Sunday, 30 December 2007

FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY

Readings: Sirach 3:2-6,12-14; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

TRADITIONALLY on the Sunday after Christmas we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family.
In some respects, it was very modern in being just a one-child family. And we may be inclined to think that, with three such good people, life must have been very easy for them. But, if we are to take the Incarnation seriously, there is no reason to believe that this family - living the lifestyle of a rural village in those times - did not have its share of hardships over the years.

Unpleasant experiences
In addition there is the record of the child being lost for three days in a large and strange city. Imagine the anxiety of the parents in such a situation. Later the mother will see her son become famous and then the object of great hostility. She will see him abused, arrested, tried, sentenced, scourged, crowned with thorns and finally die like a common criminal with two criminals before jeering crowds. Few mothers have to go through that kind of experience.

Families in trouble
Today, in celebrating the Holy Family, we ask God's blessings on our own families. It is a cliche to say that family life today is in trouble. And it is a self-perpetuating problem.
Children from dysfunctional families themselves set up equally dysfunctional families. Never having experienced good family life, how can they themselves establish a good family? And it seems that very few couples go through any real formation process in being husband and wife and parents. Yet the skills needed do not come naturally - or easily.

Family and church
Jesus said that where two or three are gathered in his name, he is there among them. This should be true of every Christian family. The Catholic family is the basic Christian community, through which Christ is present and reveals himself in this world. It has been called the domestic church.
Christian families not only belong to the Church, their lifestyle is a living out of the Christian vision: the vision of unconditional love in a truly sharing community.

Part of a larger church
Family life is not meant to be lived in isolation. The world around it is not just there for its benefit. It should be united with, supporting and supported by the other families in the parish community and with the wider Church.
The mission of the family is identical to that of the whole Church: to give tangible witness to the vision of Christ for the world.

The Way of Love
There are many ways we can do this in our daily life as suggested by the American bishops in their letter "Follow the Way of Love":

  • Believe in God and really believe that God cares for us
  • Love and have a deep conviction of the value of every other person. The image of God that children have comes from the experience they have of being loved by parents, grandparents and other family members. Where, one sometimes wonders, do people get their frightful and frightening images of God as Father?
  • Foster intimacy, starting with husband and wife and extending in appropriate ways to ever member of the family. In your family, can all members share their experiences, good and bad, knowing that they will be accepted and understood? Teachers and counsellors sometimes have young people tell them things they would not dare tell their parents.
  • Give witness to the Gospel and its values by the example of a truly Christian life. Christianity is communicated not just by religious instruction but more by the Christ-inspired integrity of the parents. And overdoses of pure religion can create opposition and rejection. But children, too, can be a Christian influence on their parents.
  • Education and formation in the faith. Parents need this as much as children. The example of the parents is the most effective way to teach. Children will be very confused by double standards where parents who act one way and they learn quite different values from their religion classes in school.
  • Praying together. Thanking God for blessings, asking for guidance in time of trouble. The prayer should correspond to the actual needs and situation of the family. Forcing everyone to join in family prayers e.g. the Rosary may not be the best for everyone.


Way of Love
  • Serving each other. Love consists in each giving to the other. Then everyone receives. Creating win-win situations and this can be carried out into life, teaching others to do the same.
  • Readiness to forgive and seek reconciliation. Healing wounds and letting go of grudges and resentments. This calls for readiness to listen and to share. Look for ways to resolve conflicts positively and constructively, avoiding violence in word and action.
  • Celebrate life -- birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, first day at school, graduation days, leaving childhood, first job, friends, surprise visits, big feasts (Christmas, Easter). Every meal can be a Eucharist of sharing not just food but experiences.
  • Work with the rest of the community to foster the dignity of people, fighting against discrimination and racism, working against hunger, poverty, homelessness...
  • Becoming aware of our particular vocation actively to serve the Christian community and the wider community. What personal contribution of time and energy is my family making to the life and work of this parish?



Working towards the ideal
These are ideals. There is no perfect domestic church. But some come pretty close. Others are too disintegrated even to get started.
Some can give help; others need help. We all long to live in a community of peace, unity, reconciliation, acceptance and with a sense of purpose. It can only happen when we all work together under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Source: Sacred Space

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Silicon Valley space man

The South African has gone further than anyone could have imagined, writes Richard Waters

There are many reasons that entrepreneurs will give you for why they chanced their arm in the start-up business, but seeking a future for mankind beyond Earth is not one you hear too often.

Then again, Elon Musk is not the sort of entrepreneur you meet too often. "One of the most important things for humanity is expanding beyond Earth to become a space-based civilisation," says the South African-born rocket builder. "At the current rate we'd never get there."

If it were not for his track record as an entrepreneur and early success in space it would be easy to dismiss Musk as a dilettante, even a crackpot. The first rocket launched by SpaceX, the company he founded five years ago, blew up. But the second, in March, vaulted 200 miles into space before spinning out of control. That is three times as far as SpaceShipOne, which Richard Branson plans to use for space tourism, and the first time a privately financed rocket has reached orbital altitude.

Once he has cracked the not-inconsiderable problem of re-entry, Mr Musk claims he will have a low-cost, reuseable way of lifting heavy loads off the planet that "will be one of the biggest inventions in the history of space". It is a characteristic piece of bravado delivered in a low-key way that almost slips by unnoticed.

Yet others warn against underestimating a man who is largely self-taught in rocket science. "If you had asked Nasa, could anyone be successful with only two launches, they would have laughed at you," says Mark Anderson, a technology commentator who gave early encouragement to Mr Musk's space ambitions and has since been one of his biggest advocates. "You can see why he's very confident."

At 36, Mr Musk is developing the career arc of a modern-day Howard Hughes. Both men made it big in their early 20s in the dream factories of their day - Hughes in Hollywood, Mr Musk in Silicon Valley. In their 30s, both turned a personal passion for fast cars and aircraft into a budding aerospace business.

Mr Musk brushes off the playboy image this implies, yet there are telltale signs of the wealth and the fascination for fast things that have allowed him to indulge his fantasies: the personal jet, the McLaren sports car. Along with SpaceX, his current business ventures include Tesla Motors, which plans next year to launch the world's first production-run all-electric sports car.

Yet there is a pragmatic side to Mr Musk that helps to explain how he has come so far. "It seems sort of mundane to have as your goal to reduce costs and improve reliability - but to get there, many hard things have to be invented," he says of SpaceX. This mixture of pragmatism and soaring ambition is typical of a generation of techno-entrepreneurs that has grown up during Silicon Valley's latest boom and is looking to reach into new industries. Overnight success on the internet showed them that radical ideas can have big consequences, while their technical skills taught them to believe that no problem is insurmountable.

Mr Musk, who studied physics and finance, does not have the computer science or engineering background that is the more common hallmark of his generation, yet displays a polymath interest in a wide array of sciences. It is an outlook and style that is typical of this generation, which includes fellow Stanford drop-outs Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google.

