Author Archive

The Coming War on China: Enclosure and abuse of the commons in the Pacific

December 7, 2016

This documentary film, which is just hitting the cinemas, reveals a looming clash of giants – the world’s biggest military power versus the world’s second largest economy. As often said, “where two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers”. The people and the environment of the Pacific Islands within range and surrounding China have been caught up in a dangerous situation which is not of their own making, with some indeed standing up for their right to protect their own commons – their land, soil, water, plants, fish, animals, as well as their health and livelihoods.

Historical Context

According to this documentary, when Japan was nuked, it had been deemed by the States to having an ambition to dominate the world – obviously an unacceptable scenario in as far as the United States was concerned. In the same manner, China is currently perceived to be on the same ambitious path as Japan then was. Its economic rise is deemed to be a threat to the International Order, hence the rhetoric by Trump that ‘the US is going to once again show its greatness to the world’. It must be remembered that China was once invaded and colonised, with the Chinese opium drug money funding the rise of one of the first industrial cities in Massachusetts, among others. After the revolution, successfully led by Mao, China extended a hand of friendship to President Truman and other American leaders but this was rebuffed. American-Chinese relations have never been cosy ever since the time of the Opium and Korean wars. Given this scenario, the rise of China as a global economic powerhouse therefore only serves to cement the perception that it is a threat to America’s global dominance and the current International Order.

Rise of China

According to one Chinese commentator in this documentary, ‘China has managed to match the US at its capitalist game’ and this is unforgivable, hence Trump campaigning on allegation that the US has lost its global authority and needs to reassert it. As a result of this gigantic economic leap, it is claimed that China has raised millions of its people from abject poverty into a new, thriving middle class in rising cities like Shanghai. As one Chinese entrepreneur and socialist activist asserts in this documentary, China is a one-party State that is however, good at changing policies but not political parties. He goes on to say that capitalism in China is state-controlled, citing one Chinese leader who said in 1977 that ‘socialism does not mean shared poverty’. Moreover, as he claims, in China, capital does not rise above political authority while in the US, capital has risen above political authority. Notwithstanding this economic, however, China has become one of the countries with the greatest inequality in the world, confirming the observation by some development theorists that as a country’s GDP rises so does the inequality. In these sprawling cities, migrant workers are said to be living in squalid conditions. Besides, as the industry grows, it is taking up farmers’ land with very insufficient compensation to the farmers. This has given rise to some revolutionary resistance to this land-grab – enclosure of the people’s commons.

Prevailing Abuse of the Pacific Islands Commons

It is revealed in this documentary film that the US has increasingly occupied and established military bases on Islands in the Pacific and the South Sea, all within reach of or surrounding China. It is claimed that China is now surrounded by 400 US military bases, all with their arsenal aimed at China. Among the occupied territory are the Pacific’s Marshall Islands and specifically, Okinawa (a Japanese island). Some of these islands and their inhabitants are said to have been used as guinea-pigs – testing missiles and researching on how humans absorb nuclear radiation. This has resulted in extensive radioactive contamination of the environment (soil, plants, water and food) and subsequent various kinds of cancers that are currently killing the population. It is claimed that some areas of the islands have been hit constantly with Hiroshima-sized bombs for around twelve years. The Pacific Islands’ commons are under serious threat as revealed.

Consequently, resistance groups to this occupation and abuse are emerging – most vocally, religious organisations since political opposition and activism are not tolerated in this region. It stands to be seen how effective the resistance activists can be. In light of this revelation, it is no wonder when Trump threatens to pull out of the Paris agreement on sustainable development because this US activity in the Pacific Islands is really the antithesis of sustainability.


Looming Collapse of Kariba Dam: A Common under threat

December 6, 2016

This surely is a subject of interest in the area of Sustainability and the Commons as well as Development in general as will be revealed in the following discourse.

Kariba Dam is made of a double curvature concrete arch that lies on the Zambezi River Gorge. The dam is 128 metres tall and 579 metres long, forming Lake Kariba – one of the world’s largest man-made lakes, extending 280 kilometres and holding 185 cubic kilometres of water. Financed by the World Bank, this dam was designed by a French company and constructed by an Italian company in 1959 during the British colonial era in the then Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). On the dam lies one of the world’s largest hydro-electric power stations, which was initially built to sustain, among other colonial interests, the copper mining exploits of the Copperbelt in Zambia.

