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This is a harth braking story from Ghana.
I makes me feel sad, last time I was in Ghana, the airport was full of rich foreigners coming into the country smelling the possibility to make lots of money in a short time. Ghana is changing, not to the better, but to the worst. For some people, the country is becoming more and more prosperous and westernized, but for others, it is getting harder and harder to make a living.
GHANA: The Abandoned Offspring of Oil – IPS ipsnews.net

The Abandoned Offspring of Oil
By Paul Carlucci and Sam Mark Essien


TAKORADI-SEKONDI, Ghana, Sep 23, 2011 (IPS) – Kobina’s legs are dappled with scars. He gets them flitting across the beach in Sekondi, in southwest Ghana, slipping in the soot-black mud and clambering over pirogues slippery with fish guts, only to sell a sachet of water or a freshly peeled orange to fishermen working on the shore.

He is a child: just 10 years old. But he earns a living selling food to locals.

Comfort Essuman keeps him company, roaming the area selling porridge and deep-fried sugar bread. Two years older than Kobina, she is less shy and more confident. Whereas Kobina will not offer his last name, Comfort readily pronounces hers.

“My mum says I should keep selling and that I will go to school later,” she says, adding that she has not been to school since grade three. “I sell not less than two Ghanaian cedi (just over one dollar) a day and send the proceeds to my mother.” She lives with her aunt, while her mother is in Central Region, one of the West African country’s 10 regions.

Kids like Comfort and Kobina are all over this Western Region metropolis. They are the skinny and scuffed cherubs of Takoradi’s heralded oil era, a newborn epoch that residents say is bringing more trials than triumphs.

Takoradi and Sekondi are the twin capitals of Ghana’s Western Region with a population of about 335,000. Once just sleepy fishing hollows, they were galvanised late last year when the region started producing oil from the offshore Jubilee field. The Ministry of Energy predicts 250,000 barrels per day by the end of the year, with a quarter century total of one billion barrels. And other finds from nearby fields are expected to come online in 2014.

Local chiefs are demanding 10 percent of the expected one billion dollars in annual government revenue from the oil. To kick-start infrastructure, the normally sluggish federal government passed a three billion dollar loan approval through parliament, earmarking 1.8 billion dollars for infrastructure development in Western Region.

Lured by news of oil-driven prosperity, newcomers arrive in droves, each expecting an employment boom that is yet to come. In the meantime, rent goes up. The cost of food increases. Traffic builds. And social malaise multiplies. It is a hydra-headed problem and many of its victims are children, says Deborah Daisy Kwabia, metropolis director for the Regional Department of Social Welfare.

“A lot of people are streaming into Takoradi-Sekondi in pursuit of greener pastures, whereby it doesn’t exist,” she adds. “It’s voluminous. It’s even increasing.”

For children, marginalisation takes two forms. The first is child labour, which can impact girls and boys differently. Older men may train boys to run drugs or steal from shoppers in Takoradi’s crowded Market Circle. Girls, meanwhile, might cook or wash dishes in ramshackle eateries called chop bars. Or they might move into someone’s house and become a maidservant.

The second is prostitution.

“Because of oil, now they have turned to prostitution,” says Comfort Osei Gerning, a foster mother with Mercy Foundation, a local children’s group. “The girls have turned to prostitution, and we have some boys who have turned to (having sex with men).”

The Zenith Hotel is the seat of downtown Takoradi’s nightlife. It is a bright red building next to a taxi station, and food hawkers crowd its corners late into the evening. Inside, men sip alcohol in a gloomy courtyard while prostitutes cruise the tables.

“Those ones aged 12 to 15, they are a different group,” Gerning says. “They are called the Thousand Girls. They charge cheap because they are kids.”

The name is a reference to Ghana’s old devalued currency. Ten Ghanaian cedi (six dollars) used to be 1,000 Ghanaian cedi. And it is what the girls charge. Apart from the Zenith, child prostitutes are said to haunt the Harbour View bar and the beaches of both Takoradi and Sekondi.

“Before you get to them, you have to pass through some grown-ups,” Gerning says. “They will collect the money from you and show you the place. It is someone’s business.”

