Friday, February 29, 2008

World Bank approves $70 million grant for Rwanda

from Reuters Africa

KIGALI (Reuters) - The World Bank has approved a $70 million grant to help Rwanda finance poverty reduction programmes under a new five-year growth strategy, the bank said on Friday.

In 2007, Rwanda launched an Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS) that it hopes to implement between 2008 and 2012.

The programme sets guidelines for a move towards a middle income state by training its human resource, transforming the agricultural sector, investing in infrastructure and widening its export base.

Fourteen years after Rwanda's genocide of 800,000 people, the country remains one of the world's poorest with more than half of its population living on less than a dollar per day.

The $70 million grant is the fourth in a series linked to Rwanda's poverty reduction strategies that have been running since 2002, the World Bank said.

"The Fourth Poverty Reduction Support Grant ... aims at supporting measures to ease the infrastructure constraints to growth and build the human capital and skills base required to transform the economy to be export based and service oriented," the bank said in a statement.

Rwanda hopes to cut poverty levels from a current 56.9 percent to 46 percent by 2012, which remains far below the 34.7 percent target set under Millennium Development Goals.

The small central African nation needs some 5.1 trillion Rwandan francs to spend over the next five years as it implements its new strategy.

Rwanda has said its economy will grow by 7.1 in 2008 driven by continued growth of the service and industrial sector,

Idaho Is the Only State to Exclude Low-Income Families from Its Grocery Tax Credit

from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

By Phil Oliff and Nicholas Johnson

Idaho is one of seven states that taxes groceries at the same rate as other goods. It is one of five states that offer a credit or rebate to mitigate the tax. But even though the tax falls most heavily on low-income families, Idaho—unlike any other state—excludes many poor families (mostly working families) from receiving the credit. This uniquely flawed policy has no policy justification. It would be simple and relatively inexpensive to make all Idaho families eligible for the credit.

Idaho Excludes Poor Families from its Grocery Credit

For those who are eligible to receive it, Idaho’s grocery tax credit provides a flat $20 per person for individuals under the age of 65 and $35 per person for individuals age 65 and older. While the amount of relief provided by the credit is modest, it can help to mitigate the impact of the highly regressive grocery tax on the budgets of low-income families.

Poor families, however, are generally barred from receiving the credit. Specifically, households with incomes below the threshold at which they are required to file an Idaho income tax return ($17,500 for a married couple filing jointly or $8,750 for a single person in 2007) are ineligible to receive the credit. The only exceptions to this income requirement are people over age 62, blind people, and disabled veterans, who can receive the credit if their incomes are below the threshold.[1]

Idaho’s Credit Differs from Credits/Rebates in Other States

Idaho is one of five states that tax food and provide tax credits or rebates to offset the impact of the sales tax on food.[2] In contrast to Idaho, all of the other states target their credits or rebates to lower-income households. Some even structure their credits or rebates so that the lowest-income families receive the largest credits, in recognition of the particular burden that food taxes place on low-income families. The characteristics of these credits or rebates are described below.

Hawaii: Hawaii’s food tax credit is available to all households with adjusted gross income below $20,000 through 2007 and below $50,000 after 2007. The amount of the credit ranges from $10 to $35 through 2007 and $25 to $85 after 2007, and varies according to income, with lower-income households receiving larger credits.

Kansas: Kansas offers a food tax refund to families with children, the elderly and disabled people with qualifying household income less than $29,700. The amount of relief is $78 per exemption if qualifying income is less than $14,850, and $38 per exemption if qualifying income is between $14,851 and $29,700.

Oklahoma: Oklahoma provides a food tax credit to families with gross incomes below $50,000 and to single people and married couples with no dependents with gross incomes below $20,000. The amount of the credit is a flat $40 per exemption.[3]

South Dakota: South Dakota provides a sales tax on food refund to all households with incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level (which for a family of four in 2008 equals slightly more than $30,000). The amount of the credit varies according to family size. For the period spanning July through December of 2007 the average quarterly rebate paid under the program was approximately $25.[4]

None of these states requires recipients to have incomes over a certain level, so the credits are fully available to all low-income families. Hawaii, Kansas and Oklahoma administer their food tax credits through the income tax, but families that have incomes too low to meet the filing requirement are allowed to claim the credit anyway, either by filing a tax return or by filing a special form created for this purpose.[5]

Who Is Excluded from Receiving Idaho’s Credit?

By excluding many low-income families from claiming the credit, Idaho’s grocery tax credit excludes the families and individuals who need the credit the most. Low-income families pay a higher percentage of their income in food tax than higher-income families. They are the households that are most likely to have trouble paying their bills or putting food on the table. Many of the households that the credit excludes are working families struggling to make ends meet. In 2006, for example, over 14,000 married Idaho households with at least one working member had income under $17,500. In that same year over 70 percent of married households in Idaho with income under $17,500 had at least one working member. Moreover, with the exception of the blind, the credit is also unavailable to low-income disabled Idaho residents whose earning power may be limited by the nature of their disabilities.

No State Excludes Food Stamp Recipients from Its Grocery Tax Credit

All five of the states that provide grocery tax rebates or credits allow participants in the federal Food Stamp Program to receive the credit. This is because food stamps are designed so that recipients are expected to spend 30 percent or more of their available income on groceries. In addition, many food stamp recipients participate in the program for only part of the year. As a result, although purchases made with food stamps are not subject to state sales tax, most food stamp recipients spend a substantial share of their own money each year on groceries and therefore pay substantial tax.

The structure of the credit can also create perverse incentives and rewards. Beyond excluding poor households, the grocery tax credit’s eligibility requirements also impose a marriage penalty. To see why this is true, take the example of a single Idaho resident with an annual income of $15,000. As long as this individual stays single he is eligible to receive Idaho’s grocery tax credit, because his income is above the $8,750 income threshold for single filers. However, if he marries a non-worker he will no longer be eligible for the credit even though his income remains the same (and he is now supporting a family with that income). This is because his $15,000 household income falls below the $17,500 income threshold for married couples filing jointly.

Why Fixing Idaho’s Credit Should Be a Priority

As is evidenced above, every other state that offers food tax benefits recognizes that low-income families have the greatest need for those benefits. At the very least Idaho lawmakers should act promptly to assure that its most vulnerable citizens have access to the same food tax relief as everyone else. After all, even Idaho millionaires have access to Idaho’s $20 per person grocery tax credit. It makes no sense that the families who stand to benefit the most from the credit are excluded from receiving it.

End Notes:

[1] The filing threshold for married filing separately is much lower, but few low-income Idahoans use this status.

[2] Two states—Alabama and Mississippi— fully tax food and offer no credit. All other states exempt food partially or fully from sales tax.

[3] For a very small percentage of low-income Oklahomans, specifically those receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the sales tax credit is rolled into their benefit payment rather than being provided directly.

[4] South Dakota’s refund is issued quarterly and is based on an estimate of how much sales tax a household spent on food during the quarterly period (using a tax rate of 5.9 percent). When the state calculates the amount that households receiving food stamps spend on food, it subtracts their monthly food stamp benefit from their estimated food stamp expenditure. This is because households do not pay sales tax on purchases made with food stamps.

[5] Note also that many families in Idaho and elsewhere who are not required to file income taxes do so anyway in order to claim refunds of withholding taxes. Under current law in Idaho, such families cannot get the credit, but it would be administratively simple to allow them to do so.

Good Water, Sanitation Crucial to Poverty Eradication - Commissioner

from All Africa

Daily Trust (Abuja)

A good agenda on water and sanitation is crucial to eradicating poverty and achieving other development goals, Alhaji Idi Waziri, the Commissioner for Water Resources and Rural Development, said yesterday.

Waziri said this in Jos while inaugurating a seven-man planning committee for the celebration of the 2008 World Water Day (WWD).

He called on the 17 local governments, communities and all stakeholders to dedicate this year up to 2015 to ensuring the availability of clean and safe water.

He said: "Today, about 700 million people in 43 countries suffer from inadequate sanitation, and by 2025, this figure could increase to more than three billion."

The commissioner said that the global water situation remained fragile and stressed the need for an integrated and sustainable approach to resource management, noting that sanitation was as pressing as ever.

"Available supplies are under great duress as a result of high population growth, unsustainable service patterns, poor management practices, pollution, investment in infrastructure and inefficiency in water and sanitation use", he said.

The commissioner said that the state would need more water in the future to grow food, provide potable water and sanitation services, operate industries and support expanding cities such as Jos and Bukuru.

"The water supply demand gap is likely to grow wider still, threatening economic and social development and environmental sustainability," he stated.

One of the committee's terms of reference is to strengthen institutional capacity through organizing conferences.

It is also charged with promoting more technology transfer through expositions, mobilisation of resources and scaling up good practices and lessons learned.

Responding, the Chairman of the committee, Mr Jonathan Malann, thanked the government for finding them worthy to undertake the assignment.

Malann assured that the committee would work within its terms of reference.

The news Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the UN General Assembly in a resolution on Dec. 22, 1992, declared March 22 of every year as World Water Day.

This is in conformity with the recommendations of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED).

[Book Review] When the Bottom Line Is Ending Poverty

from Business Week

By Steve Hamm

The Good: An inspiring volume full of practical information on alleviating poverty

The Bad: : Some may be skeptical of his ideas, especially a "social stock market."

The Bottom Line: Gives hope that, finally, the planet’s poor can really be helped.

Creating a World Without Poverty:
Social Business and the Future of Capitalism
By Muhammad Yunus
PublicAffairs; 261 pp; $26

Muhammad Yunus is a humble man who would resist being compared to Mahatma Gandhi. But the two have much in common as campaigners for social progress. While Gandhi's goal was the end of colonialism, Yunus' is just as grand: He means to reform capitalism to make it a tool for ending poverty. Think of him as Gandhi with a BlackBerry (RIMM).

Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work as founder and managing director of Grameen Bank, the pioneering microcredit organization in Bangladesh. He launched Grameen 31 years ago to help poor people start businesses. Since then the microcredit movement has gone global, with copycat organizations springing up in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Now Yunus is back in the public eye with a concept he calls social business. This form of capitalism, he believes, can make progress against poverty in ways that governments and traditional charities have not done. He lays out the concept in his new book, Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism. It's an inspiring volume, full of practical information for people who are motivated to try out his ideas.

So what exactly is a social business? One designed mainly to accomplish a social goal. In most ways, social businesses operate just like any other well-run enterprise. They're supposed to be smoothly managed, efficient, and profitable. But in their case, profits are invested back into operations rather than being returned to investors or shareholders. So it's a form of capitalism that does not reward the capitalist in the traditional way. Yunus hopes that rich people, nonprofits, and corporations will back social businesses for the good they do. Corporations or other "investors" might eventually get back their original stake, but their reward mainly would come through brand-building and identifying new markets.

Skeptical readers might call this a pipe dream. Who would invest without the prospect of a return? And where will the social-business entrepreneurs come from? But in the book, Yunus supports his theories with a real-life example of a social business that's up and running: a joint venture between Grameen Bank and France's Groupe Danone (DA) called Grameen Danone. The company, formed two years ago, sells fortified yogurt for pennies a serving to malnourished children in Bangladesh. The milk used to create the yogurt is produced on small farms owned by poor people, and the products are distributed by members of the Grameen Bank collective—so the project helps people in a variety of ways. The joint venture is just getting off the ground, so it's too early to tell if it will succeed, but this is no small experiment. The business plans on producing 6,600 pounds of yogurt per day this year and boosting production to 22,000 pounds a day two years from now.

The original deal with Danone provides a 1% annual dividend for the company. Yunus agreed to that in deference to Danone's position as a publicly traded corporation. But he hopes to eliminate the dividend at some point so the joint venture satisfies his strict definition of how a social business should operate. He argues that it's too messy to mix the drive for profits with the desire to do social good. He points to abusive micro lending practices in which profit-seeking banks charge interest rates in excess of 100% per year. "I say as long as people are poor, don't make money off of them. That delays their exit from poverty," Yunus recently told this reviewer.

Grameen already operates about 30 social businesses, and Yunus plans more. One is a hospital that will provide cataract operations for the poor at a fraction of the usual costs, while well-off people pay full price. But his primary goal is to establish a new form of capitalism and inspire others to set up social businesses all around the world.

The book even has an intriguing idea for what Yunus calls a "social stock market" that would list only such businesses. This public exchange would provide transparency and offer donor-investors the ability to shift their money from one enterprise to another. It's hard to imagine the concept really taking off. But Yunus has proved doubters wrong before, and his unfettered creativity gives hope that, at long last, real progress can be made against poverty.

Fight against poverty focuses on women

from The Jakarta Post

Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A new attitude toward the fight against poverty has seen three cities encourage public participation in policy-making and design budgets that embrace women and the underprivileged.

In the resource-rich cities of Banda Aceh in Aceh province, Balikpapan in East Kalimantan, and Kupang in East Nusa Tenggara province, officials have created budgets and programs more in line with their individual socio-economic conditions.

Kupang has encouraged a greater cross-section of its population to become a part of its city council, to help work toward new public policy and development programs, said the city's mayor.

"Kupang has had a 33-member city council representing all stakeholders with its main task to give input to what the city administration has to do," Kupang mayor Daniel Adoe said during a seminar on fiscal decentralization here Thursday.

"They also play a role in proposing the city's planning and supervision of planning to ensure the development reaches its goals."

Daniel said the city's development was partially based on feedback from the city council, which now represented the poor, nongovernmental and religious organizations.

"Under such an approach, the city and its programs has won the hearts of residents," Daniel said.

Banda Aceh vice mayor Illiza Sa'aduddin Djamal said despite the 2004 earthquake and tsunami, the city had seen the importance of empowering women and had moved to include them in business and politics.

She said, "Acehnese women have participated in making, planning, supervising and implementing the city's development programs".

Hundreds of women in the city were now involved in property, construction, handicraft and food businesses.

Illiza said a proposed increase from 0.11 percent in 2007 to 5.8 percent in 2008 for the empowerment of women would help ensure Banda Aceh became a more female-friendly city.

She said organizations representing women had been given stronger opportunities to fill political positions in legislative and executive bodies at local and national levels under the general election law and 2005 Aceh administration law.

Balikpapan Mayor Imdaad Hamid said his city had issued a bylaw to help eradicate poverty and had allocated 2.5 percent of the 2008 budget to implement the ruling.

"This fiscal year, we have funds worth Rp 26.6 billion, including Rp 3.9 billion from the central government to carry out anti-poverty programs, including scholarships, healthcare insurance, free school fees, credit schemes for poor families, and free public services, such as birth certificates and identity cards," he said.

Coordinator of the Forum for NGO Information and Communications in South Sulawesi M. Khudri Arsyad told the seminar about a program aimed to empower scavengers living in Makassar's waste sites.

He said the program was initiated by NGOs and encouraged scavengers to meet public officials and learn more about their right to access public services.

"Some 10,000 scavengers do not know about the government's programs for the poor, including healthcare insurance or cheap rice," he said.

Crop boom may prompt food aid rethink in US Congress

from Reuters

By Missy Ryan

WASHINGTON, A lawmaker who has championed using U.S. food aid donations to fund development projects is rethinking his support of proposed legislation as soaring commodity prices eat into aid available for crises.

Rep. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, sponsored an amendment to U.S. farm legislation last year that would guarantee a minimum of $450 million from the largest U.S. food aid program, Food for Peace, for non-emergency programs that aim to break the cycle of famine and poverty in poor nations.

"I'm not backing off on my belief in developmental aid, but I do recognize that this dramatic increase in commodity prices in a very short time suggests that we've got to find a solution to the immediate crisis," said Moran.

The Senate passed a similar set-aside of $600 million in its version of the legislation, the 2008 farm bill, worth about half of the program's overall regular yearly funding.

Now, as lawmakers prepare to broker a House-Senate compromise, Moran said record crop prices have prompted him to reevaluate.

"What that amendment is designed to do is make it more difficult to raid non-emergency money, but we are in an extraordinary time," Moran said in an interview.

Advocates of greater non-emergency aid argue such programs, in which private aid groups often sell U.S.-donated commodities in developing countries to finance nutrition, farming or other projects, say they help avert future food emergencies.

Yet the set-aside is opposed by the Bush administration, which says it sharply reduces money available for emergencies in countries reeling from drought, famine or war.

That could keep help out of the hands of up to eight million people, it says.

Aid officials are already struggling to stretch budgets to keep up with booming commodity markets, which have soared in step with growing biofuel production, rising incomes in emerging markets, and meager harvests.

Soaring prices recently forced Food for Peace to divert money destined for future aid to pay for past donations after the cost of the food it donates jumped 41 percent in the first half of fiscal 2008.

In recent years, the United States has spent about $350 million annually on non-emergency aid in Food for Peace.

The Senate appointed its negotiators to hammer out a farm bill compromise weeks ago, but the House has yet to do so.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is waiting until most issues are resolved by senior lawmakers before she will name House negotiators, according to House agriculture leaders.

"I'm very willing to sit down with colleagues in the House as well as colleagues in the Senate to see if we can find a better solution" to the emergency-non-emergency tension, said Moran, who is also co-chair of a House hunger committee.

Requests for food stamps surge

from the Charlotte Observer

Mecklenburg Social Services hasn't seen applications rise this much since recession hit in 2001


Even as Charlotte boasts one of the healthiest economies in the nation, record numbers of people are seeking government help to buy groceries.

Not since the recession that began in 2001 has Mecklenburg County's Department of Social Services seen such a surge in requests for food stamps, officials say.

With the decline of manufacturing jobs, stagnating wages and a spike in home foreclosures, the number of people who receive food stamps in Mecklenburg County has more than doubled since 2000.

The figure climbed steadily in 2007, jumping about 6 percent in Mecklenburg. Now, about 1 in 10 residents use food stamps.

Escalating food stamp requests is one sign that a recession is imminent, experts say.

"Our office is the first indicator that the economy is headed south," said Peggy McCoy, economic services director for the Mecklenburg Department of Social Services.

Analysts say Charlotte's economy remains strong, but faces problems as poverty spreads.

Laid off workers are finding it takes longer to find new jobs. Newcomers to Charlotte say job opportunities are more scarce.

"This presents a significant challenge for us that cannot be ignored," said Parks Helms, vice chairman of the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners.

No slowdown in requests

On a recent morning at the Department of Social Services office, people looking for financial assistance filled the waiting area. By 11 a.m., 131 people had filled out new applications for food stamps, cash assistance and health coverage.Workers say the crowds are unusual. Applications typically drop in January and February.

"There was no slowdown this year," said Rodney Adams, support services director. "On Mondays, the line is to the door."

Applicants must prove they are poor enough to qualify. A family of four can earn no more than $26,845 to receive food stamps.

Successful applicants typically receive about $209 a month.

With food prices rising, some recipients struggle to feed their families and rely on soup kitchens and food giveaways.

Finding work takes longer

Laura Meeks moved to Charlotte from Washington, D.C., two years ago hoping to find work. Meeks, 61, a former administrative assistant, couldn't find full-time work, so she applied for food stamps.