For members of this new techno-entrepreneurial class, there is one overriding principle: think big. Mr Musk, who arrived at Stanford University in the mid-1990s as a post-graduate student, took easily to the Silicon Valley ethos. "I wanted to be involved in something that would matter to the world and be important to the future of humanity," he says matter-of-factly. Space, the internet and renewable energy were the big thoughts on his mind. It was the internet that drew him first: "The world was acquiring a nervous system, where any part of it had a connection to any other part of it. It fundamentally changed humanity."

Mr Musk's first internet venture, Zip2, was sold for $307m and made him rich before he was 28. His second, one of two companies that later merged to create PayPal, the internet payment service, was sold to eBay for $1.5bn. The Silicon Valley start-up style that went into these companies has now been transported to southern California, centre of the US aerospace industry, and used as the template for SpaceX. "You lasso the smartest people you can find, who are fed up themselves with Nasa and want to build something of value," explains Mr Anderson. "You ask a lot of questions, you challenge everything, you go from the ground up, but you don't reinvent anything you don't have to."

Mr Musk's approach has had its flaws, and his impatient management style has not always worked. At PayPal, he was sacked as chief executive after falling out with other members of senior management. The coup came during what he now admits was an inexcusable absence: taking his wife to Australia on a mixture of vacation and money-raising mission. "To be away two weeks was asking for trouble, it was a dumb move," he says, though he concedes: "Basically, I pushed the team too hard."

In recent weeks, it has been Mr Musk who has had to do the sacking. Tesla has failed to hit its delivery targets due to transmission problems and has become what Mr Musk calls his "problem child". Co-founder Martin Eberhard was sacked this summer - Mr Musk now cannot bring himself to say Mr Eberhard's name.

The rocket is also a work in progress, not least because of that little problem of the uncontrolled spin. But SpaceX looks to be well past the stage of being a rich man's folly. With orders for a dozen commercial launches over the next two and a half years, Mr Musk says his company is already profitable and will succeed even if several of those launches fail.

If Mr Musk is inclined to slow down once his ventures prove themselves, he gives no indication of it (he also makes time for his five young children, including, on the day we speak, the morning school run and carving out family time before bedtime.)

How to account for the frenetic pace? Mr Musk says he has an acute awareness of his own mortality: "I'm very sensitive to the passage of time." No matter that, at 36, he has achieved more than most men his age. There are new worlds waiting to be conquered.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

It's a multi-currency world we live in

It does not seem so very long ago that foreign currency traders nicknamed the euro "the toilet currency", because it was going down the pan. That is true no longer. The euro is soaring high, while the dollar is flushed away.

So is this the end of the dollar's reign as the world's dominant currency? The answer is almost certainly "no". But the dollar has a true competitor for the first time in nearly 90 years. This could have important, though largely beneficial, effects on the world economy.

The US dollar has been the king of currencies since the first world war, when it began to dethrone the pound sterling. Its primacy survived the great inflation of the 1970s and the vast swings in its external value during the 1980s and 1990s. But now, for the first time, it is weak when a plausible rival is strong.

The shift in the dollar's role is, none the less, slow. By the end of the second quarter of 2007, for example, only a quarter of the foreign currency reserves whose denomination could be identified by the International Monetary Fund were held in euros, up from 18 per cent when the euro was launched. Meanwhile, the dollar's share had fallen to 65 per cent, from 70 per cent in the beginning of 1999.

Euro-denominated notes and coins in circulation exceed those denominated in dollars. The €500 note must surely be the gangster's (and tax evader's) cash of choice. The value of bonds issued in euros since the beginning of 2006 exceeds that of bonds denominated in dollars. Long-term interest rates are also lower in euros than in dollars. The euro then is a credible currency, used in an ever more integrated monetary area second only to the US in size.

Moreover, the decline in the dollar's external value has been precipitous. Against the euro, the dollar has fallen by 40 per cent since its peak at the end of January 2002. On JPMorgan's broad trade-weighted index, the real value of the currency has fallen by 28 per cent since February 2002. It is now lower than at any point since 1980. This fall has happened even though the total value of foreign currency reserves rose by just under $4,000bn between February 2002 and September 2007. Since the US currency has been the principal beneficiary of these enormous support operations, its value would surely be far lower today in their absence. This is a measure of the vulnerability created, above all, by the enormous US current account deficits of the 2000s.

None of this means the dollar is yet on its death bed. The decline in its external value is, instead, a necessary part of the adjustment of the trade imbalances of recent years. US capital markets remain large and liquid, even if the reputation of Wall Street has been damaged by the credit squeeze.

Yet the primacy of the dollar is no longer to be taken for granted. Should wealth-holders (both foreign and domestic) come to doubt the determination of the Federal Reserve to preserve the dollar's domestic purchasing power, they might dump it, with devastating effects on its external value, long-term US interest rates and the US economy. When wealth-holders look at the scale of indebtedness in the US, they might conclude that the Fed is indeed going to be under vast pressure to choose inflation.

One big fact is that foreign governments can now credibly peg their currencies against a basket of currencies or even just the euro alone. Another one is that both they and others with liquid wealth now have a choice of two currencies. When the renminbi is at last made convertible, they will have another one. Competition among currencies is good for actual and potential holders, but painful for those used to their currency monopoly.

What Charles de Gaulle called the dollar's "exorbitant privilege" can no longer be taken for granted. The US will have to earn it on a daily basis, instead. That may be unwelcome for the US. But it will be good for nearly everybody else.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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Africa aid wiped out by rising cost of oil

By Ed Crooks and William Wallis in London

Published: December 28 2007 22:04 Last updated: December 28 2007 22:04

The rising cost of oil has wiped out the benefits many African countries were expecting from western aid and debt relief over the past three years, new research from the International Energy Agency has shown.

The situation is raising fears that, in spite of the strong growth many African countries have seen in recent years, there could be a repeat of the 1980s’ debt crisis in the developing world that was caused in part by the oil shocks of the 1970s.

Africa enjoyed a surge in western engagement during the UK’s presidency of the Group of Eight leading industrialised countries, culminating in a commitment by world leaders to a broad package of debt relief and increased aid at the 2005 Gleneagles summit in Scotland. But since then oil prices have steadily risen towards $100 a barrel.

Surveying 13 non-oil-producing African countries, including South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Senegal, the IEA found that the increase in the cost of oil bought by the countries since 2004 was equivalent to 3 per cent of combined GDP.

This was more than the sum of debt relief and aid received over the past three years by the countries, which have a combined population of 270m, of whom 104m live on less than $1 a day.

The IEA’s warning comes as Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade said “crippling” oil prices threatened to provoke “unrest and violence” in Africa.

