Skip to content

Tunisia, A Country Skating On Thin Ice, Chooses A President

December 23, 2014
Hotel Medina, at the entrance of Tunis' Kasbah. December, 2011

Hotel Medina, at the entrance of Tunis’ medina. December, 2011

(Also posted at Foreign Policy In Focus)

Tunisian Elections: An IMF Austerity Victory?

Beja Caid Essebsi was elected president of Tunisia in the country’s first free presidential elections since its 1956 independence. He won a clear majority , some 55% of the vote to Moncef Marzouki’s 45% in a run off election with 60% of eligible voters going to the polls. Essebsi’s ability to play down his connection to the Ben Ali regime – in which he served and to amplify his connection to the country’s generally acknowledged founder and first president – Habib Bourguiba. Immediately after the results were finalized, both Washington and Paris expressed their satisfaction with the results.

The Obama Administration is hoping that now that the elections are over the political parties of the two candidates will join forces, creating a conservative political coalition that can push an IMF austerity program (in exchange for a loan) through the new parliament, the main foci of which are to pry open the country’s growing energy sector to foreign companies and to lift the subsidies on fuel and electricity. Essebsi might have won the popular vote, but one has to wonder if the real winner is not the IMF austerity program (which by the way both candidates supported – and didn’t talk much about during the campaign). Will the political alliance Washington and Paris are nudging the two conservative parties to forge come together? Will it be enough to ram through the IMF austerity program through the Tunisian legislature? Or will the popular movement be able to resist what amounts to as yet another all out offensive against their country by international capital? Read more…

Burkina Faso – Following In Tunisia’s Footsteps

December 20, 2014
Burkina faso's burgeoning gold mine sector, in part exploited by foreign mining companies, many of them Canadian, in part by what is referred to as "artisanal" mining in which child labor, despite being against the law, is rampant

Burkina Faso’s burgeoning gold mine sector, in part exploited by foreign mining companies, many of them Canadian, in part by what is referred to as “artisanal” mining in which child labor, despite being against the law, is rampant

How do I feel by the end of the day?

(Are you sad because you’re on your own?)
No I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm I get high with a little help from my friends
Mm going to try with a little help from my friends

Lyrics from the Beatles Song, “With A Little Help From My Friends”

_________________________

Blaise Compaore: another skunk falls from power…

It all came to a head this past fall.

When “Francafrique’s”(1) man in Africa, Blaise Compaore tried to amend the Burkinan constitution to run for a fifth term, to retain his 27 year hold on power, people, many of them the country’s youth, poured into the streets of the country’s Ouagadougo and in other cities in a national movement of opposition. The country has a long history of social movements standing up for economic and political reform. The events in Burkina Faso are reminiscent of those in Tunisia. At the time that Zine Ben Ali was forced to flee Tunis, he also was trying to engineer a way to change the Tunisian constitution, not so much to personally remain in power personally but to open the doors for a presidential bid by his wife, the infamous (at least for Tunisians) Leila Trabelsi and her greedy siblings.

The Burkina Faso – Tunisia example does not end there.

On October 30, 2014, Burkina Faso’s National Assembly was set to vote an amendment to the constitution permitting Compaore to remain in the presidency. As in Tunisia in late 2010, in Burkina Faso, a public outcry and youth led massive street demonstrations first aired their grievances but within days quickly morphed into one calling for Compaore to step down and leave the country. As in Tunisia, the target of the demonstrations were the symbols of power: the National Assembly, the office of the president (which was set ablaze), foreign-owned and operated gold mines, the residences of high-ranking officials,the Ford concession (in which the president’s brother, François Compaoré had interests, the offices of the president’s political party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress.  Thirty demonstrators were killed by the military before the latter, changed sides and tilted their support towards removing Compaore. Again as in Tunisia (and a few months later, Egypt) the calls from the streets for Compaore to step down had the support of the country’s military elites, most of whom refused to carry out Compaore’s orders to crush the demonstrations.(2)

As in Tunisia, it was the socio-economic crisis caused by decades of Compaore policies which ultimately led the country to rebel against his rule. Like Zine Ben Ali, Blaise Compaore was devoted student of World Bank and International Monetary fund structural adjustment programs which increased the country’s overall poverty by cutting government budgets, social programs, subsidies for food and medicine but did enrich those close to the president. With their insider knowledge and political support many of these were able to cash in on the sale of state assets for their own private, dominate the country’s foreign economic concessions, etc., again tendencies that reached criminal proportions in Tunisia. In the same manner that World Bank measurements on Tunisia in 2010 seemed to suggest a healthy economy, but hid a growing gap between rich and poor, so it is in Burkina Faso. The formal statistics indicated good per capita GNP growth (7%) but hid the growing economic disparities between the small circle of Burkinan rich and a growing number of impoverished,

