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Safe sex in Nigeria -Royal Dutch Shell plc .com

Safe sex in Nigeria By John Donovan



Tom Mayne of Global Witness, an NGO, has followed the case closely; he believes things were structured this way so that Shell and ENI could obscure their deal with Malabu by inserting a layer between them. Mr Agaev, Malabu’s former fixer, lends weight to this interpretation. It was, he says, structured to be a “safe-sex transaction”, with the government acting as a “condom” between the buyers and seller.

Court documents shed light on the manoeuvrings of Shell and ENI to win a huge Nigerian oil block and on the dilemmas of their industry

DEALS for oilfields can be as opaque as the stuff that is pumped from them. But when partners fall out and go to court, light is sometimes shed on the bargaining process—and what it exposes is not always pretty. That is certainly true in the tangled case of OPL245, a massive Nigerian offshore block with as much as 9 billion barrels of oil—enough to keep all of Africa supplied for seven years.

After years of legal tussles, in 2011 Shell, in partnership with ENI of Italy, paid a total of $1.3 billion for the block. The Nigerian government acted as a conduit for directing most of that money to the block’s original owner, a shadowy local company called Malabu Oil and Gas. Two middlemen hired by Malabu, one Nigerian, one Azerbaijani, then sued the firm separately in London—in the High Court and in an arbitration tribunal, respectively—claiming unpaid fees for brokering the deal.

The resulting testimony and filings make fascinating reading for anyone interested in the uses and abuses of anonymous shell companies, the dilemmas that oil firms face when operating in ill-governed countries and the tactics they feel compelled to employ to obfuscate their dealings with corrupt bigwigs. They also demonstrate the importance of the efforts the G8 countries will pledge to make, at their summit next week, to put a stop to hidden company ownership and to make energy and mining companies disclose more about the payments they make to win concessions. On June 12th the European Parliament voted to make EU-based resources companies disclose all payments of at least €100,000 ($130,000) on any project.

The saga of block OPL245 began in 1998 when Nigeria’s then petroleum minister, Dan Etete, awarded it to Malabu, which had been established just days before and had no employees or assets. The price was a “signature bonus” of $20m (of which Malabu only ever paid $2m).

The firm intended to bring in Shell as a 40% partner, but in 1999 a new government took power and two years later it cried foul and cancelled the deal. The block was put out to bid and Shell won the right to operate it, in a production-sharing contract with the national petroleum company, subject to payment of an enlarged signature bonus of $210m. Shell did not immediately pay this, for reasons it declines to explain, but began spending heavily on exploration in the block.

Malabu then sued the government. After much legal wrangling, they reached a deal in 2006 that reinstated the firm as the block’s owner. This caught Shell unawares, even though it had conducted extensive due diligence and had a keen understanding of the Nigerian operating climate thanks to its long and often bumpy history in the country. It responded by launching various legal actions, including taking the government to the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes.

Malabu ploughed on, hiring Ednan Agaev, a former Soviet diplomat, to find other investors. Rosneft of Russia and Total of France, among others, showed interest but were put off by Malabu’s disputes with Shell and the government. Things moved forward again when Emeka Obi, a Nigerian subcontracted by Mr Agaev, brought in ENI (which already owned a nearby oil block). After further toing and froing—and no end of meetings in swanky European hotels—ENI and Shell agreed in 2011 to pay $1.3 billion for the block. Malabu gave up its rights to OPL245 and Shell dropped its legal actions (see timeline).

The deal was apparently split into two transactions. Shell and ENI paid $1.3 billion to the Nigerian government. Then, once Malabu had signed away its rights to the block, the government clipped off its $210m unpaid signature bonus and transferred just under $1.1 billion to Malabu.

Tom Mayne of Global Witness, an NGO, has followed the case closely; he believes things were structured this way so that Shell and ENI could obscure their deal with Malabu by inserting a layer between them. Mr Agaev, Malabu’s former fixer, lends weight to this interpretation. It was, he says, structured to be a “safe-sex transaction”, with the government acting as a “condom” between the buyers and seller.

It is not hard to see why the oil giants would want to avoid being seen to be dealing directly with Malabu, a shell company with tainted provenance. Its ultimate beneficial owner is widely believed to be Mr Etete, the very minister who had awarded it the block while serving under Sani Abacha, the late, staggeringly corrupt dictator.

In 2007 Mr Etete was found guilty of money-laundering by a French court. His conviction was upheld in 2009. The trial centred on bribes he had allegedly demanded from foreign investors while in government. He used these to buy, among other things, a French mansion and about €1m-worth of Art Deco furniture, according to French court documents.

Then in 2011 Mr Obi, one of the middlemen in the final deal with Shell and ENI, took his claim for unpaid fees to the High Court in London, calling on Mr Etete to give testimony. For unclear reasons, he agreed to do so—but the hearings had to be moved briefly to Paris so that Mr Etete could give evidence, because he had been barred from Britain for failing to disclose his French conviction on entering the country.

Mr Etete claims he has never been more than a consultant to Malabu. If so, he is unusually hands-on. He was the company’s main negotiator and its representative in the High Court, where he admitted to being the sole signatory on its bank accounts. Indeed, there is no evidence of anyone else making decisions for Malabu.

When asked in court about others purportedly linked to the company and its record-keeping, Malabu’s company secretary, Rasky Gbinigie (who describes Mr Etete as a “family friend”), insisted that he had lost the firm’s copy of the register of shareholders and all minutes of meetings, that there was no written correspondence between him, the directors and the shareholders, and that he had no documents to verify who put up the company’s original share capital.

A not-so-secret alias

Last year Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) looked into Malabu after Mohammed Abacha, a son of the former dictator, complained that he had been a founding shareholder but had been illegally cut out. In an interim report later in the year, the commission said that one Kweku Amafegha “stood in” as a nominee director for Mr Etete. In the High Court’s hearing in Paris Mr Etete admitted that he had himself used the surname Amafegha to open accounts in the past. It was, he said, an alias that “I have always used when I go out for secret missions internationally.”

In the same hearing Mr Etete said of OPL245: “I put my blood, I put my life into this oil block”—quite a commitment for a mere consultant. Yet, when asked directly if he was its owner through Malabu, he denied it. When presented with transcripts of a recording in which he supposedly claimed that “It is my block”, he dismissed the transcripts as inaccurate.

Shell and ENI did not respond to The Economist’s questions about whom they believed to be the beneficial owner of Malabu. Whether or not they suspected it to be Mr Etete, their dealings with him were extensive. He met ENI executives repeatedly. High Court testimony indicated that Shell officials had met him as recently as December 2009, after his money-laundering conviction was upheld. In an e-mail that came out in court, a Shell man talked of having had lunch and “lots of iced champagne” with Mr Etete, who had requested figures from Shell on what it was willing to pay Malabu for the block.

ENI says it considered cutting a deal with Malabu directly, until it emerged that the firm might not have full ownership of the oil block because of “existing disputes”, including with Mr Abacha. Mr Obi testified that Shell broke off direct talks with Mr Etete for the same reason, and because he was “an impossible person to deal with”.

But the oil giants were clearly reluctant to throw in the towel. Shell was loth to walk away from a block in which it had already invested tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. (The company will not say how much.) ENI was attracted by the size of the block, the prospect of accompanying tax holidays and a waiver of the usual requirement that production revenues be shared with the national oil company.

Shell and ENI reject the suggestion that their joint purchase was a thinly disguised transaction with a dodgy brass-plate company. Shell says it made payments to the Nigerian government only and that it has acted at all times in accordance with Nigerian law. It previously said it had “not acted in any way that is outside normal global industry practice”. ENI says its payments to the government “were made in a transparent manner through an escrow arrangement with a major international bank”. That bank was JPMorgan Chase. A Lebanese bank had earlier declined to handle the payments, it emerged in court.

The companies’ claim that they bought the block from the state, not Malabu, is disingenuous, says Mr Mayne of Global Witness. It is also contradicted by Nigeria’s attorney-general, Mohammed Bello Adoke, who told a parliamentary committee last July that the companies “agreed to pay Malabu”, with the government acting as an “obligor” and “facilitator.”

