Zimbabwe is much in the news at the present, as its
incompetent, thuggish dictator tries to cling to power in the face of
overwhelming electoral evidence that its people no longer want him.
Let's hope that one way or another Robert Mugabe is deposed and finds
himself in due course in the International Court of Justice in The Hague,
alongside his old pal Charles Taylor, with both of them locked away until
death for their abominable crimes.
Kenya is another African country where a defeated president
refuses to bow to what President George Bush Senior, when confronted with
his own electoral drubbing in 1992, graciously and aptly described as
“the majesty of the people”.
In the same continent over to the West - both geologically
and politically - lies land-locked Botswana. Its president,
68-year-old Festus Mogae has by contrast just amicably handed over the reins
to his vice-president Seretse Khama Ian Khama, merely because he had reached
the ten-year limit imposed by its 1966 Constitution.
Mr Mogae breaks the mould by both ceding power peacefully
and by respecting the constitution. Compare:
president from 1999 to 2007,
Olusegun Obasanjo, tried (unsuccessfully) to amend his country’s
constitution to allow him a third four-year term in office (actually a
fourth term because he had already served 3½ years as president
following a coup in the 1970s).
Cameroon’s fellow septuagenarian president
Paul Biya, who has been in office continually for the past 26 years, has
just strong-armed his rubber-stamp parliament to
scrap the Constitution's limit of 14 years so he can be “re-elected”
for another seven years.
Of these five African countries, four have a GDP per person
of only $4½ per person per day, yet one generates $40 a
head, and that's Botswana. Might there be a connection? It's
true prosperous Botswana has diamonds, but poverty-ridden Nigeria has oil,
so it's not resources per se that makes the difference.
So I thought it would be interesting to compare GDP figures
of all sub-Saharan African countries with the quality of their respective
democracies, which vary from fully democratic (Mauritius) to highly
authoritarian (Guinea Bissau).
GDP figures came from the mighty
CIA World Fact Book; I used
annual GDP on per capita as a proxy for average
income of the population. The units are 2007 US$ calculated on a purchasing
power parity basis.
democracy measurements published by the
Economist Intelligence Unit[link repaired 22 Apr], which scores 167 countries from 10 (perfect
democracy) to 0 (perfect authoritarianism). Sweden with 9.88 ranks top of
the list, while at the bottom - to no-one's surprise - languish the
unfortunate oppressed North Koreans with just 1.03, whose score for
individual liberties is zero.
The chart below summarises my findings in respect of the 44
countries that comprise sub-Saharan Africa. The four referred to above
are shown and tagged in red, while the other
forty are in blue, a few of which have labels.
Forlorn North Korea, the world's least democratic state, appears in green.
If you discount the anomalies - such as Equatorial Guinea, Gabon
and perhaps Angola - there is a clear trend. The more entrenched your
democracy, the richer you get, but only once you can claw your way well into
category, ie with a score of 6½ (such as Namibia)
But what about those anomalies.
For the past three decades, the 600,000 citizens of little
Equatorial Guinea have been under the firm thumb of the
President, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who since 1979 has been routinely winning
with over 90% of the vote. The government functions poorly and civil
liberties are severely constrained. Yet a windfall from recent oil
discoveries around its outlying islands (leading to exports of
nearly 400,000 barrels a day) coupled with a small population, have
provided a huge GDP figure of $44,000 per person. That's up there with
Hong Kong ($42k), Ireland ($46k) and the USA (also $46k). But most of
it is pocketed by the president, his family and cronies, leaving the
vast majority of his people uneducated, housed in slums and scrabbling
for a living. From this, you can get a sense of why EG was such an
coup target for Simon Mann, Mark Thatcher and those mercenaries in 2004.
It is likely, moreover, that the local people would have benefited from it,
because the mercenaries would have ensured that whoever they appointed to
rule EG would have had to conform to certain minimum levels of competence,
unlike the current incumbents.
Gabon is another country which seems to buck
the trend: very authoritarian (2.72) yet wealthy ($13,800 pp). But it
too has a small population (1½ million) along great oil wealth (exports of 250,000 bbl/day), most of it snaffled by
president-for-life Omar Bonga
(oops, I mean Bongo), who has had himself handsomely (80%+)
re-elected for the past 41 years. So again, though the GDP pp is high,
most Gabonese (including pygmy tribes in the forest) remain very poor, so the
high $ per person figure is misleading.