This happens despite the existence of Ghana’s 1998 Children’s Act. Its clauses rail against child exploitation.

The act mandates the metropolis’ Social Services Sub-Committee to enforce its labour provisions. No one under 18 is allowed to do hazardous work, like going out to sea. No one under 15 is permitted to do manual labour. And light work is not allowed for anyone under 13. The committee can conduct investigations and recommend police action.

John Davis, representative for the metropolitan electoral area of West Anajy, has been the head of the committee for three months. Though he is aware of both child prostitution and labour in the metropolis, he says there have been no investigations under his tenure, and he is not aware of any conducted by the previous committee.

Davis is not able to offer any statistics at all, though he says assembly members were asked a month ago to gather information in their constituencies.

“We have not given any resources to do it,” he admits. “No resources in terms of vehicles or whatever.”

Instead, the committee will focus on an “education campaign”, speaking about the issue on the radio and elsewhere in public.

A lack of resources characterises much of government’s efforts in upholding the Children’s Act.

Kwaku Agyemang Duah, head of Community Care programmes with the Regional Department of Social Welfare, says the department has about 30 officers at its disposal. It needs a minimum of 80.

They also need a shelter for kids with no homes. The nearest one is four hours away in Accra, the country’s capital. And even if there was a shelter, they would need funds for feeding children as well as general maintenance.

“We present a budget every year,” he says, “but what comes out of it is a different story.”

Duah points to his office as a microcosm of the department’s financial straits. The floor looks like a warehouse. He has a desk and a filing cabinet and some rickety chairs. He has no computer and no office phone. The regional director’s office next door is only marginally better.

“I see it as a problem in developing countries,” says Peter Twineboa-Kodua, the regional director at the department. “We have not gone so far to look at the development of the individual as a human resource. Other (government) agencies on the financial side, they get everything they want. You can see their target. But child health, you cannot see the target.”

Unencumbered by bureaucracy, the Mercy Foundation has been able to make strides in addressing the problem. In the days before oil, when child labour was more a result of parents migrating to Ivory Coast to work in those fishing communities, they ran a school that involved 400 at risk children. It was funded by a World Bank grant that ran dry in 2004.

Smaller donations make other projects possible, however. Children have been re-integrated into the government schooling system. Those who were too de-institutionalised were taught vocations.

Humanitarian Crisis as World’s Largest Refugee Camp Declared Full | Common Dreams.

Humanitarian Crisis as World’s Largest Refugee Camp Declared Full

Tens of thousands in Dadaab camp in Kenya face starvation after fleeing violence in Somalia, medical charity warns

by David Smith in Johannesburg

The biggest refugee camp in the world is full, creating a humanitarian emergency that threatens thousands of malnourished children, a medical charity has warned.

Somali refugees wait in line for food at the refugee camp in Dadaab, which Médecins sans Frontières says has exceeded its capacity. (Photograph: Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters) Dadaab, a sprawling desert “city” in Kenya with a population expected to reach 450,000 by the end of the year, has run out of space, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) said.

Children who have fled war in neighbouring Somalia are left without food or shelter in dry heat of 50C (122F) and are said to be vulnerable to attack by animals.

“We’ve got nothing to build a shelter with,” Fatima, a 34-year-old refugee from Mogadishu, told MSF. “It’s very unsafe here – at night, we’re scared that wild animals will eat the children, and we’ve had threats of violence from local people who say the land is theirs. Children are even being killed by hyenas because they have no protection.”

Stranded in the barren desert of Kenya’s north-eastern province, surrounded by sand and scrubby bushes, the refugees – most of whom are women and children – arrive with no money, no food, no water and no shelter.

MSF’s report said it takes an average of 12 days for new arrivals to receive a first ration of food and 34 days to receive cooking utensils and blankets from the UN’s refugee agency, which runs the camps.

The last empty plot of land in Dadaab was allocated in August 2008. Since then, new arrivals have had to search for unoccupied space in which to build a hut. They use branches and brushwood, tied together to form domed structures which they cover with cardboard, polythene or torn fabric.

