Friday, July 29, 2005

IRA ends armed campaign

Yesterday, as most people know, the IRA leadership ordered members to stop the armed campaign. Read the full statement by clicking here.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Let's stop moralising about corruption in Africa

The big debate in the UK and Ireland at the moment is whether debt relief will help Africa, given that many African governments are corrupt. President Mbeki’s recent move to axe Deputy President Zuma because of a ‘generally corrupt relationship’ with Schabir Shaik, a Durban businessman sentenced to 15 years for corruption and fraud, seems to have offered a rebuttal. The Western world has declared its support for Mbeki’s approach, emphasising how he has set an example for the rest of Africa. To some degree, he has, but what is annoying is that everyone seems so surprised that an African leader would take such a step. Granted, many African countries are appallingly corrupt, but Mbeki is a world leader, not only an African leader. Making bold inferences about the importance of his actions for the rest of Africa reinforces the idea that somehow Mbeki is an exceptional black man and that Africans are somehow endemically corrupt or incapable of simply doing the right thing. We would all do well to remember that Mbeki’s actions set a precedent the world over and not only for Africa. Mbeki is also not alone. A recent anticorruption campaign in Nigeria has resulted in the firing of several senior officials. The Kenyan government is allegedly investigating 18 officials highlighted in a British government dossier. This is not to say Africa does not have a serious problem with corruption or that a dash of scepticism about recent anticorruption initiatives would go amiss. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index confirms that 18 of the 50 most corrupt nations are in Africa. Corruption has damaged investment and poverty-relief efforts. According to the World Bank, widespread corruption can cause the growth rate of a country to be 0,5 to 1,0 percentage points lower than that of a similar country with little corruption. But no country has the moral high ground on this issue. Transparency International points out that corrupt international business transactions involve both those who take and those who give. According to the 1997 United Nations World Development Report, 15% of all companies in industrialised countries have to pay bribes to win or retain business. All countries also have their corruption scandals. Tax evasion from the small scale to the grand is the corrupt vice of many wealthy people.

From a cynical perspective, if Zuma was in Tony Blair’s Cabinet he probably would have jumped before he was pushed. A well-timed resignation, perhaps when allegations about Shaik first emerged, may well have saved his skin, just as it has for ministers in the Blair Cabinet implicated in various scandals. Once the storm has passed, Blair has a tendency to reinstate ministers suspected of wrongdoing.

Of course, just because everyone is doing it does not let Africa off the hook, and the problem is dramatically worse in parts of the African continent than elsewhere. But in every society, as Transparency International points out, there are those who try to ‘beat the system’ and, if the system is vulnerable, there will be more of them. For Transparency International, the issue is not one of ‘moral superiority’, but developing the ability to control the menace. The debate on corruption must move beyond proselytising about corruption and Africa, as if they are synonymous. The result is that the continent as a whole is treated dismissively, rather than nuanced solutions for each unique country context being sought. So let us stop the moralising about Africa and its leadership and find ways to join the battle.

Copyright Brandon Hamber, July 2005. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 7 July 2005.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

In my day, young people had respect

Sometimes I feel the world is stuck in a time warp. Every time I open a UK or Irish newspaper someone is complaining about the so-called wayward youth of today. Typical complaints include a lack of respect by young people for social norms, excessive drinking and a penchant for violence and vandalism. Recently, I scanned a copy of the UK Sunday Times and was overwhelmed by the range of articles focusing on so-called solutions to the perceived rise in antisocial behaviour.

One article focused on a government report apparently recommending targeting potential criminals from the age of three. Another blamed violent ‘sheroes’ such as Uma Thurman in Tarantino’s film Kill Bill for influencing thuggery by girls. Yet another considered reinstating harsh boot-camp-style reformatories to bring young offenders into line. There seems to be a growing trend towards seeing the solution to troublesome youth as being about tougher policing and tighter control. This is typified in the UK by the introduction of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs). These are civil orders made against those involved in continual antisocial behaviour. They can result in a person being banned from a specific area or associating with named persons.

A recent MORI poll found that 89% of the public support them. It is no wonder the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner suggested that the UK was suffering from ‘Asbomania’. But is antisocial behaviour really sweeping the nation? A recent King’s College London study found that antisocial behaviour by young people has little or no effect on the quality of life of the majority of the population. That said, one in five people surveyed felt they were affected. These problems, mainly associated with rowdy teenagers in the street, were described as acute and were highest in areas of social deprivation and inner cities. So the problem is not as bad as the media would have us believe, although, if you are affected, it can be deeply unpleasant and, like most unsavoury phenomena, mainly affects the poor. I wonder if every generation feels the youth are out of control. Think of the hippies of the 1960s, punks in the 1970s, skinheads in the 1980s or, in the 1990s, rappers and Pantsulas in South Africa.

Somewhere I read that, after you lose your membership in it, the younger generation invariably seems pretty bad. Is the older generation in Europe, who are wealthier and more comfortable than ever before, simply out of touch? I know I certainly am. When I see groups of young people on the street drinking and chatting, I no longer know what they talk about or what worries them. We should ask this basic question first before passing judgement. I think this is as true in the UK as it is in South Africa.

Criminalising young people is not helpful. Only 39% of people in the UK feel ASBOs are effective, even though they support their use. Talking about young people, especially black youth, as is often the case in South Africa and elsewhere, as if they are a bunch of criminals in training is hardly useful.

Let us take one step back and diagnose problems properly and build solutions on that. Out-of-control youth do not cause social degeneration, but economic and social degeneration can create out-of-control youth.

If we know anything about young people it is that continual prohibition by adults leads to resistance. If things continue the way they are, very soon having an ASBO or criminal record will be as fashionable as having the latest mobile phone.

Copyright Brandon Hamber, June 2005. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 24 June 2005.