The big lie. The very reverse of the truth.
In the expenses scandal, the worst offenders were virtually all MPs with safe seats. Because THEY DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT WHAT THE VOTERS THINK, so they thought they could afford to break the rules – and, in many cases, they have been proven right.
Polar Heat Bringing Harder Winters
By Stephen Leahy
OSLO, Jun 15, 2010 (IPS) – Last winter’s big snowfall and cold temperatures in the eastern United States and Europe were likely caused by the loss of Arctic sea ice, researchers concluded at the International Polar Year Oslo Science Conference in Norway last week.
Climate change has warmed the entire Arctic region, melting 2.5 million square kilometres of sea ice, and that, paradoxically, is producing colder and snowier winters for Europe, Asia and parts of North America.
“The exceptional cold and snowy winter of 2009-2010 in Europe, eastern Asia and eastern North America is connected to unique physical processes in the Arctic,” said James Overland of the NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in the United States.
“In future, cold and snowy winters will be the rule rather than the exception” in these regions, Overland told IPS.
Scientists have been surprised by the rapid warming of the Arctic, where annual temperatures have increased two to three times faster than the global average. In one part of the Arctic, over the Barents and Karas Seas north of Scandinavia, average annual temperatures are now 10 degrees C higher than they were in 1990.
Overland explains the warming of the Arctic as the result of a combination of climate change, natural variability, loss of sea ice reflectivity, ocean heat storage and changing wind patterns, which has disrupted the stability of the Arctic climate system. In just 30 years, all that extra heat has shrunk the Arctic’s thick blanket of ice by 2.5 million square kilometres – an area equivalent to more than one quarter the size of the continental U.S.
The changes in the Arctic are now irreversible, he said.
“This is a very big change for the entire planet,” said David Barber, an Arctic climatologist at the University of Manitoba in Canada. The planet’s cold polar regions are crucial drivers of Earth’s weather and climate.
“It has been one million years, some think 14 million years, since the Arctic was ice-free,” Barber told the more than 2,300 researchers in Oslo at the largest-ever gathering of the polar-science community.
The International Polar Year (IPY), which just ended with the Oslo Science conference last weekend, involved more than 50,000 scientists from 60 countries conducting 30 months of unprecedented research at both poles. The last IPY was 50 years ago and led to the creation of the Antarctic Treaty to protect the southern polar region.
“Much of the remaining ice in the Beaufort Sea is rotten,” said Barber, who spent long periods on research icebreakers in the region. Such vessels can only break through ice a little over a metre thick but they were plowing through multi-year ice 14 metres thick, he said.
“We watched a piece of ice the size of Manhattan break up right before our eyes,” Barber said.
Although the ice recovers in winter and satellites recorded a full recovery this past winter, in reality much of it was a thin layer of ice on top of old rotten ice, he said. That explains the rapid decline already this year, a near-record low for May. At the end of the Arctic summer, the decline will likely come close to setting another new record, many here said.
Barber says an ice-free summer may be just three or four years away, when icebreakers will no longer be needed to navigate the region.
“The ice pack looks like Swiss cheese,” agreed Mark Serreze, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado.
“It is inescapable this will be another very low year (in terms of ice extent),” Serreze told IPS.
With ever more open water absorbing the sun’s heat, the Arctic Ocean is warming up, melting more ice in a positive feedback loop. A day of 24-hour summer sun in the Arctic puts more heat on the surface than a day in the tropics, said Overland. That extra heat in the ocean is gradually released into the lower atmosphere from October to January as the region re-freezes during the 24-hour nights.
Temperatures in January were -2C over the water, while the land was -25C, making conditions far windier and producing more snowfall than normal. Heavy snow on the remaining ice insulates it from the cold air, preventing it from thickening during the long winter.
“Sea ice is the key system in Arctic. It is just like a tropical forest…if the forest is cut down it affects the entire food web,” Barber said.
Not only does the loss of ice affect conditions locally but “what happens in the Arctic dictates some of what happens in the mid-latitudes,” he added.
This huge mass of warmer air over the Arctic in the late fall not only generates more wind and snow locally, several studies have now documented the impacts on global weather patterns.
The winter of 2005-6 was the coldest in 50 years in Japan and eastern Eurasia, reported Meiji Honda, a senior scientist with the Climate Diagnosis Group at Japan’s Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology. Honda’s studies show that the air over the Arctic was quite warm in the fall of 2005, which altered normal wind patterns, pushing the jet stream further south and bringing arctic cold to much of Eurasia and Japan. He also documented the same mechanism for the colder winters of 2007-8 and 2009-10, he told participants.
In eastern North America, the same conditions of 2007-8 produced increased precipitation and colder temperatures in the winter. As the sea ice declines, big impacts are likely to be seen in this region, said Sara Strey of the University of Illinois.
Another “wild card” in terms of effects from the Arctic warming is how much and how fast the region’s permafrost – permanently frozen landscape – that contains enormous amounts of carbon and methane will also melt.
“Things have to change in the Arctic but we don’t know what they will all be. That’s the scary part,” said Serreze.