The UN announced in 2008 that it had no more room for new arrivals, but conflict and the worst drought in years have forced 44,000 Somalis to seek admittance into Dadaab since the start of this year.

Joke van Peteghem, MSF’s head of mission in Kenya, told AlertNet: “The camps are completely full. People are arriving and they do not find any space any more, meaning they don’t have access to water and other facilities.

“You get more and more people sitting outside the camp without proper protection and proper support.”

On arrival at the camp, 60% of families report illness, having walked through the desert for days. Some 40% of the children have never received vaccinations.

“People, and especially children under five, are coming in worse physical condition,” van Peteghem said. “We are observing more and more children being malnourished.

“If you take a week before they get proper food and they need healthcare, for sure the status of these children will deteriorate.”

The in-patient therapeutic feeding centre for severely malnourished children is so full that tents were initially set up in the hospital grounds. In May, a new 60-bed extension ward opened to accommodate them.

Gedi Mohammed, the director of the hospital, said: “Health indicators are now at an emergency level.”

The underfunded and overcrowded Dadaab complex consists of three camps – Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagadera – established 20 years ago to house up to 90,000 people. An extension to the camps lies unfinished and empty following a breakdown in negotiations between Kenya and the UN last year.

“More refugees are on their way,” Nenna Arnold, an MSF nurse, said. “We are already at bursting point, but the figures keep growing. This situation is a humanitarian emergency.”

Wikileaks: Economic Reasons Behind the Siege on Gaza

Wikileaks: Economic Reasons Behind the Siege on Gaza

Thursday, 10 February 2011 17:20 Shir Hever, JNews
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The ripple effects of the Wikileaks documents are still being felt, but until recently Israeli officials continued to boast that the documents were ‘good for Israel’.

break-siege

As opposed to the way the Palestinian Authority (PA) was portrayed in leaked cables, leading to scandalous revelations, for a while Israel suffered no such scandal from the documents pertaining to its conduct. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even came out in support of the leak of the papers, suggesting that the documents can do no harm to Israel’s foreign policy.

He spoke too soon. More recent cables have provided unflattering revelations about Israel’s policies in the Gaza Strip, quoting Israeli officials spelling out their attempts to keep the Gaza Strip on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe. They have also described howcorruption is rife at the checkpoints through which goods are brought into Gaza.

Yet this information failed to shock. It was already well-known and widely reported by UNbodies, NGOs, scholars and journalists.

One cable, however, does contain some new information and has so far received no coverage at all.

The cable, titled “Shin Bet Talks Gaza Economics,” was written by David R. Burnett, Economic Counselor in the US embassy in Tel Aviv. It describes a briefing given to Embassy officials by senior members of the Israeli Shin Bet*, on how Israel uses the banking system in Gaza to increase the political influence of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Gaza, by attempting to starve the Hamas government of cash.

The Shin Bet informed the US embassy that banks in Gaza know that they must neither allow Hamas members to open bank accounts nor have salaries deposited into existing accounts. If the banks disobey, they will lose their stamp of approval from the Palestinian Monetary Authority (PMA), a branch of the PA that is under constant pressure by Israel and the US to prevent any dealings with Hamas members. The Shin Bet expressed satisfaction that the Gaza banking system has indeed been cowed into submission.

Meanwhile, the PA is allowed to continue to pay wages to its employees in the Gaza Strip, thus creating a privileged class in Gaza with reliable income as long as they do not cooperate with the Hamas de-facto government.

While the Shin Bet officers gave no evidence that Hamas uses its budget for terrorism, they did give an interesting breakdown of Hamas’s overall budget. However, considering that this is a Shin Bet estimate, one should take the following figures with a grain of salt.

According to the leaked cable, Gaza’s de-facto Hamas government spends an estimated budget of US$290 million annually, on a population of approximately 1.5 million residents.

The PA’s budget is four times bigger, at approximately US$1.24 billion in 2010. The PAprovides services to about 2.4 million residents in the West Bank, as well as covering some of the costs of certain services for Gaza’s residents.

The Shin Bet estimates that Hamas uses US$40 million (13.8% of its budget) for military and security needs, and invests the remainder in administration and civilian projects.

