Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Book Review: Mind, Man and the Spirits

Title: Mind, Man and the Spirits: Man's Desperate Search for Meaning in Intellectualism, Mysticism and the Occult
Author: J. Stafford Wright
Pages: 160
Publisher: The Pasternoster Press
Reviewer: Mwesigye Gumisiriza

The author starts off by navigating through the varying explanations of what the mind is, the unconscious and subconscious as well as its relationship with the body, time and space. He also explores these definitions in the different branches of psychology and psychiatry and the varying schools of thought.

This lays the basis for the book to delve deeper into phenomena such as miracles, occultism, spiritualism, ghosts, angels and demons, reincarnation, telepathy, clairvoyance (what is known as sixth sense), to mention but a few. Being subjects that have, and continue to provoke, a lot of debate and fuel controversy, evidence and scientific experiments which have been carried to investigate them are cited from a variety of sources.

Wright puts in his own perspective, drawing from a Christian or Biblical context, in such a way that is not overbearing, preachy or self-righteous. Instead he writes in such a way that welcomes further debate and discussion and with the view that even after the book is published, further advances in the field will bring more knowledge. This is an interesting read for the kind of person interested in such issues otherwise it may a difficult read (or even boring) for the average book aficionado.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Book Review: Making Sense of Social Policy in Uganda

Title: Social Policy: The Integrated Approach to Social Development
Author: George Muriisa Zirimu
Pages: xvi+331
Publisher: Makerere University Printery
Reviewer: Mwesigye Gumisiriza

Available at leading bookshops

How to bring about the kind of development that ensures equitable benefits for all groups within a society is a complex issue that spurs debate, discussion and controversy. The government, through its ministries and departments as well as various agencies, uses several approaches to realise this goal.

Policy is the guideline on how government and the other institutional actors would facilitate development and address the problems that hinder it. But in defining what policy is, the author draws from different authorities on the subject to build on his presentation of social policy, which is the main topic of the book. By his admission, “Defining policy is not an easy exercise. What makes it difficult is partly because of its dependence of one policy area on the others, for example, social policy is related to health policy, employment policy, education policy...” He concurs with many others that “defining policy is still contentious as it lacks consensus”.

However, the complexity and diversity of policy, in general, and social policy, in particular, does not prevent him from delving into making it clear for the users of this book, amidst the range of view points from a number of social scientists that they may already be familiar with. To this end, he concludes that most of the definitions contain three aspects: to promote welfare, have both economic and non-economic objectives, and involve some measure of redistribution.

The first six chapters are focused on defining social policy, explaining the different concepts and theories and exploring the myriad of factors that impact on it. Through this, a firm basis is set to understand the later chapters that tackle the social policy that has been formulated to address social problems, provide social needs, ensure resource distribution and enhance service delivery within the Ugandan context.

There are numerous cases, examples and statistics that are used to illustrate this. But these practical examples only come from the period starting 1986, that is the time that the National Resistance Movement has been in government. May be it is because the author is a civil servant and thus restricted himself to this period so that he is not misinterpreted as giving credit to previous governments’ efforts. This book would have benefited from case studies that cover how the various governments in Uganda, from colonial to post-colonial, have handled social policy. Needless to say, the readers would appreciate that too.

There are a few factual errors, which though minor, that should be corrected in a second edition because the tremendous amount of work that the author put in to write a book on such a contentious complex subject cannot be discounted. For instance, the development of the Millennium Development Goals are attributed to G8—the grouping of the eight most industrialised countries (pg 10) yet these were formulated by the United Nations organisation. Also, in listing some of the organisations that involved in work in the HIV/Aids area (pg 168), Mildmay is referred to as “Maldmay Medical Centre”, which is not even its full name either.

Otherwise, the book is very helpful to not only students of development studies, social sciences and management, the practitioners and the policy makers but also to anyone who seeks to understand how inequality in societies like Uganda can be corrected. As most of the publications on social policy in university libraries are from the developed countries’ perspective, Dr George Zirimu is commended for adding one that is more in tune with our situation.

