Congress in 2007 was a watershed in the nation’s existence. However, it was a controversial NEC ruling that put Koroma and the APC in charge. Implying ballot-stuffing and underage voting, Thorpe’s group announced the annullment of ballots in 477 polling stations where “instances in which greater than 100 percent turnout was reported,” in and around SLPP-held regions such as Kailehun and Kenema (see the National Democratic Institute report).

From one perspective, the action solidified the NEC’s status as an objective institution—after all, outgoing president of the SLPP, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, installed Thorpe as chairwoman. That the NEC acted against the party in power could also be seen as adding to its credibility. The UNDP and the international donors were obviously counting on this view. The other perspective, held today by many in the SLPP, is that the NEC stole the election.

Thorpe was widely hailed for the successful election and won the 2009 German Africa peace prize, which augmented her reputation on the international stage. (Read an interview with her here).

To prepare for 2012 election season, Thorpe and the NEC implemented Biometric Voting Registration (BVR), which started recording fingerprints and faces in January. Critics, citing that a majority of Sierra Leoneans live on dollars a day, questioned the program’s cost-efficiency, as well as its potential for technical malfunctions and abuse. But BVR was funded by the UNDP and international donors, which had sunk $40 million into the Commission, and the new form of registration has not come up as an issue.

Another money problem stoked political ire against the NEC when it substantially raised the registration fees for opposition candidates. The smaller parties took Thorpe to task for “incompetence, poor planning, and deliberate attempts to frustrate the oppositions’ chances,” as the Sierra Leone Telegraph editorialized. When President Koroma offered to subsidize the other candidate registration fees, he raised more ethical questions. The international community condemned the move and fees were eventually lowered.

Former Colonizer Makes Good

The United Kingdom became conspicuously involved with its former West African colony when it sent several thousand troops to end Sierra Leone’s extended, sporadic civil war—made possible by Liberia’s Charles Taylor and Sierra Leone’s lucrative-metals mining, among other things—from 1991 to 2002. The war, which went through many phases with half a dozen factions, became known globally for creating “conflict diamonds” and for the hacking off of limbs by the rebel forces. Between 50 and 75 thousand people died with thousands more dismembered and millions displaced.

In 2000, with United Nations peacekeepers captured by rebel militias and Freetown in danger once again, Prime Minister Tony Blair ordered military operations to evacuate European and British citizens. The mission was quickly expanded by commanders on the ground who secured the capital and airport. Subsequently the British committed to stabilizing the country through counterinsurgency methods and rebuilding the Sierra Leone Army. Along with the paratroopers and special forces came dozens of development and reconstruction agencies to implement various aid packages. The Brits revived Sierra Leone and, along with the UN and thousands of troops, saw the nation through to the May 2002 presidential elections: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of the SLPP defeated Ernest Bai Koroma in a landslide.

Blair—blessed by counterinsurgency success and arguably responsible for a new peace and development regime—was considered a hero by many Sierra Leoneans and retained a connection to the land. During his last visit as prime minister in 2007 (a few months before the election), he began work on his African Governance Initiative to promote private investment. He returned to meet with President Koroma and encourage tourism in 2008 and again in 2009.

Blair has praised the good work of Koroma on several occasions, and wrote in 2010: “Since [his 2007 election victory] has taken on the challenges faced by his country, one by one.”

After Blair labeled Koroma a “visionary leader” of Africa, Sierra Leone People’s Party presidential candidate Julius Bio Maada called Blair out (as he’d done before) for picking sides. Maada wrote at the Huffington Post in January 2012

If our President is to be believed, then Sierra Leone is booming. Supported by Tony Blair and international lobbyists, he has taken this message around the world. But good PR is no substitute for the truth…..

For ordinary Sierra Leoneans, life has become much harder. Rice, flour and fish—the essential foodstuffs of our people—have doubled in cost since 2007. Fuel prices have rocketed. Five million Sierra Leoneans remain in desperate poverty. This decline is in contradiction to a government that portrays itself as spearheading an economic boom.

Conclusion

International intervention has reset Sierra Leone on a hopeful path. A string of transparent and peaceful elections are an appropriate and welcome metric of progress. Also, it is important that the reduction in outside government aid and development funds due to the global financial collapse be offset by private enterprise where beneficial. Yet in the drive to make Sierra Leone safe for foreign investment and capital development—in part by creating an international election apparatus—there is a danger of leaving the ordinary Sierra Leonean with no recourse against Freetown’s champions of Western growth.

Michael Quiñones is the editor of The New Context, an online journal of international affairs at the New School.

Doha Talks Show Need for Climate Action in Post-Sandy U.S.

As the second week of international climate negotiations begins here in Doha, Qatar, rich and poor countries are staking out very different positions and digging in their heels. The big debates on the floor are about how rich and poor countries will strike a deal to reduce their emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gases. And the provision of fair and effective finance for clean development, adaptation to climate change, and compensation for loss and damages is emerging as the make-or-break flashpoint.

Essentially, rich countries are obstructing the process by demanding positions that poorer countries say they cannot take. Their approach would condemn millions of people to suffer loss of life and livelihood in the wake of severe climate disruption. Climate negotiators from developing countries should call their bluff and stand together to halt the talks.

For climate realists watching from the United States, the best action in the short term is less clear. There is little anyone can do in three days to alter the position of the United States. The American people sealed the fate of these negotiations when we voted Barack Obama back into office before extracting a promise from him around denying a permit to TransCanada for Keystone XL pipeline, or around stepping back from his announcements that he was going to make the United States into the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas.”

In the longer term, however, the crisis currently unfolding in Doha has made one thing clear. After this round of negotiations, it’s up to the populations of the rich countries to make it politically impossible for their governments to take these positions again.

Read the rest of this post on Yes! Magazine.

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