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Zim and debt news

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  • Christine Chumbler
    Police comb Harare before strike Michael Hartnack | Harare 08 June 2005 01:40 Hundreds of police were deployed in the Zimbabwean capital on Wednesday and army
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 8, 2005
      Police comb Harare before strike

      Michael Hartnack | Harare

      08 June 2005 01:40

      Hundreds of police were deployed in the Zimbabwean capital on Wednesday and army units were reportedly on standby before a two-day strike called by critics of President Robert Mugabe to protest his clampdown on street traders and slum dwellers.

      The protest starting on Thursday is meant to coincide with opening of Parliament, at which the 81-year-old president is due to make a major policy statement. This is expected to include his plans to create a 65-seat Senate -- thus extending his pool of political patronage -- and to cancel all private land titles, thus blocking further court action by 5 000 white farms evicted from their land by ruling party militants.

      Mugabe has the power to make sweeping legislative changes, following general elections on March 31 that gave his Zanu-PF party the two-thirds majority needed to amend the Constitution. He addressed 100 legislators in a closed session on Wednesday.

      Troops and pilots flying recently acquired jet fighters rehearsed military maneuvers for the pomp-laden ceremony -- to the quiet indignation of ordinary motorists who have to wait for days in lines for petrol and diesel.

      Early on Wednesday, several hundred policemen were seen cycling through Harare's industrial sites and poor townships, where hundreds of homes have been demolished over the past two weeks.

      The United Nations estimates that more than 200 000 people have been left homeless in the midwinter cold, while police say 30 000 roadside vendors were arrested in the blitz.

      A loose alliance of opposition figures called the nationwide strike on Thursday and Friday to protest the demolition.

      Police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena warned that anyone appearing to support the strike would be arrested. In 1998, nine people were killed when Mugabe deployed troops backed by tanks and helicopter gunships to suppress countrywide food riots.

      The opposition Movement for Democratic Change has alleged the blitz was a plan to drive its main supporters -- the urban poor -- back to rural areas where they could be controlled by denial of access to food supplies.

      Retired army colonel Samuel Muvuti, head of the government's Grain Marketing Board, issued a statement on Wednesday saying the country "has enough food to feed the whole country".

      World Food Programme chief James Morris visited Mugabe last week to discuss "an enormous humanitarian crisis" facing four million people who need relief. But a Cabinet minister said aid was unnecessary, as 1,2-million tonnes had been "secured" from South Africa. Muvuti said maize shipments were already being sent to problem areas.

      Bread, cooking oil and corn meal -- staples for Zimbabwe's 11,6-million people -- are scarce. Many families survive on remittances from the four million people who have emigrated to South Africa, Britain and North America. * Sapa-AP


      Bush treads his own path on Africa
      By Steve Schifferes
      BBC News economics reporter

      The United States can argue that it has been pursuing the goal of African development well before the British initiative for the G8 summit.

      As Tony Blair goes to Washington for talks with US President George W Bush on the agenda for the G8 summit of world leaders, significant differences have emerged over aid to Africa.

      Britain wants rich countries to pledge to double aid to Africa in order to ensure that the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are reached by 2015 .

      Britain's Chancellor Gordon Brown has suggested that the money might be raised by borrowing against future aid flows, the so-called International Financing Facility.

      President Bush has already made it clear that he will not support such a proposal, and he is even less likely to back French proposals for a tax on international air travel to fund such expenditure.

      Nor will the US endorse a goal of increasing its aid spending to the UN target of 0.7% of GDP, which Britain has pledged to meet by 2012.

      And talks about multilateral debt relief are stuck over the question of how it would be funded.

      9/11 Effect

      However, it would be wrong to characterise the US administration as uninterested in sub-Saharan Africa.

      Six months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the US unexpectedly pledged to double its foreign aid spending at the UN development summit in Monterrey, Mexico.

      There was a catch, however.

      The US wanted to put the additional funds in a separate fund, called the Millennium Challenge Account, which would be administered by the US State Department.

      The idea was to make sure countries met strict conditions regarding corruption and efficiency of government before any money would be released.

      Tackling Aids

      One year later, in his 2003 State of the Union address, Mr Bush recognised the need to tackle the growing global HIV/Aids crisis, and called for a tripling of the US Aids budget to $3bn per year over five years.

      In July 2003 Mr Bush travelled to five countries in Africa, most of which were models of effective Aids programmes (Senegal and Uganda) or countries facing a severe Aids crisis (Botswana, South Africa).

      Again, however, Mr Bush preferred to act unilaterally, with most of the money bypassing the UN Global Fund.

      Slow progress

      However, both of Mr Bush's African initiatives have made slower progress than expected - partly because of the reluctance of Congress - stuck in the middle of the budget crisis - to fund them and because of problems of implementation.

      The Millennium Challenge Account has only certified eight countries in Africa as qualified for aid, and only one (Madagascar) has received any funds.

      The US Aids fund has been partly stymied by a debate over whether in order to qualify countries have to teach abstinence, rather than condom use, as the key means to prevent the spread of Aids.

      Its donations can only be used to buy drugs approved by the US drugs authority, the FDA, which excludes many cheaper generic drugs and favours American manufacturers.

      Unilateral not multilateral

      The US penchant for unilateral not multilateral action has also affected a possible deal on debt relief.

      The US has agreed in principle to allow the World Bank, now headed by former US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, to write off the debts of highly-indebted countries, but only by reducing its own lending programme.

      It has no stomach for increasing World Bank resources, which would require another bruising Congressional battle.

      Nor can it support UK proposals to fund debt relief by selling off some of the IMF's gold reserves, which US and Canadian mining interests believe would depress the price of gold.

      There is more hope of a global deal on trade, although this will come at the world trade talks in Hong Kong in December if it happens.

      Even here, the US has begun pursuing its own unilateral agenda - although focusing at the moment more on Latin America and the Caribbean.

      The Bush administration extended the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which gave textile trade advantages to low-income African countries.

      But the current opposition of sugar growers in the US to a Central American free trade deal shows how difficult it still may be in the US political system to tackle agricultural subsidies.

      Political difficulties

      It has to be remembered that there is a lot less political support for foreign aid in the US Congress - unless it is to support political allies like Israel.

      Many Republicans are deeply sceptical of the UN institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, whom they suspect of inefficiency and corruption.

      And with the growing fiscal deficit, many Democrats would argue that any spare cash should be spent on displaced US workers, not helping workers get jobs abroad.

      And now that Mr Bush is essentially a lame-duck President, no longer facing re-election, he has even less clout with Congress, as both sides are positioning themselves for possible Presidential contests in 2008.

      During the Cold War, US supported generous foreign aid, including the Marshall Plan, because it was seen as vital for US interests to strengthen its anti-communist allies.

      Despite the war on terror, it is no longer clear that the US has the political will to tackle the growing gap between rich and poor countries.
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