In December, she said, her savings ran out and she was evicted. She spends days filling out job applications and nights in a homeless shelter, she said.

Meeks depends on $162 a month in food stamps and the generosity of a church to eat. She takes classes at Jacob's Ladder Jobs Center, a job-training center near the Plaza-Midwood neighborhood that assists the poor.

Job hunts that once took one month for entry and midlevel positions now take six months, said Genea Morfeld Swan, development assistant. Her clients find themselves competing against laid-off professionals, she said.

In September, 81,946 people in Mecklenburg received food stamps compared with 35,496 in 2000, according to statistics from state Department of Health and Human Services.

In the last half of 2007, applicants surged -- 6,870 people applied for food stamps compared with 925 in the first half of the year.

Mecklenburg also had the same pattern of rising food stamp requests leading into the recessions of the early 1990s and the early 2000s, records show.

No one knows precisely how much changes in eligibility rules and government efforts to boost participation have influenced food stamp application numbers.

But most evidence suggests economic factors are behind the spike, experts say.

A recent study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington says even a mild recession would put 3 million out of work and drop at least an additional 4.7 million into poverty, forcing more people to rely on government assistance.

The National Bureau of Economic Research determines when the economy is in a recession. It defines a recession as a prolonged decline in industrial production, employment, real income and wholesale-retail sales. President Martin Feldstein has recently said the odds of a recession are at least 50-50.

Low `food security'

More than 35 million Americans lived in households with low or very low "food security" in 2006, reports the USDA's Economic Research Service. The agency defined these as homes where food is reduced because of a lack of money or resources.Meeks, the woman looking for work, said with food stamps and meals she receives at the homeless shelter, she gets enough to eat. But food stamps cannot be used to pay for medicine, transportation or other basic needs.

She receives tips at Jacob's Ladder Jobs Center on how to speak and dress during job interviews and gets bus passes to hunt for work.

Recently, she asked the head of a local social service agency if there were any openings for an administrative assistant. When the woman said yes, Meeks presented her resume.

She will wait at least two weeks to find out if she will get an interview.

Want to help?

Among Charlotte agencies that give food to the needy:

• Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services community resource office, 704-336-4809.

• Loaves & Fishes, 704-523-4333 or

• Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, 704-376-1785 or

• Urban Ministry Center and St. Peter's Soup Kitchen, 704-347-0278 or

Find out if you qualify

Get applications for food stamps at the Mecklenburg Department of Social Services office, 301 Billingsley Road, or download an application online at

Qualified applicants must:

• Be a U.S. citizen or admitted to the U.S. under a specific immigration status.

• Make less than $26,845 (for a family of four).

• Show proof of address.

[Comment] Ignoring the Real Foreign Threats

from Time

By Massimo Calabresi

If 9/11 brought home one strategic truth to Americans, it was that weak states now potentially pose as great a threat to the U.S. as strong states do. But recognizing that fact doesn't get you very far; it only acknowledges the scale of the problem. Of the 200-plus countries in the world, 130-140 are "developing," struggling with some combination of bad government, lack of security, underperforming economies and poverty. How to identify the ones that pose a looming danger, and finding a strategy to manage the different threats they present, is a major priority for U.S. national security —although you wouldn't know it to listen to the presidential candidates.

Still, the question of weak states underlies some of the uglier fights the candidates have had on foreign and national security policy. Iraq is, after all, a failed state, and the national argument over whether and how fast to get out is largely about the effects of instability if we do. In Tuesday's debate, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama danced around the difficult question of whether they'd re-invade Iraq if al-Qaeda reestablished itself there after the U.S. withdrew.

Likewise Clinton, Obama and John McCain have beaten each other up over Pakistan. The central government's inability to control al-Qaeda in its northwestern tribal territories, and concerns over Islamabad's nuclear arsenal, make handling relations with the country a particularly tricky problem. Hence the tumult over Barack Obama's fairly mainstream assertion that he would strike "high-value" terror targets in Pakistan if the leadership there could not. The confusion over when and whether to intervene across sovereign borders shows how little light has been shed on America's policy for responding to weak-state threats during the campaign.

Which is not to say that the candidates shouldn't debate Iraq and Pakistan policy — both are key issues. But America's foreign and national security policy megalith is still structured to handle superpower threats like the Soviet Union. What questions would a debate about weak-state strategy involve? A few suggestions:

# Would the candidates sacrifice expensive Cold War platforms such as the F-22 fighter to pay for more drones and Special Forces units?

# What are the development aid priorities of the candidates? Do they support President Bush's incentive-heavy Millennium Challenge Account? How do they explain the fact that many poor countries are worse off after years of Western foreign aid?

# Should the U.S. risk sacrificing Ethiopian military support in the fight against al-Qaeda in neighboring Somalia by insisting Addis Ababa improve its abysmal human rights record and embrace political liberalization?

# Do the candidates think China's soaring economic and diplomatic influence in the developing world is a net plus or minus for stability and what would they do to try and channel the effects of its massive investments there?

# What steps would the candidates take to better coordinate international responses to pandemic disease?

# Should developing countries get a pass on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the interest of speeding economic growth?

Just because the candidates haven't been debating a larger strategy for handling weak states doesn't mean they're not thinking about it. Clinton has several experts on failed states advising her, including Richard Holbrooke, who negotiated the end of the Balkan wars, and Madeleine Albright, who made expanding democracy the theoretical aim of her tenure as Bill Clinton's Secretary of State. McCain's director of foreign and national security policy is Randy Scheunemann, from the conservative Project for a New American Century, who as a Senate adviser handled issues of military intervention in the Balkans and Somalia. And one of Obama's top campaign advisors, Susan Rice, has in the course of her work at the Brookings Institution produced, with Stewart Patrick of the Center for Global Development, a 50-page index of weak states that ranks 141 developing countries according to 20 factors such incidence of coups, GDP growth and primary school completion. The idea is to define state weakness in a way that identifies problem countries, and shows which areas in them need the most attention.

None of the candidates has said what concrete steps they would take to reorient the tools of American power to better handle the threats produced by weak states. And it's not clear how much of the strategic lesson has seeped up to the candidates from the advisors who know something about it. But for all the talk of the experience required to be Commander in Chief in the post-9/11 era, it might be useful to start asking.

Buying chocolate can get messy when child labor is in the picture

from Scripps News

By JOAN OBRA, Fresno Bee

OAKHURST, Calif. -- For many folks, chocolate is a guilty pleasure. But for eighth-graders at Mountain Home Charter School, a chocolate fund-raiser inspired only guilt.

That's because about 70 percent of the world's cocoa -- taken from the cacao tree to make chocolate -- comes from West Africa, where reports of abusive child labor have circulated for years.

Alarmed by the evidence, eighth-grader Masha Bluestein hoped to change Mountain Home's fund-raiser for a class trip to Catalina Island. So she and her mother, Cordia Bluestein, pitched an idea to the other parents: Instead of selling any old chocolate, let's choose chocolate that's certified fair trade.

The certification, they explained, indicates products made without abusive child labor, such as work that prevents children from attending school, uses hazardous farming practices or includes child slavery.

"I really didn't expect people to be particularly receptive," Cordia Bluestein says. "But everyone agreed. They said, 'If it's wrong, it's wrong.' "

Now, instead of $1.50 candy bars, the students are selling $3 bars of milk chocolate, bittersweet chocolate and peppermint crunch from Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates, a certified fair-trade company in San Luis Obispo.

There wasn't necessarily a problem with the previous candy, says Joan Madaus, Mountain Home's eighth-grade coordinator.

But the students wanted a guarantee that none of the candy was made with abusive child labor, and Sweet Earth was able to provide what they needed.

"I think it's wrong to have children in slavery to pay for our field trip when we can use fair trade for the same reason," Masha Bluestein says.

Eliminating abusive child labor isn't as simple as buying fair-trade products. The problem has deep economic and political roots. And the proposed solutions are just as complicated.

To understand the rise of child labor, consider the example of Ivory Coast in West Africa.

According to a 2006 report from Fafo, a Norwegian foundation that studies issues such as trafficking and child labor, Ivory Coast tripled its cocoa output between 1955 and 1970 by welcoming migrant workers and expanding the country's farms.

To cut costs, these farms used child labor -- a tool that was seen as "even more necessary as world cocoa prices plummeted in the late 1980s and early 1990s," the report said.

There were other reasons to slash costs. Ivory Coast President Felix Houphouet-Boigny supported his government with "rents extracted from the cocoa economy," states the report, titled "Child Labor and Cocoa Production in West Africa."

After Boigny died in 1993, political instability worsened. From 2002 to 2004, the country was entangled in civil war. In the cocoa-producing areas, natives and migrants bitterly fought over farmland.

By this time, news reports had alerted the world to child labor problems in Ivory Coast and Ghana.

In 2001, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, created the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which pushes to have those countries eliminate abusive child-labor practices. When the countries didn't meet the 2005 deadline, the protocol was extended until July 1, 2008.

It's considered unlikely that abusive labor will be significantly diminished by the deadline. Tulane University, which was hired by the Department of Labor to monitor the efforts, says the countries have created pilot programs to monitor child labor, but have yet to quantify the problem.

Given these conditions, what can a socially conscious shopper do?

The answers: Buy chocolate that's free of abusive child-labor practices. And support companies that fight poverty and economic decline -- two factors responsible for abusive child labor in West Africa.

This is easier said than done, however. A look at chocolate on the shelves of Whole Foods Market, for example, shows some confusing choices.