The attorney-general was unusually active in helping the deal along. He held meetings with Shell, ENI and Malabu, helped to structure the final agreement and even advised on payments to middlemen, according to Mr Obi. In Nigeria it is highly unusual for an attorney-general to be so involved in a big oil deal. The lead is typically taken by the petroleum ministry, which in this case was said to be livid at being sidelined—particularly when Mr Adoke requested that it extend the deadline it had given Malabu to pay its long-owed signature bonus. Mr Adoke, it was suggested in the High Court, had been lawyer to none other than Mr Etete before serving in government. (Mr Adoke could not be reached for comment.)

Where did the money go?

The attorney-general has rejected as “without basis” claims in the Nigerian press that much of the money the government paid to Malabu in the 2011 deal was “round-tripped” back to bank accounts controlled by public officials. But where that money did end up is shrouded in mystery. Of the $1.1 billion, $800m was paid in two tranches into Malabu accounts. This was then transferred to five Nigerian companies that appear to be shells. One of these, Rocky Top Resources, received $336.5m, some of which seems to have been passed on to unknown “various persons”, according to the EFCC’s report. Some $60m went to an account controlled by Mr Etete, who has said that he received $250m in total for his role in the deal. He said in court that “Malabu shareholders decided to spend their money the way they deemed fit” and that he is investing on their behalf.

Among the listed owners of three of the recipient companies is Abubakar Aliyu, who is reported to have close business ties to a senior politician, Diepreiye Alamiesegha, the former governor of Bayelsa state. Mr Alamiesegha’s skills in escapology would impress Houdini. Detained in Britain on money-laundering charges in 2005, he jumped bail. After returning to Nigeria, he was sentenced in 2007 to two years for each of six corruption-related charges, though he served only a few hours in prison. In March 2013 he received a controversial pardon from Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president. Local press reports have made unsubstantiated allegations linking both the president and Mr Alamiesegha to the Malabu deal.

The EFCC’s report states: “Investigations conducted so far reveal a cloudy scene associated with fraudulent dealings. A prima facie case of conspiracy, breach of trust, theft anmd [sic] money laundering can be established against some real and artificial persons.” Officially, the EFCC’s investigation is still open, but a source familiar with it says that its sleuths have been discouraged by higher-ups from moving forward. However, other countries’ fraudbusters have taken an interest. At least one of the parties involved in the oil-block sale has been contacted by America’s Department of Justice.

As for the legal actions brought in London against Malabu by the middlemen, the High Court is expected to rule soon on Mr Obi’s claim for $200m. Mr Agaev’s separate arbitration case, in which he sought payment of a $65.5m “success fee”, was recently settled behind closed doors.

Shell and ENI now each own half of an attractive oil block. To get it, however, they have had to strike a deal that brings with it reputational and legal risks. They might conceivably face action under their home countries’ anti-corruption laws, if enforcers reject their claim to have dealt only with the Nigerian government, not Malabu. Shell “would obviously have preferred to secure OPL245 without going within a million miles of Malabu and Etete,” says someone who was involved in the negotiations.

Ethical dilemmas

The saga is a striking example of an ethical dilemma that is growing more acute for international oil companies. They are desperate to replace their shrinking reserves with new finds, but many of the most attractive fields are in unstable or poorly governed places. Worse, the industry has to contend with increased resource nationalism in oil-producing countries, making it harder for outsiders to secure reserves, and with greater competition from state-owned firms in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, which may not have to operate to the same ethical standards.

As a result, firms that refuse to touch any deal with the slightest whiff of impropriety risk eventually going out of business, says Peter Hughes, an energy consultant and former BP executive. They may feel that the best they can do, short of walking away, is to put as much distance as possible between them and the source of the bad smell, as Shell and ENI apparently tried to do with their two-part transaction.

How arm’s-length is arm’s-length enough? That depends on the company’s “threshold of ambiguity”, says Cory Harvey of Control Risks, which helps companies to manage political and reputational risk. This will vary from company to company and will be perceived differently by management, regulators and NGOs. Ms Harvey has seen oil-industry clients walk away from deals because of concerns about the reputation of, or lack of reliable information on, a seller or local partner. But energy transactions in difficult places can be “spectacularly complex”, she says, making it hard to gauge the acceptable level of risk. Nigeria is “arguably the most complex environment of all”.

Mr Hughes argues that when foreign companies turn a blind eye to questionable aspects of a deal, it can sometimes benefit developing countries with natural resources. The publicly traded oil majors are, on balance, a force for good, raising overall standards of behaviour by trying to operate as cleanly as possible in most circumstances, he says; better that than leaving the field to less scrupulous operators. Ethically speaking, the industry “has to be viewed in relative, not absolutist, terms,” he argues. Mr Hughes points out that Shell periodically talks of scaling back its Nigerian operations, which he believes to be “part of a political-risk management strategy” to exert pressure on the government to act more cleanly and predictably.

Global Witness prefers to see the OPL245 affair as “a lesson in corruption” that demonstrates how important it is for rich-world governments to press on with transparency initiatives, on two fronts. The first front concerns payments to governments. In the past year America and the EU have begun to require resources firms listed there, and large unlisted firms in the EU, to report, project-by-project, their payments to governments. Had this been in force at the time, it would have picked up the $1.3 billion transaction with Nigeria. This would have prompted public scrutiny of the deal and the subsequent money flows through Malabu, which in the end came to light only because the two middlemen decided to sue.

Shell says it favours greater transparency, if applied globally. It opposes the existing project-by-project initiatives because they omit companies not listed in America or Europe, thereby handing them a competitive advantage.

The second front for improving transparency concerns the use of murky corporate vehicles. Hopes are growing that the G8, which meets next week with Britain’s David Cameron in the chair, will take steps towards ending the use of anonymous shell companies. Had corporate registries been collecting, and making publicly available, information on beneficial owners back in 1998, the identity of Malabu’s owners might have been clear from the start. And it would have been much more difficult to move the proceeds of the sale to Shell and ENI into the corporate equivalent of a black hole, seemingly out of the reach even of Nigeria’s anti-corruption commission.

via Royal Dutch Shell plc .com.

Monsanto – the Most Hated Corporation On Earth?


What does it take to be the most hated corporation on earth? How many global corporations have had an entire day of global protest declared to draw attention to their nastiness? Well, the worlds leading producer of genetically modified seed, Monsanto, has just managed this feat, with millions having participated in over 450 actions across 52 countries on the 25th of May. It is worth examining how and why Monsanto has become so uniformly hated around the planet.

It is difficult to assume the bottom slot amongst a panoply of corporate villains that pollute and destroy the environment, exploit the poor, corrupt governments, lie about their products, sue their customers and do their best to avoid taxation by every legal and other means possible.

Monsanto regularly takes the honours as the most abhorred corporation, in amongst some noxious competitors. In 2012 Monsanto won the “Greenwash Award” for misinforming the public about its environmental credentials. It won the worst company of 2011 award. In 2009 it won the Angry Mermaid Award during the run-up to the failed Copenhagen climate change talks for misleadingly claiming its GM crops reduced CO2 emissions.

This long list of negative awards should be incredibly damaging to the company. However the investor community embraces rogue corporations and Monsanto’s shareholders have been richly rewarded for its bad behaviour. Were Monsanto an individual and not a corporation it would certainly have been sentenced to jail, probably indefinitely, for repeatedly breaking laws around the world. Yet corporations manage to evade responsibility for the sort of behaviour you or I cannot.

None of this is new. In 2002 Monsanto was found guilty of not only contaminating the town and surrounds of Anniston, Alabama with carcinogenic polychlorinated bi-phenyls (PCBs), but of covering up this pollution for decades. Beside being ordered to pay a paltry $800 000 settlement, it was found guilty of the crime of “outrage.” Outrage is legally defined as conduct “so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency so as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized society.” It really is difficult to beat that.

Monsanto not only opposed the Anniston case, it attempted to avoid prosecution through its sale of its chemical business to Solutia, insisting it was the problem of the new owner. It took exactly the same tack with its pollution of its ‘home town’ of Sauget, which originally was incorporated under the name of Monsanto in 1926.

In the US Monsanto is linked to nearly 100 superfund sites, two in Sauget alone, where its historical pollution is being remediated, mainly through taxpayer funds. It has managed to avoid similar responsibility in the UK as well. The infamous Vietnam War defoliant, Agent Orange, manufactured by Monsanto and others, was routinely contaminated with PCBs.