This review was published in Saturday Monitor 18 June 2011, check it here

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Worlds Collide in a Luxury Suite

by Rebecca Solnit
Source: Huffington Post website

How can I tell a story we already know too well? Her name was Africa. His was France. He colonized her, exploited her, silenced her, and even decades after it was supposed to have ended, still acted with a high hand in resolving her affairs in places like Côte d’Ivoire, a name she had been given because of her export products, not her own identity.

Her name was Asia. His was Europe. Her name was silence. His was power. Her name was poverty. His was wealth. Her name was Her, but what was hers? His name was His, and he presumed everything was his, including her, and he thought he could take her without asking and without consequences. It was a very old story, though its outcome had been changing a little in recent decades. And this time around the consequences are shaking a lot of foundations, all of which clearly needed shaking.

Who would ever write a fable as obvious, as heavy-handed as the story we’ve just been given? The extraordinarily powerful head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a global organization that has created mass poverty and economic injustice, allegedly assaulted a hotel maid, an immigrant from Africa, in a hotel’s luxury suite in New York City.

Worlds have collided. In an earlier era, her word would have been worthless against his and she might not have filed charges, or the police might not have followed through and yanked Dominique Strauss-Kahn off the plane to Paris at the last moment. But she did, and they did, and now he’s in custody, and the economy of Europe has been dealt a blow, and French politics have been upended, and that nation is reeling and soul-searching.

What were they thinking, these men who decided to give him this singular position of power, despite all the stories and evidence of such viciousness? What was he thinking when he decided he could get away with it? Did he think he was in France, where apparently he did get away with it? Only now is the young woman who says he assaulted her in 2002 pressing charges -- her own politician mother talked her out of it, and she worried about the impact it could have on her journalistic career (while her mother was apparently worrying more about his career).

And the Guardian reports that these stories “have added weight to claims by Piroska Nagy, a Hungarian-born economist, that the fund's director engaged in sustained harassment when she was working at the IMF that left her feeling she had little choice but to agree to sleep with him at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2008. She alleged he persistently called and emailed on the pretext of asking questions about [her expertise,] Ghana's economy, but then used sexual language and asked her out.”

In some accounts, the woman Strauss-Kahn is charged with assaulting in New York is from Ghana, in others a Muslim from nearby Guinea. “Ghana -- Prisoner of the IMF” ran a headline in 2001 by the usually mild-mannered BBC. Its report documented the way the IMF’s policies had destroyed that rice-growing nation’s food security, opening it up to cheap imported U.S. rice, and plunging the country’s majority into dire poverty.

Everything became a commodity for which you had to pay, from using a toilet to getting a bucket of water, and many could not pay. Perhaps it would be too perfect if she was a refugee from the IMF’s policies in Ghana. Guinea, on the other hand, liberated itself from the IMF management thanks to the discovery of major oil reserves, but remains a country of severe corruption and economic disparity.

Pimping for the Global North
There’s an axiom evolutionary biologists used to like: “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” or the development of the embryonic individual repeats that of its species’ evolution. Does the ontogeny of this alleged assault echo the phylogeny of the International Monetary Fund? After all, the organization was founded late in World War II as part of the notorious Bretton Woods conference that would impose American economic visions on the rest of the world.

The IMF was meant to be a lending institution to help countries develop, but by the 1980s it had become an organization with an ideology -- free trade and free-market fundamentalism. It used its loans to gain enormous power over the economies and policies of nations throughout the global South.

However, if the IMF gained power throughout the 1990s, it began losing that power in the twenty-first century, thanks to powerful popular resistance to the economic policies it embodied and the economic collapse such policies produced. Strauss-Kahn was brought in to salvage the wreckage of an organization that, in 2008, had to sell off its gold reserves and reinvent its mission.

