Tag Archives: corruption

“EMPIRE DAY” – A GREAT LOSS FOR THE WORLD

Empite flags

I meant to post this article on Tuesday the 24th but it was delayed by the arrival of our latest grandson, Hayden Hilario Rhodes Garza.  The baby was due to arrive June 9th.   Mother, father, brothers, and new little son are all doing well.   The grandparents are delighted.

Yesterday, May 24th, was Empire Day.

It’s no longer observed because there is no empire.

But, at one time, not so long ago, it was celebrated by people in more than a quarter of the world’s countries.

Seventy years ago, on June 8th, 1946, the British Empire celebrated one of its greatest moments, the victory one year before over fascism and Japanese imperialism.   Troops from all over the world were in London for a victory parade.   It was to be the Empire’s victory swan song.   As with other empires before it, it was broke after fighting two global conflicts, militarily over-extended and tired. We see a similar scenario today with the United States.

Empire Day began in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1901, the same year Queen Victoria died.  It was started by a local headmistress, Mrs. Clementine Fessenden, who wanted the children in her school to remember the deceased monarch and give thanks for all the achievements of the Empire during her reign.   They also chose Queen Victoria’s birthday, May 24th, to celebrate it.  One of those achievements was Canada’s independence in 1867.   Queen Victoria herself chose Ottawa as the nation’s capital.

In recent decades I’ve been able to visit many of Britain’s former colonies and lived in two of them.  I’ve always made it a point to ask older people how things compare now to the way they were prior to independence.   Without exception, everybody has replied that things were better under British rule.   They give different reasons. The lack of corruption in colonial times often comes up as many today are living in very corrupt societies.

I remember, almost forty years ago, listening to an elderly man in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) lecturing myself and my colleague on how the British Empire was the prophesied Kingdom of God.  It wasn’t, of course.  It was not perfect.   But many believed, including some in Rhodesia, that it was the fulfillment of biblical prophecies about Ephraim becoming “a multitude of nations” (Genesis 48: 19).   According to one historical account, this was widely believed in the trenches of World War One.   Ironically, it was that conflict that shattered faith in Empire.

Internationally, the end of the empire has left an incredible vacuum. Note the following prophetic paragraph written by America’s pre-eminent historian of the 1930’s, James Truslow Adams.   This paragraph concluded his history of “The British Empire 1784-1939.” It’s particularly interesting because it was written in the year that the British Empire went to war against Nazi Germany, while the United States remained neutral. Mr. Adams showed Americans what was at stake.

“In this world crisis, we in America have a great stake.  We know that stability is impossible without respect for law and order, for the honesty of the written and spoken word.   Without liberty of thought, speech and press, progress is impossible.   What these things mean to the world of today and tomorrow has been amply demonstrated by the negation of them in certain great nations during the past few years.  Different peoples may have different ideals of government but to those who have been accustomed to freedom of person and of spirit, the possible overthrow of the British Empire would be a catastrophe scarcely thinkable.   Not only would it leave a vacuum over a quarter of the globe into which all the wild winds of anarchy, despotism and spiritual oppression could rush, but the strongest bulwark outside ourselves for our own safety and freedom would have been destroyed.” (page 358)

This is exactly what has happened.   This paragraph helps us understand the world we have been living in.   During the last seventy years, as the Empire fell apart, we have witnessed a world of endless upheaval and increasing threats to our own freedom and security.

Two regions in particular were kept in relative peace by British rule.   The Middle East was one; the North-West frontier of the Indian Empire, the Raj, was the other.   Today, these are areas where the peace of the world is constantly threatened.

Queen Victoria’s passing was a great loss for the Empire; but the collapse of the Empire itself has been a disaster every bit as great as the fall of Rome.

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OBAMA’S AFRICAN VISIT

Barack-Obama-Kenya

Only an African-American president could say it and get away with it!

President Obama on his visit to Kenya and Ethiopia was able to pointedly criticize African leaders for their corruption, human rights abuses, abuse of power and unwillingness to ever relinquish office.

Nobody could accuse him of racism.

Mr. Obama said things that have long needed to be said.

In contrast to his speeches on the Middle East, which are always filled with controversy and generally seem to make things worse, his speeches in Nairobi and Addis Ababa could only upset Africa’s corrupt leaders.   Ethiopian primary school teacher, Hikma Lemma had just one regret:  “He took too long to come.”   (“In Ethiopia, a cry for basic freedoms,” USA Today, July 28th.)

Things will not change quickly.  Indeed, they may not change at all, but it was still good to hear the president address these basic issues.

“Ethiopia jails the most journalists in Africa after Eritrea, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.   Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned the country’s human rights record.   And in May, the State Department expressed concern over how the elections that month could result in all seats being won by the ruling party and its partners.   The department noted lingering ‘restrictions on civil society, media, opposition parties, and independent voices and views.” (ibid, USA Today).

At the start of his African trip, Mr. Obama spoke candidly to Kenyans, warning them against the twin evils of corruption and tribalism.  He could have addressed both issues in any of Africa’s 54 countries and his listeners would generally have applauded him. Only the leaders would have sat stone-faced and emotionless, probably wishing they had invited the Chinese leader to visit instead of the American president.   China, much more involved in Africa, does not comment on human rights abuses or corruption.

Boldly, Mr. Obama even addressed the persecution of gays in Africa. Most African governments deny that homosexuality even exists in their countries.   Certainly, all governments are guilty of a double standard in this regard.   At least one country has a prominently displayed sign in its airport warning “perverts and sexual deviants” to stay away, but saying nothing about the many prostitutes offering themselves in all the hotels.

