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NYT – U.N. Presents Grim Prognosis on the World Economy

 

*Photo from boston.com

Published: December 18, 2012 | By 

World economic growth has weakened substantially this year and faces the confluence of a triple threat — the so-called fiscal cliff in the United States, the European debt crisis and a sharp slowdown inChina, the United Nations said in a report released on Tuesday. The worst case, the report said, could be a new global recession that mires many countries in a cycle of austerity and unemployment for years.

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BBC – ‘Europe is poor so should live within its means’

February 7, 2012 | By Justin Rowlatt

For decades the West has lectured the East on how to manage its economies. Not any more.

Now the emerging economies of Asia look like models of steady, consistent policy and sustained growth while Europe, America and Japan are mired in debt and are growing achingly slowly, if at all.

So what can the West learn from the East?

According to former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the message is simple but devastating: Europe must face up to the new economic reality.

“Europe… has lost a lot of money and therefore you must be poor now relative to the past,” he reasons in an interview with BBC World Service’s Business Daily.

“And in Asia we live within our means. So when we are poor, we live as poor people. I think that is a lesson that Europe can learn from Asia.”

State of denial

Dr Mahathir is well qualified to pass judgement.

If any Asian leader can make claim to having laid the groundwork for his country’s economic expansion, it is he.

During his two decades in power, Dr Mahathir helped transform Malaysia from a sleepy former colony into an economic tiger.

But his advice will not make happy reading in the capitals of Europe.

Dr Mahathir believes European leaders are in a state of denial.

You refuse to acknowledge you have lost money and therefore you are poor,” he says.

“And you can’t remedy that by printing money. Money is not something you just print. It must be backed by something, either good economy or gold.”

Dr Mahathir may be 86 years old, but he still holds very strong views.

In particular, he believes Europe and the West must begin the long slow process of restructuring their economies to reduce their dependence on the financial sector.

“I think you should go back to doing what I call real business – producing goods, providing services, trading – not just moving figures in bank books, which is what you are doing.”

His big bugbear is still currency trading, which he believes did huge damage to the Malaysian economy during the financial crisis that hit Asia in the late 1990s.

“Currency is not a commodity”, he says.

“You sell coffee. Coffee… can be ground and made into a cup of coffee.

“But currency, you cannot grind it and make it into anything. It is just figures in the books of the banks and you can trade with figures in the books of banks only.

“There must be something solid to trade, then you can legitimately make money.”

Tough message

But even if Europe takes his advice, Dr Mahathir believes there will be no quick return to economic health.

“To recover your wealth you have to work over many years to rebuild your capacities, to produce goods and services to sell to the world, to compete with the eastern countries,” he says.

European workers are overpaid and unproductive, Dr Mahathir believes.

“I think you have paid your workers far too much money for much less work,” he says.

“So you cannot expect to live at this level of wealth when you are not producing anything that is marketable.”

His message is tough, he acknowledges, before adding with a laugh: “We used to get tough messages from you before, remember?”

“And now, what is the result? Sometimes you undermined our currency and we became very poor. Well, we learn from each other. We were Euro-centric before. I think it should be a little bit Asia-centric now.”

A tough message indeed.

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The Guardian – Britain’s press are fighting a class war, defending the elite they belong to

Illustration by Daniel Pudles

December 12, 2011 | By George Monbiot

It’s not just Rupert Murdoch and his crooks. All the corporate barons who corrupted our political system must be unmasked

Have we ever been so badly served by the press? We face multiple crises – economic, environmental, democratic – but most newspapers represent them neither clearly nor fairly. The industry that should reveal and expose instead tries to contain and baffle, to foil questions and shut down dissent.

The men who own the corporate press are fighting a class war, seeking, even now, to defend the 1% to which they belong against its challengers. But because they control much of the conversation, we seldom see it in these terms. Our press re-frames major issues so effectively, it often recruits its readers to mobilise against their own interests.