Mr Wade, who has been among the most active African leaders on the issue, told the FT he was encouraging 15 non-oil-producing African countries to form a multinational energy corporation of their own to compete for oil concessions on the continent in order to hedge against further price spikes.

“There is a growing understanding that the most urgent need in Africa today is the challenge of providing affordable energy,” he said.

Africa’s economic growth has remained strong this year, but increased fuel costs have put upward pressure on inflation and slowed growth in some countries. They have also contributed to social problems including rising food prices, power cuts due to the use of diesel-powered generation in many areas – and an increasing burden of fuel subsidies.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

Internet 'necessary' to Africa's growth

The $100 laptop is one of the ways to give cheaper internet access

Children with $100 laptop

A professor whose work in spreading information technology in Africa has been awarded by the Internet Society has hit out at critics who say the continent should focus first on basics like water and sanitation.

Nii Quaynor, professor of computer science at the University of Cape-Coast, Ghana, said affordable computing was "necessary" to Africa's development.

"If the critics did not have any internet, I am sure they would talk differently," he told BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme.

"While we need food and we need water, we also need the tools and instruments that will allow us to create food and water and take control of our development.

"Affordable computing is necessary. What is going to power development in Africa is going to be lower-cost user interfaces."

Reversal of privatisation

Dr Quaynor is chairman of Network Computer Systems and Ghana.com, and pioneered the take-up of the internet around Africa.

He was given the prestigious 2007 Jonathan B Postel Service Award for his "leadership in advancing internet technology in Africa and galvanizing technologists to improve internet access and capabilities throughout the continent".

He said he did this through an "evangelical way" of encouraging technology workshops, which would then travel the countries sharing that knowledge.

Nii Quaynor

We need to accelerate things like e-commerce and voice-over IP so that we can get the traffic going

Dr Nii Quaynor

"After you have created the operators, you help them get going with respect to getting the internet service going," he said.

"You then have to organise them as a community to begin to support themselves with various best practices."

He also backed the message from the recent meeting of the international telecommunications union in the Rwandan capital Kigali, which called for Africa's telecoms to be deregulated to allow individual states to bring ICT in.

"Issues such as shutting down ISPs should be things of the past," he said.

"Reversals of privatisation policies are, I think, really bad - they affect investor confidence.

"In general, we need to accelerate things like e-commerce and voice-over IP so that we can get the traffic going.

"In so doing we will begin to have a more equitable share of our information society, and feel some sense of ownership and drive towards that growth."

 

Source: BBC

Friday, 28 December 2007

Meditation for development?

If meditation is scientifically proven to increase the IQ, should governments interested in promoting socio-economic well-being invest in meditation rather than biotechnology?

This is apparently the type of questions that arise when you start applying futures thinking to development.

Source: PSD Blog

The Fourth (Last) Week of Advent

Isaiah 7:10-14; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25

WE ARE NOW on the eve of the birth of Jesus. In today's Gospel, Matthew tells us how this came about. His account is totally different from that of Luke. The only thing in common with both accounts are the central ideas that:

  • Jesus is conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and
  • Joseph and Mary are the parents of Jesus.

    Angelic appearance
    In both accounts there is an angelic appearance: in one case to Mary and in the other to Joseph. Mary is told – in Luke's gospel – that she is to bear a son. When she says that she is still a virgin, she is told that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and her child will be the Son of God. In Joseph's case, he is told – in Matthew's gospel – not to be afraid to take Mary home as his wife because the child with whom she is pregnant is from the Spirit of God. The stories are different but the central message is the same. Mary is the mother of the Child but Joseph is not the father.

    Jewish weddings
    Jewish weddings involved three stages. First, there was the engagement. This was often prearranged by the parents or a matchmaker while the couple were still young children. Marriages were primarily seen as the union of families and the continuing of the family line. They were not primarily unions of love, as we expect today. Of course, in the course of time husband and wife could become deeply bonded by a genuine love and caring for each other. But it was procreation, especially the bearing of sons, that was the first priority. So we see in Old Testament times how cursed women felt who could not bear sons for their husband and his family.
    Love might or might not come later; it was secondary. And it was only relatively recently that the Catholic Church itself put the two ends of marriage – love and procreation – as equally important. It took quite a while in the Church for the idea that a deep Christian love could be expressed through sexual intercourse, that it involved a deep mutual giving of one's whole self to the spouse and that it was not just a regrettable but unavoidable means to procreate.

    Joseph’s dilemma
    Later came the betrothal. This was a legally binding relationship lasting for one year. During this period the couple lived apart and had no sexual relations. If either party did not want at this stage to go through with the marriage, there had to be a divorce. And the penalty for having sexual relations with a betrothed virgin was stoning to death for both. The third stage was the marriage itself.
    We can see then Joseph's serious dilemma, not to mention his feeling of shock, when he found that his betrothed was already pregnant and not by him. It seemed an open and shut case of adultery.

    Mary’s feelings
    And imagine the feelings of Mary herself in this position! How was she to explain that she was pregnant by the power of God? Who would believe a story like that? If Joseph felt outraged and betrayed, one would understand. Most men would have planned vengeance at such an insult to their manliness and the possibility of becoming the laughing stock of the other men in the village.
    But Joseph was not an ordinary person. He was a "righteous" man. And he must have seen in Mary more than an ordinary person too. He did not want to expose her openly. To do so would have made her liable to the severest punishment. But at the very least the Mosaic law required a man to divorce his wife under such circumstances. This was Joseph's duty and he was going to observe it.
    But compassion for his bride (extraordinary in the circumstances and in that culture) led him to want to break off the engagement quietly that is, before a minimum of two witnesses and without pressing charges.

    The angel’s message
    Just then the angel appears to him telling him to go through with the marriage. The child has been conceived by the power of God's Spirit. No other man is involved. The son is to be called 'Jesus', which means 'Saviour' because his mission is to save his people from their estrangement with God.
    As a descendant of David, Joseph will become the legal father of Jesus the Messiah. And Jesus will be called later in the Gospel, "Son of David". As Paul puts it in the Second Reading today: he, Paul, is preaching the gospel "concerning [God's] Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord".
    In many ways, Joseph is a reflection of Joseph in the Hebrew Testament, the son of Jacob who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. He was also a righteous man, influenced by dreams and forced into exile in Egypt.

    Fulfillment of scripture
    Eleven times altogether in his gospel Matthew indicates how events in the life of Jesus are fulfilments of Hebrew Testament promises. Here he quotes the prophet Isaiah (using the Greek Septuagint text): "Look, the virgin (Greek parthenos, ????????; Hebrew alma, young girl of marriageable age) shall conceive and bear a son." The child will be called Emmanuel, which Matthew explains as meaning "God with us". Jesus will be the very presence of God the Father in our world. As John says in his Prologue: "The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us" (John 1:14). God is with us and is one of us. And this presence does not end with the Resurrection.