Further, Compaore’s exit from Burkina Faso was greased by both by France and the United States, neither of which, until the advent of the Arab Spring, have had much of a tradition of supporting radical social change in the Third World as Algeria, Vietnam, Chile, Madagascar, Cambodia and dozens of other interventions amply demonstrate. Interestingly, rather than supporting Compaore’s extended tenure in power, both the world’s greatest military power, even if in decline, the United States and its strategic sidekick of late, France,(remember Libya, Mali, Central African Republic) together, discouraged Compaore from clinging to power. As, obviously with a little help from friends, Ben Ali and his entourage found sanctuary in U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, so Compaore too, got by with a little help from his friends. He was, as Anne Frintz notes in an article in the December issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, removed from Burkina Faso in a helicopter provided by the French government and given refuge in French ally Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Read more…

Ebola – The Epidemic Is Far From Over

December 16, 2014
Kono Province, Sierre Leone, where the Ebola virus epidemic has intensified. Home of diamond mining the region was heavily fought over and looted in that country's ten year Civil War which went on for 11 years (1991-2002) and left more than 50,000 dead

Kono Province, Sierra Leone, where the ebola virus epidemic has intensified. Home of diamond mining the region was heavily fought over and looted in that country’s ten-year Civil War which went on for 11 years (1991-2002) and left more than 50,000 dead. Kenema Province where the ebola virus exploded early on in the epidemic’s most recent outbreak was the site of a U.S. government biological weapons laboratory run by researchers from Tulane University and the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (AMRIID) at Ft. Detrick, Maryland. The Sierra Leone government ordered the lab closed and moved, in large measure in response to local suspicions that the lab might have been in some way responsible for the Ebola outbreak

_____________________________

(Note: This also appeared at Foreign Policy In Focus)

_____________________________

1. It ain’t over by a long shot. Far from it.

Now that the election season in the United States is over, and conservative Republicans and their right-wing talk show hosts on FOX news and the like can no longer stoke up fear on the issue, the West Africa ebola epidemic, which is getting worse,  has essentially all but disappeared from the news here in the United States.

It ain’t over by a long shot. Far from it. The most recent news remains troubling. As an NPR news story noted, “New cases continue to rise exponentially.”

According to the latest reports, the ebola virus death toll in West Africa is now approaching 6,600 with an estimated 18,000 people reported cases. After claiming that the virus had been brought under control at least in Liberia and Guinea, now it appears to be gaining strength again in Sierra Leone where the government is reporting more than 100 new cases a day. The latest known outbreak has taken place in the rural areas of Kono, the country’s most eastern province just on the border with Guinea. In the past few days (December 13, 2014) “at least 87 people had died and been hastily buried, often without the precautions needed to stop the corpses from infecting the living”.

World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman, Winnie Romeril, indicated the situation was getting worse with the sick and dying flooding the district’s one small health facility, its staff exhausted from overwork. If not contained, early dire estimates suggested that the current outbreak could affect as many as 1.4 million West Africans before it runs its course.  The economic costs both already suffered and those forecast are on a very large-scale. According to the Financial Times (Dec 12, 2014), the virus has already cost these three affected countries some $3-4 billion. That is just the beginning. An earlier World Bank estimate concluded that the total negative financial impact could hit has high as $32.6 billion.

Home to some 365,000 people, in part because it is rich in diamonds, Kono Province was among the regions hardest hit by Sierra Leone’s recently ended civil war during which time it was heavily fought over and looted. Although the home of many ethnic groups, “Kono” is both the name of the district and of a major ethnic group that resides in the region. The Kono, who have their own language, are mainly diamond miners and farmers. Besides mining alluvial diamonds, they grow rice, cassava, corn, beans, groundnuts, sweet potato, peppers, cassava leaf, greens, potato leaf etc as their main crops, along with banana, pineapple and plantain, and cash crops such as cocoa, coffee and kola nut.Its population dropped to its present figure from more than 600,000 prior to the outbreak of fighting. Read more…

Tunisia’s Mosques

December 12, 2014
Tunisian Mosques

in white: number of small mosques: in orange the larger ones called “grand mosques”

This is the French original of the text accompanying this article on the mosques of Tunisia. The article “Outcry Concerning The Mosques: the state crisis of confronting religious approaches” appeared at Nawaat.org, back on September 27, 2014. Nawaat.org is an informative Tunisian website in Arabic and French, occasionally in English as well.

À noter que -et contrairement à ce que l’on aurait pu croire- ce n’est pas Kairouan (391), la ville sainte, qui détient le record de la concentration de mosquées, mais la ville de Sfax (524). Au lendemain du 14 janvier 2011, plus de 1000 seraient tombées entre les mains des fondamentalistes, selon le porte-parole du ministère de l’Intérieur, Mohamed Ali Aroui. Parmi ces mosquées, 90 ont été construites dans l’anarchie, selon le ministère des Affaires religieuses. En juillet dernier, 149 mosquées étaient déclarées sous influence salafiste, dont 25 toujours hors de contrôle. Imprenable, la grande mosquée Ezzitouna est demeurée aux mains de l’imam virulent Houcine Laabidi, qui y a réinstauré «l’enseignement zeitounien original»