When Rachel Carson wrote her carefully researched book “Silent Spring,” outlining the dangers of agricultural chemicals and heralding the a emergence of the environmental movement, she was aggressively targeted by Monsanto, responsible for production of chemicals like DDT that she questioned. Monsanto parodied Carson’s book while viciously attempting to undermine her reputation and vilifying her as a “hysterical woman.” Tactics have changed very little with opponents of GM crops denigrated as luddites or unscientific.

Today Monsanto is better known for its GM crops than its chemicals. It is the world’s single biggest producer of genetically modified (GM) crops, responsible for around 95% of global GM plantings. The most widely grown GM crop, GM soy, is specifically engineered for resistance to Monsanto’s herbicide “Roundup”. The chemicals in Roundup have been linked to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer and gut disease, as well as having serious documented impacts on amphibians, fish, soil biota and other ecological processes. Needless to say herbicide resistant crops have sharply increased the use of chemicals. As weeds develop resistance more potent chemicals are needed and further GM crops are being introduced to resist these chemicals in turn.

The pursuit of GM crops has led Monsanto to morph from a chemical corporation into the worlds largest seed company. Through purchase of seed companies around the world it has acquired an unimaginable wealth seed germplasm. Yet it has sharply reduced the number of seed varieties sold by its subsidiaries, instead concentrating on its core business of pushing GM crops.

Monsanto is fully aware of its inherent unpopularity, which continues despite its every attempt to reform its reputation through extensive public relations campaigns. Its strategy to sidestep this is to form and fund groups and alliances that promote its interests. Organisations like BIO, the US biotechnology association, as well as Africa- and Europa-Bio, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications and Crop Life each support Monsanto’s interests as supposedly independent voices. Additionally, Monsanto spends millions of dollars directly lobbying governments around the world.

Monsanto then negates these massive PR campaigns by its aggressive legal prosecution of farmers it alleges are re-using its seed containing its patented GM genes. While there are constant high profile cases in the USA, Monsanto insists it will not prosecute African farmers for saving or possessing seed contaminated by their genes. In South America Monsanto has gone directly to the governments of Argentina, Brazil and other nations in order to try to leverage royalties on farmer saved GM seed.

Monsanto has also ensured its continued domination of the chemical herbicide industry by contractually linking the sale of Roundup to herbicide resistant “Roundup Ready” and “Yieldguard” soy, maize and cottonseed. Pushing this technology into developing markets has exposed farmers to increased debt through the purchase of seed and chemicals. When crops fail, as they repeatedly have, farmers lose their land or, as happens in India, choose to take their lives to escape debt bondage.

The model of industrial agriculture Monsanto promotes exacerbates problems of chemical pollution, water extraction and indebtedness, while also aggravating social upheaval. Small farmers whose lands and crops are contaminated not only by chemicals, but by patented GM crops are forced into burgeoning urban slums where they are trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty.

Monsanto has shifted focus toward developing nations in Africa and Asia, after saturating the Americas and rejection from within the EU. It dominates the GM seed market in South Africa, Brazil and India. There is nothing intrinsically beneficial about Monsanto’s business model, as much as it is supported and promoted within the dominant capital market.

These are just some of the reasons why millions of people protest against Monsanto’s destructive proposals to create profit through the privatisation of our food. That this model perversely masquerades as something beneficial, purporting to offer a hope of feeding a burgeoning planet is even more grotesque. The deeper one looks, the more outrageous is the behaviour of this rogue corporation.

In reality Monsanto epitomises so much that is wrong with the world and how corporations conduct themselves. Were it a living person it would be languishing in jail. The time has come to consider instituting a global criminal court for corporations, where their charters are withdrawn and they are put out of business. That is probably wishful thinking in a world where too big to fail has become a corporate mantra embraced by the very governments these psychopathic corporations support and maintain in power. In the meantime it is up to us, the 99%, to direct our ire toward curbing the misbehaviour of this particular corporate misanthrope.

via South Africa: Monsanto – the Most Hated Corporation On Earth? (Page 1 of 3).

Catholic priest suspended for whistle-blowing on sex abuse

Fr. Anthony Musala

In late March the Catholic Church suspended indefinitely a Ugandan priest, Fr.Anthony Musala, who chose to blow the whistle on widespread sexual abuse of children and other crimes committed by African clergy.

Musaala’s leaked letter to Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga that cited numerous instances of wrongdoings among the Uganda priesthood, including secret wives, children and abuse of minors prompted his suspension. Musala was abused himself by a priest when he was 16yrs old, at a top Ugandan school before he went to England to seminary.

Archbishop Lwanga later confessed that child rape indeed took place and launched an inquiry into the matter. The announcement came amid another scandal that brew up after South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban told the media he had dealt with similar abuse cases that were handled internally by the Roman Catholic Church and were never reported to the police.

Africa’s Catholic priests fathering children is an open secret, many local church-goers admit it but talking about it is a taboo. The church has accused Musala of being homosexual to deflect from his criticisms. Homosexuality seems to be a more serious taboo than rape from the tone of the interview.

The following lengthy interview is taken from ‘Morning Breeze’ of NBSTelevision Uganda. One of the interviewers is quite combative but it’s worth bearing with. Musala tells tales of Catholic priests having sex with a young Ugandan relative who was raped by two priests and became pregnant and had to have an abortion. Further stories include tales of priests with many children from different women.

via Catholic priest suspended for whistle-blowing on sex abuse : rabble.

via Catholic priest suspended for whistle-blowing on sex abuse : rabble.

Temperatures Rising: Just Too Hot In The Heart Of Africa

How climate change looks — and feels — in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


KISANGANI – The searing heat of the last few months in this northern city of the Democratic Republic of Congo is taking its toll. Newborns, the elderly and albinos are the first victims, while others will feel the effects of the crop damage expected from one of the worst heat waves in memory.

Over the past three months, average temperatures in Kisangani have risen from 25°C to 38°C. “This is a first. The city has never known a level over 32°C,” says one veteran meteorologist.

Still, last year there was also a rise in temperatures, and some experts are blaming global warming. Climate expert Emmanuel Kasongo from Kisangani University points the finger at deforestation, which he says “diminishes the frequency of rainfall, modifies the agricultural calendar and produces greater heat.” He exhorts the woodland farmers as well as the population to plant trees.

Beyond the longterm impact, locals are feeling the heat right now. Babies are the first victims. One naked infant of three months is lying face down on a sofa, crying. Her mother tries to take her in her arms to calm her down but it’s useless. “She’s having trouble sleeping because of this red patch,” says the woman. “I’ve been using this ointment the doctor prescribed but it doesn’t work.”

These last three months, the local pediatric center of Alabul has taken in three times as many dehydrated babies as it did during the same period in 2012. Head nurse Alphie Kahambu blames it on the rising temperatures: “Obviously, when it’s 32°C the babies feel 38°C. It results in spots and severe itching sensations. As the infants don’t know how to scratch, they cry a lot, which leads to dehydration.”

Albinos without sunblock

The significant populaiton of albinos are the most affected, since the sun rays cause lesions on their skin. According to the figures provided by the Association for the Protection of Albinos (APRODEPA), “80% of the albino population suffers from minor wounds on their skin and mouth because of the high temperatures,” explains association president Severin Ndumba. “The situation is getting worse since we have no sunscreen to protect us at this time of year.”

The pharmacists refuse to order those products since they don’t sell well on the local market. “No one buys sunscreen. I threw away a whole case of a hundred last year,” says one pharmacist. Another complains that the products are expensive “and most albinos, or their parents, are poor.”

The sheet metal roofs used in local building turn the houses into virtual ovens and many families choose to sleep outside with the doors and windows wide open. One family was robbed recently, but the mother says they have no choice. “It’s too hot inside. My kids caught a heat rash on their backs because of it.”

The plants are also taking a hit. “Every crop is affected by the excessive heat and the harvests have been dropping the last two years,” explains Quadratus Muganza, president of the peasant union for development (UPDKIS). “We used to harvest between 800 and 1000 kilograms of white rice per hectare in 2010, but it plummeted to 400 or 600 in 2011 and 2012.”

Tomatoes are withering under the sun. “We are losing serious money!” says a tomato farmer in front of his field by the river Tshopo. She’s already lost ten patches of large tomatoes since March.

via Temperatures Rising: Just Too Hot In The Heart Of Africa – All News Is Global |.

via Temperatures Rising: Just Too Hot In The Heart Of Africa – All News Is Global |.