    With us always
    Before Jesus leaves his disciples at the Ascension, his last words (in Matthew's Gospel) are: "I am with you always -- to the very end of time" (Matt 28:20). Right down to the present, Jesus continues to be Emmanuel. And that is why we continue to celebrate the birth of Jesus 2,000 years on. Through his Body, the Church, the Christian community, Jesus continues to be visibly present in word and action. This Eucharist is our sacramental celebration of that presence, a presence in every single one of us here.
    The effectiveness of that presence depends on our conscious union with Jesus and with the vision of his Gospel lived out in our daily lives. Let Jesus be really re-born in each one of us this Christmas.

    Source: Sacred Space

  • Thursday, 20 December 2007

    Will Africa miss all MDGs?

    It seems more and more likely each year that Sub-Saharan Africa will fail to reach any of the MDGs by 2015. But it won't be the region's fault, says Bill Easterly in his new paper, but rather of those who set these goals.

    Source: PSD Blog

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    Monday, 17 December 2007

    People Power, ADF and Western Union

    There is nothing more than how members of a local community in Ghana are using there voting power to draw attention to their development needs. It also comes at a time when the donor communities have pledged 52% increase in support over the 2005-07 period through the African Development Fund. Apart from this, aid from migrants to poor countries reached $300 billion last year, nearly three times the world’s foreign aid budgets combined. So are the poor benefiting from this vast resources?

    Elections boycott 2008 if… (People Power)

    The people of Adumasa, a farming community near Suhum in the Eastern Region of Ghana have threatened to boycott the 2008 general elections if their five-kilometre feeder road from Tetteh Nkwanta through Ayitey to Adumasa is not rehabilitated.
    The Odikro of Adumasa (head of community), Baffour Kwaku Addo, at a communal labour organized to weed the areas along the road said this is the fourth time the people have appealed to the District Assembly and the government to rehabilitate the road, but they have not received any response.
    According to Baffour Addo Kwaku, an elder of the village, the road was constructed by one Mr. Hafter, a German whose wife’s parents had a cottage at Adumasa and that, Mr Hafter constructed five bridges and culverts on the road single handedly in 1985. Since then, no rehabilitation work has been done on the road despite several appeals.
    He said at present, chain saw operators had taken advantage of the bad nature of the road to destroy the forest with impunity.
    Baffour Addo Kwaku said at the moment, sick persons were carried in wheelbarrows to Ayitey, a nearby village before boarding a vehicle to Suhum or Koforidua for medical treatment.
    He added that the youth, who are mostly farmers are leaving the area to urban areas and relegating farming activities to the background.
    Source: GNA

    African Development Fund (ADF)

    Representatives from donor countries agreed last Tuesday (11 December 2007) to a record level of support for the African Development Fund (ADF), the soft window of the African Development Bank. Over the next three years (2008-2010), the total resources available to the ADF will reach US$ 8.9 billion, an increase of 52% over the 2005-2007 period.

    Source: ADB

    Western Union

    Migration is so central to Western Union that forecasts of border movements drive the company’s stock. Its researchers outpace the Census Bureau in tracking migrant locations. Long synonymous with Morse code, the company now advertises in Tagalog and Twi and runs promotions for holidays as obscure as Phagwa and Fiji Day. Its executives hail migrants as “heroes” and once tried to oust a congressman because of his push for tougher immigration laws...

    With five times as many locations worldwide as McDonald's, Starbucks, Burger King and Wal-Mart combined, Western Union is the lone behemoth among hundreds of money transfer companies... Last year migrants from poor countries sent home $300 billion, nearly three times the world’s foreign aid budgets combined.

    Source: Marginal Revolution

    The Third Week of Advent

    Readings: Isaiah 35:1-6 James 5:7-10 Matthew 11:2-11

    Formerly, as some of us can still remember, Advent was a much stricter penitential season. During three days of this week there was fast and abstinence. This was known as "Quarter Tense" because it occurred four times in the year. However, this Sunday was intended to be a relaxing break reminding us of the celebrations soon to come. As a symbol of this, the penitential violet of the vestments may be softened to a kind of pink, or rose colour. (There is a similar Sunday in the middle of Lent.)

    Mixed feelings
    On the one hand, a penitential mood is an appropriate way to prepare ourselves to welcome the coming of the Lord. And, though we may not have fasting, many parishes will organise Penitential Services with the Sacrament of Reconciliation during the days leading up to Christmas. At the same time, it is difficult not to feel some excitement as we anticipate the celebration of Jesus' coming among us.

    Full of joy
    So, the Mass text and readings today are full of joy, especially the Entrance Song, the Opening Prayer and the First Reading from Isaiah.
    "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say, rejoice!" is the cry of the Entrance Antiphon. Why? Because "the Lord is near".
    The Opening Prayer asks that we, "who look forward to the birthday of Christ, experience the joy of salvation and celebrate that feast with love and thanksgiving."

    Your God is coming
    In the First Reading the prophet goes overboard with excitement and enthusiasm:
    "Let the wilderness and dry lands exult,
    let the wasteland rejoice and bloom...
    let it rejoice and sing for joy
    ."
    And the reason for all this?
    "They shall see the glory of the Lord, the splendour of our God."
    And is it just a matter of being able to see him? No, for "Look, your God is coming... He is coming to save you!"

    Healing and wholeness
    Salvation means bringing healing, wholeness and holiness as we become closely united to him. This healing, wholeness and holiness is depicted graphically: "The eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy." These words, as we will see below, will be applied explicitly to Jesus who brought this healing and wholeness into so many people's lives.
    However, we should not confine this healing only to the physical. It will also include healing on the emotional, social and spiritual levels. We are not made whole until harmony and wellbeing flows through our whole self.

    The One who is to come
    All this is closely linked to today's Gospel. We find ourselves, in Matthew's Gospel, at the mid-point in Jesus' ministry. John the Baptist had already been arrested. He had accused King Herod of doing something immoral, namely, marrying his brother's wife while his brother was still living.
    While in prison, John hears about Jesus and sends some of his disciples with a question: "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" Whether John really wanted to know or whether it was really for the benefit of his disciples is not clear. After all, John had already proclaimed Jesus at the River Jordan and said he was not worthy to unloose the thongs of Jesus' sandals. "The one who is to come" is, of course, the long-expected Messiah.

    An indirect reply
    How does Jesus answer? As so often happens, he does not respond directly to the question but quotes the prophet Isaiah using the passage which is our First Reading for today. "Go back and tell John what you hear and see: the blind see again, and the lame walk and the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News/Gospel is preached to the poor."
    This exactly describes what Jesus has been doing. It also exactly conforms to what Isaiah said about the time of the Messiah. Jesus in effect is saying "Yes, I am the one who is to come. I am the Messiah, the Christ, the Saviour King of Israel."