“Our entire infrastructure is based on the status quo,” he said, namely a stable climate of the past 10,000 years. “Change is already here. We must start adapting now. ”
Norfolk County Council pushes ahead with £10m cuts plan
Last updated: 12/07/2010 17:24:00
Council leaders today rebuffed calls not to wield the axe on Norfolk’s careers service after agreeing to press ahead with a £10m cuts package which will see up to 90 jobs lost.
Norfolk County Council’s ruling cabinet recommended the cuts plan at a meeting today, which will now be put to the full council for a final decision on July 26.
The proposals, which follow a decision by ministers to cut £6.2bn in public spending this year, will see 65 jobs lost in the Connexions service with its budget halved, and the putting on hold of nearly 60 local road safety schemes.
But opposition councillors urged the cabinet to think again and the Greens said the council would save £3.44m by scrapping work on the A47 Postwick Junction, near Norwich, and they urged the council to scrap work on the Norwich Northern distributor road, because they believe it is unlikely to get approval from central government.
The Greens also said that the authority should use the some of the £1.56m freed up by the government’s cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future Scheme to offset the effects on the Connexions service for the current financial year.
But the cabinet said the nature of the grant funding from the government meant that it had to make immediate cash savings because it would have to save more money the longer a decision is taken to make cuts.
Iain Mackie, cabinet member for finance and performance, said other councils in the country had adopted a similar approach to Norfolk.
“These are unprecedented times, to think we would be immune from this would be naïve,” Mr Mackie said. “We are not in a position to readily fund these services where the grants have been reduced. The savings required are ongoing and also require ongoing reductions. We have neither the money nor the resources available to fund this.”
Green group leader Phil Hardy, said the council needed to assess the impact of all the cuts properly before wielding the axe, and he said the using the BSF money to offset the Connexions cut would give staff more time to find a new job.
Meanwhile, Adrian Gunson, cabinet member for planning and transportation, said while the council would keep progress on the Norwich northern distributor road down to a bare minimum, it would not scrap it, and he confirmed the authority would not carry out any design work on the third river crossing at Great Yarmouth.
He also said the authority would continue to explore other sources of funding for the NDR scheme, following news from the Department for Transport that the government could not promise it would hand over the £67.5m promised for the road by the previous Labour government.
“The need to deliver the NDR project has not diminished and we will continue to press the case,” Mr Gunson said. “We will continue to progress the NDR programme at a slower rate.”
July 8, 2010
MEDIA ALERT: BBC = BIN AND BYPASS COMPLAINTS
So Piss Off!
Robert Fisk wrote last week in the Independent of how an unnamed friend of his, “a Very Senior Correspondent of the BBC”, responded to a recent challenge. Fisk could no longer recall whether it “was about the BBC’s grovelling coverage of Israel or its refusal to show a film seeking help for wounded Palestinian children after the 2008-09 Gaza slaughter (on the grounds that this would damage the BBC’s ‘neutrality’)”. But the BBC correspondent was blandly dismissive:
“I recognise this is an issue.”
Fisk skilfully unpacked the meaning of this “very revealing” BBC reply:
“Of course, what he should have said was: I know this is a problem. But he couldn’t. Because BBC-speak doesn’t allow words like problems – because problems have to be solved. And the BBC doesn’t solve problems. Because they do not exist. There are only ‘issues’. And issues only have to be ‘recognised’. Thus what my friend really meant was: ‘I know exactly what you’re talking about but I haven’t the slightest intention of admitting it, so piss off.'” (Fisk, ‘Newspeak: why the BBC has an “issue” with problems’, The Independent, July 3, 2010; http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-newspeak-why-the-bbc-has-an-issue-with-problems-2017279.html)
This has also been the experience of many of our readers who complain to BBC editors and journalists about endless examples of bias, distortion and omission in BBC news. All too often, Kafkaesque responses are generated by the clanking pistons, turbines and pumps of the BBC complaints machinery.
Here is a typical example, following a complaint about BBC coverage of the Israeli attack on the Gaza peace flotilla from one of our most careful and astute correspondents:
“Thank you for your e-mail.
“I understand that you believe the BBC in general is biased in it’s [sic] reporting on the Middle East situation towards the Israeli perspective.
“I can assure you that we are committed to covering events in the Middle East in a scrupulously impartial, fair, accurate, balanced, independent manner. The aim of our news reports is to provide the information across our programming in order to enable viewers and listeners to make up their own minds; to show the reality of a situation and provide the forum for debate, giving full opportunity for all viewpoints to be heard. We are satisfied that this has been the case in respect of our reporting of the Middle East, Nevertheless, I recognise you may continue to hold a different opinion about the BBC’s impartiality.
“Please be assured that I’ve registered your obvious strong feelings about our coverage on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s circulated to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.
“Thank you once again for taking the trouble to share your views with us.” (Email from BBC complaints, July 3, 2010)
This is entirely standard and is the BBC’s idea of a serious reply to a serious complaint. Tellingly, such responses do not include the text of the original email, making it difficult for members of the public to check how well, if at all, their complaint has been addressed. Typically, these identikit responses contain unsupported, bold assertions affirming that “scrupulously impartial” BBC news reports “show the reality of a situation” with “all viewpoints” being heard. No evidence is offered – the BBC knows best! But as the complainant asked when he wrote back:
“What criteria do you use to decide that you have been able ‘to show the reality of a situation and provide the forum for debate, giving full opportunity for all viewpoints to be heard’ when you judge yourselves in your own cause?” (Keith Crosby, email to the BBC, July 3, 2010)
As far as we know, the BBC has not responded to this question. Perhaps because it is incapable of doing so.