It is also noteworthy that
island states all
seem to embrace democracy more readily than on the mainland, for example
Mauritius (8.0), Cape Verde Islands (7.4), Madagascar (5.8), Mozambique
(5.3). You could almost call Lesotho an island, surrounded as it is by South
Africa instead of the sea, which with its democracy score an impressive 6.5
could be on the verge of an economic breakthrough despite some grim
In conclusion, this study reinforces what has been said many
times but ignored even more often, that the secret to prosperity is
It's also the secret to peace because no two democracies
ever go to war with each other and even their internal conflicts (eg
Northern Ireland, Basque country, Italian Red Brigades) are limited.
In the chart above, all the serious civil strife in Africa (eg Sudan, Kenya,
Zimbabwe) takes place in countries whose democracy ratings are less than 6.
“there is a way to have eternal peace. We
have discovered it already. It is not religion. It is not hippie love. It is
not being nice to people. It is not transcendental meditation. It is not
World government. It is not the UN. It is democracy”.
Last week I went to a high-falutin' meeting in Dublin
Castle, one of Ireland's poshest venues for serious gatherings. It was put
on by the National
Forum on Europe, a taxpayer-sponsored
body which is however unashamedly exhorting the Irish electorate to vote Yes
execrable Lisbon Treaty. The meeting was chaired by some barely
conscious geriatric called Maurice Hayes, and for some reason they let a
foreigner wander in and give both the
opening and closing addresses.
Though it is none of his business to insert himself between the Irish and
their constitutional referendum, this slick Portuguese guy did his
passionate best to persuade the Irish to vote Yes. Inexplicably, the NFE
also did what it could to help his (partisan) cause. It carefully
seated various Irish dignitaries
in a horseshoe around the top table - Yes advocates all
together and cosy, No advocates scattered. The great unwashed masses
(including me) had to sit beyond the horseshoe and out of sight of the TV
In a carefully choreographed
“open discussion”, eighteen horseshoe people were invited in a
pre-decided sequence to ask questions and put their views via a three-minute
speech. According to my count, twelve spoke in favour of Lisbon and six against - what a
surprise that 2:1 ratio was! Once again I was intrigued by some of my
bedfellows (eg leftist Sinn Fein, Socialist Workers, Communist Party,
Irish Farmers Association), and opponents (rightist Progressive Democrats,
Irish Business & Employers Confederation). But I don't care how
mistaken the reasons for which some might vote No, so long as they vote No.
One particular contribution stands out for its punchline and the delighted
applause it attracted from fellow-dissenters like me. Sinn Fein's
ghastly Mary Lou MacDonald ended her short diatribe with the stirring
clarion call “No way, José!”.
Ah yes, I remember now the name of that favoured foreigner -
José Manuel something.
say, no opportunity was granted to us the general public (who as far as I could
tell were overwhelmingly against Lisbon) to put questions to the great man.
Otherwise, I would have asked him what he was doing here as a foreigner.
I would have also alluded to another alien interference and to an alien
For just three days earlier, the NFE accorded, equally
anti-Constitutionally, a similar platform to another foreigner. This
time it was some frumpy woman from, apparently, eastern Germany. She
spouted off at length trying to tell the Irish people how to vote in
their own private referendum (hello-o-o, you're not Irish).
My spy tells me the format was the same - pre-planned questions from
favoured panjandrums, in the same approximate proportion of two Yes
contributions for every No. Naturally, there was no chance in this
“open discussion” for the ignorant hoi-polloi to butt in.
And as with the Portugese guy, the foreign lady - I think her name was
something like Angular or
Angela - was given the last word, just in case anyone thought too much
airtime was being granted to the treasonous naysayers.