Her name was Africa. His name was IMF. He set her up to be pillaged, to go without health care, to starve. He laid waste to her to enrich his friends. Her name was Global South. His name was Washington Consensus. But his winning streak was running out and her star was rising.

It was the IMF that created the economic conditions that destroyed the Argentinian economy by 2001, and it was the revolt against the IMF (among other neoliberal forces) that prompted Latin America’s rebirth over the past decade. Whatever you think of Hugo Chavez, it was loans from oil-rich Venezuela that allowed Argentina to pay off its IMF loans early so that it could set its own saner economic policies.
The IMF was a predatory force, opening developing countries up to economic assaults from the wealthy North and powerful transnational corporations. It was a pimp. Maybe it still is.

But since the Seattle anti-corporate demonstrations of 1999 set a global movement alight, there has been a revolt against it, and those forces have won in Latin America, changing the framework of all economic debates to come and enriching our imaginations when it comes to economies and possibilities.

Today, the IMF is a mess, the World Trade Organization largely sidelined, NAFTA almost universally reviled, the Free Trade Area of the Americas cancelled (though bilateral free-trade agreements continue), and much of the world has learned a great deal from the decade’s crash course in economic policy.

Strangers on a Train
The New York Times reported it this way:
"As the impact of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s predicament hit home, others, including some in the news media, began to reveal accounts, long suppressed or anonymous, of what they called Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s previously predatory behavior toward women and his aggressive sexual pursuit of them, from students and journalists to subordinates."
In other words, he created an atmosphere that was uncomfortable or dangerous for women, which would be one thing if he were working in, say, a small office. But that a man who controls some part of the fate of the world apparently devoted his energies to generating fear, misery, and injustice around him says something about the shape of our world and the values of the nations and institutions that tolerated his behavior and that of men like him.

The United States has not been short on sex scandals of late, and they reek of the same arrogance, but they were at least consensual (as far as we know). The head of the IMF is charged with sexual assault. If that term confuses you take out the word “sexual” and just focus on “assault,” on violence, on the refusal to treat someone as a human being, on the denial of the most basic of human rights, the right to bodily integrity and corporeal safety. “The rights of man” was one of the great phrases of the French Revolution, but it’s always been questionable whether it included the rights of women.

The United States has a hundred million flaws, but I am proud that the police believed this woman and that she will have her day in court. I am gratified this time not to be in a country which has decided that the career of a powerful man or the fate of an international institution matters more than this woman and her rights and wellbeing. This is what we mean by democracy: that everyone has a voice, that no one gets away with things just because of their wealth, power, race, or gender.

Two days before Strauss-Kahn allegedly emerged from that hotel bathroom naked, there was a big demonstration in New York City. “Make Wall Street Pay” was the theme and union workers, radicals, the unemployed, and more -- 20,000 people -- gathered to protest the economic assault in this country that is creating such suffering and deprivation for the many -- and obscene wealth for the few.

I attended. On the crowded subway car back to Brooklyn afterwards, the youngest of my three female companions had her bottom groped by a man about Strauss-Kahn’s age. At first, she thought he had simply bumped into her. That was before she felt her buttock being cupped and said something to me, as young women often do, tentatively, quietly, as though it were perhaps not happening or perhaps not quite a problem.

Finally, she glared at him and told him to stop. I was reminded of a moment when I was an impoverished seventeen-year-old living in Paris and some geezer grabbed my ass. It was perhaps my most American moment in France, then the land of a thousand disdainful gropers; American because I was carrying three grapefruits, a precious purchase from my small collection of funds, and I threw those grapefruits, one after another, like baseballs at the creep and had the satisfaction of watching him scuttle into the night.

His action, like so much sexual violence against women, was undoubtedly meant to be a reminder that this world was not mine, that my rights -- my liberté, egalité, sororité, if you will -- didn’t matter. Except that I had sent him running in a barrage of fruit. And Dominique Strauss-Kahn got pulled off a plane to answer to justice. Still, that a friend of mine got groped on her way back from a march about justice makes it clear how much there still is to be done.