Myth Makers

Myth Makers

An A-Z of the people and groups behind the push for GM. It includes links to the web portal GMWatch SpinProfiles – our in-depth guide to the networks of power, lobbying and deceptive PR around the GM issue.

Academics Review
Website used to attack GM critic and author Jeffrey Smith and his book Genetic Roulette.
Article: New site attacks Jeffrey Smith
Links to: Bruce ChassyDavid Tribe

Website affiliated with the Monsanto-backed Center for Consumer Freedom.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile, Sourcewatch 
Article: Tobacco Money Takes on Activist Cash
Links to: Rick Berman

 South Africa
Industry front group that lobbies for the adoption of GM crops in Africa.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Muffy KochJocelyn WebsterJennifer Thomson

African Agricultural Technology Foundation
Industry front group that facilitates the transfer of GM crops to Africa.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile
Links to: Jennifer ThomsonGerard BarryFlorence Wambugu

African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum
Industry front group spun off by ISAAA and Florence Wambugu.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Florence Wambugu

Africa Harvest Biotechnology Foundation International 
Incorporated in the USA; headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya
Industry front group set up to promote GM crops in Africa with backing from Croplife International.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile
Article: Reuters Corrects Reporting of GM Lobbyists
Links to: Florence WambuguCroplife International

Journal of Agrobiotechnology Management & Economics, with well known GM proponents, like C. S. Prakash, on its editorial board. Funded by the Illinois-Missouri Biotechnology Alliance whose purpose is “to fund biotechnology research… directed at expanding the volume of profitable businesses in the US food and agricultural sector”. “Peer reviews” reports by PG Economics.
Article: GMOs cut greenhouse gas emissions, says new report
Links to: PG Economics

Pro-GM listserv of AgBioWorld.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile
Article: Seeds of Dissent
Links to: C.S. PrakashMary MurphyAndura Smetacek

Website/campaign established by C. S. Prakash and Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile
Article: Corporate Ghosts
Links to: Greg ConkoMary MurphyAndura Smetacek

Agricultural Biotechnology Council
Lobby group of the main GM firms.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Lexington Communications

Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program (ABSP)
USAID project in partnership with GM firms to promote GM crops in developing countries.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: USAID, Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS)

Agriculture Commodity Coalition
Group of farm commodity organizations funded by industry-backed Council for Biotechnology Information.
Profiles:GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Kimball Nill

Alliance for Abundant Food and Energy
Industry lobby group – includes Monsanto – that promotes crop-based biofuels.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Linked to: MonsantoDuPont

American Council on Science and Health
Industry front group that produces PR for food and chemical industries.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Elizabeth WhelanHenry I. MillerDennis Avery

American Enterprise Institute
Influential neoconservative think tank. Behind NGO Watch.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile
Links to: Dow ChemicalExxonMerckRoger BateProject for the New American Century

American Farm Bureau Federation
Controversial lobbying organization representing farmers and ranchers but with big agribiz connections.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Truth About Trade and TechnologyDean Kleckner

American Soybean Association
Claims to represent soybean growers but receives funding from GM firms.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Kimball Nill

Klaus Ammann
Key European lobbyist for GM crops.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Public Research and Regulation InitiativeEFBAskForce

Philip Angell
Former director of communications for Monsanto.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Jay ByrneGraydon ForrerWilliam D. RuckelshausBivings

Andrew Apel
Former editor of biotech industry newsletter and regular contributor to AgBioView.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: AgBioView, AgBioWorldC.S. Prakash

Ron Arnold
Executive vice-president, Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, pioneer Wise Use Movement.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Article: The Uncle Tom Award 
Links to: Center for the Defense of Free EnterprisePaul Driessen

Charles J. Arntzen
Genetic engineer specializing in edible vaccines.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 

Ascham Associates
PR consultancy of former Dupont PR man.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Martin LivermoreScientific Alliance

Asian Food Information Centre
Front group for food, agriculture and biotech industries.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: International Food Information Council

Asian Rice Biotechnology Network
Set up by the International Rice Research Institute to help roll out GM rice in Asia.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: International Rice Research Institute

Alex Avery
Aggressively lobbies for GM foods and against organic farming.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfileSourceWatch
Article: Fake Blood on the Maize
Links to: Dennis AveryHudson InstituteCenter for Global Food IssuesGraydon Forrer

Dennis Avery
Crusades against organic farming and for GMOs, pesticides and climate scepticism.
Profiles:GMWatch SpinprofileSourceWatch
Links to: Alex AveryCenter for Global Food IssuesHudson InstituteAmerican Council on Science and Health

via Myth Makers – A.

via Myth Makers – A.

GM Myths

GM Myths

Why are stories about GM “miracles” lapped up so uncritically by the media and why does non-GM research into solving exactly the same kind of problems seem to get minimal if any reporting, even though it is far more successful? We look at some classic examples of how GM’s often exaggerated crisis narratives and hyped silver bullet solutions successfully grab media attention. We also look at how even when these claims turn out to be completely bogus, it attracts little if any attention, and how some failed GM projects, or successful crop developments that have nothing to do with GM, even get passed off as big GM successes!

“Millions served” – the GM sweet potato

The virus-resistant sweet potato has been the ultimate GM showcase project for Africa, generating a vast amount of global media coverage. The Monsanto-trained scientist fronting the project has been proclaimed an African heroine and the saviour of millions, based on her claims about the GM sweet potato doubling output in Kenya. Forbes magazine even declared her one of a tiny handful of people around the globe who would “reinvent the future”. It eventually emerged, however, that the claims being made for the GM sweet potato were bogus, with field trial results showing the GM crop to be a dud.

“Saving lives and limbs with a (GM) weed”

There’s been a lot of publicity about how GM plants are going to solve the problem of landmine detection. News items around the globe – from the New York Times to the BBC, from TIME Magazine to Reuters – trumpeted their life-saving potential, after a biotech firm claimed to have genetically modified plants so that they would change from green to red when grown near to landmines. But the fact that the project failed attracted no coverage in the mainstream media.

“Only GM can save the banana”

“Only GM can save the banana” is a story that first surfaced in 2001, made a comeback in 2003, and has done the rounds ever since, gaining massive media coverage. Each time this story (re)emerges, it gets expertly debunked… untill the next time comes around.

GM cassava “our only hope”

The potential of genetic engineering to massively boost the production of cassava – one of Africa’s most important foods – by defeating a devastating virus has been heavily promoted since the mid-1990s. There has even been talk of GM solving hunger in Africa by increasing cassava yields as much as tenfold. To date almost nothing appears to have been achieved, and even after it became clear that the GM cassava had suffered a major technical failure, the hype about its curing hunger in Africa continued regardless. Meanwhile, conventional (non-GM) plant breeding has quietly been producing virus resistant cassavas that are already making a remarkable difference in farmers’ fields even under drought conditions.

Golden Rice “could save a million kids a year”

Golden Rice has been hyped for almost a decade as a life saver for millions suffering from vitamin A deficiency (VAD). Although it still appears to be several years away from being deployed, its inventor blames this on the unnecessary regulation of GM crops, which he calls a crime against humanity. However, the evidence does not support this claim. In addition, the World Health Organisation states that there are already tried-and-tested programmes for treating Vitamin A deficiency involving cheap, traditional, and readily available solutions. Although under-resourced, these programmes make Golden Rice completely unnecessary.

“Purple tomato can beat cancer”

A GM tomato has been portrayed in the world’s media as a major cancer fighter, as well as having other important health-enhancing properties. And some media commentators suggest that this is the “breakthrough” that will convince people of the benefits of GM foods. But the health claims are based on a small-scale study of mice, and experts say the results may have occurred by chance, or may simply not be applicable to humans. They also say that there could be problems with toxicity and that these have not been investigated. In any case, a range of existing fruit and vegetables offer the same potential benefits without any need to resort to genetic engineering.

Super-sized cassava “could help alleviate hunger”

GM cassava plants with unusually big roots were promoted as a super-sizing breakthrough that “could help alleviate hunger in developing countries”, but it turned out that plant breeders had already produced cassava roots that were many times larger than the GM ones, at very low cost and without genetic engineering.

Earthlings – VEG-TV – StumbleUpon.

via Earthlings – VEG-TV – StumbleUpon.