Meanwhile, over in the rest of the EU, frustration is
seething that no-one but the Irish are being allowed a referendum. In
fairness, the seethers are all against Lisbon, since the pro-Lisboners are
very happy to have the treaty ratified by pliant parliaments. Thus
there are thousands of people who would love to help Ireland's No campaign -
not least the majorities in France and Holland who voted No to the almost
identical Constitutional Treaty. plus three-quarters of Britain. They see this country as the last
bastion that can put a stop to Lisbon - even though the European Parliament
has, astonishingly, already voted
4:1 to disrespect the Irish referendum. (Interestingly,
one of the disrespecters was actually an Irish MEP,
Proinsias De Rossa, who was involved in a
last week over his - in my view perfidious - vote.)
So why aren't they here in numbers and being given platforms
by the NFE and by other worthy
bodies as well as partisan ones? The most notorious of these
people is probably the rightist
Jean Marie Le Pen, who reached the two-man run-off stage for the French
presidency in 2002. But he set down a marker when he decided not to visit
specifically because he feared those in favour of the treaty would
exploit his presence as
“external interference in a national debate”.
Other aliens have kept their voices down for precisely the same reason,
though I would be surprised if they are not - albeit covertly - providing
assistance, just as pro-Lisbon foreigners like José and Angela have been.
I am just amazed to see the brutish
Jean Marie exhibit a diplomatic sensitivity badly lacking in those two
otherwise polished interlopers.
It is time for the No camp to speak out
“external interference in a national debate”.
We shouldn't let them away with it.
Bertie Ahern recently announced he would step down in May as
Ireland's Taoiseach (prime minister) after eleven years in the job. He
is under a cloud for having trousered, when he was Finance Minister in the
1990s, chunks of money (up to IR£500,000 and counting) which he can explain
neither to a planning-corruption Tribunal nor to the general public, despite extraordinary
Brian Cowen, the current Finance Minister and
Tánaiste (deputy Taoiseach), has been appointed as the new leader of the Fianna Fáil
party which heads the ruling coalition, and as such he will be crowned the next
is an imposing presence, though no beauty in Ian Paisley's rheumy eyes, what
over-thick Catholic lips. He hails from Clara, a village in Co
Offaly, and his endearing, affectionate nickname is BIFFO, Big
Ignorant F***er From Offaly.
As part of the general merriment that accompanies such
transfers of power, RTE the state broadcaster ran a competition, with a
handsome prize of a coffee pot plus €1,000, for the best Limericks submitted - though in
deference to Biffo's origins, the ditties are being renamed Offalies.
Here are the best four Offalies - and as you can see they are of
peerless quality. Those of a strong constitution can even listen to
them in the
original(minute 19½ onwards).
4th Prize: (Dept of Finance) Michael Duffy
There's a man from Clara called Brian
Who wanted to be Taoiseach from age 9
Now he's nearly there
With his full head of hair
And he's hoping he'll keep everyone in line.
3rd Prize: Sean
There was a gruff lawyer named Cowen
Who was famed for his scowl and his frown
Then Bertie resigned
And so Brian was divined
With a smile to take over the crown
2nd Prize: Donal Purcell
There once was a man named Brian Cowen
An Offaly man of renown
He looked after our treasure
With skill and great measure
And now he's the jewel in the crown.
Winner: Silvia di Pianni
There was a TD born in Clara
Who said I'll be Taoiseach tomorra
Cause though I'm not purty
Old Bertie is dirty
So pass me the baton, A Chara[*]
[*]A Chara is
Let's hope the calibre of Biffo's leadership at least
matches the dizzy heights of these masterful Offalies.
Since my ability to get published in the Irish Times has
been curtailed because I now write occasional columns, I will from now on
include below various published contributions I make to major websites.
The titles refer to the articles on which I am commenting.
Terror in academia
Comment in the Spectator-hosted Melanie Philips Blog on 15th April 2008
Anyone who wants to equate Israeli self-defence (or as Dr
Jackson would have it, "state terrorism") with Palestinian terrorism
should consider the following ...
Maj-Gen Yaakov Amidror and Melanie are of course
am surprised she didn't also cite the Northern Ireland peace process,
which came about only after the IRA was if - not defeated - neutralised,
giving the British army in effect a ‘sufficient victory’ ...
