Archive for August 2007
I first heard about the death of Princess Diana late at night, very early on the morning of the 1st of September. I was insomniac, wiorried about my first day as a first-year student at the University of Prince Edward Island, and flipping through the television channels. I got to the block of French channels and one of them–TV5?–was showing images of a car crash in Paris, something about … I couldn’t concentrate enough to listen, and I didn’t understand why international news channels werre covering a car crash in Paris, and so I turned off the television and finally went to sleep.
William Dalrymple‘s recent article in Outlook India, “Will Pakistan Survive?”, is worth reading, if only as a representation of the common wisdom that the problem with Pakistan isn’t the Pakistani people nearly so much as it is a Pakistani state, founded on an alliance between feudal landlords and the military, that combines malign neglect of the population with sponsorship of a variety of religiously and politically extreme ideology. If the Pakistani state is unable to educate or feed or protect its people, then parallel states founded on religious authorities will–the whole point of the Lal Masjid siege is that said mosque constituted itself as the nucleus of a separate state in the heart of the Pakistani capital, issuing laws and administering punishment to perceived miscreants.
What Dalrymple doesn’t mention is that Pakistan is becoming less and less able to solve these problems without involving the wider world–the Waziristan War is intimately connected to the NATO occupation of Afghanistan and the wider imperiatives of anti-terrorist campaigns, for instance, the Kashmir issue dominates relations with India, and the government-ordered attack on the Lal Masjid seems to have been prompted by Chinese demands that Pakistan protect the Chinese citizens taken hostage.
It should go without saying that a 21st century Pakistan that becomes as much a cockpit of international relations as 18th century Poland will do no one any good, but the self-willed weakness of the Pakistani state and the imperatives of the great powers seem set to ensure this. No one has an idea how to escape this blind alley, right?
The long and hitherto unsuccesful history of oil companies’ prospecting for oil and natural gas came to an end earlier this month with the announcement that six hundred thousand million barrels of oil have been found off the Ghanaian coastline. The Ghanaians are worried.
[A]s the euphoria dies down, people are debating whether oil is really the economic injection their country needs. After all, the other countries along the Gulf of Guinea that have discovered significant deposits – from Angola to Equatorial Guinea and Congo-Brazzaville – have sunk rather than flown. And Ghanaians need only travel a few hundred miles east to discover why oil is considered a curse in Africa rather than a godsend.
“Nigeria has oil in abundance, yet the local people have nothing,” said George Moore, a 29-year-old restaurant worker in Axim, a fishing village near Cape Three Point. “Is that what is going to happen here?”
Others say Ghana’s economy, which relies mainly on gold, timber, cocoa and a budding IT sector, is already doing well without the easy money that oil will provide. Since the near collapse of the economy in the 1980s, economic growth in Ghana has averaged about 5%, climbing to 6% in each of the past three years.
Poverty levels have dropped from 52% in 1990 to 29% today, according to the World Bank, making Ghana one of the few African countries on track for the main Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015. Compare that to Gabon, which has been pumping hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day for more than 30 years and where two-thirds of the population still lives on less than a dollar a day.
“Our country works, but the idea of us producing oil still scares me,” said Kofi Bentil, a business lecturer at Ashesi University in Accra. “It will totally change the structure of the economy. It could push us into overdrive, but it could also lead us to self-destruct.”
Ethan Zuckerman earlier provided an overview of the reasons for this fear. Briefly put, countries which earn large revenues from exports of high-value commodities like oil tend to see economic shifts away from more conventional sectors of an economy like manufacturing, as labour and capital shifts away from less lucrative sectors while national currencies gain enough value on international markets to pay for imports. When prices for these commodities drop, the resulting effect on national economies–commonly called the Dutch disease–can be devastating. High-value commodity exports, by minimizing the need for investment in human capital, can also sustain authoritarian and dysfunctional polities thankful to bypass the need for a productive and educated middle class–Saudi Arabia is perhaps a leading example of this kind of country. Just as important as the economic and political effects of oil are the geopolitical impacts, as rising world consumption drives the development and further expansion of oil and natural gas exploration beyond traditional areas, into regions of the world–like sub-Saharan Africa–which are already quite fragile. In his recent book Untapped, excerpted extensively at Slate, John Ghazvinian explores how oil and natural gas exports tended to discourage broader development even in the most favoured states: Hydrocarbon fuel riches in Francophone Gabon have fatally undermined the rest of the economy, Hispanophone Equatorial Guinea’s post-genocidal ruling clique is using the new revenues to enrich itself, and Lusophone São Tomé e Principe is reduced to hoping that its rulers are nice enough to avoid these problems, really, and the 2003 coup attempt there was meaningless. As for Nigeria’s mess, well. Zuckerman is fairly hopeful that Ghana can escape the worst effects of the oil boom because of its relatively good governance.
So will the same thing happen in Ghana? There’s reasons to think the Ghanaian government will be able to avoid some of the traps other nations have fallen into. Ghana is in excellent economic shape in comparison to its neighbors. It’s one of the very few nations in West Africa on pace to meet its millenium development goals and to halve poverty by 2015 – the percentage of Ghanaians living in poverty has dropped from 52% in 1992 to 35% by 2003. Economic growth has averaged 4.5% a year since 1983, and has been at or above 6% the last three years. This growth has had some connection to natural resources and commidities, including gold and cocoa, but has also included growth in tourism and service outsourcing. A stable, investment-friendly government has encouraged many diaspora Ghanaians to return home and start businesses. Friends from around the continent report a sense of excitement in visiting Accra and Kumasi, and a sense that the country is going through an economic revolution.
Whether Zuckerman’s hope is justified is, alas, something we’ll have to wait to see.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that YouTube hosts the video for former Buzzcocks frontman Pete Shelley‘s debut solo single, “Homosapien.”
I quite like the song, a “fantastic bridging of punk and synth pop” as one listener calls it, Shelley’s nasal vocals playing off against an aggressively sinuous mixture of acoustic guitar and electro. Although the song seems to have achieved a measure of underground success, it seems that it–and Shelley’s solo career–took a hit from the radio ban imposed by the BBC in a homophobic knee-jerk reaction to the lyrics.
I’m the shy boy
You’re the coy boy
And you know we’re
I’m the cruiser
You’re the loser
Me and you sir
In my interior
But from the skin out
I’m Homosapien too
Saying that the song has a queer subtext is barely adequate.
The video is also worth watching as an artifact of its own right, of early 1980s music video futurism. Apparently inspired by the cover of the Homosapien album, it features Shelley lip-synching and gesturing around an ersatz office, singing behind phrenologists’ skull molds and lounging around a Commodore PET personal computer. I like.