Helen’s Chocka Diary
Readers may also be aware that the BBC uses a cumbersome web form for complaints which does not allow a copy of the submitted text to be sent to the person making the submission. And, shamefully, there is not even a direct email address for members of the public to use. As one of our readers observes in a complaint to the BBC:
“Surely the BBC can manage to formulate a system that quotes the original complaint when issuing a response, and records when the complaint was sent in so the recipient can tell how long it took to respond?” (Keith Granger, email to the BBC, June 30, 2010)
In 2006, BBC news editor Helen Boaden described how she deflects public criticism sent to her by email. Francis Elliott explained in the Independent:
“Don’t bother emailing complaints to BBC head of news Helen Boaden. She was at the launch evening for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in Oxford last Monday night. Discussion turned to protest groups and lobbying outfits which email their views to senior editors. Boaden’s response: ‘Oh, I just changed my email address.’ So much for the Beeb being accountable.” (Elliott, ‘Media Diary – Helen the hidden’, The Independent, November 26, 2006; http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/the-tossers-who-could-win-for-the-tories-425799.html)
In January 2010, we invited Boaden to participate in an interview about BBC News to be made publicly available via our website at www.medialens.org. We proposed sending a few brief questions via email. “Would you be willing to participate?”, we asked her. We received a response from Boaden’s assistant asking:
“Could you give me an idea of the sort of questions you are thinking of and when you might want to do it?”
We replied saying that the questions would deal largely with BBC news reporting from the Middle East and Afghanistan; for example, coverage of the death toll in Iraq. We then sent a number of questions (archived in our forum here: http://www.medialens.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=10687#10687). A few days later, the assistant wrote again:
“I’ve now had a chance to talk to Helen and I don’t think this is going to be one we can help with. Helen doesn’t do interviews that often – mostly because her diary is always chocka.” (Email, January 11, 2010)
A simultaneous approach made to Sir Michael Lyons, chair of the BBC Trust, which supposedly ensures that the BBC acts in the public interest, was again answered by his personal assistant:
“Having given your request careful consideration, Sir Michael has decided to decline your offer. The Trust’s on-going work programme includes a number of strands focussing on BBC news output, and as Sir Michael has previously said, there will be an opportunity for you to contribute to this in the future should you wish. Additionally, given the fact that some of this work is already on-going, he does not feel it would be appropriate to engage in any correspondence at this time which would cut across or be seen to pre-judge the outcome of this work. I am sorry to disappoint you.” (January 13, 2010)
Lyons had previously declined to debate with us after he had been sent a copy of our latest book, ‘Newspeak’, and asked for his response to our arguments about BBC News. He told us:
“I do not think that I can fruitfully enter into a dialogue about my reactions [to the book]” (Media Lens media alert, ‘The Silence of the BBC 100’, December 4, 2009; http://www.medialens.org/alerts/09/091204_the_silence_of.php)
In the absence of overwhelming grassroots pressure, the public will continue to be disappointed by BBC news performance, and will continue to be fobbed off by robotic insults to the intelligence of people who care enough to complain.
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Mark Thompson, BBC director-general
Helen Boaden, head of BBC news
Sir Michael Lyons, Chairman, BBC Trust
BBC Complaints homepage, http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/homepage/
Alex de Waal writes about the political marketplace
State-building isn’t working, and it isn’t for lack of trying. The European and American countries that go by the name ‘the international community’ have poured expertise, money and troops into Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, to name only the biggest and most challenging countries. But the more effort that is expended, the more troublesome these countries seem to become. It is not clear how 30,000 more American troops, or special corruption courts, will succeed in Afghanistan where the effort of the last seven years has failed. In Congo and Sudan, peacekeeping missions and elections, heralded as the way to lift these countries out of prolonged crisis, now effectively deepen their entrapment.
International state-builders begin with a blueprint of what a modern country ought to look like, and how it ought to be run: Afghanistan needs to become more like Austria, and Sudan more like Sweden. Many of their citizens agree, and leave for developed countries if they get the chance. The economists and political scientists who advise international institutions argue that no country should follow its own unique rules, and human rights advocates insist there should be no second-best solutions for countries just because they are poor and war-torn. Too often, the same coterie of international civil servants decamps from contracts in Kosovo to East Timor to Liberia, bringing with them the same working culture and the same formula for state-building.