    Still waiting
    While the Gospel speaks of the Messiah already here, we at this very time are, in a sense, still waiting in anticipation. Jesus, of course, is already present and working through his Body, the Christian community, the Church. But he still has to come more fully into our own lives. As the Opening Prayer suggests, we need to "experience the joy of salvation" - that power of healing and wholeness which Jesus can bring into our lives. This is something each one of us has to do and what we as a community also have to do. I feel that there are still many, including Christians, who have not yet experienced the deep joy of becoming whole in Christ.
    For most of us, the transformation into becoming "another Christ" takes time. We need the advice of James in the Second Reading: "Be patient." As he says, "How patiently [the farmer] waits for the precious fruit of the ground until it has had the autumn rains and the spring rains!"

    One of the greatest
    John the Baptist is presented by Jesus as one of the greatest persons ever born. Yet he missed the privilege being born into the age of Christ, a privilege that has been made available to us. We could do well to emulate John in preparing ourselves for Jesus to become really part of our lives.
    John was strong. He was a man of integrity. He was not one of the rich and famous. He was no pop star - all sound and no substance. He would never have made a glamorous icon for Hello magazine. Yet many people went out to hear him, to be challenged by him, to have their lives radically changed by his words.

    A similar call
    Actually, our Christian vocation is similar to his. We are called to prepare the way for Jesus to come into our own hearts but also to prepare other people's hearts so that they, too, may "experience the joy of salvation", that healing, wholeness and holiness we all long for and which alone gives real meaning to our lives. Christmas is a time of gifts -- both giving and receiving. Let us make sure that among the gifts we offer to others is some of the Christian joy which we ourselves have received.

    Source: Sacred Space

    Wednesday, 12 December 2007

    Fed cuts interest rates again

    The world's central banks unleashed a co-ordinated assault on the liquidity squeeze in global capital markets, as the Federal Reserve, European Central Bank, Bank of England, Bank of Canada, and the Swiss National Bank all announced measures to attack the crisis

    Faced with a widening mortgage crisis, the Federal Reserve Tuesday cut a key interest rate for the third time in three months.

    Source: FT

    Tuesday, 11 December 2007

    EU/Africa EPAs on Rocks

    Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA), a multilateral trade agreements between the European Union (EU) and 75 African, Caribbean Pacific (ACP) is due to expire at the end of this year. Negotiations are currently ongoing to have a new one in place by January 2008. Part of the negotiations is within the Joint Africa-EU Strategy just ended in Lisbon where leaders agreed to work together on issues including security, development, trade and good governance amidst rows over who should be there and who should not.

    On trade, some African leaders express anger on the European Union's proposals for a free trade agreement. Civil society organisations working on EPAs in Ghana have called on its government to stand by its position not to sign an interim agreements even in the face of pressure. Five African countries that make up the East African Community (EAC) earlier this month agreed a plan that will gradually open their markets to the EU. This Agreement have been deemed illegal by the World Trade Organization. Negotiations, however would continue next year in an effort to have a more comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in place by 2009.

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    Monday, 10 December 2007

    Second wave of corruption campaign

    The 1997 OECD anti-bribery convention, which follows in the footsteps of the 1977 U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, now includes 37 signatories, some of them non-OECD countries, which together account for 90 percent of the world's foreign direct investment. The Wall Street Journal writes in an editorial [subscription required]:

    It wasn't long ago that bribery, a criminal offense at home, was considered an acceptable cost of doing business abroad in most OECD members. Germany and other countries even let companies write foreign bribes off their taxes.

    But Cobus de Swardt, the new head of Transparency International (TI), remains skeptical.

    Though it is the poor and developing countries that come out as the most corrupt in the TI's annual Corruption Perceptions Index, Mr. De Swardt calls for a second wave of anti-corruption efforts. This time focused on the role of western governments and companies: "countries that have less corruption internally very often continue to play a major role to perpetuate corruption in poorer parts of the world."

    Source: PSD Blog

    Sunday, 9 December 2007

    THE SECOND WEEK OF ADVENT

    Readings: Isaiah 11:1-10 Romans 15:4-9 Matthew 3:1-12

    LAST SUNDAY in our Advent preparation for Christmas we looked first at the end of our life's journey to help us focus our minds more clearly on the meaning of Christmas and the meaning of God coming to live among us as one of us. There is not much point in looking at the beginning of the journey, if we do not have a clear idea where it is meant to bring us.
    Today, however, we now go back to the time before the birth of Jesus and we are introduced to a person who helped prepare the way for the coming of Messiah-King who was awaited for such a long time by the people of Israel.

    John the Precursor
    In Luke's gospel we are told of the origins of John the Baptist and his birth to relatively elderly parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth. In today's Gospel, he is now a grown man. He is seen living in the desert, "in the wilderness of Judea" near the Jordan River and not very far from Jerusalem. He was wearing a garment made of camel-hair with a leather belt round his waist and he lived on locusts and wild honey. Clearly he was a man of great austerity, not unlike the desert hermits in the Church of later times.
    The words of the prophet Isaiah are seen as fulfilled in him:
    "A voice cries in the wilderness:
    'Prepare a way for the Lord,
    make his paths straight
    '."

    Call to "repentance"
    In fact, his message was : "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand." In fact, this is exactly the same message that Jesus will proclaim at the beginning of his public life (Mark 1:15). The word for 'repent' here means much more than just being sorry for past misdeeds. The Greek verb metanoeite means having a radical change in one's thinking. It means seeing the world in a completely different way and taking on board a whole new set of values.

    Nearness of the Kingdom
    Linked with this call is the proclamation, "The kingdom of heaven (literally, 'the heavens') is close at hand." Instead of 'heaven' it would be better for us to read 'Kingdom of God'. The Kingdom of God as we have explained on other occasions is not a place and it is certainly not directly referring to 'heaven', the place of the after life, although the Kingdom finds its perfect expression there. In the Gospel it primarily refers to that complex of relationships where people are in perfect harmony with God and with each other and living their lives in his image.
    Jesus personifies the Kingdom
    John in announcing the nearness of the Kingdom is pointing to Jesus, who is the divine incarnation of the Kingdom. In his human person he images perfectly his unseen Father and calls us to follow him in the same Way. As he will say later, he IS in fact THE Way. To live in him, through him and with him is to reach the ultimate goal of our existence - perfect union with the Father. All of this is included in this simpler proclamation of John, to be repeated later by Jesus himself.

    Hungry for the message
    Great crowds we are told came from all the surrounding region of Judea and the Jordan valley to hear his powerful call to a change of heart. Those who truly repented of their sinful life acknowledged their sins and went through a cleansing ritual - a baptism - in the River Jordan.