Vintage Plantations products have been certified by the Rainforest Alliance, a nonprofit group that supports sustainable agriculture. Alter Eco's products are certified fair trade by TransFair USA. Endangered Species Chocolate calls its products "100 percent ethically traded." The labels also state that "10 percent of net profits (are) donated to help support species, habitat and humanity."

And then there are Trader Joe's Swiss milk and Swiss dark chocolates that bear the Equitable Trade logo.

According to its Web site,, the association incorporates "a more comprehensive, more meaningful and more transparent set of social, business, environmental and ethically responsible principles and standards into business and trade practices."

The array of choices forces consumers to study different companies and organizations, then decide which ones they trust the most.

One of the most well-known organizations is TransFair USA. Spokesman Anthony Marek explains how it works: Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International in Bonn, Germany, is the umbrella organization for more than 20 fair-trade certifiers. It audits participating farmers in developing countries to verify the absence of abusive child labor and the reinvestment of revenue in projects such as health-care programs, scholarships and microloans to businesses.

In the United States, TransFair USA audits companies to ensure they're paying at least the fair-trade price to these farmers. (Fair-trade agreements set a higher minimum price than the market.)

Marek urges shoppers to choose chocolate with the "fair-trade certified" logo, which depicts a person holding a bowl in each hand. Such products contain 100 percent fair-trade certified products, he says.

(The reporter can be reached at jobra(at)fresnobee.)

Youngsters tackle global issues

from the Gulf Daily News


MODEL United Nations (MUN) delegates began to tackle issues of world poverty, gender equality and access to healthcare at the opening of Bahrain MUN yesterday.

More than 450 15-to-18-year-olds from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are participating in the three-day event, held at Al Raja School, Manama.

The students from 40 private and government schools are representing 200 different countries and UN agencies and include Press, administration, security staff and alumni.

BAHMUN is organised by the Rotary Club of Adliya and held under the patronage of Education Minister Dr Majid Ali Al Nuaimi.

The opening ceremony was addressed by keynote speaker former UN General Assembly president Shaikha Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa, who outlined the history of the UN, its different chambers, as well as its role, activities and goals.

She said the UN was tackling various challenges such as extreme poverty, illiteracy, access to healthcare, the spread of Aids/HIV and malaria and discrimination against women.

"Women account for two-thirds of 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty and two-thirds of the world's illiterate are women," she said.

"There are 270 million children worldwide that have no access to healthcare, and four million die each year in the first month of their short life.

"Every year malaria kills one million people and Aids three million."

She said that in September 2000, at the UN millenium summit, world leaders agreed to tackle these problems and others and set several Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) to be achieved by 2015.

MDGs projects are already proving successful and the millennium villages are a good example.

The villages are a method developed by the UN to help African communities get out of poverty by the deadline, and the project has so far reached 4,000 in 79 villages.

Shaikha Haya said the UN was also bringing countries together to tackle another global challenge that of climate change.

The average global temperature had risen by 0.74 degrees in the last century and this was the largest and fastest trend ever witnessed, she highlighted.

"The earth could rise up to three degrees in the 21st century and most changes are due to human activity, due to the emission of greenhouse gases," she said.

"The UN is working to bring countries together to address climate change."

Speeches were also delivered by club president Talal Al Mannai and BAHMUN academic co-ordinator Terrie Cheesbourg.

Mr Al Mannai said BAHMUN, initiated in 1994, was an ideal platform that gave younger generations the chance to share their opinions on issues of global concern that would have an impact on the world for many years to come.

"In sponsoring this event, the club aims at creating a framework of thinking, exchanging ideas, an atmosphere of decision making where participants can freely express themselves and develop a sense of responsibility for the world that we all share together," he said.

"It also aims at illustrating the opportunities that exist worldwide to build friendship, contribute to a better community, meet different people who all contribute towards building understanding among nations."

The opening was attended by Education Ministry assistant under-secretary for educational services and private education Dr Khalid Al Alawi on behalf of Dr Al Nuaimi. Ambassadors, UN and ministry officials, teachers, Press were present.

Plaques of appreciation were presented by Mr Al Mannai to Dr Al Alawi, Shaikha Haya, past district assistant governor and Shura Council member Khalid Almoayyed and school board of directors chairman Dr Isa Khayat.

BAHMUN is a simulated meeting of the UN General Assembly (GA), the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

It simulates the process of negotiations, discussion, diplomacy and lively debate, which is the cornerstone of the UN.

In their groups, students each represent a specific country, or organisation and deliver an opening speech on their country's or organisation's policies at the start of the meeting. They then enter into lobbying, debate and later voting.

BAHMUN's closing ceremony will be held tomorrow (March 1) at 4.30pm, when students will present the resolutions they have passed.


THE issues to be debated by each group are:

l GA - The advancement of women in the Middle East to create equal rights and women empowerment; and, the right to educate and allocate humanitarian resources for the eradication of poverty in Africa.

l HRC - The globalised bill of rights for health and well-being of children and adolescents; and, the question of protecting the rights and welfare of migrant workers globally.

l ECOSOC - The question of environmental health, sanitation, pollution and the protection of the environment; and, the proper management of transboundary water resources with emphasis on the Euphrates River.

l IAEA - The question of Iran's right to own and use nuclear technology; and, the question of the GCC researching the possible use of nuclear technology as an alternative source of energy in the near future.

l Security Council - The formation of an international tribunal to bring to justice those involved in the assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al Harriri; and, the question of adding permanent members to the Security Council.

Each group will also be given a crisis issue to deal with at some time during the event.

Survey: 1 in 5 Mainers under 5 in poverty

from the Kennebec Journal


AUGUSTA -- A report released Thursday shows one in five Maine children under the age of five live in poverty, a problem made worse by a lack of federal money, child advocates said.

Maine Kids Count, an annual report funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, identifies poverty and health insurance as an areas needing immediate attention.

The report, which relies on 2005 census data, shows 20 percent of children under age 5, and 17 percent of children under 18, living in poverty. For a family of three, an income of $17,000 a year or lower is considered poverty level.

On the the health care front, 10 percent of low income children are without health insurance even though they are eligible for Medicaid, according to the report.

At a Statehouse press conference, an unusually passionate Gov. John Baldacci linked the need to do more for children with his efforts to cut administrative costs in schools and to consolidate four state natural resource agencies.

Consolidation in those areas would free up more money for children, he said. "I'd like the people of Maine to know, while I'd like to make my superintendent happy, I'd like to make my four commissioners of natural resources happy, and I'd like to be able to make all of the people who work in the Augusta area happy, if I truly want to do my job the way it's supposed to be done, I have to put kids first and make sure they have the resources to be successful," he said.

Baldacci, who proposed reducing the number of school districts from 290 to 26 last year, expressed frustration with those who have opposed the effort. Ultimately, the Legislature modified the plan to require consolidation to about 80 districts and some efforts continue this year to further weaken the plan.

He's also faced resistance to his proposal to consolidate four natural resources agencies into one or two, eliminating high level administrators and consolidating services.

"These structures don't work," he said. "Their resistance to change those structures leave us in a situation where you're not making anybody happy. And that's completely unacceptable."

When it comes to poverty -- which the Maine Children's Alliance identified as the most troubling finding in the report -- a loss of funding from the federal government and state budget woes have made it hard to address the problem, said alliance president Elinor Goldberg.

The effects of poverty follow children all their lives, she said. "They're more likely to not be healthy," she said. "They are more likely not to be doing well in school. They're more likely to get into trouble as teenagers."

And while poverty remains a chronic issue, there was good news to report on the habits of teenagers, she said.

A 2007 survey shows in the last 10 years, teen smoking in Maine has dropped from 39 percent to 14 percent, alcohol use declined from 51 percent to 39 percent, and marijuana use was down from 30 percent to 22 percent.

House Speaker Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, said an emphasis on the well being of children even before they are born will help secure a more stable future for them and for society.

A former high school teacher and college professor, Cummings said it's a bad idea to cut money from children's programs to help balance the state budget.

He said efforts to pass laws to get toxic chemicals out of toys, strengthen lead paint regulations and work toward clean air and clean water are ways the Legislature is trying to help children.

Lompoc High to expand federal anti-poverty program

from the Lompoc Record

By Amanda Brooks

Lompoc High has been approved by the Board of Education as a schoolwide Title I school, allowing the school's federally-funded anti-poverty program for 9th and 10th graders to be expanded to the 11th and 12th grades.

School officials are now developing a comprehensive plan that will address the educational needs of a larger number of at-risk students while using the same amount of money - about $200,000, according to district Director of Curriculum Diane Burton.

In a schoolwide Title I school, all students can use equipment or materials bought with Title I funds. In “targeted assisted schools,” which LHS is currently, only students identified as low-income and at risk of low achievement would be allowed to use them.

Though being in a schoolwide program does mean that all students can benefit from the Title I program, the law requires the school to specifically address the needs of low-income, low-performing students.

“All students may be served, but the idea would be to serve those most in need first,” Burton said.

LHS has been receiving Title I funds as a targeted assisted school, for several years. The new designation is the result of an increased number of students who qualify for reduced or free lunches, an indicator of a school's poverty level. The school board approved the new designation Tuesday.

LHS Principal Art Diaz said the school hasn't decided how the expanded program will look, but that options are being considered such as mandatory tutoring during lunch for students whose grades drop, particularly if the grades drop to Ds or Fs.

Another option is to provide intervention classes to support at-risk students' instruction in their regular math or English classes. They would get the information twice, giving them a better chance of comprehending the lessons.

Burton said, too, that the Title I funds could be used to hire teachers, certificated tutors and other support staff, to purchase materials and intervention programs or to help lower student-teacher ratios.

The purpose of Title I, ultimately, is to break the cycle of poverty. Title I programs seek to reduce dropout rates by helping students achieve greater academic success.