The High Cost of Cheap Meat

Nothing changes — whatever familiar measures are announced after every food scandal, once the politicians, manufacturers and retailers have made their claims and counterclaims, and after we’ve gone through the ritual demands for transparency, traceability and labelling. What we really need to do is widen our focus from the contents of “beef” lasagne to the intersecting routes of the current global agricultural system.

It has been developed with the single goal of large-scale production for export, with centres of specialisation to maximise profits. In emerging countries, greater wealth has led to an increase in demand for meat, and therefore a need for agricultural land to feed livestock. In China, meat consumption per person has increased 55% in 10 years (1). To feed its battery hens, China has to import soya grown in Latin America; to grow food for human and animal consumption, it has started to grab land in Africa. Raw ingredients are grown in one continent, bought by another, and exported to a third, just like the global supply chains of manufacturing industry.

For several decades, the food industry has persisted with an approach that has damaged small farmers, biodiversity, soil, water resources, and the health of producers and sometimes consumers, without managing to feed the planet — in 2011 a billion people did not have enough to eat. The meat industry exemplifies the problem. It accounts for less than 2% of global GDP but produces 18% of greenhouse gas emissions and uses huge amounts of natural resources, land and agricultural produce. Should cereals be grown to feed people or to fatten livestock? It takes at least seven kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of beef, four for a kilogram of pork and two for a kilogram of chicken.

Pasture takes up 68% of all agricultural land (and 25% of it is already exhausted and infertile), while growing fodder takes up 35% of arable land: so in all, livestock requires 78% of all agricultural land. This dedication of land to the production of poor quality meat (plus further land demands for biofuels) directly affects the poorest. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s 2006 annual report says: “Feed production as well as imports have increased. Total feed imports have surged … giving rise to fears that the expansion of China’s livestock industry could lead to price hikes and global shortages of grains, as has been predicted many times in the past.” We know what happened next: food riots in 2008 in Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Indonesia and the Philippines, caused by the unprecedented rise in the cost of raw materials on the international market.

Pushing millions into poverty

Early in the financial crisis, political leaders should have banned speculation on basic foodstuffs, but didn’t. Despite a reduction in the real cost of cereal production, prices kept going up (2). In February 2011 The World Bank warned: “Global food prices are rising to dangerous levels and threaten tens of millions … The price hike is already pushing millions of people into poverty, and putting stress on the most vulnerable, who spend more than half of their income on food” (3).

Most cattle are grazed, and while a small herd of black and white Pie Noir cows chewing the cud in the shade of cider apple trees in the Breton countryside might not be a problem, environmental damage increases as herd density rises. In South America over the past few years, overgrazing has left the soil sterile and saturated with animal manure. Producers easily resort to illegal logging to clear fresh land, especially in Brazil, which is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of beef and leather, supplying 30% of the global market. It exports primarily to Russia and the EU. A 2009 Greenpeace report revealed that Brazil’s 200 million head of cattle were responsible for 80% of the deforestation of the Amazon (4) — 10m hectares of forest destroyed in 10 years, to the detriment of small farmers and native peoples. For 40 years Survival International has condemned the killing of indigenous people by ranchers in Brazil’s forests.

The Amazonian rainforest is being destroyed primarily to produce biofuel and cattle feed. According to the peasant movement Via Campesina: “Soybean monocultures … now occupy a quarter of all agricultural lands in Paraguay and … have grown at a rate of 320,000 hectares a year in Brazil since 1995. In Argentina, where soybeans occupy around half the agricultural land … 5.6 million hectares of non-agricultural land was converted to soya production between 1996-2006. The devastating impacts that such farms have had on people and the environment in Latin America are well documented and acknowledged” (5).

Cereals and oil-producing plants, cultivated and harvested in Latin America with the help of chemicals, are transported across the Atlantic to the huge silos of agribusiness multinationals in Europe, ready to be turned into concentrated feed for millions of battery-farmed pigs and chickens around the world — in 2005 they consumed 1,250m tons.

Factory farms supply processors and supermarkets internationally. The industry tries to minimise costs by “rationalising” the production and distribution chain, reducing the workforce, automating tasks, standardising products and mechanically recovering meat slurry for cheap processed meals. The system is there to meet the demands of agribusiness and the big supermarkets.

Assembly-line animals

Processed food makers produce sausages as if they were assembling a car from components; and in a way, the animals they use have become artificial, the product of agricultural research, selectively bred to accelerate muscle development and boost reproductive performance, their vital organs reduced to the point where they are not able to function properly. They are extremely vulnerable to illness, and producers try to remedy this by heating the buildings in which they are raised, although this is often not enough to avoid infections, so they are given antibiotics. The liquid manure they produce, a dangerous mix of nitrogen and phosphorus, is disposed of by spreading on land that is already oversaturated. In Brittany, cyanobacteria pollution of groundwater, rivers and shores caused by the pig industry, is now endemic.

Traditional farming takes account of how much feed is available locally. Pastureland is nurtured, grass regrowth protected from too many hooves, and animal waste prevented from affecting soil and water quality. Animals are reared in symbiosis with cereal and vegetable crops: green waste with peas, lupins and field beans makes a balanced and healthy fodder, straw provides bedding for the animals, and manure fertilises the soil, completing the cycle. A new generation of farmers who want to produce local healthy food that does not damage the planet have been inspired by traditional practices; they have studied, tested, improved and modernised them, and some have moved into agroforestry, as recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, in which trees shelter crops from the wind and sun and contribute to soil fertility, while tree roots keep water at the base of the plants.

Translated by Stephanie Irvine.

Agnès Stienne is a graphic designer.


(1) “The State of Food and Agriculture”, FAO, Rome, 2009.

(2) See Jean Ziegler, “Speculating on hunger”, Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, February 2012.

(3) “Rising food prices have driven an estimated 44 million people into poverty”, The World Bank press release, Washington, 15 February 2011.

(4) “Slaughtering the Amazon”, Greenpeace International, 1 June 2009.

(5) “The World Bank funding land grabbing in South America”, open letter from Via Campesina, 7 July 2011.

This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.

via The High Cost of Cheap Meat » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names.

via The High Cost of Cheap Meat » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names.

Blood Money? Shock revelations and media half-truths on South African mine violence

Last month, violence erupted at a South African platinum mine when at least 13 men were wounded by security guards who fired rubber bullets and hacked at workers with machetes, allegedly to end a confrontation between two rival unions.

Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) is the world´s largest platinum producer, located in the Rustenburg area 70 miles from Johannesburg. The corporation accounts for over 80% of global platinum production and has been at the centre of clashes between security forces and miners since workers went on strike in mid-January over Amplat´s announcement to cut 14,000 jobs and sell union mines, in a bid to save $4.2bn.

It´s not the first time bloody protests have put South Africa´s mining sector in the spotlight. In August last year a mine owned by Lonmin Plc in Marikana, also in the Rustenburg region, was the scene of the worst violence the country has seen since the end of apartheid. On August 10, three thousand workers walked out after Lonmin´s management refused to negotiate over pay. The first incidents of violence were reported to have started the following day, when National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) leaders opened fire on striking miners. In the next three days, another eight workers, two police and two security guards were killed. On August 16, which marked the 25th anniversary of a nationwide South African miner´s strike, riot police arrived to disperse the miners. This culminated in the death of over 50 people, including 34 striking miners shot dead by police. A further 78 were injured. The incident, dubbed the Marikana massacre, was the single most lethal use of force by South African security forces against civilians since 1960.

But despite this, corporate media again blamed the bloodshed on rivalry between the NUM and its rival, the Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union (AMCU).

This ongoing vicious struggle, which has seen the two battling it out for membership and control over union offices, was no doubt instrumental in the tragic events at both Lonmin and Amplats. But there´s a much bigger story that is being overlooked by focusing on a fight between two groups of underpaid, desperate miners. It´s the story of multinational corporations exploiting human beings for the sake of profit. It´s a story which hints at possible connections between the mining industry and the police sent to kill those who dare to demand fair pay and safe working conditions. And it´s the story of mainstream media, for the most part, covering up and misreporting these injustices.

Capitalismo Mafioso? You decide.

Why strike? Exploitation, death, crushing poverty and dire living conditions…

There is no doubt that South African miners live in poverty while industry executives and shareholders eat cake and discuss where they can cut back next: more crippling job losses and pay cuts in the name of corporate growth and investor confidence.