Crime and antisocial behaviour are represented as the predations of the poor on each other, or on the middle and upper classes. “Blonde millionaire’s wife raped in luxury home by asylum-seeking benefits cheat” is the transcendental form of a thousand tabloid headlines, alongside “Pippa Middleton’s bottom gets £1m makeover from top designer”. Though benefit fraud deprives the exchequer of £1.1bn a year while tax avoidance and evasion deprive it of between £40bn and £120bn, the tabloids relentlessly pursue the petty crooks, while leaving the capos alone.

On Monday the rightwing papers applauded government plans to cut benefits for people in social housing who have more rooms than they need. The “growing scandal of under-occupation”, the Mail observed, contributes to the housing crisis, depriving larger families of the homes they need. The Express told us that “it is only right that decisions such as this must be taken”. But what about the private sector, where there’s a much higher rate of under-occupation, especially among the wealthy? When this column suggested that these under-used homes should be taxed, the corporate press went berserk. Only the poorest should carry the cost of resolving our housing crisis.

Not a day passes in which rightwing papers fail to call for stiffer regulation of protesters, problem families, petty criminals or antisocial teenagers. And every day they call for laxer regulation of business: cutting the “red tape” that prevents companies and banks from using the planet as their dustbin, killing workers or tanking the economy.

The newspapers’ own criminal behaviour, more of which is being exposed before the Leveson inquiry as I write, looks to me like the almost inevitable result of a culture that appears to believe that the law, like taxes and regulation, is for little people. While portraying the underclass as a threat to “our” way of life, the corporate papers ask us to celebrate the lives of the economic elite. Saturday’s Telegraph devoted most of a page to a puff piece flogging the charming jumpers being sold by a Santa Sebag-Montefiore (nee Palmer-Tomkinson) from her “white stucco Kensington House”. She works – if that’s the right word for it – with someone she met at Klosters, where she and her family “ski with the Prince of Wales and Princes William and Harry”. So far they have managed to sell 40 of these jumpers, which somehow justifies an enormous photo and 1,400 breathless words.

I mention this sycophantic drivel not because it is exceptional but because it is typical. A friend who used to work as a freelance photographer for the Telegraph stopped when he discovered that most of those he was sent to photograph were the well-heeled friends and relatives of people on the paper. Journalism is embedded in the world it should be challenging and confronting.

These papers recognise the existence of an oppressive elite, but they frame it purely in political terms. The political elite becomes oppressive when it tries to curb the powers and freedoms of the economic elite. Take this revealing conjunction in the Daily Mail’s leading article on Saturday: “David Cameron yesterday finally said no to the European elite – vetoing plans for a treaty that included an EU-wide tax on financial transactions.” In other words, Cameron said yes to the British elite. But it cannot be explained in those terms without exposing where power really lies, which is the antithesis of what the rightwing papers seek to achieve.

As the theologian Walter Wink shows, challenging a dominant system requires a three-part process: naming the powers, unmasking the powers, engaging the powers. Their white noise of distraction and obfuscation is the means by which the newspapers prevent this process from beginning. They mislead us about the sources of our oppression, misrepresent our democratic choices, demonise those who try to challenge the 1%.

Compare the Daily Mail’s treatment of the Occupy London protesters, confronting the banks, to its coverage of the camp set up by people of the charming village of Meriden, confronting some gypsies. “Desecration, defecation and class A drugs”was the headline on the Mail’s feature article about Occupy London. Published on the day on which the City of London began its attempts to evict the protesters, it deployed every conceivable means of vilifying them and justifying their expulsion.

The Mail’s Meriden story, on the other hand, was headlined: “Adding insult to injury: now villagers who have protested against an illegal travellers’ camp for 586 days are told: YOU are facing eviction.” The story emphasised the villagers’ calm fortitude and the justice of their cause. Presumably they don’t defecate either.

Press barons have been waging this class war for almost a century, and it has hobbled progressive politics throughout that time. But the closed circle of embedded journalism is now so tight that it has almost created an alternative reality.