The rough – but essentially accurate translation – goes something like this: Read more…

The-Dream-of-the-Celt-by-Mario-Vargas-Llosa: A Critical Review in Three Parts: Part Three

December 7, 2014
Malaysian Rubber Tapper. Today, nearly 50% of all natural rubber comes from plantations in Southeast Asia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Vietnam

Malaysian Rubber Tapper. Today, nearly 50% of all natural rubber comes from plantations in Southeast Asia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Vietnam

(Part OnePart Two)

The Political Economy of Late 19th, early 20th Century Rubber Production

Casement’s investigations of human rights abuses in rubber collection in both the Congo and Putumayo region of the upper Amazon Basin of Peru took place at a particular moment in time when the global demand for rubber had exploded and the supply of wild rubber, the only source, was increasing unable to keep up with it. This structural situation combined with the great profits the result of limited supply was the global engine that shaped the abuses Casement revealed in his studies. In those same years (1903-1913), Britain was following a two-track strategy, on the one hand investing heavily in creating domesticated varieties of rubber on incipient rubber plant plantations in Malaysia and elsewhere in SE Asia, creating alternatives to their dependence upon equatorial rubber from Africa and South America.

On the other hand, as those alternatives were coming on-line and the viable Asian alternatives were being put in place, at first slowly and then more quickly after 1900, Britain was not particularly adverse to exposing the seamy side of rubber production controlled by other countries. In the Congo, it was Belgium that benefited most from rubber, in the Amazon, a number of local rubber barons from Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. While in both cases foreign capital, always on the hunt for high rates of return was involved, in the main it was domestic elements that controlled production and, as long as their was a rubber boom, the breathtaking profits that resulted. When the first rubber boom ended sometime between 1910 – 1913, and end it did abruptly when Congolese and Amazonian production collapsed overnight, control of global rubber production shifted decidedly to Britain with its Malaysian plantations that left its competitors in the dust.

When the first rubber boom ended sometime between 1910 – 1913, and end it did abruptly when Congolese and Amazonian production collapsed overnight, control of global rubber production shifted decidedly to Britain with its Malaysian plantations that left its competitors in the dust.

Read more…

Wallerstein: U.S. Standing in the Middle East

December 5, 2014
One of the Egyptian mas demonstrations that brought down the Mubarek government

One of the early 2011 Egyptian mass demonstrations that brought down the Mubarek government

(note: this entry is lifted in its entirety from Immanuel Wallerstein’s Commentaries, with permission. These commentaries, appearing every two weeks, are almost always worth reading. Kazerooni and I have argued that U.S. Middle East policy is in shambles, and has been for a long time. This article supports that view and explains why.)

Commentary No. 390, Dec. 1, 2014

“U.S. Standing in the Middle East”

On November 27, The New York Times headlined an article “Conflicting Policies on Syria and Islamic State Erode U.S. Standing in Mideast.” But this is not new. U.S. standing in the Middle East (and elsewhere) has been eroding for almost 50 years. The reality is far larger than the immediate dispute between anti-Assad forces in Syria and their supporters elsewhere on the one hand and the Obama regime in the United States on the other.
The fact is that the United States has become in the expression derived from onetime nautical practice a “loose cannon,” that is, a power whose actions are unpredictable, uncontrollable, and dangerous to itself and to others. As a result, it is trusted by almost no-one, even when many countries and political groups call upon it for assistance in specific ways in the short run.

Read more…

The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa: A Critical Review in Three Parts: Part Two

December 3, 2014
Stamps Commemorating The Easter Rising when Irish nationalists rose in armed revolt against 800 years of British rule.  Roger Casement, a man born of privilege, gave his life in support of this cause

Stamps Commemorating The Easter Rising when Irish nationalists rose in armed revolt against 800 years of British rule. Roger Casement, a man born of privilege, gave his life in support of this cause

__________________

Now give me that old-time religion 

Give me that old-time religion
Give me that old-time religion
And it’s good enough for me

It will do when I am dying,…

It was good for the prophet Daniel,…

It was tried in the fiery furnace,…

It will take us all to heaven,..

- a traditional American gospel dating from 1873 -

__________________________________________

1. Did Roger Casement find God?

Vargas Llosa constructs his narrative, interspersing scenes of Roger Casement’s life with his final days before his execution. The main episodes of Casement’s life, his early life, time in the Congo, Brazil, the Putumayo investigations, his embracing of Irish nationalism, his homosexual affairs in Africa and Latin America are all covered and with feeling and considerable detail. But it is those final days and hours that are given much greater attention, where Casement appears to embrace Catholicism and a belief in God which in many ways is more central to the narrative that even his human rights work. In fact, it comes through as  perhaps Vargas Llosa’s main purpose in writing the book – a case study of a non-religious man who happens to “find God” at the end of his life. Casement’s life itself filled with drama and turmoil is just incidental. Roger Casement’s biography, even in the format of a historical novel, deserves better. Read more…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 128 other followers