State-builders ignore vernacular politics, to the detriment of the countries they leave at the end of their contracts. From within the UN compound or behind the embassy walls, forces such as kinship and patron-client networks are readily denigrated as ‘tribalism’ or ‘corruption’. But as Hamid Karzai’s travails illustrate, without these well-tested mechanisms no ruler can be expected to run a turbulent country like Afghanistan. Real politics in countries like Afghanistan, Congo and Sudan operate much like village politics or even family politics, on the basis of personal affinity, loyalty and reward. The same principles and practices are found at all levels: the astute village chief has the skills he needs to be a functional head of state, while the journalist for a provincial newspaper can rival the professor of politics for insight. Western policymakers call such countries ‘fragile states’. Their formal state structures are not strong enough to resolve political disputes or manage national budgets, which makes them problematic interlocutors for Western governments and international institutions. The World Bank defines a fragile state as one that cannot efficiently handle foreign assistance. In some cases, civil war has devastated the social fabric, creating what we might call fragile societies as well. Often it was precisely the strength of its social fabric which allowed a country to withstand foreign invasions and colonial occupation with its social order intact; today, that strong social fabric renders state institutions incapable of effective government.
Patronage is the circulatory system of real politics and in the modern era the heartbeat of the system is possession of the symbols of sovereignty, which allows a ruler to allocate aid funds or mineral revenues. Patronage can be inefficient and corrupt, and can contribute to political and economic crisis, even war, but patron-client systems may also function as a repository of trust and security. In places where formal state institutions do not provide stability and services, patronage mechanisms can dispense resources, sometimes in a way that is recognisably fair. No Afghan, Congolese or Sudanese would readily forfeit actually existing patronage systems for the uncertain promise of formal institutions.
How has Omar al-Bashir managed to remain in power in Sudan for 20 years, despite several civil wars, economic crisis and international ostracism? Unusually for a military officer who launched a coup, he is not an autocrat so much as chairman of the board, and an unruly board it is, consisting of Islamist ideologues, party bosses and security chiefs, each of whom has his own fiefdom and funds. It’s rule by cabal not charisma, and it is worth trying to understand how he managed it. I am told, by those close to Bashir, that he himself is puzzled.
The activities of advocacy groups such as Human Rights Watch and the Save Darfur Coalition has been a mixed blessing in Sudan. These organisations generate a lot of information and interest, but their rush to condemn means that almost no one takes the trouble to study the political skills of Sudan’s rulers. At the Darfur peace talks, I had the opportunity to observe the head of the Sudanese delegation, Dr Majzoub al-Khalifa, at close quarters. He had an impressively thick skin, and could withstand any insult that was hurled at him. He was also skilled at what is known in the vernacular as ‘Jellaba politics’, after the class of riverine traders who historically dominated commerce in the Sudanese peripheries and beyond. We might call it ‘retail politics’, or more precisely, ‘retail patronage politics’. It is the ability to weigh up the price, in money, of a particular individual’s loyalty and make him an offer (it is a very gender-specific exercise); it is also about reading the market so as to know the likelihood that the price will rise or fall in the future.
The Darfur rebels complained about Majzoub’s ‘Jellaba politics’, but they too were active participants in the political market. During the last days of the peace talks in April and May 2006, while the formal negotiations were conducted over the text of the Darfur Peace Agreement, informal but more important bargaining was going on over the price of a deal. The key issues that determined whether the chairman of the Sudan Liberation Movement, Abdel Wahid al-Nur, would sign the document were not contained in the 87 pages of detailed provisions: what mattered was the amount of money in the compensation fund, which would be under his personal control (and thus available for patronage purposes). He was offered $30 million but demanded a minimum of $100 million. He also demanded a personal pay-off, reportedly of $5 million, as a signing fee. The negotiations over the text were conducted in formal sessions, in English; the bargaining over the price was done behind closed doors, in Arabic. A year and a half later, another negotiation was conducted between the leader of one of the largest Arab militias in Darfur and the Sudanese government. This had the virtue of being uncomplicated because there was no international mediator and no need to pretend that the talks concerned anything other than the price itself. On agreeing to the offer, Mohamed Hamdan Hamiti commented that he expected Khartoum to deliver on 40 per cent of the deal, adding that that would be enough for 18 months. The idea of Darfur as a political marketplace, an auction of loyalties, was not greeted with dismay: the Sudanese have absolutely no difficulty with the politics of the souk.
Another term in the political vernacular is tajil, ‘delay’, from which is derived the particular skill of ‘tajility’, strategic delay or the art of procrastinating until one’s counterpart is exhausted or removed. This is the prevailing approach to formal agreements, which there is great reluctance to sign because of the ever changing conditions of the marketplace. Deals on money and resources can be struck quickly because they are temporary, but more permanent arrangements are a cause for concern. Now that every politician has a mobile phone and every field commander a satellite phone, price bargaining that used to take months can now be over in a matter of hours.
In principle, the tools determining the price at which a bargain will be struck can include electoral votes, the allegiance of parliamentarians, editorial columns in newspapers, public petitions and protests, work stoppages and the like; they could also include supernatural or spiritual sanctions. In many countries with weak states, among them Senegal and Tanzania, violence can be held in check by strong patronage systems. Elsewhere, however, violence is a bargaining tool in its own right and has a tendency to supplant other methods. It may be a means of acquiring assets, of affirming (masculine) identities, or of managing group boundaries and sustaining group cohesion. It also serves as a means of communication with the other party. The insurgent uses targeted violence against the government to get himself noticed and command a good price for his allegiance. He may also want to seize assets in order to become a bigger player. The government uses violence against the insurgent, or his community, in order to weaken his asset base and drive down the price. Elites don’t attack one another directly and are remarkably civil to each other. Often they live in the same urban neighbourhoods, while the fighting takes place in faraway villages. Reciprocal violence against their human and material asset bases is merely a part of the bargaining process, though occasionally one side or the other breaks the rules and there is an episode, usually brief, of all-out war, after which low-level criminal-political violence resumes.