Ten days ago, for example, the Spectator ran a cover story that could not have been crazier had it been headlined: “Yes, Father Christmas does exist, but he’s been kidnapped by lizards”. A serial promoter of mumbo-jumbo called Nils-Axel Morner, who claims he has paranormal dowsing abilities and that an iron-age cemetery in Sweden is in fact the Hong Kong of the ancient Greeks, was given 1,800 words to show that sea levels are not rising. Citing “evidence” that was anecdotal, irrelevant or simply wrong, explaining that it was all a massive conspiracy, Morner ignored or dismissed a vast wealth of solid data from satellites and tide gauges.

The Spectator kindly gave me space to write a response last week, but it strikes me that a story like this could not have been published five years ago. It first required a long process of normalisation, in which evident falsehoods are repeated until they are widely believed to be true. The climate talks in Durban were slotted by the papers into the same narrative, in which climate scientists and the BBC conspire to shut down the economy and send us back to the stone age. (And they have the blazing cheek to call us scaremongers.)

It’s not just Murdoch and his network of sleazy crooks: our political system has been corrupted by the entire corporate media. Defending ourselves from the economic elite means naming and unmasking the power of the press.

• A fully referenced version of this article can be found on George Monbiot’s website

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NST – Gloom over plan to solve EU debt crisis

More than 1,000 Greek police officers, firefighters and coastguard officers gather for a protest outside the Panathenaean Stadium in Athens on Monday as unions fought back against more austerity cuts at the start of a crucial week for Greece and the 17-nation eurozone. — AP picture

2011/10/19
By Paul Taylor

Weary cynicism surrounds Sunday’s summit of the 27 EU leaders, their sixth attempt this year to resolve the deteriorating eurozone crisis, writes PAUL TAYLOR

A CLOUD of gloom hangs over Brussels ahead of yet another summit to thrash out yet another “comprehensive strategy” to tackle a sovereign debt crisis that Europe has failed for two years to stem, and that now threatens the world economy.

Gallows humour was rife among the grandees of European integration at the annual conference of the Friends of Europe think-tank on “the state of the union” last week.
“Hopefully next year we won’t be talking about Greek debt,” Etienne Davignon, 79, a Belgian former European commissioner and patriarch of the European project, joked in his closing remarks.

“Either it will have gone or we will have gone.”

The opening session was billed as: “The EU’s three ages: rise, decline and fall?” The question mark was the only concession to hope.
Weary cynicism surrounds Sunday’s summit of the 27 EU leaders, their sixth attempt this year to draw a line under the eurozone crisis that has led to bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal, and is now singeing Italy and Spain.

They trumpeted a “comprehensive response” back in March, but, due mainly to German caution, adopted a catalogue of half-measures described by British Prime Minister David Cameron last week as “a bit too little, a bit too late”.

In July, with bond market contagion spreading for the first time to Italy, the eurozone’s third biggest economy, leaders of the 17-nation single currency area agreed on a second bailout for Greece involving “voluntary” writedowns for private bondholders and more powers for their European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) rescue fund.
Traders quickly spotted that the accord would take months to implement and might be derailed in any of the 17 national Parliaments that had to approve it, or by Greece’s failure to achieve its fiscal targets. Confidence evaporated.

Spanish and Italian borrowing costs were driven so high that the European Central Bank had to intervene in emergency in August to buy those countries’ bonds and force yields down.

After weeks of bruising debate, first in the German, then in the Slovak Parliament, and haggling with Finland over its demand for collateral on Greek loans, the beefed-up 440-billion-euro EFSF is finally ready to act.

But the goalposts have moved in the meantime. The situation has deteriorated and more radical action is now required.

Greece has strayed off course again and doubts about whether it will ever be able to repay its debts have hardened as the country has slumped deeper into recession and public resistance to austerity measures has mounted.

Germany and its north European allies are demanding that private bondholders be made to contribute more towards a second rescue for Greece, but still on a “voluntary” basis with no losses for taxpayers or the European Central Bank.

The talk now is of building a firewall around Greece and convincing investors that other eurozone sovereigns are safe, without another ghastly round of ratifications in member states.