We should not be
surprised that the UN has become a despots' club - only 42% of its
member-stages, each with an equal vote, are proper democracies and many of
those are just "dots" like Andorra. So, being the thoroughly
democratic institution that it is, the UN is dominated by tyrants ...
Coleman is right to point out many reasons to punish the illegitimate
Communist dictatorship ruling China for its appalling human rights record.
However I agree with Pat Hickey that traditional Olympic boycotts don't
work. But there is another way; another more democratic way ...
“If Israel wants to take any action against the Islamic
republic, we will eliminate Israel from the scene of the universe.”
Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, Iran's deputy commander-in-chief,
who would clearly not utter such an apocalyptic statement
without prior clearance from his political bosses.
“We promise our Muslim brothers that we will
strive as much as we can to deal blows to the Jews inside Israel and
outside it, with Allah’s help and guidance.”
Al Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al Zawahiri
reminds us in a recent audio recording that his organization
is not enamoured of
“apes and pigs”
But since, though vociferously denied, Osama is
Mr al Zawahiri would have to in fact be Al Qaeda's first-in-command
“I condemn, in the strongest terms, the airing of
Geert Wilders’ offensively anti-Islamic film. There is no
justification for hate speech or incitement to violence. The right
of free expression is not at stake here.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon,
in the best tradition of his illustrious (LoL)
incites Al Qaeda to perpetrate violence on Geert Wilders
for having produced a short movie,
which accurately links well-known acts of Islamic violence
to Koranic exhortations for same.
- - - - - - - - - - Z I M B A B W E - - - - - -
- - - -
“Zanu-PF did not fight a liberation war to have
Zimbabweans vote incorrectly.”
Henry Muchena, Zimbabwean air vice-marshal (fearing indictment)
- - - - - - - - - - T I B E T - - - - - - - - -
“One country which has been exploited and suppressed
and suffered for far too long is Tibet.”
The description of Tibet as a
by John Gormley,
Ireland's Minister for the Environment and head of the Green Party,
provokes the Chinese Ambassador Liu Bi-wei
to stomp out of the Green Party's annual conference in a huff.
“If someone dares to sabotage the torch relay in
Tibet and its scaling of Mount Everest, we will seriously punish him
and will not be soft handed.”
Qiangba Puncog, China's appointed governor
of the paradoxically-named
“Tibetan Autonomous Region”,
shows his soft side
“If freedom-loving people throughout the world
do not speak out against China and the Chinese in Tibet, we have
lost all moral authority to speak out on human rights.”
Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives,
before cheering crowds of Tibetans in northern India,
where - to the fury of the Chinese Politburo -
she had gone to meet the Dalai Lama.
- - - - - - - - - - U S A - - - - - - - - - -
“I remember landing under sniper fire. There was
supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but
instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to
get to our base.”
Videos show that in fact she
calmly from the plane,
accompanied by daughter Chelsea.
They were greeted by
a young girl
in a small ceremony on the tarmac
and there was no sign
of tension or any danger.
Faced with the damning evidence widely
in this wretched
she then decided to
un-remember her graphic description.
“We don't have slave masters, we got mayors.
But they are still the same white people who are presiding over
systems where black people are not able to be educated. You got some
preachers that are house niggers. You got some elected officials
that are house niggers. Rather than them try and break this up,
they're gonna fight you to protect that white man.”
James Meeks, who is also
State Senator for Illinois,
preaches from the pulpit.
He is another dubious religious mentor
attached to presidential aspirant Senator Barack Obama.
- - - - - - - - - - U K R A I N E - - - - - - - -
“You will forgive me, but I would not like to see the key,
fundamental principle of the Alliance's activity, open doors, to be
replaced by a veto for a country which is not even a member.”
Yushchenko, president of Ukraine,
commenting on baleful threats from Russia
should NATO invite Ukraine to join
- - - - - - - - - - E U R O P E - - - - - - - - - -
Silvio Berlusconi reflects
on his (successful) bid for the Italian Prime Ministership,
which he has already held twice, for a total of six years
- - - - - - - - - - B R I T A I N - - - - - - - - - -
“I don't think anybody in this city is shocked about what
consenting adults do. As long as you don't involve children,
animals and vegetables, they leave you to get on and live their own
life in their own way.”