The Poor Starve, While the Rich Eat Their Words
What makes the sex scandal that broke open last week so resonant is the way the alleged assailant and victim model larger relationships around the world, starting with the IMF’s assault on the poor. That assault is part of the great class war of our era, in which the rich and their proxies in government have endeavored to aggrandize their holdings at the expense of the rest of us.

Poor countries in the developing world paid first, but the rest of us are paying now, as those policies and the suffering they impose come home to roost via right-wing economics that savages unions, education systems, the environment, and programs for the poor, disabled, and elderly in the name of privatization, free markets, and tax cuts.

In one of the more remarkable apologies of our era, Bill Clinton -- who had his own sex scandal once upon a time -- told the United Nations on World Food Day in October 2008, as the global economy was melting down:“We need the World Bank, the IMF, all the big foundations, and all the governments to admit that, for 30 years, we all blew it, including me when I was President. We were wrong to believe that food was like some other product in international trade, and we all have to go back to a more responsible and sustainable form of agriculture.”

He said it even more bluntly last year:
“Since 1981, the United States has followed a policy, until the last year or so when we started rethinking it, that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food, so, thank goodness, they can leap directly into the industrial era. It has not worked. It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake. It was a mistake that I was a party to. I am not pointing the finger at anybody. I did that. I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did.”

Clinton’s admissions were on a level with former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s 2008 admission that the premise of his economic politics was wrong. The former policies and those of the IMF, World Bank, and free-trade fundamentalists had created poverty, suffering, hunger, and death. We have learned, most of us, and the world has changed remarkably since the day when those who opposed free-market fundamentalism were labeled “flat-earth advocates, protectionist trade unions, and yuppies looking for their 1960's fix,” in the mortal words of Thomas Friedman, later eaten.

A remarkable thing happened after the devastating Haitian earthquake last year: the IMF under Strauss-Kahn planned to use the vulnerability of that country to force new loans on it with the usual terms. Activists reacted to a plan guaranteed to increase the indebtedness of a nation already crippled by the kind of neoliberal policies for which Clinton belatedly apologized. The IMF blinked, stepped back, and agreed to cancel Haiti’s existing debt to the organization. It was a remarkable victory for informed activism.

Powers of the Powerless
It looks as though a hotel maid may end the career of one of the most powerful men in the world, or rather that he will have ended it himself by discounting the rights and humanity of that worker. Pretty much the same thing happened to Meg Whitman, the former E-Bay billionaire who ran for governor of California last year. She leapt on the conservative bandwagon by attacking undocumented immigrants -- until it turned out that she had herself long employed one, Nickie Diaz, as a housekeeper.

When, after nine years, it had become politically inconvenient to keep Diaz around, she fired the woman abruptly, claimed she’d never known her employee was undocumented, and refused to pay her final wages. In other words, Whitman was willing to spend $140 million on her campaign, but may have brought herself down thanks, in part, to $6,210 in unpaid wages.

Diaz said, "I felt like she was throwing me away like a piece of garbage." The garbage had a voice, the California Nurses Union amplified it, and California was spared domination by a billionaire whose policies would have further brutalized the poor and impoverished the middle class.

The struggles for justice of an undocumented housekeeper and an immigrant hotel maid are microcosms of the great world war of our time. If Nickie Diaz and the battle over last year’s IMF loans to Haiti demonstrate anything, it’s that the outcome is uncertain. Sometimes we win the skirmishes, but the war continues.

So much remains to be known about what happened in that expensive hotel suite in Manhattan last week, but what we do know is this: a genuine class war is being fought openly in our time, and last week, a so-called socialist put himself on the wrong side of it.

His name was privilege, but hers was possibility. His was the same old story, but hers was a new one about the possibility of changing a story that remains unfinished, that includes all of us, that matters so much, that we will watch, but also make and tell in the weeks, months, years, decades to come.