Bashir owes his longevity to his astute monitoring of the Sudanese marketplace, both the inner circle of his quarrelsome cabal and the turbulent, impetuous provincial elites, and to his readiness to ensure that just enough is paid. He looks set to survive, but whether Sudan can do so is another question: Bashir may yet preside over the country’s transition from a unified sovereign territory to a geographically fragmented political marketplace, in which sovereignty is a commodity to be bartered.
Political scientists and policymakers like models, and the political marketplace is amenable to being modelled. The ‘marketplace’, here, is more than a metaphor, given that prices can be tracked along with supply and demand, and speculative bubbles identified. But like the market in protection run by mafia gangs and drug lords, the political marketplace has perverse features, including the possibility that competition will drive prices up rather than down. Imagine a country run by negotiation between a ruler and a set of provincial elites. Each elite member controls a unit: a tribe, a militia, an insurgent group, a commercial operation, or something similar. The ruler controls most of the resources, by virtue of sovereign rents, including foreign aid. The provincial elites can’t overthrow the ruler and the ruler can’t remove the provincial elites.
The provincial elites want the highest price from the ruler for their allegiance. They covet positions in government as well as resources, including trading licenses, local taxation powers and straight cash. In a system where violence is not normally a bargaining tool, provincial elites can use elections, demonstrations, boycotts and strikes to bring the ruler to the table. He will want to pay the lowest price for their allegiance and can threaten to withhold resources, letting them wither in the political wilderness. In a variant of this game, he can sponsor rival elites and even license them to undermine those who demand too high a price. In states where violence is an option, it can be used both by the ruler and the elites. The crucial need is to call the price of loyalty and get it right, and then to determine how long it will be before the price is up for renegotiation. There are other questions too, about the nature of the ruler (he may be no more than today’s compromise among competing factions) and the extent to which a provincial elite has control of its constituency. But let’s assume that the ruler and the provincial elites are relatively well defined and stable.
Countries that follow this model share three characteristics. First, as states they lack the capacity to manage political conflict within their territories. In Africa, the DRC and Sudan conform to the model in this respect but Ethiopia does not; in Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan fit, but not Iran. Second, these countries are large, which allows political entities smaller than the state to enjoy a quasi-autonomous existence. This may also be possible in small states, but proximity and tight cultural affinity make for different forms of political bargaining. This framework cannot be applied to a small country like Burundi without major modifications and not to Rwanda at all. There is an important spatial dimension: the model would apply to Sudan, the DRC, Afghanistan, Chad, Somalia, Nigeria – all countries with dispersed populations.
Third, while the ruler requires the allegiance of key provincial elites to stay in power, he cannot rely on their resources – he has to have his own. If the day to day tactical challenge for a ruler is how to keep down the price of the elites’ loyalty, the strategic challenge is how to sustain a patronage system that is affordable and stable. Fortunately for a ruler, he has sovereign rents, especially foreign aid and mineral revenues. Unfortunately for a state-builder, the forces of globalisation have made patronage less affordable and political markets more volatile. There has been price inflation in loyalty, and rulers nowadays are struggling to pay. In good years a ruler may be able to meet the demands of the elites. An economic crunch will not reduce those demands, merely his ability to pay. One response is to try to plunder natural resources (or license members of the elite to do so), divert aid, run up debts and sell off state assets at fire-sale prices to the elites. Another is to reduce the ambit of patronage, by shedding some of the beneficiaries, even if this generates grievance and conflict. A third alternative is to license one provincial elite to pillage its neighbour’s assets – the cheapest form of controlling a borderland and one that can ignite intractable ethnic conflicts. A classic case is the counterinsurgency in Darfur.
A patronage system can also face a crisis as a result of increased demand. If the price of allegiance is driven up as new buyers enter the marketplace – neighbouring states, criminal cartels, international agencies – a ruler can face the same dilemma. Sustainable patronage systems are inclusive: either all the political elites are included at all times, or there is a predictable rotation, leaving those who are out of favour to focus on finding a way back under the existing system. Rulers such as Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko, who were experts at the patronage system, rotated rival elites. It was a cheaper way of maintaining the system and had the advantage of preventing those in favour from building a durable patronage system of their own. In the African political vernacular, democracy usually means ‘fair shares’ or ‘everyone at the table’, i.e. the dining table. Constituency-based parliamentary systems are the preferred model because the rationale for choosing a representative is to ensure that he or she can secure state resources for a district. The ‘winner takes all’ system of executive power goes against this.
