Wednesday, January 25, 2006

An online Amnesty International petition which you should all sign: Million Faces .

It aims to help pressure the UN to control the arms trade, a multibillion dollar a year business in which money flows one way and death the other. There is a lot of noise these days about Weapons of Mass Destruction, but in Africa the weapons which really destroy lives are small arms: AK47s, grenade launchers, machine guns and pistols. With arms like these, even small armed groups can kill, rob, rape and burn villages over a wide area.

This was Mozambique's experience - in the "civil war" from about 1976-92, when the racist governments of Rhodesia and then South Africa promoted a vicious destabilization guerrilla war inside Moz's borders, the estimated death toll was 1 million, almost all civilians. As well as that, perhaps 4 million people displaced internally and externally - out of a population of 12 million by the end of the war. Remember that "internally displaced" in a country which is 3000km long and has 20 different ethnic groups, 4 major river basins and 3 climatic zones, means that for many people, they ended up in what was effectively another world to the one they grew up in. Many people have never gone back to their home areas.

And most of this was done by a very small number of men - the combined armed forces of both sides numbered less than 50,000 at the end of the war. How could they cause such devastation? Not with planes, tanks or nuclear bombs, but with small arms which allowed them to dominate whole areas. An AK47 is enough if the other guy only has a spear - and he is a farmer while you are a full-time bandit. The Akiro Kurosawa film 'Seven Samurai' (the original, not the somewhat cheesy American version) captures the desperation of the peasants in this situation. Although in Mozambique there were rarely such happy endings as in that film.

So, please sign the petition.

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Friday, January 20, 2006

Latest news: my favourite brother has put up his own blog!
And its already got more photos than my one!
Sans further ado, aqui está: KiltedCapoeirista

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

An interesting follow-up to the Cahora Bassa dam story. I just read a long article in the Mozambican monthly "Mais", by a guy who was "close to" the negotiations. He points out that the current president of Moz (Guebuza) should not get all the credit - his predecessor (Chissano) did a lot of the ground work. In fact, he says that a few years ago, the deal was effectively closed by Chissano and the then portuguese PM. As a matter of courtesy, and following portuguese political tradition, they then presented the deal "behind closed doors" to the leader of the opposition, and he indicated that his party would not oppose it.

...but - the very next morning he hit the headlines, denouncing the deal as a "sellout" of portuguese national heritage, etc. etc. The deal collapsed and lay where it fell, during the next few years of turmoil in portuguese politics. In fact, this leader of the opposition not long afterwards got into the PM's office himself, in part helped by the "political football" of the Cahora Bassa incident.

The interesting thing is, who was this man who played so fast and loose? None other than Manuel Durão Barroso, the man who "jumped ship" after less than a year in the PM's job, for greener pastures as President of the European Commission. Not such a trustworthy fellow, you might think. Certainly, if you look at his record, he is notvery popular for the following people:

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Whey-hey! Was just looking at my online bank statement for my account here with Standard Bank (subsidiary of the S.A.-based global bank), and I found out that on one day in December I got a credit of almost USD65,000! Nice. Except that they took it back out the same day - without my permission for the debit, or informing me or apologising or anything.

After checking with some colleagues, they also had the same phenomenon! Luckily for them banking laws in Moz are fairly lax and allow them to take the piss - I can't imagine them getting away scot-free like this in the U.K. or even in S.A! Anyway, I'll be asking them for an explanation and if it ain't good I'll move my squarillions to another bank.

...update just phoned them up, they said it was a bank error affected over 200 accounts! Which works out at over USD13million in total - in a bank which is only the 3rd largest in a country which has an annual GDP of about USD5billion. So that must have caused them a wee liquidity problem then.

More worrying, is the rumour that they are in line to buy out a majority stake in the BIM, the country's largest commercial bank, which already has an over-dominant position in the marketplace. How can they manage an extra 80,000 customers if they can't even handle the accounts for the ones they've got!?

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Interesting developments in the story of Craig Murray, the former British Diplomat who was sacked for speaking up about human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, the country where the Foreign & Commonwealth Office had posted him. You have to wonder why anyone who gave a shit about human rights would get a job at the FCO, one of the most unreconstructed parts of the British state, and bastion through the centuries of endless dirty wars, covert ops, hush ups, blind eyes and back-handers, etc.

He has apparently been ruffling a lot of feathers by spreading his arguments around via various blogs - most importantly, some letters which the UK government has tried to prevent the publication of, as they show the FCO's senior staff not tacitly but openly condoning the use of torture to gain evidence. More on the story...

On a separate note, but still running with the FCO theme, they are proving to be rather incompetent when it comes to renewing my colleague's passport. He handed in all the documentation to the High Commission in Maputo in early November, and paid extra to get the "fast" service. 2 months have now passed, and the Comission staff say they have no idea where his process "is at". A pity as 2 days from now he will be effectively illegal. Also embarassing when you compare it to our Brazilian colleagues - their embassy emits passports directly within 5 days, for less money!

It appears that the bottleneck is caused by a "rationalization" carried out a few years ago - all passports in the Southern African region are now processed in South Africa, not in individual countries. This means your application documents have to be sent by Diplomatic Bag to London, then out again by Bag to Pretoria. A round trip of about 20,000km just to submit the application when in fact Pretoria is less than 600km from Maputo! Although it might seem more "businesslike" to centralize operations like this, it certainly does not help "UK plc" - my colleague, who regularly sends money back home, is effectively an exporter of services for the UK economy - but at least the FCO is hindering rather than helping in this case.

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