Rebecca Solnit is the author of 13 books, including A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disasters and Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Despite economic growth, Africa still lacks industries

Many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa like Uganda have been posting impressive rates of economic growth over the past decade and experiencing increasing urbanisation, but the pace of industrialisation has remained slow.

And despite investments in infrastructure like roads and the spread of modern technologies like mobile telephony, several African countries have largely remained exporters of primary commodities. In many cases, labour has moved from more productive roles to less productive ones. These were some of the findings by studies carried out under the International Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

“Economic growth ultimately stems from rising productivity within different sectors of the economy and directing a country’s limited resources, including its labour force, to increasingly productive activities,” observed Ms Margaret McMillan, a deputy director at IFPRI.

Other than Uganda, the studies covered Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique and Nigeria. Highlights from the Ugandan study showed that agriculture was the biggest employer—involving up to 85 per cent of the population, thus the largest source of income and livelihood, though the sector’s contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had declined to just 20 per cent. Compared to other sectors, agriculture has continued to remain sluggish but a source of the most of the export earnings. In this, the role of exports of fish, flowers and other horticultural products was significant.

With the shrinking of agriculture’s contribution to GDP, the services sector, which has benefited from foreign investment and remittances from abroad, has filled the gap. But it was noted that in spite of the increased value, the number of Ugandans employed in the sector had in fact declined over the last 10 years.

Another factor pointed out was the high population rate. At 3.4 per cent, Uganda has one of the highest population growth rates in the world. Interestingly, this was surpassed by urban growth that increased at 5.4 per cent between 1991 and 2002. One of the conclusions that the researchers arrived at was: “The high population growth rate of Uganda poses an immense challenge for Uganda’s economic development. The increasing number of Ugandans engaged in agriculture is more a reflection of the inability of the more modern sectors of the economy to provide adequate employment for the many Ugandans entering the workforce every year”

The research paper, titled Rural-Urban Transformation in Uganda, was written by Paul Mukwaya, Yazidhi Bamutaze, Samuel Mugarura and Todd Benson. The paper was presented at an international conference that was held in Accra, Ghana, from 10-11 May 2011. It was jointly organised by IFPRI and University of Ghana. The event focused on the opportunities and obstacles in transforming African economies and the policy implications. There was also comparison of lessons learned from other developing regions—Asia and Latin America.

“Industrialisation and urbanisation tend to go hand-in-hand with economic development,” In his remarks, Dr Shenggen Fan, director general of IFPRI, noted in his remarks, “Without appropriate policies, sufficient public investments in infrastructure, and adequate provision of critical social services, these changes will not necessarily accelerate economic growth or improve human welfare. However, if these concerns are taken into account, the transformation of national economies will no doubt have a huge and positive impact on Africa’s future.”

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

“My civil protest against Museveni”: A voice in the wilderness?

by Benji Ndolo

Tuesday, May 3 2011

Mr Benji Ndolo, a consultant with several Kenyan Civil societies was over the weekend whisked away from a Nairobi hotel where President Yoweri Museveni addressed a forum ‘Mindspeak’ because he had booed the Ugandan President. Below are his reasons for his civil protest.

“On Saturday 30 April I arrived at the Intercontinental hotel to interact and share with other Kenyan professionals from the private sector, civil society and media. The name of the forum was mind speak an annual event.

Prior to the president’s arrival, speaker after speaker took to the podium and waxed lyrical about the importance of Kenya getting a grip on its affairs and positioning itself in its rightful place in the world by first getting serious about good governance, clean politics, eliminating tribalism and strengthening the economy and democracy.

The Swiss ambassador explained that his own country faced a similar economic and food crisis a century ago. They had to think hard about what to do to create a just society. A small Swiss minority was fabulously wealthy while a large majority was going hungry at the same time.

After a coffee break courtesy of Nation Group CEO Linus Gitahi who paid out of pocket because it was unplanned for the president to take 3 hours to arrive, Museveni finally walked in accompanied by PNU metropolitan development minister Njeru Githae.