    Mixed motives
    All kinds of people were among them but when Jesus saw some Pharisees and Sadducees he had some hard words for them. 'Brood of vipers' was his vivid description. He sees in both groups, which were, in fact, very hostile to each other, forms of hypocrisy. On the outside, the Pharisees saw themselves as paragons of virtue while the Sadducees, holding much of the political power, saw themselves as a privileged elite.
    Had they come to repent or had they come to sit in judgement on John to see whether his words were 'orthodox'? (We have such watchdogs in our churches also.) John says that it is not enough for them in the presence of the people to make a show of repentance. "If you are truly repentant," he tells them, "produce the appropriate fruit, and do not presume to tell yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father', because, I tell you, God can raise children Abraham from these stones."

    Danger of presumption
    The implication is that there are people who think that, just because they belong to God's chosen people, they are as it are 'untouchable'. They have it made. John wants to disillusion them of this presumptuous thinking. All without exception are equally vulnerable to temptation and all without exception are in need of God's forgiveness. All need to have that change of heart which the Kingdom demands and which must appear in their words, their actions and in their interior attitudes. So, as John says and Jesus would tell his disciples later at the Last Supper, the tree without fruit will have its branches lopped off and they will be thrown on to the bonfire as useless.

    Preparing the way
    John, however, knows that what he is doing is merely the prelude to the real presence of the Kingdom which is about to appear. He speaks of One so powerful that John is not worthy even to carry his sandals, the task of a lowly slave. This One will baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire. The baptism of Jesus, which will be continued by his community of followers, will have the power to transform people's lives. It will do this not by some magical process but by the transforming power of being incorporated into the loving community which is the Body of Christ with the grace-filled and grace-filling elements such as the Scripture and the Sacraments.

    Who is he who is coming?
    Who is this Person whose sandals John is not fit to carry? We have a marvelously poetic description of him in the passage from Isaiah, which is our First Reading for today.
    First we are told that he comes from the 'stock of Jesse'. Jesse was the father of King David and Jesus, through Joseph, is in the line of David. Like David he is a King but in a much greater sense. David, one of the most attractive personalities in the whole of the Bible, was also a man of many weaknesses. He was, among other things, guilty of both adultery and murder. But he was also a man of great integrity and very close to God. He repented bitterly for his sins and accepted the punishments, which came as a result of them.

    Wisdom and integrity
    The Person of whom Isaiah speaks is filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom and insight, counsel and power, knowledge and fear (i.e. deep respect) of the Lord. We see these qualities shine out from the life of Jesus. He does not judge by appearances as, for instance, the Pharisees and their ilk would do (and as we ourselves do so often) but judges with perfect integrity, with special sympathy for the poor, the weak and the sinful.

    A bearer of peace
    His coming brings an era of peace. He represents the end of all conflict and violence. This appears even in the animal world where animals of prey live in perfect harmony with their victims - the panther with the young goat, the calf with the lion cub, the lion eating straw like its vegetarian victims, and even the child is safe from the poisonous bite of cobra or viper. All these beasts, feared by man and the animal world alike, "do no hurt, no harm, on all my holy mountain, for the country is filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters swell the sea."

    Where is peace to be found?
    And yet, where can we find such peace? It is true that the most serious divisions, the most appalling violence still is rampant in our world. And yet, where the Kingdom has truly taken root, people do live in great love and harmony. There is a much greater intolerance of violence in our world than in preceding generations. War as a solution to the grievances of nations and communities is becoming less and less acceptable. The Kingdom is coming. It is coming slowly but it is coming. It is for each one of us to play our part.

    Wheat or chaff?
    So now, as we prepare to celebrate the first coming of God among us in Jesus at Bethlehem, we may ask ourselves in John's words, Are we wheat or chaff? What fruits can we show for our life in Christ? Have we got the mind of Christ, of the Gospel? Have we made that radical change of thinking, that metanoia that John and Jesus call for? That change, above all, lies in the way we relate to each other in a loving and caring way. It calls for each one of us to contribute in a personal and unique way to making our families and our society a better place for all to live in. It demands of us a special care for those who need help both those who are weak physically, mentally or who are plagued by the many addictions that bedevil our societies. It calls on us to reach out to those who are angry, hostile and violent, driven by fears that they themselves are not even aware of.

    What Christmas is about
    Christmas is a time not just for conspicuous consumption and indulgence in escapist activity but much more a time for us to become aware of the needs around us. The Baby was born in the stable so that he might set in motion a spreading campaign of Truth, of Love, of Justice, of Sharing and Compassion, of Freedom and of Peace. Christmas is a time for us once more to become fired with this vision and become part of it.
    Let us finish, then, with words of Paul in today's Second Reading: "May he help you all to be tolerant with each other, following the example of Christ Jesus, so that united in mind and voice you may give glory to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It can only be to God's glory, then, for you to treat each other in the same friendly way as Christ treated you."

    Saturday, 8 December 2007

    The First Week of Advent (3)

    Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5 Romans 13:11-14 Matthew 24:37-44

    My day of judgement
    In fact, this coming is not just at the moment of Final Judgement. Or, let us put it another way. The Final Judgement is not so much a day when all will be gathered together but rather it is that moment when each one of us is called to come face to face with God. When Jesus speaks of two men in the fields where one is taken and the other left or two women at the same millstone grinding where one is taken and one is left, it is difficult not to think of the horrific event in New York on Sept 11, 2001. That is exactly what happened here. While thousands were caught in the collapse of the two towers, many others escaped, some of them almost miraculously. It was an experience that made many people - including those who were nowhere near the towers - reflect. Why them and not me? It also made them reflect on the deeper meaning of their life and its ultimate goal.

    Staying alert
    "So stay awake," Jesus tells us today, "because you do not know the day when your Master is coming." That applies just as much to the victims of Sept 11 and all such disasters as it does to the individual who gets a sudden heart attack or is involved in a fatal car accident or the child who drowns in a swimming pool. There is absolutely no one to whom this warning does not apply.

    Night and day
    Similar warnings are given by Paul in the Second Reading, which is from his Letter to the Romans. He calls on the Christians to 'wake up' because the day salvation is closer than they realise. "The night is almost over, it will be daylight soon - let us give up all the things we prefer to do under cover of the dark; let us arm ourselves and appear in the light." All of us can identify with this warning. Many of us have skeletons in our closets, things we would probably be ashamed to let others know of our past, or even our present, life. It is time now to come fully out into the light, to be people of utter transparency with nothing to hide either from God or man. Obviously, too, he says it is time to put an end to any grossly immoral behaviour (drunken orgies, promiscuity, licentiousness, wrangling, jealousy).

    Day by day
    It seems then that the best way to honour the first coming of the Lord and to prepare for his final coming is to live our lives in a coming of the Lord that happens every day and at every moment of our lives. We do not prepare for the future coming either by leaving things to the last minute and getting caught out nor by living in fear and anxiety of a judging God.

    Moment by moment
    By far the best way is to live our daily lives constantly in the presence of the Lord who touches our lives at every moment. One writer called this the "sacrament of the present moment". Every moment of our lives, every experience, every person, every action and every word is a sacrament of God's presence. He can be found there and responded to. When we live our lives constantly surrendering to his presence and seeing his hand in everything that happens to us, we will not be afraid when the final call comes. We will not be caught unawares. Perhaps there were some people like that in World Trade Center that day. Perhaps they had already begun their day with prayer or had already celebrated Mass on their way to work. Even in those last terrible moments when they saw the inevitable, they united themselves to their Lord and went to meet him. We will never know."

    No need for fear
    In any case, all of us have had plenty of warning but this is not meant to instil us with fear. On the contrary, it is to encourage us to live constantly in the loving presence of a God who is closer to us than breathing.

    Solutions for poverty: between the left and the right

     

    Paul Collier, the author of the "Bottom Billion," sums up both sides of the development spectrum:

    At present, the clarion call for the left is Jeffrey Sachs' book "The End of Poverty." Much as I agree with Sachs' passionate call to action, I think that he has overplayed the importance of aid. Aid alone will not solve the problems of the bottom billion. We need to use a wider range of policies.

    At present, the clarion call for the right is economist William Easterly's book "The White Man's Burden." Easterly is right to mock the delusions of the aid lobby. But just as Sachs exaggerates the payoff to aid, Easterly exaggerates the downside and again neglects the scope for other policies. We are not as impotent and ignorant as Easterly seems to think.

    Friday, 7 December 2007

    The First Week of Advent (2)

    Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5 Romans 13:11-14 Matthew 24:37-44

    A magnet to the nations
    The idea is contained that Israel is a light to the nations and the Israelites are not told to go out and convert the nations but rather to attract them by their worship on Zion. In the world of this vision, all nations will come together to the central city of Jerusalem and thus will acknowledge the ultimate kingship of Yahweh. "All the nations will stream to [Zion], peoples without numbers will come to it and they will say: 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the God of Jacob that he may teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths.'

    Lasting peace
    In this way God is seen as wielding authority over the nations and sitting in judgement between them. Weapons of war will be melted down and turned into peaceful implements of agriculture. It will be the end of wars between nations and of preparation for war.

    The temple of the Lord
    As we read this from a Christian standpoint we see deeper meanings. For the new Temple of the Lord is the human body of Jesus in which the Son of God was incarnated and came to live among us as one of us. In Bethlehem that day, the Temple of the Lord was not that massive building in nearby Jerusalem but the tiny Baby in his Mother's arms in the poverty of the stable. It was to this Temple that the shepherds went to worship and adore. It is from this Temple that we learn God's ways and learn to walk in God's paths. And he is the Prince of Peace.
    It is the coming of God into that little baby's Body that we are preparing to celebrate during these four weeks of Advent.

    Warnings of the end times
    Yet in today's Gospel we are not talking about this. Rather it is full of warnings about the end times and about being ready for them. However, we need to remember that the celebration of Christmas is not - as it can easily become - just a nostalgic recalling of what happened in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. The whole purpose of the celebration is to remind us of what this birth is ultimately about. Where are we going in life? What is our ultimate goal? It is not a question of looking back but of looking forward. It is a question of being ready.

    Examples from the past
    The Gospel consists of a set of warnings from Jesus about readiness for his final coming. He cites the example of Noah and the flood. He says that in the days leading right up to the Flood "people were eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands". They suspected absolutely nothing and suddenly they were swept away. Only Noah, his family and the animals they took into the Ark survived. The coming of the Son of Man will be like that, Jesus says.

    New breed of NGOs

    Africa has been experiencing a period of strong growth, but problems such as AIDS, corruption or insufficient infrastructure still undermine development.

    A panel at Wharton discusses the way new high-profile NGOs are filling the gap between inadequate government programs and the shortcomings of traditional aid.   

    The First Week of Advent (1)

    Most of us must be wondering what advent is all about. Advent is a particularly important event for Christians. It is four Sundays away from Christmas and this year the first one happen to fall on 2nd December. It is a reflective period and I would be presenting a series of biblical reflections leading on to Christmas.

    Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5 Romans 13:11-14 Matthew 24:37-44

    Today we come again to the beginning of a new Church year. The word 'Advent' comes from a Latin word meaning 'coming'.
    What 'coming' are we talking about? Well, clearly as we are coming up to Christmas, we are preparing to welcome the coming of God among us as a human being, when Jesus was born in the stable at Bethlehem and the great work of our salvation began.
    But that welcome is for a past event and is more a remembering than a welcome strictly speaking. But it is a remembering that we need in order to remind us of what happened, of why it happened and how it affects my life here and now.

    What coming are we talking about?
    At this time, we also remember another coming and that is the final coming when Jesus will come as King and Lord to take to himself all those who have been faithful to the call of his Kingdom. This time of Advent is also a reminder of the need for us to prepare for that Second Coming and to be ready to welcome Jesus whenever he comes.

    A great vision
    The coming of Jesus and its significance is expressed in the great vision from Isaiah which is our First Reading for today. Mount Zion, the hill upon which Jerusalem is built, is seen as a holy mountain, the centre of the earth and the focal point of the whole world. "The mountain of the Temple of the Lord shall tower above the mountains and be lifted higher than the hills."

    White House unveils subprime rescue plan

    George W. Bush formally unveiled a plan to freeze interest rates on some subprime home loans for five years, setting up potential showdowns with mortgage security investors who could see their returns decline and Democrats who say the plan does not go far enough

    source: FT

    Ghana Parliament approves 2008 budget

    Parliament on Wednesday approved the financial policy of the government for the fiscal year ending December 31, 2008. The house is also expected to scrutinize and approve the financial estimates of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) before it rises.


    Source: http://www.ghanaweb.com/

    Too Close to Call: Why Kibaki Might Lose the 2007 Kenyan Election

    By Joel D. Barkan

    Kenya’sPresident Mwai Kibaki has presided over a dramatic economic turnaround that not long ago was expected to guarantee him re-election in the presidential vote coming up on December 27, 2007. The country’s economy is growing at nearly 7 percent annually, and a genuine “trickle down” of benefits, including free universal primary education, has touched the lives of many Kenyans in all regions. Why, then is Kibaki trailing in the polls, and fighting for his political life in an election that is now too close to call? The answer lies in a combination of Kibaki’s mode of governance, bad advice from his political advisors, and hard work by his principal challenger, Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).

    FewAfrican countries have experienced the broad-based renewal of their economies that Kenya has enjoyed since 2005. After nearly two decades of zero to negative economic per capita growth, Kenya turned the corner in 2004 with an aggregate growth rate of 5.1 percent. This rose to 5.7 percent in 2005 and 6.1 percent in 2006 – and
    continuesto rise. Tourism is booming. The value of agricultural production rose 12.1 percent in 2006 as Kenya benefited from high commodity prices, better management and marketing of agricultural products, and rising production. The contrast with 2001, when electricity and water shortages turned Nairobi into a ghost capital, is striking. Kenyans have not enjoyed such prosperity since the mid-1960s and early seventies when Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president, governed their country.