Currently, Zambia and Zimbabwe derive the bulk of their energy from Kariba Power Station, with Zimbabwe getting another small percentage from four Thermal Power Stations – Hwange, Munyati, Harare and Bulawayo. Zimbabwe is getting about 42 % of its full energy needs from Kariba, and a present near-complete expansion of the power station will increase this capacity to 71 %.

However, it has been revealed that since the dam’s construction, the water fall-out from the spillway has been scouring the ground near the base of the dam, creating a large ‘plunge pool’ which is said to be now 90 metres deep and only 30 metres from the foundations of the dam. To save the dam, it is claimed by experts that this plunge pool needs to be reshaped to prevent further backward erosion towards the foundation. Although the World Bank is not convinced of the looming danger, the Institute of Risk Management South Africa (IRMSA) and AON South Africa have both issued a report which claims that if nothing is done, the dam will collapse in three years”.

Up-river, from Kariba, is one of the world’s great natural wonders – the Victoria Falls (locally called Mosi-Oa-Tunya, meaning The Smoke That Thunders). Further down the Zambezi River is another Power Station which lies on the Cabora Bassa Dam and supplies clean power to Mozambique and South Africa (40% of the region’s hydro-electric power). All along the Zambezi valley are various communities that interact with and rely on this environment, besides a rich array of wildlife. The Zambezi Valley is therefore a very significant kind of macro-common, with many other micro-commons within it. However, collapse of Kariba dam would trigger a tsunami that would tear down the valley, wreaking havoc on both human and animal life in this macro-common. The Cabora Bassa dam would also inevitably give way under the force of this tsunami.

The consequences on this macro-common and the countries in the region are ‘too ghastly to contemplate’ as the article puts it. Given this scenario, should the International Community and all interested parties wait until a catastrophic disaster strikes? My opinion is that it is wiser to take preventive action now rather than rush to chip in with aid when disaster has already struck. Meanwhile, all communities in the valley must be notified of this possibility and emergency plans must be put in place as a matter of urgency.

Leadership for the Africa We Want: Sustainable development

November 30, 2016

Often the developed countries, International bodies such as IMF and World Bank, and sometimes development professional tend to reflect the notion that they ‘know’ what Africa (or developing countries)need to be able to push forward with development. This article raises some interesting issues concerning African countries’ development.

At the 2014 African Development Bank Annual Meeting, attended by African Statesmen (past and present), as well as Civic Society, South Africa’s former President, Thabo Mbeki, pointed out that what Africa wanted was:
1. Africa free of violent conflict and war
2. Africa free of poverty
3. Africa free from corruption
4. Africa driven by women emancipation
5. Self-assessment of performance by the African leaders

Former President of Tanzania, Benjamin Mkapa added that Africa wanted:
1. Equality of gender
2. Equality of opportunity
3. A promise of good, healthy life
4. Good education
5. Unselfish leadership

Both leaders and the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, agreed that African leaders were selfish, with some attaining power for the sake of enriching themselves. However, although there is existence an African Peer Review mechanism, the leaders concur that there is a culture of fear of rebuking each other and telling them where they were going wrong. As a result of these weaknesses, (according to them), the continent which is the richest in natural resources continues to be exploited by the developed countries for their own benefit.

It follows that African leaders know what they ‘want’ and not necessarily what we think they ‘need’. The question is “How can they be helped to achieve their objectives?”


South African Julius Malema on the Socio-Political Situation in S.A. and Africa

October 26, 2016

This video clip on youtube is very interesting for those who would like to know more about the ‘commons’ in South Africa and Africa generally and how these ‘commons’ have been turned into ‘#enclosures’ by the prevailing capitalist system. This discourse actually extends to reveal how these ‘commons’ re being invaded on an International scale and turned into some kind of International enclosures that benefit the foreign capitalists and a few priviledged political elite at the expense of the general populace of these African countries.

The concept of different forms of power is also clearly demonstrated in this scenario:-

  1. The visible, collective power (power with) of the minors to withhold their labour power at local level in their own created space
  2. The invisible power (power over) of the corporate bosses to influence the politicians at local, national and global levels in closed space.
  3. The invisible and visible power (power to and power over) of the politicians in closed spaces at local and national level to order the military to shoot striking minors.

It is a very interesting reading for ‘Sustainability and the Commons’ as well as ‘Development in the International Context’.