To manage a sustainable patronage system well is to limit the use of violence for bargaining purposes – which means that the security institutions of the state must not become too powerful, because that would risk a coup d’état. So the strategy is to multiply and divide: establish a range of security services, each as a specialised patronage network, thereby diluting the threat to the ruler from his own security officers. At the same time, it’s important to try to keep the rules peacefully: one of the underacknowledged achievements of Mobutu and his political opponents was, for almost 30 years, to minimise the role of violence in Zairean political bargaining.
The independence generation in Africa had its share of civil wars and violent coups, but they tended to be confined within a single country, and were amenable to resolution either by force or negotiation. The patterns of violent conflict were distinct from those of today. Quite probably, there was more violence and destruction in Biafra, Angola, Burundi, Chad, the Ethiopian revolution, the guerrilla wars in Eritrea and Tigray, the Somali civil wars of 1988-91, southern Sudan in the late 1980s and early 1990s, than there is at present. But the characteristic pattern of intractable lawlessness was absent. We did not see the emergence of regional, overlapping conflicts, such as Liberia-Sierra Leone-Guinea, or the Great Lakes, or Sudan-Chad-Central African Republic, until more recently.
This shift in the nature of conflict is linked to the monetisation of patronage: the way cash payments, and especially payments in convertible currencies, have become an ever larger component of patronage. It is a general trend rather than a universal one (there are some interesting exceptions), and the reasons it has occurred are not difficult to understand. With economic liberalisation and the growth of informal and international criminal economies, and above all with economic globalisation, convertible currency drives out all other currencies, monetary and non-monetary, in which loyalty can be bought and sold. Material reward is at the centre of any patronage system, but in the last generation patronage has become not only monetised but ‘dollarised’. Political markets, no longer confined to a single country, are now joining up across borders and becoming global. Symbolic rewards such as titles and ribbons are valued less – cash is what counts.
Rulers who have a legitimacy deficit, either because they have recently seized power and need to broaden their support, or because their political capital has run down, dispense cash. The ruler of a neighbouring country who wants to rent allegiance across the border will use cash. In Afghanistan the CIA pays off warlords in dollars. Drug cartels move into West Africa, finding embattled rulers ready to rent their sovereignty for cash. When several contiguous countries are faced with the same phenomenon, as most of sub-Saharan Africa is, an integrated, deregulated market will follow. This makes the weaker states into supplicants vis-à-vis their cash-rich neighbours, and sovereignty itself becomes tradable. For example, the position of the Central African Republic, on the peripheries of the Nile Valley political marketplace (centred on Khartoum), the trans-Saharan marketplace (patron: Libya, with N’djamena in an intermediate position) and the Congo Basin/ Great Lakes marketplace (with rival buyers in Kinshasa, Kigali and to a lesser extent Kampala), makes it a subordinate actor. The former president of CAR, Ange-Félix Patassé, was in fact the junior partner in a coalition with the Congolese rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, because Bemba had more money.
In any marketplace, flows of information drive the bargaining. Until the telecoms revolution, and especially the advent of the Thuraya satellite phone, negotiations had to be conducted face to face and in sequence. Before this, by dint of controlling the media, two-way radios and the telephone network, the ruler possessed two huge advantages. He knew more than everyone else and he knew that once a bargain had been struck, it would be difficult for a provincial leader to go elsewhere and renegotiate a better one. Today deals can be negotiated and renegotiated round the clock – and even during the course of a single battle.
International engagements in weak and fragile states are conceived with development, humanitarian assistance, peacemaking, peacekeeping and institution-building in mind. These interventions are rarely designed or implemented with regard to the political marketplace. Often, international policymakers and diplomats ignore the ubiquity and significance of patronage systems: they pretend that patronage doesn’t exist, or they recognise it but think of it as an aberration that can be safely ignored, or an abuse that should not be recognised. Some policies are clearly intended to dismantle patronage systems or supplant them. Yet on occasion, when the interests of major states are at stake, international players deliberately use the marketplace. During the Cold War, the Western powers paid for the loyalty of rulers such as Siad Barre, Daniel arap Moi, Jaafar Nimeiri and Mobutu Sese Seko, not to mention governments in Pakistan, Thailand and South Korea, and insurgents in Afghanistan and Laos. In 2001, large cash payments were made to Afghan power brokers to rent their allegiance for as long as it took to overthrow the Taliban.
All forms of international intervention influence the functioning of the marketplace. They skew the price of loyalty, by providing a buyer or seller with more resources or more options, or by directly renting the allegiance of certain actors, and they accelerate the dollarisation and regionalisation of the market. Interventions such as sanctions can help demonetise the system, or can drive it towards criminality. As yet we don’t have the analytical framework or the monitoring data properly to assess how policies affect the marketplace, but we can make some informed guesses.
In a country such as Nigeria, the government regularly launches anti-corruption drives. Given that all Nigerian politicians are part of patronage mechanisms and therefore ‘corrupt’ to a greater or lesser degree, the question arises, who will be targeted in a war on corruption? The answer is, those who have demanded too high a price and have fallen from the ruler’s favour. An anti-corruption campaign, ostensibly aimed at ‘institution-building’, becomes an instrument for manipulating patronage and, by extension, an exercise in corruption itself. Within a political marketplace, the only way a member of an elite can respond cogently to an anti-corruption effort is to offer a pay-off to the political master of the anti-corruption tsar. Abdicating from the patronage system is a short cut to political oblivion.
