The World This Week: Triumph of South Africa’s Spirit Against Adversity

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Even as economies slow down and jobs dry up, South Africans march against xenophobia to demonstrate admirable solidarity.

News on Africa is usually about violence, corruption and poverty. When positive developments occur, they are often ignored. Such is the case this week as well.

Every major media outlet covered the post-Charlie Hebdo killings march in Paris. Few except Al Jazeera have noted that thousands of South Africans marched to demonstrate their support for foreign nationals and oppose xenophobic violence. Many South Africans say that their country is a powder keg waiting to explode. Yet the march reveals a resilience that is oft ignored.

On March 30, violence began in Durban. Since then, eight people have been killed and many thousands displaced. The government has deployed the army to quell the violence. A procession of people that spanned five kilometers, over three miles, may do more good than the deployment of the army.

A major theme of the march was pan-Africanism. This idea was born during imperial times to bring the oppressed Africans together. The collapse of communism and Africa’s inter-tribal rivalries led to this idea falling out of fashion. During the march, placards like “One Africa, One Nation” and “I am African before South” demonstrated the new sentiment of solidarity that people are seeking to foster.

The divisions in South Africa are deep. A society scarred by apartheid and beset by crime is struggling to create jobs for its young. Unemployment is at a staggering 25%. Immigrants are easy scapegoats. For years, South African institutions were instruments of oppression and exploitation. Today, they lack structures and capacity to tackle the scale of challenges in townships. As the global demand for commodities has weakened, growth has slowed down. In any case, growth in South Africa did not lead to much job creation.

Just as the Arab Uprisings were preceded by an increase in the price of bread, the violence in South Africa was foreshadowed by an economic crisis. The country’s debt rating was downgraded toward the end of last year and is in danger of junk status. A huge public sector wage bill leaves little money for roads, ports and schools. Power cuts are rampant. In March, the government bailed out Eskom, South Africa’s leading power supplier, to the tune of $2 billion. Economic strains led to the ripping apart of the social fabric and consequent xenophobic violence. The march this week is far more remarkable than the one in Paris in light of the challenges that South Africans face, and it is a triumph of their spirit in the face of much adversity.

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© Shutterstock

Adversity is affecting other BRICS nations too. Brazil’s economy is floundering and jobs are hard to find. Petrobas, its petrochemical giant, has been involved in a long-running scandal that has seen $2 billion misappropriated. In Russia, people are suffering because the economy has shrunk by 2% as sanctions start biting. The rouble has collapsed, causing Russia’s import bill to skyrocket and its export income to shrivel. Falling oil prices have not helped.

Even the Chinese dragon is breathing less fire. Its economy grew at its slowest pace since early 2009 this quarter and industrial production dipped in March. The People’s Bank of China has responded by lowering the bank reserve requirement ratio by one percentage point, the biggest cut since the Great Recession of 2008. This means that banks have to keep less cash as reserves. This in turn implies that banks will have an extra 1.2 trillion yuan ($194 billion) to lend. Chinese authorities hope that more lending by banks will stimulate businesses and create jobs. The great risk is that this action might only increase the already Himalayan levels of bad debts on the banks’ books.

India is in the news this week because of the suicide of a farmer at a political rally. Even as parties accuse each other for causing the death, the reality is that far too many farmers commit suicide in this country. In 2004, over 18,000 farmers killed themselves, while more than 13,700 did so in 2012. Debt and distress can be a daily feature of life for those tilling the soil. Any setback such a drought or a crop failure tips them over the edge. In the past few weeks, many farmers have killed themselves because heavy rain has damaged their crops.

It is important to note that farmers are prone to suicide in all parts of the world. In India, their lives are more extreme because irrigation, credit and storage are largely unavailable. For instance, a third of the produce rots because of a lack of storage. This means that farmers have to sell when prices are low and buy when demand is high. The volatility that farmers face is so extreme that they can easily end up in a debt trap from where there is no escape but death.

To be fair, India’s political elite has tried to address this problem in fits and starts. However, even its inadequate efforts have been wrecked by India’s notoriously callous bureaucracy. Banks that are supposed to lend to farmers end up giving money to big landlords. Relief money for farmers suffering from calamities is siphoned off by crooks and officials. The elite’s criminal neglect of irrigation, storage and education is the key reason for farmer suicides and low agricultural growth.

Even as farmers die in India, immigrants seeking to reach Europe drown in the Mediterranean Sea. The turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East is causing thousands to flee to Europe. This year, an estimated 35,000 immigrants made it. Some 1,750 did not. This week, a boat sank killing 800 people on board. Horrified by the incident, Europe tripled its migrant rescue funding. Die Zeit summed up the dilemma facing Europe with characteristic German forthrightness: “We don’t want migrants to drown. We don’t want them over here. So what do we want to do?”

The United States and President Barack Obama face another dilemma. Drones don’t quite work as well as claimed, but they avoid body bags returning home. Many argue that over reliance on technology might be weakening the fine art of intelligence gathering by robbing it of the human element. Some weeks ago, “The World This Week” pointed out that the US targeted 41 people via drone strikes but ended up killing 1,147. Most of those killed were innocent, but the US does not acknowledge that fact.