The key elements in the latest “comprehensive strategy” are: reducing Greece’s debt and giving it longer to recover; bolstering European banks’ ability to absorb losses; leveraging the rescue fund to prevent contagion to larger economies; and launching steps towards closer eurozone fiscal integration.

Yet there is scope for each of these elements to fall short, or be overtaken by events, especially with the economic growth outlook darkening as austerity measures cripple demand.

Greek debt relief may be too small to avoid a hard default. Banks may struggle to raise capital and governments fearful for their own credit ratings may equivocate about what to do if they can’t raise it on the markets.

Policymakers hope to stabilise the eurozone bond market by using the EFSF to offer partial loss insurance to investors buying new Spanish or Italian bonds.

This may not be enough to restore confidence if Italy’s chaotic politics, compounded by the economic slowdown, thwart austerity plans. Markets are bound to test Europe’s defences.

Further credit ratings downgrades could exacerbate the crisis. If France’s AAA rating were pulled into doubt due to the capital needs of its banks, heavily exposed to peripheral euro zone debt, then the entire rescue strategy could falter. With so many “ifs”, the chances of this “comprehensive strategy” being the one that does the trick are anything but certain.

Pressure for decisive action from other major economies, which dominated last weekend’s G20 finance chiefs’ meeting in Paris, may improve the Europeans’ chance of success.

The world’s treasuries and central banks are so alarmed at the risk of a financial meltdown that they may be ready to pile in to support even a shaky European plan.

European policymakers still reject the nuclear option of a mandatory restructuring of Greek debt, which would trigger a “credit event” with the payment of default insurance and send a shockwave through the financial sector.

Instead, private bondholders face a bigger “voluntary” writedown of up to 50 per cent, while eurozone governments and the ECB are shielded from losses on Greek debt to avoid a public backlash that would make further rescue measures impossible.

It is easier for European politicians to support banks that are unable to raise private capital than it would be to admit they had poured taxpayers’ money down a Greek hole.

Radical solutions such as using the ECB as Europe’s lender of last resort or issuing joint eurozone bonds, are politically taboo in Germany.

Barring such game-changers, expect the eurozone debt crisis to rumble on and on, if it doesn’t explode. — Reuters

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NST – Nations face waves of voter disdain

Activist Anna Hazare’s supporters celebrating in New Delhi after he ended his hunger strike when Parliament agreed to his anti-corruption measures. — NYT picture

2011/10/02
By Nicholas kulish

More and more people the world over are taking to the streets, in part because they have little faith in the ballot box, writes NICHOLAS KULISH

HUNDREDS of thousands of disillusioned Indians cheer a rural activist on a hunger strike. Israel reels before the largest street demonstrations in its history. Enraged young people in Spain and Greece take over public squares across their countries.

Their complaints range from corruption to lack of affordable housing and joblessness, common grievances the world over. But from South Asia to the heartland of Europe and now even to Wall Street, these protesters share something else: wariness, even contempt, towards traditional politicians and the democratic political process they preside over. They are taking to the streets, in part, because they have little faith in the ballot box.
“Our parents are grateful because they’re voting,” said Marta Solanas, 27, referring to older Spaniards’ decades spent under the Franco dictatorship. “We’re the first generation to say that voting is worthless.”

Economics has been one driving force, with growing income inequality, high unemployment and recession-driven cuts in social spending breeding widespread malaise. Alienation runs especially deep in Europe, with boycotts and strikes that, in London and Athens, erupted into violence.

But even in India and Israel, where growth remains robust, protesters say they so distrust their country’s political class and its pandering to established interest groups that they feel only an assault on the system itself can bring about real change.
Young Israeli organisers repeatedly turned out gigantic crowds insisting that their political leaders, regardless of party, had been so thoroughly captured by security concerns, ultra-Orthodox groups and other special interests that they could no longer respond to the country’s middle class.

In the world’s largest democracy, Anna Hazare, an activist, starved himself publicly for 12 days until the Indian Parliament capitulated to some of his central demands on a proposed anti-corruption measure to hold public officials accountable.