The president was relaxed and begun his speech on Economic Rights and Social Transformation with an analogy about insects and their metamorphosis from egg to pupa, larvae to adult. The president was affable. But it is important to define Museveni.

After decades of terror and rampage occasioned on Ugandans by Idi Amin Dada and Milton Obote, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni then a young soldier fought a guerilla war to power restoring Ugandans’ collective dignity and returning the country to normalcy and decency. But that was 25 years ago.

Slowly but surely, President Museveni has begun his slide back down the path of intolerance and dictatorship. For the past one month, Ugandan forces have systematically and consistently brutalised unarmed men and women walking to work to protest against the very high cost of living because of sky-high food and fuel prices.

Of course there is a political component to these protests given that they are even led by his opponent, Dr Kizza Besigye, but does that justify beatings, shootings and spraying human skin and eyes with copious amounts of acidic pepper?

As I sat listening to Museveni crack jokes and the audience roaring in laughter, I realised that the whole event was too casual and that for a fact a victim of Museveni’s brutality was admitted at Nairobi Hospital 7 minutes' drive from where we were sitting, going blind. Our attendance of Museveni’s forum was dignifying him and giving him aid and comfort. Initially, I felt I should walk out. But to just stand up and walk out alone as a Head of State speaks, constitutes a security breach and does not say much. Or they would think perhaps because I wasn’t feeling well, or was pressed for a short bathroom call. I stayed calm. But as the president spoke, and paused, I interjected.

“Mr President, it’s very difficult for us to sit here and listen to you as Kenyans when daily you are brutalising innocent, unarmed Ugandans. Why are you allowing this Sir…” I was swiftly apprehended by four officers and bundled into a GK Land Rover outside.

Several of my friends subsequently called and opined that it may have been better to wait for the Q&A session and confront Museveni with ideas. But that argument misses the point. The whole point of a civil protest is to necessitate change not to accommodate. I was sending a strong message to the President of Uganda and to the people of Uganda that Kenyans are democratic and won’t stand for human rights abuses.

We can only move our countries and region forward by embracing dialogue, tolerance, principle and integrity. Not by military violence, propaganda and platitudes. Top on my mind was the fact that the Ugandan president was present at Uhuru Park when we promulgated our Constitution last year, a progressive document which is very strong on justice, fairness and individual rights and freedoms enshrined in Article 33.

I explained to the police that our president is not perfect but he’s a democrat and doesn’t batter protestors. I strongly feel that President Museveni by battering Ugandans is betraying the ideals of our common humanity, is at odds with principles of Uganda, Kenya the region and the world. It is the same thing Gaddafi stands accused of today in the court of public opinion and possibly soon in a legal court as well.

The Kenyan police treated me professionally and well. But one senior officer labouriously explained that I shouldn’t try to be “Jesus” as the world is a difficult place and poor people will always be there. Regretfully, this may be conventional wisdom in the establishment. After being released without being charged, I watched an angry Museveni berate a stoic and composed Linus Kaikai during an interview where he called the journalist “the evangelist of civilisation”. I must say that was some quality journalism from Mr Kaikai.

The challenges of the Third World are well known and documented and will never be solved by posturing, deceit or cheap tribal politics. Rather, it will take selfless leadership, sacrifice and commitment on the part of leadership to inspire Africans, implement good policy and bring fresh ideas to create opportunity and lift the masses out of poverty and desperation.

I remember after the Madoff trial in New York last year, his wife was informed by a hair stylist that she was not welcome to the salon any more because of all the suffering her family had caused by fleecing citizens. I have no ill-will toward the president. I respect him as an elder statesman and like a father. But we must not tolerate bad behaviour from a councillor, governor or president. We must stand for truth, say what we mean and mean what we say. On Saturday, I expressed my displeasure with the goings-on in Uganda. At the risk of irritating comrades in attendance at mindspeak, I stood up for democracy. I spoke my mind. I have no regrets.

Story was published at http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/-/688334/1155612/-/c23vj8z/-/index.html