“The most common reason and powerful predictor for leaving school is poor academic performance,” Burton said. “If programs are not in place to reduce the risk, the students will be in jeopardy of not completing their education to their potential or of not completing it at all.”

To qualify for Title I, a school must show a poverty level at 35 percent or higher - the percent of students who qualify for free or reduced lunches. At 35 percent, a school apply to receive Title I funds as a targeted assisted school.

To become part of the schoolwide Title I program, a school must have at least a 40 percent poverty rate. Lompoc High School's rate is currently at just over 56 percent.

Districtwide the poverty rate is 55.2 percent, a figure that has increased nearly 20 percent in the last eight years. However, because of declining enrollment, the amount of Title I funds the district receives has gone down each year since 2003-2004.

The district receives the Title I money, then distributes it to qualifying schools based on their poverty level, down to a 35 percent poverty rate. Schools with less than 35 percent poverty do not receive Title I funds.

This year, LHS received $224,097 in Title I funds. Next year's number may change depending on district enrollment numbers. However, even if it is the same, the challenge LHS administrators and faculty now face is coming up with a plan that will help a larger number of students without losing sight of those who have been helped up to now.

Amanda Brooks can be reached at 737-1056 or

Lin Urges Flexibility in Fighting Poverty

from the Wall Street Journal

February 29, 2008; Page A10

BEIJING -- The World Bank's new chief economist says he will push for the poverty-fighting institution to adopt a more pragmatic, trial-and-error approach.

Chinese scholar Justin Yifu Lin, the bank's first chief economist from a developing nation, has a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago but has spent his professional life working on policy in China.

The country's long run of rapid growth is the envy of many developing nations that have struggled to match it. But Mr. Lin says China has no cookie-cutter solutions to offer poor countries and that the government's flexible approach to policy making is what is most worth emulating.

"I think that China does not follow a model. We need to change policy all the time," he says in an interview. "Your approach may be more important. If you have the wrong approach, then even if you have good intentions you can fail."

Mr. Lin says he doesn't object to the set of conventional free-market policies known as the Washington Consensus, but views them more as an idealized end that can be reached by many different means. He thinks the World Bank needs to spend more effort on designing policies that are tailored to specific local conditions. "If the World Bank wants to help the developing countries or the transitional economies, they need to come to the countries to work with the government and research institutions," he says.

Speaking in his office at Peking University, where he founded and runs the China Center for Economic Research, Mr. Lin refers frequently to strict economic concepts of incentives and comparative advantage, but also says he prefers concrete examples to theorizing. He names as influences the Nobel laureates Theodore Schultz and Robert Lucas Jr., as well as the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, credited with launching the nation's reforms three decades ago.

Mr. Lin is known as a behind-the-scenes adviser to the Chinese government and has rarely taken controversial positions in public. But the research he and his center have produced has earned him admirers outside the country. Dani Rodrik, a prominent economist at Harvard University, has called Mr. Lin "an inspired choice" for the World Bank. "Justin is an institution builder," he wrote on his blog last month, and "a very good economist on top."

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Subprime crisis and poverty hand-in-hand: study

from Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The impact of the housing crisis is landing hardest among the nation's poorest home owners, a study by a public interest advocacy group has found.

Initial estimates by the government and private researchers showed that subprime-related loans were clustered heavily in a handful of states.

The new report from the Bread for the World Institute released late on Wednesday finds that poorer areas within those states are being hit hardest.

"Where there is a pocket of poverty, you can be sure there is a high rate of subprime lending," said David Beckmann, president of the institute. "Our country's poorest areas are the epicenter of the subprime mortgage crisis."

The impoverished areas are showing a disproportionate number of failing U.S. subprime mortgages compared with affluent sections in the same states, according to the study.

The report finds that poor counties in Mississippi, Texas, Kentucky and Louisiana, for instance, have higher than average rates of subprime loans than other counties in their respective states.

During the recent housing boom, many marginal borrowers turned to the easy terms of subprime mortgages that often started with low interest rates that spiked later in the life of the loan. Through the end of 2008, approximately one in 10 borrowers who hold such loans is scheduled to experience a rate reset, according to the Federal Reserve

Subprime loans are mortgages that charge higher interest rates and were typically given higher-risk customers with lower credit ratings. The borrowers are often lower income earners who have trouble qualifying for premium loans and lower rates.

Pointing out the concentration of subprime loans in poor counties, the report says that 16.7 percent of Texas mortgages are subprime while 30 high-poverty counties in the state have subprime borrowing rates greater than 50 percent.

Bread for the World Institute researchers examined subprime mortgage rates in counties with poverty rates of 20 percent or higher and those with subprime mortgage rates exceeding 13 percent on average. A total of 1,940 counties were analyzed out of the United States' 3,141 counties.

Nobel Laureate Yunus to introduce micro credit in Saudi Arabia

from Indian Muslims

Jeddah –(IINA)February 26 – Nobel Laureate Prof. Muhammad Yunus plans to introduce his Grameen Bank's micro credit concept in Saudi Arabia so as to stimulate business growth at the grassroots. The professor, who is on a visit as speaker of the Ninth Jeddah Economic Forum under way here, made the announcement at a reception hosted by the Consulate General of Bangladesh at Al-Salam Holiday Inn on Sunday evening. Prof. Yunus said that Abdul Latif Jameel Company has already applied the micro credit scheme and more companies would be engaged under his plan. Micro credit is the extension of very small loans to the unemployed, to poor entrepreneurs and to others living in poverty that is not considered bankable. These individuals lack collateral, steady employment and a verifiable credit history and therefore cannot meet even the most minimal qualifications to gain access to traditional credit.

In 2006, Prof. Yunus and the bank were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, "for their efforts to create economic and social development from below," through micro credit. Yunus is the founder of Grameen Bank and its managing director. "If financial resources can be made available to poor people on terms and conditions that are appropriate and reasonable, these millions of small people with their small pursuits can add up and create the biggest development wonder," the Saudi Gazette reported quoting him.

Addressing the Jeddah Economic Forum yesterday, Prof. Yunus stressed that the society should shoulder responsibility for the poverty among its members. “If anyone has to be blamed for the menace of poverty, it’s the society and it’s unfair economic systems that should be blamed for poverty, not poor people. There is nothing wrong with the poor,” he said. “They’re as good as anybody else. They’re as active as anybody else. They’re as creative as anybody else. They’re as smart as anybody else. Poverty is not created by poor people, it is created by society,” he said.

He also made it loud and clear that poverty is a global phenomenon, not restricted to the Third World in a rebuttal to Alastair Stewart, the moderator, who said that he has done a very good job to elevate poverty in the Third World. Prof. Yunus, a practical visionary, talked about how social entrepreneurship and technical expertise can, together, change the world. He called upon businessmen and other social organizations to help “in creating a world where there are no poor and poverty becomes a thing of the past.” “We should keep poverty in a museum for the coming generation to come and see,” he said. Yunus is the pioneer of micro credit, the process of using collateral-free loans of small amounts to help millions of families out of poverty.

Advocates seek help for poor

from the Athens Messenger


Legislators need to do more to help the poorest of the poor, several area advocates said Wednesday.

The directors of the Athens, Vinton and Hocking County Departments of Job and Family Services, the directors of Hocking and Athens County Children Services, and the director of the Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Board for Athens, Hocking and Vinton County (317 Board) have sent a joint letter to state and federal legislators asking for their help in reforming public assistance to the needy.

Jack Frech, director of the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services, said all the agencies came together to do this because they recognize that the assistance has lagged behind the need.

"We are concerned that the state hasn't focused on the needs of the poorest families and individuals," he said. "At the state and federal level, they are seeing the pain of the middle class, because these are people they can relate to. They don't see how much more difficult it is for families far, far below that."

Advocates for the poor say the tight economy and increased minimum wages have had an adverse effect on families who receive assistance - prices of certain goods and services continued to climb, but these families' assistance did not go up.

Frech and the other agency heads have been pushing for increasing benefits and cash assistance for poor families for years. Currently, the average food stamp household receives $208 a month. Food stamps were originally designed to provide 70 percent of the food needed for the month for the recipient, and other assistance or work would fill in the gap, Frech said. However, today many people do not receive other assistance, leaving them to struggle to make ends meet every month.

Many have disabilities that prevent them from working, he said. Often, they seek disability benefits, but most initially get denied, even if they are eligible. They might eventually receive the benefits through appeal, but that appeal process can take months to years, while the individual is trying to find the money to pay bills and eat, Frech said.

Residents of Athens and Morgan County were on hand Wednesday to put a face to the struggle.

"The quality of life sucks," said Teresa Cottrill of Athens. Cottrill said she's spent three years attempting to get Social Security Disability since she cannot work. She also has a 5-year-old son.

"I consider us lucky to have a roof over our heads," she said. "I usually do without, so he can eat. There is nothing more I would like to do than go out and work, but I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and they won't let me work."

Cottrill said she and her son live on $336 a month in assistance, and $228 in food stamps, and often she goes without clothing and basic necessities to ensure her son gets something to eat.

Samantha Stobart of The Plains faces a similar situation. She has two children - an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old - and says she also has a medical condition rendering her unable to work. She said she gets help for housing payments, but there is not much else.

"We rely on hand-me-downs, do our shopping at New-To-You," she said. "I've been applying for SSI (Supplemental Security Income) for seven years. ... We sit all month waiting for the next check."

Medical care is a big factor in the difficulty, said Andrea Reik, director of Athens County Children Services. Many of the agencies that can help are limited to assisting only those who receive Medicare or Medicaid.