“We elect the people’s representatives so they can solve our problems,” said Sarita Singh, 25, among the thousands who gathered each day at Ramlila Maidan, where monsoon rains turned the grounds to mud but protesters waved Indian flags and sang patriotic songs. “But, that is not actually happening. Corruption is ruling our country.”
Increasingly, citizens of all ages, but particularly the young, are rejecting conventional structures like parties and trade unions in favour of a less hierarchical, more participatory system modelled in many ways on the culture of the Web.

In that sense, the protest movements in democracies are not altogether unlike those that have rocked authoritarian governments this year, toppling longtime leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Protesters have created their own political space online that is chilly, sometimes openly hostile, towards traditional institutions of the elite.

The rising disillusionment comes 20 years after what was celebrated as democratic capitalism’s final victory over communism and dictatorship.

In the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, a consensus emerged that liberal economics combined with democratic institutions represented the only path forward. That consensus, championed by scholars like Francis Fukuyama in his book The End of History and the Last Man, has been shaken if not broken by a seemingly endless succession of crises — the Asian financial collapse of 1997, the Internet bubble that burst in 2000, the subprime crisis of 2007 to 2008 and the continuing European and American debt crisis — and the seeming inability of policymakers to deal with them or cushion their people from the shocks.

Frustrated voters are not agitating for a dictator to take over. But, they say they do not know where to turn at a time when political choices of the Cold War era seem hollow.

“Even when capitalism fell into its worst crisis since the 1920s, there was no viable alternative vision,” said the British left-wing author Owen Jones.

Protests in Britain exploded into lawlessness last month. Rampaging youths smashed store windows and set fires in London and beyond, using communication systems like BlackBerry Messenger to evade the police. They had savvy and technology, Jones said, but lacked a belief that the political system represented their interests. They also lacked hope.

“The young people who took part in the riots didn’t feel they had a future to risk,”

In Spain, walloped by the developed world’s highest official rate of unemployment, at 21 per cent, many have lost the confidence that politicians of any party can find a solution. Their demands are vague, but their cry for help is plaintive and determined. Known as indignados or the outraged, they block traffic, occupy squares and gather for teach-ins.

While the Spanish and Israeli demonstrations were peaceful, critics have raised concerns over the urge to bypass representative institutions.

In India, Hazare’s crusade to “fast unto death” unless Parliament enacted his anti-corruption law struck some supporters as self-sacrifice. Many opponents viewed his tactics as undemocratic blackmail.

Hundreds of thousands of people turned out last month in New Delhi to vent a visceral outrage at the state of Indian politics. One banner read: “If your blood is not boiling now, then your blood is not blood!” The campaign by Hazare, 74, was intended to force Parliament to consider his anti-corruption legislation instead of a weaker alternative put forth by the government.

Parliament unanimously passed a resolution endorsing central pieces of his proposal, and lawmakers are expected to approve an anti-corruption measure in the next session. Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign tapped a deep chord with the public precisely because he was not a politician. Many voters feel that Indian democracy and the major parties, the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, have become unresponsive and captive to interest groups. For almost a year, India’s news media and government auditors have exposed tawdry government scandals involving billions of dollars in graft.

In many European countries the disappointment is twofold — in heavily indebted federal governments pulling back from social spending and in a European Union viewed as distant and undemocratic. European leaders have dictated harsh austerity measures in the name of stability for the euro, the region’s common currency, rubber-stamped by captive and corrupt national politicians, protesters say.

“The biggest crisis is a crisis of legitimacy,” a Spanish protester said. “We don’t think they are doing anything for us.” — NYT

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Financial Times – Somalis’ fear exposes politics behind famine


August 3, 2011 | By Katrina Manson in Dadaab

The first time Amina Abukar tried to escape drought in Somalia, extremist militants linked to al-Qaeda turned her back by force.

“They told me you cannot leave here, you die in your land,” she says, standing beside a makeshift home of bent sticks and stretched cloth.