Israel, by comparison, ran a budget of US$96 billion in 2010 (for a population of 7.6 million), and spent 18.6% of it on military and security purposes – so that, ironically, even according to Shin Bet estimates, Israel spends proportionately more on its military than Hamas spends.

The report further elaborates that the circulation of Israeli Shekels (NIS) in Gaza is increasing, while foreign currency supplies are dwindling. This is clearly a direct result of thealmost total ban on exports from Gaza (although Gazan merchants may still import certain products) – yet the Shin Bet kept silent regarding the reason for the shortage in foreign currency.

One wonders why Israeli officials feel more threatened by, say, vegetable exports from the Gaza Strip than by imports of materials into Gaza. What possible security justification can there be to keep Gazans from earning their living by exporting products?

The Shin Bet’s argument – and that of the Israeli government – seems to be that Israel should keep Gaza’s standard of living low, because Hamas somehow gains popularity when Palestinians are able to make a decent living.

However, the Shin Bet did acknowledge in their briefing that Israel’s policy is to maintain the predominance of the Israeli currency in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). This admission can perhaps shed light on another, undeclared reason for the ban on exports.

This document demonstrates that the Israeli government is in fact strangling the Gazan economy in order to turn Gaza into a captive market for Israeli products and maintain demand for the Israeli shekel – all in the name of “fighting terrorism.” It also demonstrates that the international community – and especially the US – have allowed this policy to continue.

* The Shin Bet or Shabak, officially called the Israel Security Agency (previously the General Security Service) is Israel’s secret police, and is directly subordinate to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Shir Hever is an Israeli economist and commentator who researches the economic aspects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

The Egyptian Tinderbox: How Banks and Investors Are Starving the Third World

The Egyptian Tinderbox: How Banks and Investors Are Starving the Third World

by: Ellen Hodgson Brown J.D., t r u t h o u t | News Analysis

The Egyptian Tinderbox: How Banks and Investors Are Starving the Third World
A portrait of an Egyptian girl taken in 2007. (Photo: James Buck)

“What for a poor man is a crust, for a rich man is a securitized asset class.” -Futures trader Ann Berg, quoted in The Guardian UK.

Underlying the sudden, volatile uprising in Egypt and Tunisia is a growing global crisis sparked by soaring food prices and unemployment. The Associated Press reports that roughly 40 percent of Egyptians struggle along at the World Bank-set poverty level of under $2 per day. Analysts estimate that food price inflation in Egypt is currently at an unsustainable 17 percent yearly. In poorer countries, as much as 60 to 80 percent of people’s incomes go for food, compared to just 10 to 20 percent in industrial countries. An increase of a dollar or so in the cost of a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread for Americans can mean starvation for people in Egypt and other poor countries.

Follow the Money

The cause of the recent jump in global food prices remains a matter of debate. Some analysts blame the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing” program (increasing the money supply with credit created with accounting entries), which they warn is sparking hyperinflation. Too much money chasing too few goods is the classic explanation for rising prices.

The problem with that theory is that the global money supply has actually shrunk since 2006, when food prices began their dramatic rise. Virtually all money today is created on the books of banks as “credit” or “debt,” and overall lending has shrunk. This has occurred in an accelerating process of deleveraging (paying down or writing off loans and not making new ones), as the subprime housing market has collapsed and bank capital requirements have been raised. Although it seems counterintuitive, the more debt there is, the more money there is in the system. As debt shrinks, the money supply shrinks in tandem.

That is why government debt today is not actually the bugaboo it is being made out to be by the deficit terrorists. The flipside of debt is credit, and businesses run on it. When credit collapses, trade collapses. When private debt shrinks, public debt must therefore step in to replace it. The “good” credit or debt is the kind used for building infrastructure and other productive capacity, increasing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and wages; and this is the kind governments are in a position to employ. The parasitic forms of credit or debt are the gamblers’ money-making-money schemes, which add nothing to GDP.

Prices have been driven up by too much money chasing too few goods, but the money is chasing only certain selected goods. Food and fuel prices are up, but housing prices are down. The net result is that overall price inflation remains low.