Mayor of London Ken Livingstone
after his paternity of five sons and daughters by three mothers was
Which, of course, does involve
- five of them.
He so despises at least one of them
and so disrespects his/her fundamental rights to parenthood
column on the birth certificate has been
By the way, what's wrong with sex with
“My comments do not accurately reflect my views.”
Britain's junior culture minister Gerry
as immortalised on a beer mat,
who can't decide whether alcohol taxes are too high or just right.
The beer mat helpfully clarifies that “Gerry Sutcliffe refreshes the parts other ministers can’t
“Who would have thought that Nelson Mandela would have
been free in our lunchtime.”
Britain's dour Scottish prime minister Gordon
gets his words deliciously twisted,
when he tries to lighten up, without his usual life-saving notes,
at a conference of the Scottish Labour Party
- - - - - - - - - - I R E L A N D - - - - - - - - - -
bombing was an infamous terrorist atrocity which [has] led to
a civil legal action unprecedented in the UK and probably in the
world. For the first time, the victims of terrorism are
confronting the alleged perpetrators ... private citizens are
confronting terrorists in our courts.”
Lord Daniel Brennan QC in the Belfast High Court,
acting for those bereaved by the Real-IRA Omagh bombing of 15th
in an innovative civil action against five men believed to be
None have been convicted in a criminal court,
so the victims hope to punish the perpetrators
in a civil court where the standard of proof is lower,ff
though punitive damages (which they will probably be unable to pay)
but mainly through public naming-and-shaming.
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy
is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel and Palestine told
through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from either side, with a
household lemon tree as their unifying theme.
But it's not
entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs
to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
This examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in
the Gulf of Mexico.
BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous
acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless
cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term
Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in
refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in
The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that
had become poisonous and incompetent.
However the book is gravely compromised by a
litany of over 40 technical and stupid
errors that display the author's ignorance and
It would be better
to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying.
As for BP, only a
wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will
prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once
mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.
nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’sincredible story of survival in the Far
East during World War II.
After recounting a
childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen,
Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on
Germany in 1939.
From then until the
Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr
Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall
of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror.
After a wretched
journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless
Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in
1941, he is, successively,
part of a death march to Thailand,
a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma
railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),
regularly beaten and tortured,
racked by starvation, gaping ulcers
and disease including cholera,
a slave labourer stevedoring at
shipped to Japan in a stinking,
closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,
torpedoed by the Americans and left
drifting alone for five days before being picked up,
a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until
blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic
distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the
British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life. Only in his late 80s
is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this
There are very few
first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese
brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical
“Culture of Corruption:
Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies”
This is a rattling good tale of the web
of corruption within which the American president and his cronies
operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both
a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and
sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.
With 75 page of notes to back up - in
best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing
allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with
the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife.
Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett,
Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris
Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book.
ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community
organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine
This much trumpeted sequel to
Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment.
It is really just
a collation of amusing
little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour
and situations. For example:
Drunk walking kills more people per
kilometer than drunk driving.
People aren't really altruistic -
they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.
Child seats are a waste of money as
they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.
Though doctors have known for
centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection,
they still often fail to do so.
Monkeys can be taught to use washers
as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.
The book has no real
message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and
try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.
And with a final
anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in
its tracks. Weird.
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie
to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics.
It's chapters are
organised around provocative questions such as
Why does asparagus come from Peru?
Why are pandas so useless?
Why are oil and diamonds more trouble
than they are worth?
Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?
It's central thesis
is that economic development continues to be impeded in different
countries for different historical reasons, even when the original
rationale for those impediments no longer obtains. For instance:
Argentina protects its now largely
foreign landowners (eg George Soros)
Russia its military-owned
businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs
The US its cotton industry
comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce
The author writes
in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to
However it would
benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative
points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide
natural break-points for the reader.
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles
of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.
The author was
a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to
harass Japanese lines of
command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide
intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of
is admirably yet brutally frank, in his
descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a
prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing
in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness.
He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of
Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved
authority of the British.
The book amounts to
a very human and exhilarating tale.
Oh, and Irwin
describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF