Sunday, 26 October 2008

No way back for all concerned

It is time that a deal is reached between Mugabe and Tsvangarai in an effort to address pressing and life threatening issues that face that country. Both leaders must put aside their differences in the interest of Zimbabwe all Zimbabwean the world over.

There are two sides to this story, but the true issue is that of land -- Mugabe intends to nationalize the land where as Tsvangarai focus is to privatise it. It means that support for Mugabe’s socialist policy will come from East (namely China and Rushia) where as Tsvangarai free market concept will attract support from the west (namely Britain, USA and France). So surely if both leaders agree to a deal, Zimbabwe could benefit from both worlds.

Zimbabweans face numerous challenges, but most pressing are limited availability of food, frequent power cuts, very few jobs and a currency that in many Zimbabweans eyes is deemed worthless and insignificant.

Inflation in Zimbabwe is now running at over 11. million per cent. Recent transaction on the Black market shows that the Billions of Zimbabwean dollars will change hands for a single US dollar. The truth is that no one uses or recognises the currency. The US Dollar and South African Rand are now the currencies of choice for all those that want to trade in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe once branded the bread basket of Africa for its abundant food production capacity is now a country dependant on aid and external assistance.

Both Mugabe and Tsvangarai failed in their efforts in March of this year to secure an all right majority in the general elections. Following a power shearing deal brokered by SADC (Southern African Development Community) in September. Both men are now in a deadlock power struggle. Horse-trading over the numbers of ministerial posts, which personalities from both camps should get the lucrative and influential ministerial portfolios - especially that of finance and defence are some of the sticking points.

The reality is that the SADC brokered deal between the two men by the former president of South Africa Tambo Mbeki; should now forge a joint workable strategy without delay.

Tambo Mbeki is a battered and bruised former South African leader, who was ousted from his job as president of that country. Public infighting with long time rival Jacob Zuma resulted in a vote of no confidence by his ANC party. Tambo Mbeki has in the past been heavily criticized for not being forceful and heavy hand with both sides of the Mugabe and Tsvangarai affair. But he must be commended for his gallant effort in securing a power sharing deal between the two.

Agreeing terms and a practical working model as part of a deal with Mugabe, will command all Mbeki experience and standing in the region. The question is how much respect does Tambo Mbeki command. Is it enough for him to achieve a working formula for Zimbabwe. We must be mindful that Mbeki is now minus his presidential title combined with dwindling influence in the region.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Please.. allow Africa toTrade – without impediment !!

African Leaders governing the continent have shown over the past 50 years that feeding and supporting their people is complex, challenging and above all multifarious. The legacy of post colonial Africa left the continent unrecognisable from that of its former past. Changes in tribal line and transfer of power between favoured groups combined with poorly thought-out land redistribution schemes have contributed to Africa in the new millennium; branded the darkest continent in the world.

This new stereotype is notoriously associated with some of the worst human development statistics known to man. With fewer jobs, poor wages combined with increasing numbers of people affected by high Infant mortality rates, low life expectancy, reduced access to clean water, frequent power cuts and increasing numbers of individuals living below the poverty line. The rest of the world must now face the grim reality and accept the awful truth that the average African living on the continent is constantly fighting a battle of survival against all odds.

The reality is that some of the contributing factors towards Africa’s demise are a minefield to explore let alone a platform for finding solution. The World Trade Organisation (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) have always advocated to developing nations as part of their membership and conditionality package for loan agreements, liberalization of industries, institutions and governance is paramount for those wishing to relinquish the clutches of poverty. This involves the opening of markets to international trade by reducing trade barriers and the cutting back of state subsidies to local farmers.

Most commentators around the world would advocate that a 5% increase in world exports including that of developing nations, would generate 7 times what is currently given in Aid. I am of the opinion that Africa needs Trade not Aid. Africa will remain in the abyss, if industrialised nations like Britain and America continue to subsidise their farmers, encouraging overproduction that reduces the unit cost of production resulting in dumping of such goods on vulnerable African markets.

The resulting effect is that local farmers in developing countries in Africa unable to compete will go out of business, leading to a loss of jobs and a nation’s food insecurity. Similarly African goods wishing to trade in developed countries in Europe or the Americas are faced with high tariffs, quota restrictions and limitations on African products that can compete in foreign markets.

Addressing the issue of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), that gives exclusive rights to the creators of the product or service for a number of years, will have a devastating impact on developing nations. HIV patients will be unable to access treatment due to the cost of drugs that’s usually beyond their financial capabilities. Further reducing most African nation’s capacity to harness a healthy workforce, trade effectively and reduce poverty.
Traditional healers from the rural area in Africa usually cultivate herbs to treat variety of illness, providing low cost treatment to Africans who do not have access to hospital treatment. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) should fully recognise and support the (IPR) of traditional healers, whose knowledge of remedies which seeks to preserve and nurture the integrity of the African culture. Failure to protect traditional healers will result in pharmaceutical giants with ample resources developing these drugs to western standards, earning huge profits and then reselling these drugs back to Africans at expensive rate far more than what it would have cost from the traditional healers direct.

The issue of green house gasses that leads to global warming is in my opinion pivotal to Africa trading and eliminating poverty. It is a fact that extravagant lifestyles from developed nations in Europe and America through the use of house hold appliances, to the cars and trucks that are driven have resulted in the release of harmful CO2 gases into the environment. These Gases are having a direct impact on underdeveloped nations in Africa through dramatic climate change that are leading to drought, crop failure and loss of livelihoods. The impact of climate change reduces a nation’s ability to earn vital revenue, reduces a farmer’s ability to sell and forces families into starvation.

However Africa has to be responsible, it must respect its own environment by harnessing biodiversity and new faming techniques, embracing new technologies combined with seeking alternative and cleaner forms of energy from wind, solar or hydro power.

The issue of Gender Inequality has got to be as important as trade. Africa is predominantly an agricultural producing country with women accounting for up to 80% of all food and cash crop trade. The reality is that growing numbers of women lack access to education, unable to own land, faced with credit restrictions and severe limitations in their ability to control their resources or destiny.

Uncomfortable as it may sound the truth is that male quest for dominance with the support of cultural beliefs and local laws are to blame. This problem also extends to decision making within most household where women are not seen as an asset. It is not uncommon for women to be excluded from most forms of Human Development, despite their long hours of work which tends to start at 5am and does not end till 7pm.

Africa must realise and accept that women are the cradle of the continent. The veil of women’s invincible role must be removed. Africa must recognise the roles that women perform ever so magnificently and the work they do in exceptional circumstances. I am hopeful that a change in mindset can funnel both sides of the gender divide to better rewards that can lead to a more prosperous continent.

The World Bank advocates that increased trade raises productivity, growth and ultimately reduces poverty. This will only be possible when practical aspects of trade law and policy matters on market access, anti-dumping, General Agreement on Tariff & Trade (GATT), (IP), environment and labour standards are liberalized through systematic approach of citizen participation. Producers and exporters of goods and services will not be competitive without access to effective banking, accounting and transport systems. Global rules are therefore needed to regulate international trade by championing diversity and protect the rights of government and people. International trade could only have a sustained and positive effect on the lives of poor people, when trade policy needs are addressed at local, national and regional levels.