While quantitative easing may not be the culprit, Fed action has driven the rush into commodities. In response to the banking crisis of 2008, the Federal Reserve dropped the Fed funds rate (the rate at which banks borrow from each other) nearly to zero. This has allowed banks and their customers to borrow in the US at very low rates and invest abroad for higher returns, creating a dollar “carry trade.”

Meanwhile, interest rates on federal securities were also driven to very low levels, leaving investors without that safe, stable option for funding their retirements. “Hot money” – investment seeking higher returns – fled from the collapsed housing market into anything but the dollar, which generally meant fleeing into commodities.

New Meaning to the Old Adage “Don’t Play With Your Food”

At one time food was considered a poor speculative investment, because it was too perishable to be stored until market conditions were right for resale. But that changed with the development of ETFs (exchange-traded funds) and other financial innovations.

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As first devised, speculation in food futures was fairly innocuous, since when the contract expired, somebody actually had to buy the product at the “spot” or cash price. This forced the fanciful futures price and the more realistic spot price into alignment. But that changed in 1991. In a revealing July 2010 report in Harper’s Magazine titled “The Food Bubble: How Wall Street Starved Millions and Got Away with It,” Frederick Kaufman wrote:

The history of food took an ominous turn in 1991, at a time when no one was paying much attention. That was the year Goldman Sachs decided our daily bread might make an excellent investment….

Robber barons, gold bugs, and financiers of every stripe had long dreamed of controlling all of something everybody needed or desired, then holding back the supply as demand drove up prices.

As Kaufman explained this financial innovation in a July 16 interview on Democracy Now:

Goldman … came up with this idea of the commodity index fund, which really was a way for them to accumulate huge piles of cash for themselves…. Instead of a buy-and-sell order, like everybody does in these markets, they just started buying. It’s called “going long.” They started going long on wheat futures…. And every time one of these contracts came due, they would do something called “rolling it over” into the next contract…. And they kept on buying and buying and buying and buying and accumulating this historically unprecedented pile of long-only wheat futures. And this accumulation created a very odd phenomenon in the market. It’s called a “demand shock.” Usually prices go up because supply is low…. In this case, Goldman and the other banks had introduced this completely unnatural and artificial demand to buy wheat, and that then set the price up…. [H]ard red wheat generally trades between $3 and $6 per sixty-pound bushel. It went up to $12, then $15, then $18. Then it broke $20. And on February 25th, 2008, hard red spring futures settled at $25 per bushel…. [T]he irony here is that in 2008, it was the greatest wheat-producing year in world history.

… [T]he other outrage … is that at the time that Goldman and these other banks are completely messing up the structure of this market, they’ve protected themselves outside the market, through this really almost diabolical idea called “replication”…. Let’s say, … you want me to invest for you in the wheat market. You give me a hundred bucks…. [W]hat I should be doing is putting a hundred bucks in the wheat markets. But I don’t have to do that. All I have to do is put $5 in…. And with that $5, I can hold your hundred-dollar position. Well, now I’ve got ninety-five of your dollars…. [W]hat Goldman did with hundreds of billions of dollars, and what all these banks did with hundreds of billions of dollars, is they put them in the most conservative investments conceivable. They put it in T-bills…. [N]ow that you have hundreds of billions of dollars in T-bills, you can leverage that into trillions of dollars…. And then they take that trillion dollars, they give it to their day traders, and they say, “Go at it, guys. Do whatever is most lucrative today.” And so, as billions of people starve, they use that money to make billions of dollars for themselves.

Other researchers have concurred in this explanation of the food crisis. In a July 2010 article called “How Goldman Sachs Gambled on Starving the World’s Poor – And Won,” journalist Johann Hari observed:

Beginning in late 2006, world food prices began rising. A year later, wheat price had gone up 80 percent, maize by 90 percent and rice by 320 percent. Food riots broke out in more than 30 countries, and 200 million people faced malnutrition and starvation. Suddenly, in the spring of 2008, food prices fell to previous levels, as if by magic. Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has called this “a silent mass murder,” entirely due to “man-made actions.”