Instead, the 45-year-old doubled back and around the veiled men carrying Kalashnikovs, walking 20 excruciating days through twisting bush routes to evade checkpoints. She eventually made it to Dadaab, home to the world’s largest refugee camp, in Kenya’s eastern scrubland.

“We got out by hiding ourselves,” she says of her party of 15. “There was constant fear; no food and conflict. I ran away because of these politics.”

Nearly 300,000 Somalis have left their homes this year, bound for camps in Mogadishu, the capital, where the “Mogadishu IDP community” has recently been named an official famine area by the UN, or Kenya and Ethiopia. In July alone, 40,000 refugees arrived in Dadaab; 25 per cent of the children are malnourished when they get there.

Some of the refugees are fleeing drought, some a regime, but most are probably fleeing both.

Already the Kenyan camp hosts 374,609 Somalis, who began arriving during the 1991 civil war. For 20 years, international military intervention, aid deliveries and diplomacy have failed to stem the crisis, which has twice degenerated into famine. The Islamist extremist group al-Shabaab, which professes allegiance to al-Qaeda and has conducted terror attacks in the region, controls much of south-central Somalia.

Among the hardline group’s many restrictions is a limitation on how freely people may move, which constrains herders’ efforts to seek green pastures outside the worst affected areas. The UN last month declared famine in two al-Shabaab-controlled regions, and says it will probably spread to the rest of their territory next month.

In a further indication that al-Shabaab may be deliberately stemming the exodus, arrivals at Ethiopia’s Dolo Ado camp, which reports higher malnutrition rates than the Kenyan camp and is nearer two of the famine regions – southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle – have dropped from a high of 2,275 a day earlier in the summer to a low of 240 in recent days.

Yet few aid agencies are willing to discuss the political factors underlying the crisis. In part, this reflects a belief that natural disaster elicits higher donations than crisis brought about by long-term political strife. Tens of thousands have already died and agencies face a $1.4bn aid shortfall across the drought-afflicted region.

Raising the ire of al-Shabaab also risks losing access to communities needing aid – and the lives of aid workers. Al-Shabaab refutes the existence of famine, operates a ban on some western aid and has previously murdered and kidnapped aid workers. Some NGOs forbid journalists from mentioning “al-Shabaab” in any pieces that mention their name.

Others say the political problems are a symptom of larger issues, namely climate change, rather than a root cause. “This is meteorological and demographic,” Jeffrey Sachs, a special adviser to the UN secretary-general, told the Financial Times, arguing that political problems arise because of climatic vulnerability and overstressed, arid lands. “Pastoralists are the poorest and most marginalised people in the world, and then there seems to be some surprise that they suffer from conflict.”

One livestock owner in Kenya has sent his dwindling herd, which was halved because of the lack of grass in Dadaab, to graze in some of the lesser effected areas in Somalia. “The remaining 20 I have taken to Somalia. That place is a bit better in terms of grass, but my herder tells me al-Shabaab sometimes takes the cows by force,” says Ali Bare, 46.

The Kenyan government is among those keen to blame drought and downplay political problems, hoping that, once fed, some of the 116,000 Somalis who have arrived at Dadaab refugee camp this year will return home. It also fears a deterioration of security.

Nelson Taliti, deputy district police commander, told the FT that the Kenyan authorities have arrested 10 suspected al-Shabaab members allegedly trying to spy and recruit from inside the camps since March, and another 10 at the border. “They just come as refugees and they start their work to recruit. We are worried about it,” he says.

For many, drought has combined with conflict and politics to make their already difficult lives unbearable.

“They [al-Shabaab] are against any development, they do not want people to get jobs, or move away even to fetch firewood,” says Abdi Abdullah, 26, who started walking when the last of his 20 cows died last month.

He says he regularly evaded attempts by al-Shabaab to turn him back, passing six cars riddled with bullets, beheaded corpses and several other dead bodies during his 20-day trek out with his wife and child. “They don’t want freedom of life, and by the end there was no food.”

“They told me you cannot leave here, you die in your land,” she says, standing beside a makeshift home of bent sticks and stretched cloth.