This week, Obama admitted that two hostages had been killed in a drone strike on al-Qaeda. Both were fair-skinned Caucasians holding US and European passports. Some lives are worth more than others and, therefore, Obama had to apologize. Yet the dilemma will continue. Drone strikes are likely to cause increasing “collateral casualties” but will save American lives. Obama is a fine intellectual and a churchgoer. He and his fellow citizens might do well to remember the words from the Hebrew Bible: “They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind.”

[seperator style=”style1″]The News Media Triumph Again in Britain[/seperator]

Flickr

Flickr

After 15 years of public scandals, only 23 journalists and officials have been held criminally accountable for illegally accessing information.

For decades, British journalists have illegally accessed personal information and bribed officials, yet they remain essentially self-regulated without criminal accountability, even for behaviors that are unambiguously illegal.

In 2000, a few journalists started reporting the problem, mostly blaming unauthorized access to private telephone conversations and voicemails. From September 2002, a few newspapers (principally The Guardian) named other newspapers (the News of the World) as illegal gatherers of data.

The system of self-regulation was topped by a Press Complaints Commission, which effectively ignored or frustrated complaints by claiming a lack of evidence or powers. The British government referred complaints to the Press Complaints Commission. The Metropolitan Police (Met), which is responsible for policing London, where most British media outlets are based, was disinterested.

In November 2002, a separate regional police force invited the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which is responsible for regulating… Read more

*[You can receive “The World This Week” directly in your inbox by subscribing to our mailing list. Simply visit Fair Observer and enter your email address in the space provided. Meanwhile, please find below five of our finest articles for the week.]

[seperator style=”style1″]Does the Yemen Conflict Pose a Threat to the GCC?[/seperator]

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© Shutterstock

A domestic rebellion in Yemen has devolved into a sectarian security threat to the entire Arabian Peninsula.

What started out in 2004 as an internal conflict between the Houthis — a Shiite rebel movement — and the Yemeni government seems to have devolved into an ideological and geopolitical war involving both internal and external forces.

So much has been written about Saudi Arabia and Iran’s hegemonic pursuits in the Middle East. Neglected in many analyses, however, is a fair assessment of how internal (socioeconomic, historical and ideological) as well as external factors (geopolitical praxis exerted by key regional players) have given rise to a wider regional conflagration that threatens the peace and security of the entire region.

As Egypt and Saudi Arabia mull over plans to send ground troops into Yemen, one wonders about the denouement of Riyadh’s intervention against the backdrop of Iran’s ascendance; whether al-Qaeda and violent extremism will ultimately devour the Arabian Peninsula, or if a semblance of order will be restored… Read more

[seperator style=”style1″]Sex Education is More Important Than We Think[/seperator]

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© Shutterstock

It would be refreshing to see adults talk with frankness about sex.

I am a 19-year-old living in India, where it seems that every debate on sex education has its roots in birth control, safety and battling false information. While these perspectives are doubtlessly important, I have never looked at their pertinence from an emotional point of view.

I always thought we inevitably get the practical information about sex from our peers, much earlier than the high school syllabus even acknowledges it. The only chapter that talks about sex is on reproduction in biology, introduced in 10th grade. It covers all the systems of the human body, from circulatory to the nervous, and there are merely two pages devoted to sexual intercourse. On top of it, the content is in the most technical and distant language imaginable. While the chapter covers the technical aspects of reproduction, it doesn’t mention the word “sex” at all. Most prominence is given to how the baby… Read more

[seperator style=”style1″]Is the Rising US Personal Savings Rate a Bane or Boon?[/seperator]

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© Shutterstock

The rising personal savings rate may pave the way for strong consumer spending.

The financial crisis that crippled the US economy in 2007 shook the global landscape. The aftershock sent the markets into turmoil resulting in the Great Recession, which saw the US economy’s gross domestic product (GDP) shrink by “5.1% from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the second quarter of 2009.” The crisis affected most people and it clearly showcased the frailties in the modern economic system.

With a bevy of news reports focusing on financial derivatives to corporate malfeasance, the paltry American personal savings rate was an afterthought. According to economists at Wells Fargo, the savings measure can be thought of as “personal saving as a share of after-tax income.”

Kevin Lansing, a macroeconomic researcher from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, notes that since 2000, the average personal savings rate was 1.9%, in comparison to 5.2% in the 1990s. Lansing explains that the sharp reversals… Read more

[seperator style=”style1″]Why Are Politicians Still Referring to Marijuana as a Gateway Drug?[/seperator]

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© Shutterstock

Marijuana can help drug users prevent, control and even stop hard drug use.

With US states legalizing marijuana by popular vote, some politicians, including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, are still calling marijuana a gateway drug.

The gateway theory argues that because heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine users often used marijuana before graduating to harder drugs, it must be a “gateway” to harder drug use. The theory implies that there is a casual mechanism that biologically sensitizes drug users, making them more willing to try — and more desirous of — harder drugs.

Yet the gateway hypothesis doesn’t make sense to those who use marijuana — or have used in the past. Research shows that the vast majority of marijuana users do not go on to use hard drugs. Most stop using after entering the adult social world of family and work.

So why is it still part of the rhetoric and controversy surrounding the drug? Read more

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Testing / lcswart / Shutterstock.com


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