Some economists said the hikes were caused by increased demand by Chinese and Indian middle-class population booms and the growing use of corn for ethanol. But according to Professor Jayati Ghosh of the Centre for Economic Studies in New Delhi, demand from those countries actually fell by 3 percent over the period; and the International Grain Council stated that global production of wheat had increased during the price spike.

According to a study by the now-defunct Lehman Brothers, index fund speculation jumped from $13 billion to $260 billion from 2003 to 2008. Not surprisingly, food prices rose in tandem, beginning in 2003. Hedge fund manager Michael Masters estimated that on the regulated exchanges in the US, 64 percent of all wheat contracts were held by speculators with no interest whatever in real wheat. They owned it solely in anticipation of price inflation and resale. George Soros said it was “just like secretly hoarding food during a hunger crisis in order to make profits from increasing prices.”

An August 2009 paper by Jayati Ghosh, professor at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, compared food staples traded on futures markets with staples that were not. He found that the price of food staples not traded on futures markets, such as millet, cassava and potatoes, rose only a fraction as much as staples subject to speculation, such as wheat.

Nomi Prins, writing in Mother Jones in 2008, also blamed the price hikes on speculation. She observed that agricultural futures and energy futures were being packaged and sold just like CDOs (collateralized debt obligations), but in this case they were called CCOs (collateralized commodity obligations). The higher the price of food, the more CCO investors profited. She warned:

[W]ithout strong regulation of electronic exchanges and the derivatives products that enable speculators to move huge proportions of the futures markets underlying commodities, putting a bit of regulation into the London-based exchanges will not alleviate anything. Unless that’s addressed, this bubble is going to take more than homes with it. It’s going to take lives.

What Can Be Done?

According to Kaufman, the food bubble has now increased the ranks of the world’s hungry by 250 million. On July 21, 2010, President Obama signed a Wall Street reform bill that would close many of the regulatory loopholes allowing big financial institutions to play in agriculture commodity futures markets, but Kaufman says the bill’s solutions are not likely to work. Wall Street innovators can devise new ways to speculate that easily dance around cumbersome, slow-to-pass legislation. Attempts to ban all food speculation are also unlikely to work, he says, since firms can pick up the phone and do their trades through London, or arrange over-the-counter (private) swaps.

As an alternative, Kaufman suggests a worldwide or national grain reserve, so that regulators can bring wheat into the market when needed to stabilize prices. He notes that we actually kept a large grain reserve in the Clinton era, before the mania for deregulation. President Franklin Roosevelt pledged to maintain a large grain reserve in his second Agricultural Adjustment Act in 1938.

Chris Cook, former director of a global energy exchange, maintains:

The only long term solution is to completely re-architect markets. Firstly, cutting out middlemen – which is a process already under way. Secondly, a new settlement between producer and consumer nations – a Bretton Woods II.

Speculative markets today are driven more by fear, says Cook, than by greed. Investors are looking for something safe that will give them an adequate return, which means something they can live on in retirement. They need these investments because their employers and the government do not provide an adequate safety net.

At one time, federal securities were a safe and adequate investment for retirees. Then federal interest rates plunged, and investors moved into municipal bonds. Now that market, too, is collapsing, due to threats of bankruptcy among bond issuers. Cities, counties and states floundering from the credit crisis have been denied access to the quantitative easing tools used to bail out the banks – although it was the banks, not local governments, that caused the crisis. See “The Fed Has Spoken: No Bailout for Main Street.”

Meanwhile, pensions are being slashed and Social Security is under attack. Arguably, along with the grain reserves institutionalized under Franklin Roosevelt, we need an Economic Bill of Rights of the sort he envisioned, one that would guarantee citizens at least a bare minimum standard of living. This could be done through job guarantees when people were able to work and Social Security when they were not. The program could be funded with government-created credit or government-bank-created credit, and this could be done without causing hyperinflation. To support that contention would take more space than is left here, but the subject has been tackled in my book “Web of Debt.” In the meantime, the credit needed to get local economies up and running again can be furnished through publicly-owned banks. For more on that possibility, see http://PublicBankingInstitute.org.