Instead, the 45-year-old doubled back and around the veiled men carrying Kalashnikovs, walking 20 excruciating days through twisting bush routes to evade checkpoints. She eventually made it to Dadaab, home to the world’s largest refugee camp, in Kenya’s eastern scrubland.

“We got out by hiding ourselves,” she says of her party of 15. “There was constant fear; no food and conflict. I ran away because of these politics.”

Nearly 300,000 Somalis have left their homes this year, bound for camps in Mogadishu, the capital, where the “Mogadishu IDP community” has recently been named an official famine area by the UN, or Kenya and Ethiopia. In July alone, 40,000 refugees arrived in Dadaab; 25 per cent of the children are malnourished when they get there.

Some of the refugees are fleeing drought, some a regime, but most are probably fleeing both.

Already the Kenyan camp hosts 374,609 Somalis, who began arriving during the 1991 civil war. For 20 years, international military intervention, aid deliveries and diplomacy have failed to stem the crisis, which has twice degenerated into famine. The Islamist extremist group al-Shabaab, who profess allegiance to al-Qaeda and have conducted terror attacks in the region, control much of south-central Somalia.

Among the hardline group’s many restrictions is a limitation on how freely people may move, which constrains herders’ efforts to seek green pastures outside the worst affected areas. The UN last month declared famine in two rebel-controlled regions, and says it will probably spread to the rest of their territory next month.

In a further indication that al-Shabaab may be deliberately stemming the exodus, arrivals at Ethiopia’s Dolo Ado camp, which reports higher malnutrition rates than the Kenyan camp and is nearer two of the famine regions – southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle – have dropped from a high of 2,275 a day earlier in the summer to a low of 240 in recent days.

Yet few aid agencies are willing to discuss the political factors underlying the crisis. In part, this reflects a belief that natural disaster elicits higher donations than crisis brought about by long-term political strife. Tens of thousands have already died and agencies face a $1.4bn aid shortfall across the drought-afflicted region.

Raising the ire of al-Shabaab also risks losing access to routes crucial to delivering aid – and the lives of aid workers. Al-Shabaab refutes the existence of famine, operates a ban on some western aid and has previously murdered and kidnapped aid workers. Some NGOs forbid journalists from mentioning “al-Shabaab” in any pieces that mention their name.

Others say the political problems are a symptom of larger issues, namely climate change, rather than a root cause. “This is meteorological and demographic,” Jeffrey Sachs, a special adviser to the UN secretary-general, told the Financial Times, arguing that political problems arise because of climatic vulnerability and overstressed, arid lands. “Pastoralists are the poorest and most marginalised people in the world, and then there seems to be some surprise that they suffer from conflict.”

One livestock owner in Kenya has sent his dwindling herd, which was halved because of the lack of grass in Dadaab, to graze in some of the lesser effected areas in Somalia. “The remaining 20 I have taken to Somalia. That place is a bit better in terms of grass, but my herder tells me al-Shabaab sometimes takes the cows by force,” says Ali Bare, 46.

The Kenyan government is among those keen to blame drought and downplay political problems, hoping that, once fed, some of the 116,000 Somalis who have arrived at Dadaab refugee camp this year will return home. It also fears a deterioration of security.

Nelson Taliti, deputy district police commander, told the FT that the Kenyan authorities have arrested 10 suspected al-Shabaab members allegedly trying to spy and recruit from inside the camps since March, and another 10 at the border. “They just come as refugees and they start their work to recruit. We are worried about it,” he says.

For many, drought has combined with conflict and politics to make their already difficult lives unbearable.

“They [al-Shabaab] are against any development, they do not want people to get jobs, or move away even to fetch firewood,” says Abdi Abdullah, 26, who started walking when the last of his 20 cows died last month.

He says he regularly evaded attempts by al-Shabaab to turn him back, passing six cars riddled with bullets, beheaded corpses and several other dead bodies during his 20-day trek out with his wife and child. “They don’t want freedom of life, and by the end there was no food.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011.

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