In Addis Ababa, Mr. Obama addressed delegates of the African Union, whose headquarters are in Addis Ababa.   Introducing him was the Chairwoman of the AU, who did not always tell the truth. She criticized the United Nations because Africa is the only continent that does not have a permanent representative on the Security Council.   In actual fact, neither South America nor Australia are represented, either.

The US president expressed incredulity that any president would want to serve indefinitely.  He said he is looking forward to retirement and being able to go places without a massive security detail.  He said it was particularly difficult to understand when so many African presidents have so much money, another reference to corruption, enabling leaders to amass great wealth while their people go hungry.   Unwillingness to leave office is also linked to corruption – African presidents fear being investigated for corruption when they stand down.

Underscoring his points was the absence of the current AU Chairman Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, one of the richest men on earth.   Mr. Mugabe has been president of his country since independence in 1980, presiding over a number of rigged elections.

Mr. Obama mentioned, too, that Americans don’t want to keep on sending Africa free food, but would rather teach Africans how to farm more efficiently.   He could have added that the continent would do well to encourage western (white) farmers to remain in Africa, as their farming skills produce greater crop yields.   Zimbabwe was once the grain basket of Africa – it’s people now go hungry because Mr. Mugabe evicted the white farmers.

Western reporters were also guilty of not telling the whole truth. Much was said during coverage of the African visit about what America is doing for Africa, with some focus on a program to help those with AIDS, a disease that, in Africa, is transmitted almost exclusively by heterosexuals.   Not once did I hear mention of the fact that the program was the initiative of George W. Bush, Mr. Obama’s predecessor.   With this one single program, he did more for Africa than any other president.

It would be nice to think that, with this one single visit to Africa, President Obama might accomplish something else on a grand scale – the end of corruption, together with real progress toward greater democracy.   The two together would boost the living standards of the entire continent.

It remains to be seen whether his visit will make a difference.   But his candid comments were certainly a good start!

 

SYRIZA WINS GREEK ELECTION

Alexis Tsipras

In the last few weeks we’ve developed a taste for Kerrygold butter, which comes from Ireland.   Diane did the research – Kerrygold and Anchor (from New Zealand) are the two healthiest butters you can buy.   The milk comes from “happy” cows!

Unfortunately, Kerrygold costs more than regular butter.

In theory, the price should have come down recently as the euro has fallen in value against the US dollar.   It now takes only $1.11 to buy a euro; it was twenty-five cents higher fairly recently.   Ireland uses the euro, so the price of everything they produce should have come down with the lower value of the euro.   But the price of Kerrygold has not fallen – in fact, it’s gone up by 50 cents for half a pound.   (We can’t buy Anchor in Lansing but it, too, should have fallen in price as the US dollar has risen.)   Not only has the euro decreased in value, transportation costs have also fallen with the drop in the price of oil.

My favorite beer also comes from Ireland.   I don’t buy it as often as butter (you will be pleased to know) but I’m hoping that the price has not similarly risen.

Sometimes, there’s no logic when it comes to money and exchange rates.   All money today is built simply on confidence.   The value of the dollar and the British pound usually rise when there is great turmoil in the world – people around the world have more confidence in the two older democracies, which have a longer record of stability.   When the euro was launched in January 1999, its’ value was $1.1743. It reached its highest rate against the dollar in July, 2008, when it took $1.6038 to buy a euro.   This was at a time when confidence in the US currency was low.   It’s now almost a third less against the greenback.

Monday will likely see a further fall in the value of the euro, so perhaps I should expect Kerrygold to go up in price again, when it should, in fact, come down.

The reason that the euro will likely drop further in value is the Greek election held today, Sunday.   The “very left-wing” party, Syriza, has been voted into power.   The party campaigned on a promise to end austerity, imposed on the country for its extreme profligacy.

The party leader, Alexis Tsipras, rather naively hopes that he can cut Greece’s debts by 50% in a new deal with the troika (the European Central Bank, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund).   If that fails, withdrawal from the eurozone is a definite possibility.   Other members may even encourage Greece to leave before they do greater harm to the single currency.   Withdrawal would enable Greece to have its own currency.   They could then print money and print more money and then even more money . . . you get the picture.   This would not, of course, solve their problems but it might give them a temporary high.

Spain is watching developments in Greece closely.   The Spanish economy is a lot bigger than Greece’s.   It has also been going through a long period of austerity for the same reasons as Greece.   The Podemos (“We can”) party is Spain’s equivalent of Syriza.   It, too, could win the next election, due later this year.

Germany is unlikely to approve any deal for Greece that absolves them of debts owed to German taxpayers lest Spain make the same demand.

The eurozone is not really in danger, though Greece and Spain could certainly withdraw from the currency union.   Other profligate countries could follow – Italy and Portugal, for example.   Corruption is a big problem in all four countries.   Mr. Tsipras has promised to do something about it, as have other earlier prime ministers.

Nineteen countries are now members of the eurozone.   Six other European countries also use the currency.   Outside of Europe, remaining overseas territories of European countries also use it. Additionally, 210 million people worldwide use currencies pegged to the euro, including 182 million Africans.   This makes the euro the most used hard (convertible) currency in the world.

Expect further turmoil in world financial markets as well as possible changes in the composition of the EU, though few on the continent of Europe seem to want that, at this point in time.   The EU and the euro have brought many advantages and have a great deal of support.   Even Mr. Tsipras is calling first for changes that will simply end the long period of austerity that has devastated his country.