July 2009

The Johannesburg Mail & Guardian reports that two weeks of vandalism and violence in the townships show few signs of abating and that President Jacob Zuma appears unable to do much to stop it.   Zuma was selected as ANC Party Chairman in late 2007 and won April’s Presidential Election on promises to do more to help the poor in one of the most unequal countries on Earth.  Black South Africans still reflexively support the ruling ANC, the  party that liberated them, but less enthusiastically than before, after 15 years of crime, and growing inequality. In the current protests people have held up signs saying that life was better under white rule.

In the Mail & Guardian’s words, “In the past week, scenes reminiscent of the apartheid era have returned to the townships — clouds of acrid black smoke rising from burning tyres, police turning on residents with rubber bullets, sirens wailing and — most symbolic — official buildings and vehicles being set on fire.” [click to continue…]

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Yesterday I listened to an interview  on National Public Radio with David Kaplan, editorial director of an organization called the Center for Public Integrity, which has just come out with a report on the illegal trade in tobacco which, according to Mr. Kaplan, is the world’s most-smuggled legal product.

It’s a fascinating story of a trade worth as much as $100 billion annually – representing an estimated 12 percent of total cigarette sales – with a global reach and organizational sophistication worthy of any multinational corporation or illegal drug cartel. [click to continue…]

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In P.J. O’Rourke’s book Eat the Rich a chapter entitled “How to Make Nothing from Everything” seeks to explain how Tanzania, a country endowed with beautiful beaches, plentiful forests, rich agricultural land, and magnificent wildlife, had contrived by the mid-1990s to become one of the world’s poorest countries in the world in spite – or, perhaps, because – of more than a billion dollars of development assistance. An even better example might have been Argentina. [click to continue…]

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The day after the U.S. Presidential election last November, the satirical weekly The Onion led with the headline “Black Man Gets Nation’s Worst Job”. The July 12 lead article in the South African non-satirical weekly, The Mail & Guardian, makes it clear that Barack Obama has no reason to envy South African President Jacob Zuma. [click to continue…]

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It’s official: the recession has hit the United Arab Emirates, especially Dubai, hard. Well, maybe not official official, but I’m convinced. It’s not always easy to tell what’s happening in that part of the world. With rampant intermingling of public and private funds and  little transparency over who owns and owes what, appearances can be deceiving.

Most of the economic and business numbers have been pretty grim, but losses can easily be moved around, as in a game of three-card monte. For every big real estate project mothballed or scrubbed during the past six months, other highly visible  projects like the Dubai Metro have continued apace, and new ones are still being announced. Even as property values started to spiral downwards and huge property companies began to look distinctly wobbly towards the end of last year, there was still so much cash sloshing around and so many big projects still being announced and built the picture was pretty unclear. [click to continue…]

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