The agency directors are forwarding, along with their letter, suggestions on how legislators can improve the situation. Those suggestions include increasing cash assistance by $100 a month; providing access to health care for all adults below the poverty level; providing mental health and substance abuse services for all poor adults; reforming the disability determination process (60 percent of all applicants are denied; but once appealed, two-thirds of those people receive the benefits); and increasing food stamp and SSI benefits at the federal level.

These changes, they say, would not solve the problem, but would help those who are losing ground.

"We can't do our job if they don't have a roof over their heads, or food on the table," said 317 Board Director Earl Cecil. "If we do not provide basic living needs, how can we accomplish our behavioral health goals? When someone in their 30s says they have to lower their life expectations to be happy with $500 a month and live hand to mouth, it tears at your heart."

ADB says transport spending may increase AIDS in Asia

from AFP via Google

MANILA (AFP) — Massive Asian Development Bank lending to the region's transport sector may be helping drive the spread of AIDS across the world's most populous continent, the bank said in a study released Thursday.

It cited 16 percent prevalence rates of the HIV virus that causes AIDS along one particular transport route in southern India, compared with less than one percent nationwide.

In Bangladesh, long-distance truck drivers had the highest HIV rates among the general population, while in China the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases among truckers was up to four times that in the population at large.

The Mandalay-Muse highway, built in 1997 to link Myanmar with China, has led to an increase in drug use, dramatically raising HIV rates among injecting drug users in three Myanmar provinces, the study said.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) said that construction, especially large infrastructure projects, draws a large influx of men into rural areas, and along with attracting cash, boosts the demand for sex.

Commercial sex work and the trafficking of drugs and humans, particularly women and girls for sex work, also follow major construction projects and transport routes, the study said.

"Better roads bring many benefits but also increase risks through greater mobility and connectivity," the ADB said.

"Mobile people, especially 'mobile men with money' are more likely to engage in risk behaviours such as unprotected sex with casual partners and sex workers, and drug use," the Manila-based lender said.

The ADB said it was now integrating prevention, education and treatment programmes into its infrastructure programmes.

Transport and infrastructure development is now the largest and fastest-growing sector of the ADB's operations, accounting for 33 percent of all its lending in the six years to 2005.

The United Nations estimates 5.4 million people live with HIV/AIDS in the Asia-Pacific region, with nearly a million new infections in the past two years, and with injecting drug use the main driver of the epidemic, the study said.

About 640,000 people have died from AIDS-related diseases in the continent.

HIV is considered a "generalised epidemic" in Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and six states of India, and is a "concentrated epidemic" among defined sub-populations in Indonesia, Nepal, Malaysia, Vietnam and China.

[Press Release] Agreement on U.S. AIDS funding bill is an encouraging step

from World Vision

Congress should keep momentum, vote for passage, aid agency urges

Washington, D.C., U.S. congressional leaders, with the support of the White House, today reached an agreement on the proposed reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, leading to the bill’s preliminary approval by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Congress is yet to vote on the bill, known as the U.S. Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Reauthorization Act.

The following is a statement from Craig Jaggers, World Vision’s health policy advisor in the U.S.:

“We commend these lawmakers for coming together on a bi-partisan, comprehensive agreement for reauthorizing PEPFAR that will increase funding and continue to address the needs of millions of orphans and vulnerable children affected by the AIDS crisis. This is an important step forward in passing the global AIDS bill and represents the type of consensus-building approach needed in support of an initiative that has enjoyed broad public support.

“As this bill comes up for a full vote, we urge lawmakers to keep up this momentum and ensure uninterrupted availability of treatment, care and prevention services for affected children, women and men in hard-hit nations. Reauthorizing PEPFAR quickly will maximize its life-saving impact in the global fight against HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

“This important bill will ensure a needed increase in U.S. assistance, more help for orphans and vulnerable children and continued support for behavior-change programs including the valuable contribution of abstinence and faithfulness promotion.”

More than 15 million children worldwide have lost one or both parents to AIDS and related illnesses, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.

World Vision, an international Christian humanitarian agency, has been addressing the impact of AIDS for nearly two decades, starting with orphaned children in Rakai, Uganda. Today, the organization is fighting the spread and impact of AIDS in more than 60 nations—including PEPFAR-funded work in 14 countries, in partnership with other groups.

Bangladesh on higher grounds

from The New Nation

David Miliband, MP

Descending in a helicopter, through rain and mist, onto a crowded but remote 'Char' island, the enormous and immediate dangers of climate change suddenly, ominously, seemed very, very real. The island, in the middle of the massive Jamuna River, is a hostage to erosion, threatened by rising sea levels, and no stranger to severe flooding. On these shifting sands live some two million of Bangladesh's poorest and most vulnerable people: people for whom climate change is not a theory but a fact of daily life.

The people I spoke to there appreciated the assistance being given by the UK's Department for International Development (DFID). More than just a livelihood, they believed that the DFID project had given them dignity and hope. Through 'asset transfers' of, for example, livestock, they have developed more secure and lasting means of income generation.

And DFID's project has helped to protect these livelihoods from the threat of climate change. Thousands of vulnerable homes have been raised on solid plinths above flood levels. As they have been adapted, improved and lifted up, uncertainty has been replaced with hope for the future.

I was rather taken with this idea and, as I reflected on the main aims of my visit, concerning the forthcoming elections, I was struck by the powerful metaphor for Bangladesh as a whole.

Can Bangladesh build 'plinths' of another kind?

How can Bangladesh lift itself above the 'shifting sands' of a 'winner-takes-all' political culture, deep-rooted corruption and poor governance?

If Bangladesh is to stand a chance of fulfilling the remarkable potential of its people, it must succeed in creating higher, stronger, foundations for democracy that can endure beyond the elections.

Credible and fair elections will be vital to the success of democratic renaissance in Bangladesh - the first and fundamental pillar of new foundations. The popular desire for a democratic voice is strong. I visited a voter registration centre in Gazipur and was touched by the genuine enthusiasm and determination of the queues of men and women waiting to have their photos, signatures and fingerprints registered, and to collect national voter ID cards. And I was impressed by the efficiency with which the Election Commission and the Army is handling the project for an accurate and inclusive voter list: a project to which the UK has contributed $20 million. There was a palpable sense that the process was creating a lasting democratic base.

During my visit, I emphasised the UK's view of the importance of the electoral roadmap and a commitment from the Caretaker Government to holding elections at the earliest feasible opportunity before the end of 2008. I was struck by the sincerity of the Caretaker Government and Election Commission in striving to fulfil this ambition.

Of course, elections need political parties; they are the beating heart of a vibrant democratic culture. That's why we encourage a dialogue between the Caretaker Government and political parties. A mood of understanding can help achieve inclusive elections and foster consensus over the kind of reforms which will sustain democracy in Bangladesh.

Political parties need to meet the government half way - agreeing to conduct themselves in a responsible, mature fashion; helping to take money and muscle out of politics; introducing fresh blood and capacity that sustains and strengthens democracy and democratic leadership; putting national interests first. The impression I took away from a fascinating discussion with young Bangladeshi leaders is that the people want to see the parties change - not because they are told to, but because they accept they have to and want to.

After all, individual personalities will come and go, but political parties and systems need to endure - including between elections. Democracy is a long game.

A further foundation of democracy is also respect for the rule of law and the principle of basic individual rights. Naturally, it's not for me to assess the charges laid against individuals. But just as it is right that anyone charged with a crime be judged without deference or discrimination, so it is important that all accused, including Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, receive a fair trial consistent with Bangladesh's international human rights obligations.

Strong democracies also need sound institutions and processes. It's crucial for Bangladesh's own development, too. Members of the British-Bangladeshi diaspora that I met during my visit were very clear that Bangladesh has substantial investment potential. But businesses and trade cannot thrive on uncertainty and instability. A stable business climate needs firm foundations of accountability. And people need to be able to trust that public life is not manipulated by a few individuals to satisfy selfish greed for money and power. The Caretaker Government can point to clear achievements: an overhaul of the country's institutions including the Election Commission, Public Service Commission, the separation of the Judiciary that has eluded past governments for over 35 years and a drive to combat corruption. The government which is elected in 2008 will have a responsibility to nurture these gains.

Of course, it is not for the UK to determine the shape and composition of the next government. Our interest in Bangladesh is as a close friend; our encouragement for building democratic systems is made without conditions, without preference or favour for any particular party or personality.

Indeed, at the end of my visit I spoke about the great depth of our common interests, and how the UK's special relationship with Bangladesh is broader and stronger than ever, on a range of vital issues.

On climate change, we want to support Bangladesh's vocal leadership in pushing for a comprehensive international agreement on cutting carbon emissions; Bangladesh has a unique authority in the debate, able to demonstrate the urgency of the issue and the need for engagement from all sides, including poorer nations who might be tempted to dismiss climate change as a 'rich man's problem'. The UK, as I have seen for myself, is supporting adaptation measures in Bangladesh and £30 million of new funding was announced in December 2007.

On development, the UK is the largest bilateral donor in Bangladesh - contributing close to a quarter of a billion dollars annually - and we will continue to support Bangladesh's progress on the Millennium Development goals. In a globalised world, tackling the roots of poverty and inequality is in everyone's interests.

The strong people-to-people link is manifested by the Bangladeshi diaspora in the UK, numbering close to half a million people, and embodied by the personal and familial ties at the heart of our countries' relationship.

The diaspora members I met and spoke to during my visit were positive that there is no contradiction in being British and being of Bangladeshi origin, in a multicultural and multi-faith society.

They are rightly proud of their roots and proud to be British, recognising the contribution they have made in every sphere of UK society and willing to put something back into Bangladesh too. A confident, successful and outward-looking diaspora, at ease with multiple identities and connected to mainstream British life, can make an even greater contribution to Britain and to Bangladesh.