Most workers live at the mines, sending money to their families in other parts of the country. They live in squalid conditions in company hostels or cheap lodgings nearby and are paid on average around $450 (£305) per month. South African Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies described the conditions in the mines as “appalling” and said the owners who “make millions” had questions to answer about how they treat their workers. It was later reported by Al Jazeera that the conditions in the mine led to “seething tensions” as a result of “dire living conditions, union rivalry, and company disinterest.”

The International Labour Organisation also criticised working conditions, saying miners are exposed to “a variety of safety hazards: falling rocks, exposure to dust, intensive noise, fumes and high temperatures, among others.” On average, 20 men die every year while working at Lonmin and Amplats, although reading the interim reports for both corporations gives the impression that these fatalities are only tragic in terms of money: deaths are discussed only in terms of ´work stoppages´and ounces of platinum lost.

The Bench Marks Foundation, an NGO monitoring corporate responsibility, argues that “the benefits of mining are not reaching the workers or the surrounding communities. Lack of employment opportunities for local youth, squalid living conditions, unemployment and growing inequalities contribute to this mess.” The foundation has blamed mine violence on worker exploitation and has strongly criticised high industry profits when compared with the low wages of the workers.

30 million of South Africa’s 48 million people survive on less than 10 rand ($1.25) a day. As the President of The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Sidumo Dlamini rightly points out: “What happened in Marikana reveals a story that is not being told in the media. The financial officer of Lonmin earns 152 times the salary of a rock drill operator. Whilst employers rake huge salaries a month, our people who go down to drill the rocks in the belly of the earth and face death earn peanuts.”

But while Lonmin did give all miners a bonus of $200 and offered a pay rise to rock drillers after the massacre at Marikana, the general industry focus remains on luring back investors and cutting costs during a time of turmoil in the platinum industry. Last year, mining strikes cost South Africa 15.3bn R ($1.69bn) and threatened the global platinum market, pushing stock prices up by 7%. Lonmin lost a mindblowing 3.4bnR ($38m) in revenue due to strikes last year, and its shares halved between 2011and 2012.

Unanswered questions and biased media coverage…

So what lengths would a corporation go to in order to please shareholders? Who are mine security really protecting? Why did the NUM open fire on workers last year? On whose orders were the police acting when they shot to kill? And why have so many crucial facts been omitted from mainstream media reports?

Official news reports from tragic events last August suggested striking miners were a grave threat to mine security, with the BBC cherry-picking various quotes and readers´letters from the world´s media to paint workers as savage, violent and uncivilized.

But we can piece together a very different story from local news sources. Africa´s Mail and Guardian reports that striking miners had vowed to stay on a hilltop near Lonmin’s Marikana mine until their pay was raised. They claimed workers living in the company hostel were being paid 4000R ($441) per month, those outside 5000R ($551).

“We want money. We have kids to take care of,” miner Alfred Makhaya told the Mail and Guardian. He had been working for Lonmin for over eight years and was forced to leave the hostel and rent a room so he could claim the extra 1000R. “This money is too little, I am working hard and I’m being paid so little,” said Makhaya. He added that he worried his children would “end up being thieves” because he would be unable to pay for their education.

But Lonmin executives had little empathy, declaring the strike illegal and demanding that workers either return to the mines or lose their jobs. The following day, NUM leaders opened fire on striking workers, seriously wounding two men. While it would be folly to suggest this was ordered by the corporation, it is worth pointing out that the NUM was losing membership and worker confidence because miners had begun to see it as ´too close´ to Lonmin´s management. Miners had complained the NUM was too preoccupied by politics and business to do justice to their members, and were equally dissatisfied about its strong links to the ruling ANC party. NUM membership subsequently dropped to 49% and it lost its organisational rights at the mine, but the union refused to go down without a fight.

The corporation is going to kill you…

The Mail and Guardian also reports that AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa had told workers a plan to murder them had been hatched by the corporation. During a news conference following the massacre, Mathunjwa wept and told how he warned the men they were going to die. This was backed up by miners interviewed by the newspaper, such as Lichaba Pafkalasi who said he needed a pay rise to support his family and claimed the Lonmin´s staff shot at him, killing two of his colleagues. Pafkalasi and his co-workers claimed the corporation sent the police to shoot them and said they had decided to move to the mountain to discuss their next move. At this point, in light of the fact eight men had died in the days leading up to this, many workers fearful of reprisals had decided to arm themselves with clubs and iron bars, while local residents said an inyanga (herbalist) or sangoma (traditional healer) would perform a ritual on the mountain top and sprinkle the men with traditional medicine to protect them and ´make them brave´. Important cultural differences have been overlooked in the majority of western reports, and it is crucial to remember that in some South African communities these rituals would only be the equivalent of praying to God: and God knows they needed protection.

Later in the day, police kettled men into an enclosed space using barbed wire and employed pepper spray, stun grenades, watercannons, rubber bullets and live ammunition against the men. And while details of this barbaric trap were conveniently censored from western coverage, the original Reuters report from August 17 also reveals that just months before August´s violence in Marikana a new National Police Commissoner was appointed. Her name is Riah Phiyega and she is a former banker. In light of the fact the mine is owned by a multi-billion dollar corporation, omission of this from mainstream media reports is lazy journalism at best and outright censorship at worst.

Claiming that miners were armed and dangerous, Reuters reported that Phiyega told a news conference: “We did what we could with what we had.” And although the BBC reported that workers charged aggressively towards the police line- leaving them little choice but to open fire- Reuters cameraman John Mkhize had admitted in the original article this may not be true.

“Whether they were running away or charging it was difficult to say. The fact is they ran into the line of police. Why did they run that way?” he asked.

Unless these miners had a death wish, it seems unlikely they would have been looking for a fight with no less than 500 armed riot police who were ready to kill as soon as they had the orders. It seems much more probable that weapons were taken in self-defence and that miners ran into the police line due to extreme disorientation, pain, panic and loss of sight caused by the following, also from Reuters´original report:

“In a tactical move, hundreds of police backed by helicopters, armored vehicles and mounted units began laying down strings of barbed wire near the strikers’ hilltop stronghold, with the aim of containing them to be able to move in and disarm them more easily. Police only used live ammunition after water cannon, tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets failed to have any effect. From the television footage, one white police officer in a beret and wearing dark sunglasses can be heard shouting “cease fire, cease fire”, moving a clenched fist up and down to reinforce this order. Similar shouts come from other officers. [Workers] appeared to run directly into a hail of live bullets, which kicked up clouds of dust. When it cleared, bodies were strewn on the ground, some moving feebly.”

Murdered in cold blood at short range…

Journalist Greg Marinovich points out that many of the men had been shot in the back, suggesting they were running away. He also claims that some of the victims “appear to have been shot at close range or crushed by police vehicles.” Some victims were shot in a “koppie” where they were cornered and could have been arrested. Marinovich concluded “it is becoming clear to this reporter that heavily armed police hunted down and killed the miners in cold blood.”

The evidence for foul play mounted when the New York Times, to its credit, reported in November last year that:

“At the time, in a detailed multimedia briefing the day after the shooting, police officials argued that the miners, many of them brandishing traditional weapons like clubs, spears and machetes, had refused to turn back when fired upon with rubber bullets and other nonlethal weapons. But investigations by local journalists – and now testimony and documentary evidence at the commission, lawyers contend – have suggested a far more sinister portrait of the events that unfolded that afternoon.

“On Nov. 5, gruesome images of the dead were shown as relatives looked on. One photograph showed the crumpled, bloody body of a miner next to a hunk of rock. In a police video taken during the day, nothing lies next to his outstretched right hand. But in a photograph taken in the dark, which lawyers said was taken later the same day, a machete with a yellow handle lies next to the man’s hand.

“In one of the videos, police officers can be heard joking and laughing next to the bodies of the slain miners. Two dead miners were photographed in handcuffs. Another body was found to have 12 bullet injuries.

“The testimony also revealed the horrific violence that preceded the police shooting. A police official presented photographs two security guards who had been hacked to death by a mob of striking workers seeking to march on the headquarters of a rival union. One’s face was hacked, and his tongue cut out. The other’s body was burned so badly as to be unrecognizable.”

Just like the Marikana massacre, violent events at Amplats last month are still shrouded in mystery. But Africa´s Mail and Guardian reported further details, as local police Brigadier Thulani Ngubane tells the newspaper it is “alleged” the drama unfolded after four NUM shop stewards arrived at the mine to reclaim occupancy of union offices which had been taken over by the AMCU. They were attacked by a group of 1000 strong, but nobody seems to know who this group was- or who was paying them.

At a parliamentary committee at the end of February, Amplats CEO Chris Griffith spoke only about investor confidence, the corporation´s number one priority, when he said: “If we keep having all these difficulties and we keep sending these difficult messages from South Africa, we are going to find it very difficult to ask for that money that we want to put in to maintaining our presence in South Africa.”

Once again, there was no mention of sharing the wealth.

This article was contributed by Sophie MacAdam –

via Latest News : Blood Money? Shock revelations and media half-truths on South African mine violence.

via Latest News : Blood Money? Shock revelations and media half-truths on South African mine violence.

Soviet Children of War


From time to time photos of child soldiers in Africa holding AK-47s or some other kind of weapon appear here and there provoking outrage and compassion from the Western public. But just a few decades ago, during World War II, there were often occasions of Russian kids fighting in the regular army against the Nazis.

Generally speaking, children were not allowed to join the combat army—but many exceptions were made. Many kids tried to run away from their homes “to the War” but most such cases were eventually captured by military police and returned back to their homes.  While some did succeed in joining the army, it was often the case for these runaways to get lost in the woods or shot along their journey.

Also, from time to time, soldiers found children in the devastated and burnt down villages of the Soviet Union. While there was a directive for them to send such children to established orphanages, still sometimes such boys were simply incorporated into the active combat units.  Specially sized uniforms were tailored for them and they were entrusted with guns. Some of those boys joined the army at nine or eleven, and stayed with their regiment through all the war front, from Russia to Germany, until the war ended and they were discharged at fourteen or sixteen, often with medals of honor.

20 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19


via Children of War | English Russia.

via Soviet Children of War.

No sign of peace or reconciliation in Mali- France perpetrated two large deceptions in conducting its military intervention into Mali

France perpetrated two large deceptions in conducting its military intervention into Mali six weeks ago. These have been universally accepted in mainstream media reporting.

The first is that the unilateral decision to invade Mali on January 11, 2013 was hastily made, prompted by imminent military threats by Islamic fundamentalist forces against the south of the country where the large majority of Malians live.

The second is that France intends to quickly exit Mali. “French leaders have said they intend to start pulling out the 4,000 troops in Mali in March to hand over security to the Malian army and to the U.N.-backed AFISMA force, an African military contingent…” says a typical report in the Chicago Tribune on February 18.

Restoring capitalist stability in Mali will be a tough job. The Mali population is deeply sensitive to violations of its national sovereignty. And the peoples of the world are weary from the recent military adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

But the economic stakes leave France, the U.S and their allies little choice but to carry on with intervention. Billions of dollars of capitalist investment is pouring into Africa in an unprecedented grab for resource wealth. Mining investments from Canada alone have risen from $6 billion in 2005 to $31.6 billion in 2011. Meanwhile, as an article in the Toronto Star recently reported, there is a “troubling trend” in the continent toward “resource nationalism.”

“Under pressure from civil society groups and labour unions, governments are driving a harder bargain” to obtain a better share of resource wealth and perhaps improve environmental and other regulations.

Far from planning any withdrawal, the imperialists are putting into place a long-term military occupation of Mali, likely masked with an “African” component and a rubber stamp approval of the UN Security Council.

A planned intervention

A February 7 report published in the France daily Le Nouvel Observateur provides an extraordinary, blow by blow account of the lead-up to the France intervention in Mali. Columnist Vincent Jauvert and his colleague Sarah Halifa-Legrand spoke to officials in the French government and Ministry of Defense. The journalists describe the deep concern that arose in the halls of power in France following the military defeat of Mali’s army and government in early 2012 by the pro-autonomy movements of the Tuareg and other national minorities in the north of the country.

The defeat became a double fiasco when the U.S.-trained leader of Mali’s army, Captain Amadou Sanogo, led an overthrow of the country’s constitutional government one month later, on March 22. None other than General Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. Africa Command, recently acknowledged the fiasco when he admitted to an audience at Howard University in Washington on January 24 that there have been “shortcomings” in the years-long training program of the Mali army.

French-led plans for intervention accelerated following the election in France in May, 2012. “When the outgoing government passed over the (foreign affairs) files, Mali was on the top of the pile,” one official at the Ministry of Defense told the journalists.

The new French president François Hollande has strenuously denied any planned intention to intervene in Mali. But soon after his election, French special military forces were infiltrating the north of the country to map aerial bombing targets and conduct other preparations.

The Hollande government masked its intentions by proposing an “African-led” military force to take control of northern Mali. But Jauvert reports that this was never a serious proposal. The United States was entirely unconvinced, saying that few, if any, of the African militaries are up to the task. Some leaders of African countries told France the same thing. Whether France believed its own words is largely unimportant because plans for an intervention proceeded apace.

Three UN Security Council resolutions on Mali were voted in 2012. They opposed the national rights struggles of the Tuaregs, Arabs and other national minorities in the north in increasingly harsh language. However, none endorsed a France intervention. The last resolution, in December, mentioned the creation of an “African-led” military occupation force, but that was left in the dust by the intervention of January 11.

France had no international mandate to intervene, and that’s equally the case in Mali law. There is no constitutional government in the country. Elected government was overthrown last March. The “interim” prime minister eventually invested by “interim” president Dioncounda Traoré was tossed out of office by the military on December 11. Traoré himself was badly beaten by Mali soldiers last May and went to Paris for safety and treatment. The army’s U.S. and French “trainers” were reduced to pressuring for Traoré’s return and resumption of office.

Adding to the political farce, Sanogo was appointed last week by Traoré to head a commission that is supposed to “reform” Mali’s military. The first fruit of the new commission appears to be the disbanding of the paratroop regiment that intervened unsuccessfully last April to reverse the March coup. As reported last month by the Ottawa Citizen’s David Pugliese, several dozen of the Canadian-trained paratroopers were kidnapped and disappeared soon after by the army. Tensions remain high between that regiment and the army.

Without UN approval or an authoritative Mali government in place, a fable was needed by France to justify intervention. This appeared in the form of dire reports in early January that well-armed Islamic fundamentalists along the unofficial line demarcating the north of Mali were about to move on the south, possibly targeting the capital city Bamako. International news reports were all over this story, further lending it an air of credibility.

Who are the ‘jihadists’?

The entry of heavily-armed and well financed Islamic fundamentalist forces in the north of Mali last year has indeed been a deeply troubling event for the country. They pushed aside the long standing, national rights movements of the Tuareg and other national minorities and ruled with an iron fist, violating the elementary rights of the populations they controlled and causing Malians to fear they could take control of larger areas of the country. France had considerable success in selling its military intervention as a rescue effort.

Author and professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), Jeremy Keenan, reported in some detail in a December 2012 article about the shadowy ties that link the fundamentalist forces across north Africa to Algeria, the U.S. and the Gulf States. His article was titled, ‘How Washington helped foster the Islamist uprising in Mali’ and he writes, “The catastrophe now being played out in Mali is the inevitable outcome of the way in which the Global War On Terror has been inserted into the Sahara-Sahel by the US, in concert with Algerian intelligence operatives, since 2002.”

In the past decade, the United States has initiated a vast militarization of the countries of west Africa. It founded the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership in 2005, now regrouping ten west African countries. For three of the past six years, Mali was the host country of the annual military exercises of the Partnership, termed “Operation Flintlock.”

Such wasteful expenditures of resources are especially repugnant considering the existing difficulties in west Africa, including extreme poverty, public health emergencies and sharp shifts in climate and rainfall patterns that are affecting peasant livelihoods and food production.

No peace or reconciliation

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) has offered to cooperate with France in battling the fundamentalists. There are reports of coexistence, if not cooperation, in some northern areas. On February 17, the movement issued a statement welcoming an eventual UN military force.

An earlier communiqué by the group on Feb. 11 listed 12 proposals to guide the recovery and future development of the north of Mali, including respect for human rights, meaningful economic and social development and a resolution of decades-old demands for political self-determination. These could well serve as a social and economic blueprint for the whole country.

But there is little evidence that France and its allies have any intention of doing anything but continue the plunder of Mali’s and Africa’s resources. The MNLA’s demand that the Mali army not be allowed into the north of Mali has been ignored, for example. Leading human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and FIDA, as well as some media in France have documented predictable reprisals by the army against civilian populations as it arrived in the footsteps of the France invasion.