A political agreement in the marketplace should be seen less as a legal contract, more as a rental transaction. Neither party has much confidence that a contract can be enforced by law. Any deal signed with a ruler who has external support remains good only for as long as that support continues at existing levels. If it is withdrawn or scaled back, rival elites will want to renegotiate. In Congo, therefore, we would expect the departure of the UN force, MONUC, to be followed by new rebellions by leaders of provincial elites demanding a better deal. In Afghanistan, if US forces are expanded and the Karzai government negotiates a deal at the moment of its greatest strength, it will last only as long as those particular market conditions persist. When American troops begin to leave, bargaining will resume, most likely with violence on either side. In both cases, the presence of international forces and international assistance, of unknown duration, introduces uncertainty into the political marketplace, which makes a solution more difficult, not less.
Elsewhere, international engagement is either intended to weaken a government, or has the effect of bidding up the price of the opposition’s allegiance. This is the case for Darfur, where international ostracism of Khartoum and the readiness of the international community to give a platform to poorly organised rebel groups with little political or military capability has over-inflated the price which rebel leaders believe they can charge. During the peace talks, the rebels figured that the Save Darfur campaign would allow them to demand a higher price than anything on offer from Khartoum, while the Sudanese government negotiators anticipated that US commitment to the draft agreement would render the activists irrelevant, so that they could pay a lower price for putting an end to the rebellion. The government feared a nationwide inflation of the price of loyalty, with copycat demands from other provincial elites for a similar deal – just as the Darfurians’ demands had been increased by the precedent of the southern Sudanese peace deal. The rebels continue to hold out, expecting that intense international interest will translate into a high price, while the government continues to regard this as a speculative bubble. Should the international community withdraw from Darfur, the government will be proved right. It will be tempted to renegotiate the deal to its advantage, probably by using force. The faithful implementation of any agreement reached today depends on international engagement continuing at much the same level.
In a conflict in an institutionalised state, whose adversary will also, typically, be institutionalised, peace negotiations can take the classical form. It would have been possible in principle to negotiate a workable peace agreement between the president of Sri Lanka and the leader of the Tamil Tigers: had the two reached an agreement in good faith, it could have held on the basis of the political decisions they made. It was possible for the force commander of the UN mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia to deal solely with the chiefs of staff of the two armies, knowing that the orders handed down by them would be respected. But in Sudan, Congo or Afghanistan, the ruler is only as strong as today’s bargains with members of the political elite, who retain a great deal of autonomy. The deal will be voided when circumstances change, and to the frustration of international peacemakers and peacekeepers, a commitment at the top does not translate into action throughout the system. This is even true of something as elementary as a ceasefire. The president may announce a ceasefire, but the generals in the office of the chief of staff will need to meet to agree what this means in practice and to negotiate with the provincial commanders, warlords, police chiefs and militia commanders as to how they should interpret it.
The temptation is either to accuse the leader of perfidy or to recognise that there is a structural weakness in the system, requiring a bottom-up approach. The peacemaker may draw the implication that the conflict is compounded of different local conflicts, each of them in turn compounded of micro-conflicts, and that peace is made by dealing with each one at its own level. This is how international mediators, including a growing number of conflict-resolution NGOs, become involved in local peacemaking. Where there is international concern, more senior diplomats become engaged too. Special representatives of the secretary general or even UN Security Council ambassadors may nowadays try to micromanage district-level disputes or even village conflicts. The difficulty with this approach is that every intervention is a distortion of the market. The more local the engagement, the greater the relative weight of the international actor involved, and hence the greater the distortion. An international mediator will never be as knowledgeable, skilled or patient as a local actor and will invariably be drawn towards one side or the other. Given that every agreement reached is good only for that particular set of conditions, these interventions are inherently unsustainable.
The end result is that peace operations become entrapped. They cannot resolve conflicts and the more they try to do so, the greater the part they play in the dynamics of the marketplace itself, meaning they can’t now withdraw. Many peacemakers become disillusioned: they see missions without end. Cynicism spreads from the fringes to the centre of these operations, with more and more people asking, ‘What are we doing here?’ In turn, smaller-contributing countries, who may have sent soldiers out of a sense of solidarity or principle, are likely to keep them there less because of their original political motives than because of the rewards of remaining loyal to the superpower (allegiance-pricing is at work among the intervening states as well). The guiding purpose in Afghanistan will soon become salvaging Nato, and in Sudan, saving the UN’s face – if it has not already done so.
The spread of norms of ‘good governance’ – which requires adherence to international standards of government and involves supplying aid for elections and NGOs, conferences, training workshops and educational opportunities – has contributed to a worldwide spread of democratisation and civil society. The growth in conflict resolution has helped reduce the numbers of conflicts and people killed. But it also reduces the particularities of national political cultures and enables the monetisation of political markets. It takes a state with considerable self-confidence and financial autonomy to resist the pressures to play this game. Those that hold out against the intrusions are often unsavoury – North Korea and Burma, for instance – but there are two sides to international intervention and peacekeeping operations, as there are to globalisation itself.