Britain and Bangladesh, sadly, have both known the horrors of indiscriminate terrorist violence against innocent people. The reality is that the roots of extremism have not gone away. We will continue to work together with Bangladesh to counter the threat of those who seek to profit from division, suspicion and violence and to address the root causes of extremism both here and around the world. We express our solidarity and recognise the values we share.

We have a huge commonality of interests. We are friends and fans of Bangladesh and its people. And so I am unapologetic about our honest and openly stated desire to see Bangladesh 'shore up' its democratic foundations. Democracy is everyone's responsibility. I share the enthusiasm of the Bangladeshi people to see an enduring democracy and I commit the UK to helping where it can. When it comes to building 'plinths', Bangladesh can expect Britain to lend a hand.

(Bangladesh on higher ground by the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Rt Hon David Miliband MP)

Liberia health service hampered by staff shortages

from AFP via Google

MONROVIA (AFP) — Liberia's health services are chronically understaffed with only 51 native doctors in the war-ravaged west African nation, Health Minister Walter Gwanigale said Thursday.

"If we go by the (UN) millennium development goals, for a population about 2.3 million people, we should have a minimum of 960 doctors. Right now Liberia has 122 doctors, and 51 of those are Liberian doctors," Gwanigale told AFP.

Many of the doctors working in Liberia are employed by non-governmental organisations, the minister said.

The country is still emerging from 14 years of successive and brutal civil wars during which much of its infrastructure was destroyed, including clinics that have yet to be rebuilt.

Gwanigale said that unless Liberia tackled the problem, "we are not going to be able to deliver good care to our people. We need close to about 4,800 nurses. Right now we have about 600. We have 400 midwives, and we need 1,400. That's how serious it is."

"Out of every 100,000 women that give birth to a child, 1,000 of them die," the minister added.

"The reason is that they are not being delivered by trained people. The solution is to train more people. But first prevent those that are there from leaving by paying them better."

The World Health Organisation estimates that about 10 percent of the Liberian population currently has access to health care, with major disparities between urban areas and the countryside, where more than half the people live.

Climate change: Polar bears versus people

from Reuters Alert Net

Written by: Megan Rowling

Not so long ago, climate change was regarded as an issue more likely to affect polar bears than people. Back then, campaigning on global warming was the territory of environmental groups like Greenpeace and their supporters. Other charities worried more about poverty, developing-country debt and unfair trade policies.

But now, as this Reuters feature points out, the public and policymakers have grasped the importance of climate change to people's lives and the potentially catastrophic consequences of turning a blind eye. And, as everyone gets in on the act, the impact of green groups may be in decline.

"The mainstream has moved towards us," Gerd Leipold, Greenpeace International's executive director, told Reuters in an interview. "But consciousness doesn't necessarily mean change. We have the awareness, but it doesn't mean we behave more as green, sustainable societies."

Environmentalists like Leipold believe they still have important work to do in terms of getting people to change their carbon-profligate behaviour. But the growing involvement of relief and development agencies in raising awareness about climate change is another factor that has shifted the goal posts.

"Please don't leave this issue to the environmental organisations. They have a development blind spot, particularly with relation to climate change," Christian Aid climate adviser Andrew Pendleton told aid workers at a discussion evening organised by Medecins Sans Frontieres late last year. "Climate change is a human issue; it doesn't just affect ice caps and polar bears. It impacts on the poorest people."

Over the past couple of years, aid agencies have woken up to the threat climate change poses to their projects and the vulnerable communities they work with. They're starting to take climate risks seriously in their activities, and many are campaigning for greater international assistance to help poor people cope with the consequences of climate change.

Without the impetus provided by environmental groups, this would probably never have happened. But it's well known in climate change circles that the relationship between the two types of organisation has been more than a little rocky.

For some time, environmental charities were unwilling to talk about the need to deal with the human impact of climate change. Essentially they saw this as admitting defeat. Their priority has been - and remains - motivating governments and people to cut greenhouse gas emissions sharply with the aim of stopping global warming.

But, as researchers at the International Institute for Environment and Development explained to me recently, coalitions like Up in Smoke - which brings both sides together to produce joint reports on the impact of climate change in developing countries - have gone some way towards nurturing tolerance of each other's viewpoints.

Aid agencies have a better grip on the science and technology, while green groups have started to understand the linkages between climate change and development. Environmental campaigners are now more willing to treat global warming as an issue of justice and equity, acknowledging that the solution is more complex than simply stamping out the use of fossil fuels.

A Greenpeace booklet called "How to Save the Climate" argues, for example, " is up to rich countries to take action - by using their technological lead and financial resources to curb their own emissions and help the poorer ones to achieve economic growth without destroying the climate. The objective is called 'climate equity'."

Nonetheless, while strictly humanitarian agencies seem fairly happy to let environmental groups argue the toss on emissions reductions, those that campaign on development issues are eager to ensure that people get as much prominence as polar bears in international climate negotiations.

"This is why we need to be involved in arguing about adaptation (to climate change)," Pendleton said at the MSF debate, urging more aid agencies to speak out on climate change. "If we leave it to the greenies, they may not cut a deal that's in the interests of the poorest."

Helping seniors cope with high cost of living

from the Marin Independent Journal

Jennifer Upshaw

The federal poverty line is leaving seniors behind in Marin and elsewhere, an East Bay nonprofit group said Tuesday.

"They find in their old age they can no longer take care of themselves and the government is not paying them back and it's just not fair," said Susan Smith, director of the California Elder Economic Security Initiative, a program of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development in Oakland.

Forget the old federal standard - we have something better, initiative officials said Tuesday as they presented a new index at a state Senate subcommittee hearing in Sacramento.

The elder economic security standard index indicates that the poverty line covers less than half of California seniors' basic costs, they said. The federal poverty line is based on 1950s data that assumes seniors spend a third of their budget on food.

Backers hope the new standard - the first of its kind that measures the financial picture for seniors - will one day replace federal poverty guidelines, used to determine income eligibility for most public programs, as well as state and federal money allocations to local communities, officials said.

The new California index was developed by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, using data for each county that reflected local market rates for housing, health care, transportation and long-term care.

In Marin, 57 percent of households with adults 65 and over have incomes less than $50,000 per year, and more than 30 percent of seniors' incomes come to less than $30,000, according to the 2001 Marin County Health Survey.

The basic annual cost of living for a retired older adult, who is in good health and living in rental housing in Marin County, is $26,581, or $39,573 for a single elder with a mortgage.

For an older couple renting in Marin, the basic cost of living is $35,355, or $48,348 for a couple with a mortgage.

In 2007, the federal poverty line was $10,210 for a single elderly person and $13,690 for an older couple.

"I do think the federal poverty levels are definitely a disadvantage for people in Marin," said Nick Trunzo, director of the county Division of Aging.

"It (the new standard) is an interesting idea whose time has come," he said. "Hopefully our political leaders will be willing to put the funds behind it so more people can qualify for services, especially in California."

Money is a major issue, agreed Mimi Schreiber, marketing director at Senior Access, based in San Rafael.

"I think any organization that works with the senior population certainly believes that more has to be done for seniors to help them live," she said.

Contact Jennifer Upshaw via e-mail at

UN agencies to give over 190 million dollar grants

from Gorkhapatra

he United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has agreed to provide a grant assistance of US$ 68,214,000 (equivalent to about Rs. 4358 million) to the Government of Nepal.

According to a press release issued by the Ministry of Finance today, a Country Programme Action Plan (CPAP) to this effect was signed between the Government of Nepal and the UNICEF in Kathmandu today.

Under the CPAP, UNICEF will provide US$ 20,214, 000 from its Regular Resources and US$ 48,000,000 from Other Resources.

The duration of this CPAP is three years (2008-2010). The overall goal of the Country Programme is the realisation of the rights of all children and women through support to the interlinked objectives of peace, reconciliation, and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Krishna Gyawali, Joint-Secretary, Ministry of Finance and Ms. Gillian Mellosop, Representative, UNICEF signed the CPAP on behalf of the Government of Nepal and UNICEF, respectively.

Likewise, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has agreed to provide a grant assistance of US$ 28 million (equivalent to about Rs.1789 million) to the Government of Nepal.

The Ministry said a Country Programme Action Plan (CPAP) to this effect was signed between the Government of Nepal and the UNFPA in Kathmandu today.

Under the CPAP, UNFPA will provide US$ 17 million from its Regular Resources and US$ 11 million from other financing modalities.

The duration of this CPAP is three years (2008- 2010). The programme will contribute to the government plan to attain prosperity and build peace by reducing human poverty through good governance, social justice and inclusive development approaches.

Krishna Gyawali, Joint-Secretary of the Ministry and Ms. Junko Sasaki, UNFPA Representative signed the CPAP on behalf of the Government Nepal and UNFPA respectively.

Similarly, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has agreed to provide a grant assistance of US$ 94. 38 million (equivalent to about Rs. 6030.882 million) to the Government of Nepal.

According to the ministry, a Country Programme Action Plan (CPAP) to this effect was signed between the Government of Nepal and the UNDP in Kathmandu today.

Under the CPAP, UNDP will provide US$ 25.581 million from its Regular Resources and US$ 68.799 million from other resources. The duration of this CPAP is three years (2008-2010).

The overall goal of the Programme is to support Government's Three Year Interim Plan.

Krishna Gyawali, Joint-Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and Ms. Anne-Isabelle Degryse-Blateau, Country Director of UNDP signed the CPAP on behalf of the Government of Nepal and UNDP, respectively.