One tragic story among many has been the forced exodus of the Tuareg and Arab populations from Timbuktu as the French and Malian armies took control of the city in early February, (a story that has been ignored by the world’s media).

A Feb. 17 declaration by the MNLA explains, “The MNLA has established that the return of the army, militias and administration of Mali into the territory of Azawad with the support of France has opened the door to reprisals and massacres of the Tuareg and Arab populations…”

France has blocked journalists from traveling to and reporting from northern Mali.

Meanwhile, the offensive by the fundamentalists in 2011-12 has stirred an already existing anti-Tuareg chauvinism in southern Mali and in neighbouring countries, perhaps fueled by what may have been strategic errors by the MNLA in creating temporary alliances with fundamentalists to try and end the Mali army’s deepening war against Tuareg autonomy.

One capitalist politician in Mali calls the MNLA and its demands for political autonomy a “trojan horse” of Islamic fundamentalists. Another, former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (1994-2000), says Mali should never talk to the MNLA because of the latter’s pro-autonomy program.

Most political parties in Mali, including those on the left, have supported the French intervention. Some on the left even backed the military coup last year. The coup’s declared aim was to prosecute a more effective war against “secessionists” in the north (this was even before the arrival of large numbers of armed fundamentalists).

Regional tensions are heightened by the French intervention, particularly with neighbouring Niger. Like Mali, it is a desperately poor country with a non-democratic government and with an even larger Tuareg population. AFP reports on February 10 that Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou “has made forceful demands for the disarmament of the MNLA and spoken out against talks with the movement on self-determination…”

Niger recently agreed to allow the U.S. to operate drones from its soil and President Obama has 100 U.S. soldiers have been dispatched to the country. Niger has suffered three military coups in the past 16 years.

Obfuscation by media of the numbers and origins of people made refugees by the conflict in Mali further confuses the situation. The “hundreds of thousands” of refugees from northern Mali reported in mainstream press refer mostly to who fled the Mali army’s war against the peoples of the north.

Looking at prospects for peace, Peter Pham of the U.S. think-tank Atlantic Council (himself a supporter of the French intervention) told an IRIN News report on February 12, “The Tuareg historically have had three deals with Malian governments that were legitimate, but all of them are now in the dustbin of history. Why would they possibly believe that a deal with the current batch of characters would hold?”

At least one mining industry observer in Canada doesn’t hold out much hope for reconciliation in Mali, either. Canadian Business reports that Toronto mining analyst Pawel Rajszel, head of the precious metals team at Veritas Investment Research, told investors in January to, “take their money and run.”

“We haven’t changed our opinion,” he told The Canadian Press more recently.

Imperial solutions

France and its allies are now working at the UN Security Council to cobble together a Haiti-style military/political occupation mission in Mali. Ground soldiers will be African as much as possible, but the overall direction will be firmly in the hands of the U.S. and Europe. That will be all the more the case in Mali than in Haiti for there is no African military that can assume the same leading role as Brazil and Chile have rather successfully done in Haiti.

The European Union has already taken a big step towards occupation through its decision this week to dispatch a military “training” force of 500 soldiers. Lead contingents, including from Germany, have already arrived.

Another parallel with Haiti is the insistence by the foreign powers to stage a quick national election. Never mind that hundreds of thousands of people in Mali have been driven into refugee camps or other harsh living conditions and that the country’s military is still in control of political decision-making.

During a visit this past week to Mali of a delegation of U.S. senators and members of Congress, Senator Christopher Coons said, “After there is a full restoration of democracy, I would think it is likely that we will renew our support for the Malian military.” Coons is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa.

Mali’s population has been weakened and disempowered by decades of neo-colonial plunder, foreign aid and military intervention. As they recover from the disastrous policies of their pliant governments and foreign overseers, active solidarity is needed to assist them in asserting anew their class and national interests.

Roger Annis is a writer and antiwar activist in Vancouver, Canada.

via No sign of peace or reconciliation in Mali |

via No sign of peace or reconciliation in Mali |

Big pharma’s excuses for the monopolies on medicine won’t wash




Several years ago, I began to learn about what I would come to regard as one of the great crimes in human history, whereby millions of people in Africa and elsewhere were cynically allowed to die of Aids, while western governments and pharmaceutical companies blocked access to available low-cost medication. The outrage I felt as I discovered the details of this story was exceeded only by a deep sense of betrayal mixed with shame for not having known more about it in the first place.

Today, I find those feelings mirrored in audiences who see my film, Fire in the Blood, which, incredibly, is the first comprehensive account of this horrendous atrocity and how it was eventually halted. As anyone who knows anything about pharmaceuticals will tell you, the name of the game is monopoly. In the case of medicine, monopolies emanate from patents. Typically a patent lasts for 20 years, but drug companies are expert at getting them extended. As long as the monopoly is in place, the company selling the drug can essentially charge whatever they want for it. Pricing is unrelated either to the cost of production (normally a few pennies per pill) or how much was spent in development, but a simple calculation of how to maximise revenue. Though most western countries do have price controls, these typically only keep price levels consistent with other comparable countries, so restraints are minimal.

Why does society accept this? The narrative the industry has been immensely successful in selling is that it spends vast sums of money on research and development, that this R&D is very high risk, and that monopolies and high prices are a “necessary evil” needed to finance innovation of new medicines. These arguments do not hold up under scrutiny. 84% of worldwide funding for drug discovery research comes from government and public sources, against just 12% from pharma companies, which on average spend 19 times more on marketing than they do on basic research (paywalled link). When we screened our film at the Sundance festival last month, audiences were dismayed to learn how much of their tax money goes to discover medicines which are then sold back to them at monopoly prices nearly half of all Americans surveyed say they have trouble affording.

In developing countries, where people typically pay for medicines out of pocket, the situation is far worse. Pharmaceutical company representatives have told me that in (relatively prosperous) South Africa, they price their products for the top 5% of the market, while in India their customer base might be just the top 1.5%. The rest of the population is of no interest. At the same time, drug companies are working tooth-and-nail to cut off supplies of lower-cost generic drugs originating in countries such as India, Brazil and Thailand, to make sure that they don’t miss out on a single customer who could possibly pay their sky-high prices.

At the industry’s behest, governments in the US and Europe use a dizzying variety of trade mechanisms, threats of sanctions and so on to curtail supplies of affordable medicine in the global south. The potential impact of these measures in human terms is nothing less than cataclysmic. As Peter Mugyenyi, director of Africa’s largest Aids treatment centre says: “We are on standby awaiting another bloodbath.”

To any suggestion that the prevailing system of monopolies on medicine is hugely inefficient, immoral and unsustainable, industry apologists contend that “it’s tried and tested”, whereas any proposed alternative would represent a massive gamble. This, again, is totally disingenuous. A vital first step is to raise the bar for granting patents: 90% of drug patents have no meaningful clinical advantages for patients, but nonetheless impede access.

More significantly, for 70 years Canada had a system prohibiting monopolies on medicine, where patent holders received a statutory royalty on sales of generic equivalents. This maintained profit incentives for innovation, while ensuring the public was not held to ransom by monopoly pricing (it did not, however, produce the windfall profits to which the industry is addicted – so US trade negotiators had it killed under Nafta).

This year may well be a tipping point. Relentless pressure is being applied to poor countries by western governments determined to strangle supplies of lower-cost medication relied upon by the vast majority of the world’s people who will never be able to afford branded drugs, and the outlook for access to medicine in the global south grows bleaker by the day. As unthinkable as it may seem, the horror that saw millions of people die unnecessarily of HIV/Aids while being denied safe and effective generic medicines produced at a fraction of the prices brand-name companies were charging, could be a mere taste of things to come.

via Big pharma’s excuses for the monopolies on medicine won’t wash | Dylan Gray | Comment is free |

via Big pharma’s excuses for the monopolies on medicine won’t wash | Dylan Gray | Comment is free |

Pictorial Religious themes 12- Hope


I bring you the stately matron named Christendom, returning bedraggled, besmirched, and dishonored, from pirate raids in Kiaochow, Manchuria, South Africa, and the Philipines, with her soul full of meanness, her pocket full of boodle, and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies. Give her soap and towel, but hide the looking glass.
– “A Salutation from the 19th to the 20th Century,” December 31, 1900…Mark Twain

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