The likelihood of dollarised political marketplaces becoming capable, legitimate, institutionalised states is receding. In retrospect, there was a brief 30-year window after the Second World War, when conditions were propitious for building functioning states where none existed before. More recently, the forces of globalisation have made it far harder, perhaps impossible, for would-be states to join the club. The dynamics of the dollarised political marketplace, which are more powerful than international state-building practices, are entrenching a pattern of deregulated governance in global borderlands. The recent trend towards representative politics, pronounced in African countries without strong state institutions, will be hard to sustain under these pressures, and is likely to be reversed. The prospects for building democratic states in central Asia are fading too. Instead, the logic of the political marketplace points towards continuing low-level conflicts, part criminal and part political, in which violence serves as a principal bargaining tool in an auction room of allegiances.
Places as diverse as Afghanistan, Nigeria, East Timor and Somalia may appear remote from the circuits of international capital yet they are no less globalised than Singapore or the Netherlands: it’s just that their global connections are the kind we prefer not to acknowledge. The rich world’s demand for recreational drugs, combined with its politicians’ insistence that supplying this market is a criminal activity, funnels billions of dollars into unregulated political marketplaces. The global war on terror disburses further billions through poorly monitored loyalty payments in the most volatile parts of the world. Western governments spend significant sums trying to establish functioning sovereignty amid the factional politics of ‘fragile’ states, and civil, inclusive and affordable patronage systems are being swept away. For the unfortunate populations of these countries, this is a loss just as devastating as the weakening of state institutions, and one less recognised.
RR’s final comment: If the illiterates who rule us were to read this, then they might understand why they either need to commit to staying in Afghanistan indefinitely, until they are forced out – or do the sensible thing, and stop propping up this corrupt government, and get out now…
Norwich Green Party Statement on the removal of City Councillors
Samir Jeraj, acting Leader of the Norwich Green Party City Councillors, today issued a statement on Monday’s High Court ruling to remove 13 City Councillors:
“Monday’s ruling to remove one third of Norwich City Councillors without setting a date for the election of new ones is the worst possible outcome for the people of Norwich and for democracy. This situation is testament to the completely inept way in which the plan for a unitary authority has been approached.
“It is outrageous that so many voters will have to suffer the effects of a weakened Council as a result of legal ruling to remove a third of the Council; contrary to common sense. On the other hand, the fact that the Greens are now joint first place on the City Council shows how close Norwich Greens are to becoming the first Green controlled Council in the country. Norwich Green Party thanks outgoing Councillors for their dedication and hard work. The Council and its Councillors have been left in an extremely difficult position by this but Green Councillors will continue to represent their constituents as best they can under the circumstances. We hope that fresh elections will be held as soon as is reasonably practical.”
 Four Green Party Councillors have been lost as a result of the decision. Labour has lost 6, Lib Dems 2 and Conservatives 1. The total number of Councillors of each party is now Labour 9, Green 9, Lib Dem 4, Conservative 4.
 The leader of the Green group, Claire Stephenson is one of the people to have been removed. Claire was also chair of the Council scrutiny committee. Samir Jeraj is now acting as Leader. A deputy will be appointed on Monday.
Some forms of growth are of course more damaging than others. And: It is of course in principle possible to have economic growth that does not do environmental damage. It is in principle possible to separate economic growth from negative impacts and from increased throughput of ‘raw materials’. But (1) There is no evidence that economic growth is in general even now compatible with reducing emissions, impacts etc. – the ‘lockstep’ between CO2 emissions and growth has not been obliterated; (2) There is good reason to believe that it is in principle as well as in practice impossible to have endless economic growth without devastating environmental impacts – what Aubrey Meyer calls, with irony, the ‘angelisation’ of economic growth (evaporation of impacts of economic activity) is probably impossible, (3) One such good reason is that growth to infinity is simply absurd, on a finite planet, (4) If you have a real increase in economic activity without any increase in materials throughput, then, unless you have exponentially improving technology and efficiency forever (which is an absurd Polyanna-ish idea which again will itself run up against absolute physical limits), such increased economic activity has to involve increased labour and decreased leisure, & (5) Increased economic activity does not equate to increased well-being.
Of course the Green New Deal can be understood as simply about getting back on the treadmill of economic growth. That is what ‘green ‘stimulus” packages seem to involve (they sound to me like gruesomely stimulating a corpse). But our way (the Green way) of thinking of the Green New Deal is different. For us, the Green New Deal is about stablising the economy, and thus avoiding a ‘double dip recession’ or Depression. We want to oppose (most) cuts, and save jobs and create green jobs. But not for the sake of pointlessly restarting the engine of growth. Our vision is rather to stabilise the economy, to equalise social classes, to build down the structural deficit, and then to begin to build down the level of economic activity to a level that is long-term sustainable, and to improve well-being in the process. I.e. We look to Herman Daly and Tim Jackson and Richard Douthwaite et al, not to Keynesian/neoclassical economists, for our medium- to long term- vision.
Ultimately, we have to use this crisis as an opportunity to talk about why the debt- and growth- treadmills and finance bubbles etc need to be put aside, and a vision of economic stability and environmental stability take their place.