Lords of Poverty have fanned hatred in Kenya over the years

from The Nation

It all started before independence when the British stole the land from Africans. Then the Africans who stepped into their shoes did nothing about it, reports Special Correspondent KALUNDI SERUMAGA

Somewhere deep inside a rural forest, young men are preparing for war. In another city slum, a man has just beheaded another who was on his way to work as a loader in the city’s Industrial Area.

In Naivasha, vandals are ripping off the windows and doors left behind by fleeing families. And now, Subukia MP Danson Gachie has combined forces with his Naivasha counterpart John Mututho to appeal to the Government for help: The Anti Stock Theft Unit must act, as cattle theft is simply spiralling out of control.

One thread runs through all these events: Poverty.

Slow genocide

Poverty is the worst form of violence. At its worst, it is slow genocide. For example, the vast majority of Americans still die, not from settler bullets, but from poor diet, disease, poor-on-poor crime, stress-related illnesses caused by predatory lending... The list is long. They still die. In short, they are killed by the condition of being poor.

Girls are worst affected, as poverty exposes them to all sorts of deprivations that lead to temptations and inducements. They fall prey, not because they are weak, but because they are angry, and have nowhere else to vent that anger.

An adult raised in poverty often suffers from a certain sense of shame and anger that they can never quite shake off. Years of “no” and “not enough” force them to ingest a bitter diet of silent rage, frustrations, thwarted dreams, hurtful choices and humiliation as their parents age prematurely before their eyes, and their siblings learn to mask all feelings of disappointment.

It is violence at the deepest psychological, spiritual and emotional levels, long before it becomes physical. I know. I’ve been there. In Kenya.

If Kibera is indeed the world’s biggest slum — I don’t know who measures these things, or how — then it is currently also the biggest single act of violence against African people, carried out over the longest period of time.

The recent magic tricks at the Electoral Commission of Kenya — how to breed votes and then count them in the dark, how to speak out of both sides of your mouth, and other marvels — and the subsequent orgy of blood-letting, have given rise to expressions of grief, shock and anger from the Kenyan intelligentsia, in a way that leaves me truly mystified.

Have they not been paying attention? If money and land meant for the poor can be stolen from them, then why not votes? If it became a four-decade normality for children to grow up eating rotting food from garbage dumps, why on earth should they not share more direct forms of violence with each other?

Having grown up witnessing Kenya’s normalising of the grotesquely abnormal, my only surprise was that these acts — from the rigging itself to the rape, pillage and murder — took so long to reach this particular nadir. Kenya was, and is, an atrocity a long time made, and a catastrophe a long time coming.

“There are no stories in the riots, only the ghosts of stories,” some wise black British woman said of Brixton and Handsworth, a long time ago.

I should declare an interest. Though I spent some critical formative years living both near the top and the bottom of Kenyan society, I’m not a Kenyan. I was a refugee from another atrocity called Uganda, and part of a very politically engaged community that was actively fomenting armed rebellion back home.

Since our flight was political, we came to Kenya with a heightened interest in politics generally and were fascinated by what the Kenyatta and Moi regimes were achieving through “sowing acres of cynicism” (to quote Okot p’Bitek, another Ugandan refugee). They did what Amin and Obote could only attempt through killing fields.

Mwai Kibaki was a particularly interesting study for us. As a graduate of Makerere University, we would wonder whether he participated in politics with Ugandan or Kenyan sensibilities. For me, he answered the question most eloquently, on a tour of (I think) Kamiti Prison way back in the 70s as a Seriously Big Government Man. There had been media talk of increasingly horrific conditions in the prisons, and his visit was supposed to be a fact-finding tour.

At one point, as Big-Man-And-Entourage walked through the prison complex, a prisoner displayed incredible dignity and courage by stepping out in front of him, and trying to hand him a letter sealed in an envelope.

The prison official next to Kibaki intercepted the convict’s outstretched hand, took the envelope and pocketed it. According to the news report, Kibaki paused, watched the entire incident, and then carried on with his “fact-finding”.

Forget about the botched attempts to write a new constitution, forget about the failure to follow up on the Canary Pattni Goldenberg song, forget even about the indignity of a swearing-in at twilight. (Quick question: was that really a Bible he was holding up? It looked suspiciously like a pricey desk diary to me. You never know, given the indecent haste.)

Back to the 70s. As children watching their elders pay a much higher price to be in politics, we felt the prison incident was a most pathetic display of craven indifference.

In truth, looking back, it was at that moment that Kibaki, for me disqualified himself from leadership. It’s just that nobody realised it, or thought about it hard enough. Now look where we have ended up.

Sample this. Jeffrey had two thumbs on his left hand, but in the end, that was not the most interesting thing about him for me. He drove a little pick-up truck for one of the large tea estates in the Limuru area where I went to school, and would often give us a ride back to our hillside campus after we had been running in the countryside.

He lived in the tea plantation, but not in a house. His home was a large garage next door to a tractor. He lived there with his wife, kids and possibly his mother. During the day they would just slide the huge door open and leave it that way like some large gaping wound.

As we walked or jogged past, you could see them all gathered inside, going about their domestic business as if on a cinema screen.

One day, Jeffrey drove us much higher up the hill, where one had a clear view of much of the valley below. He was really talking to my classmate Karim Walji, but I remain grateful to him for the education he gave us.

Using large, lonely trees, hillocks and dips in the valley as landmarks, the three-thumbed man, living in a mzungu’s garage on his own ancestors’ land, listed for us the families and clans that once owned the endless carpet of green.

“Where did the people all go?” Karim asked him. I don’t think he bothered to answer, just wore a waning smile.

As somebody who had been smuggled across a border on the back of a pedal-bicycle to a new and more “stable” country, I felt strangely disturbed.

But I understood that smile, and the inability to say more — our parents seemed stuck in that mode — but I was scared at how normal this dispossession had become. At least we were fighting those who had evicted us, not living in their garages. But now we were living in Kenya, where the abnormal was normalised.

“Don’t go to town today. They are rounding up Ugandans.” This was regularly heard advice in the Ugandan exile community, as Kenyans pointed us out to their police.

A night or two cleaning their police cells or a well-deployed bribe was what was needed to keep you from joining a refugee camp population.

On reflection, it made sense for people oppressed by their own police force to be more than happy to point out other more appropriate victims to the same police.

Refugees have no permanence, no power to come back later and retaliate. They are perfect victims, and probably helped deflect police attention from the native poor. Now, the displaced and poor find themselves the new targets, but without the help of the police. If you kill a cop, ten will come back; if you kill a child of the rich, your fellow poor will be offered reward money to find you. If you kill a fellow poor “non-you”, you have found the perfect victim.

How else are the poor who are schooled in 40 years of systemic violence expected to communicate except through violence? On whom are they to vent their rage except another guaranteed to have no power to retaliate with greater force?

Those who escaped the poverty also took the internalised violence with them. Having perfected the skills of managerial service provision, the Kenyan middle classes have moved to dominate managerial positions in media, finance, NGO ... virtually all sectors throughout the region, where they have acquired the reputation of being the most cut-throat, ruthless, backstabbing, neurotic and yet efficient “boardroom-wallahs”.

The crisis that is Kenya today comes largely as a result of the Kenyan intelligentsia’s abject failure to come up with viable alternatives to this mess. Those in power never had answers, and are not interested in looking for them.

Like Uganda, the creation of Kenya was an act of theft and murder. Anyone managing it is simply perpetuating those crimes. Those in opposition had a responsibility to come up with something better. But did they? With my two teenage brothers, I wandered the Nairobi streets amid the August 1982 mayhem, walking from Eastleigh through Majengo then downtown, up to Hurlingham and back, as Kenya Air force mutineers used their Land Rovers to wrench the metal grilles from shop fronts and then say “chukuwa” to the waiting looters.

There was a lot of shouting of “power”, but no answers about poverty, certainly not for the half-naked man lying in the street at their feet, body ashen grey from the blood loss occasioned by the open wound in his head. He was nobody’s concern. He reminded me exactly of another half-naked dying man I had seen years before as a child in Kampala. He had been attacked by a mob. Or shot. Nobody was bothered. People just walked past. He was also lying in the gutter, also bleeding from the head, also barley twitching as he drew his very last breaths. Their ashen greys were a perfect match.

A couple of years later — against well meant advice — we saw the would-be Mwakenya rebels hitch their doomed wagons on the notoriously unreliable star that is the National Resistance Movement, leading to many bitterly spat words of anger and disappointment.

Following coup plotter Hezekiah Ochuka’s forced return from Mwalimu Nyerere’s Tanzania that ended in “the rough hand of the noose around his neck”, one would have expected the “revolutionaries” to have learned a few lessons about African presidencies.

Instead, wishful thinking and infantile prescriptions prevailed, while prisoners wrote unopened letters, and tribesmen were hoodwinked by an Emperor that it was their son’s turn, yet they gathered far away from the rivers of their ancestors.

Still, grownups danced in the footsteps. And this is where the recent deaths were foretold.

There is a lot more that needs to be heard about why the “revolutionary” Yoweri Museveni chose to congratulate Kibaki at the expense of the “socialist” Raila Odinga, and why Raila seems completely unsurprised by this turn of events. In those 1980s, a good friend of mine (Ugandan, resting anti-Obote guerilla) found this whole tragedy perfectly summed up in advance, while on a necessary visit to a Nairobi public toilet. There was clearly no toilet paper, he narrated, so somebody before him had used their finger to clean their behind, and then wiped it on the toilet wall.

On closer inspection — my friend is insatiably curious, no matter the circumstances— he realised that this person had used excreta to write “Uhuru”.

The idea, I think, not the person.