    Thereinlies the explanation of both Kibaki’s success and his problem. When Kibaki was elected to succeed former president Daniel arap Moi in December 2002, public expectations were high that he and his government would reverse Moi’s dismal record of economic stagnation and predatory rule. Kibaki had been swept into power by a broad coalition of parties, the National Alliance Rainbow Coalition or NARC, beating Uhuru Kenyatta of the Kenya African National Union (KANU) by nearly two-to-one in the popular vote. Ururu, Jomo Kenyatta’s son, was Moi’s hand-picked candidate to be his successor. NARC also won control of Kenya’s parliament in the 2002 voting. Democracy had triumphed. But would democracy deliver by improving lives? It did, but not in the manner that many had hoped.

    Insteadof governing via the big tent that NARC had established during the run-up to the election, Kibaki relied on a small group of leaders drawn from his own Kikuyu ethnic group and the related Meru and Embu communities. Dubbed the “Mount Kenya Mafia,” because its members came from ethnic communities that inhabit the slopes around Mt. Kenya, the group controlled the ministries of finance, internal security, justice and information, arguably the key positions of government. Kibaki began his term in ill-health, the result of a debilitating auto accident before the 2002 election, and at least one stroke following his inauguration. During the first half of his presidency, until November 2005, he relied heavily on the “Mafia.” This group was determined to run Kenya as the country had been run during Kenyatta’s time—soundly managed, both with respect to macro-economic policy and delegation to the civil service and business community. In marked contrast to Moi, Kibaki and his inner circle did not micro-manage. Individual Kenyans enjoyed more personal freedom, both political and economic, than at any time since independence.

    Theresult was that the Kenyan economy began to regain its position as the dominant economy in East Africa. Growth, despite persistent corruption, resumed. Parastatal organizations (state owned corporations), including the marketing boards for coffee and tea, and sugar factories functioned for the first time in years. Ditto for other organizations such as the Kenya Meat Commission, and Kenya Cooperative Creameries, corporations that had been driven into bankruptcy or near bankruptcy by Moi. Ditto too for Kenya’s universities, which had also been compromised during the Moi era. In sum, economic growth and the rejuvenation of institutions was broad based, but perceived by many Kenyans as being Kikuyu controlled. The same perception that had dogged the Kenyatta regime at the end of the 1970s, and which triggered the ruinous policies of redistribution during the Moi era, now dogged Kibaki and his government—that Kikuyus and related communities run the government at the expense of other groups, even though all regions of Kenya and thus all ethnic groups have arguably benefited from Kibaki’s rule. Given the fact that Kenyan elections have always involved the mobilization of ethnic communities by local and regional bosses, the likely scenario for 2007 became clear as early as 2005. While the government would justifiably run on its record at turning the economy around and instituting other reforms, the opposition would cohere into broad based coalition that played on fears of Kikuyu domination.

    Anationwide referendum held in November 2005 to approve a new constitution for Kenya was a prelude of these strategies. Since the return of multiparty politics in 1992, the various factions that comprise Kenya’s political elite have struggled to arrive at a new constitution. The Constitution of Kenya Review Commission presented a draft constitution prior to the 2002 elections, but neither its draft nor an amended version was ever passed by Kenya’s parliament. The Kibaki government then formulated its own draft which it presented to the Kenyan public. It was immediately opposed by an amalgam of political leaders and parties from both inside and outside the government, including Raila Odinga, then Minister for Works and Housing. He had long argued that Kenya should return to a parliamentary form of government and institute a measure of federalism, or “Majimbo,” to protect the interests of Kenya’s 42 ethnic groups. The son of Kenya’s first vice-president, Odinga draws an immense following from his home region of Nyanza, the homeland of the Luo people. He is also immensely popular in Nairobi, where he has represented the Langata constituency since 1992 and where he appeals to younger voters. During the run-up to the 2002 elections, Odinga campaigned tirelessly for Kibaki and was widely recognized as the key to Kibaki’s victory. However, he soon became marginalized by the inner circle around Kibaki, especially when he demanded to be appointed Prime Minister in the new government.

    Theconstitutional referendum held in November 2005 was a political disaster for Kibaki, as Odinga and his allies persuaded Kenyans to reject the proposed constitution by a nearly 3:2 margin. Opponents included Uhuru Kenyatta; Kalonzo Musyoka, then Kenya’s foreign minister and a prominent Kamba leader from Eastern Province; and Musalia Mudavadi, a prominent Luhya leader from Western Kenya. Because the Election Commission of Kenya had assigned the symbol of an orange to the “No” side of the ballot (as contrasted to a banana for those wishing to vote “Yes”), the group soon took on the name of the Orange Democratic Movement or ODM. They drew broad support from across Kenya except in Central Province, the Kikuyu homeland and Kibaki’s political base. In defeating the proposed constitution, they also demonstrated that a coalition of ethnic groups mobilized in opposition to the “Mount Kenya” groups was a viable strategy for 2007. Kibaki and his advisors played into their hands by dismissing Odinga, Musyoka, and others from the cabinet following the referendum defeat. The battle lines for 2007 had been drawn.

    ByJune 2007, this year’s elections had boiled down to a contest between Kibaki and his supporters telling Kenyans “re-elect us, because you have not had it this good in years;” versus Odinga and his allies in ODM, who were quietly organizing Kenyans whose ethnic communities did not hold prominent positions in the Kibaki government. ODM has not run an explicitly “anti-Kikuyu” campaign. It has not had to, a fact unappreciated by the President and his advisors, who also made the mistake of believing that the ODM would fail to unite around a single presidential nominee.

    BecauseODM had become a catchall coalition of those opposing the government, and because this coalition included at least four viable aspirants to the presidency—Odinga, Kenyatta, Musyoka and Mudavadi—both Kibaki and the Nairobi “pundocracy” concluded that ODM would eventually split. Kenyan opposition parties have historically done so, and a split would allow the President to win re-election easily. Based on the usual “ethnic arithmetic” employed by Kenya’s political elite, the pundits rightly reasoned that the President would win at least 40 percent of the vote—from Central Province, the Kikuyu homeland; from Eastern Province, the homeland of the Embu and Meru peoples; and from some Kamba areas which had long supported Kibaki. The President could also count on a significant number of votes, perhaps an outright majority, from Nairobi, and from Kikuyu minority areas in the Rift Valley Province, where Kikuyus comprise between a fifth and a quarter of the population. In this analysis, while Kibaki might be returned with only a plurality of the vote, he had little to fear.

    WhereasKibaki’s ethnic arithmetic on his support base is proving correct, the assumption that ODM would split into squabbling factions of roughly equal size led by each of its top leaders has turned out to be wrong. After Raila Odinga won the party’s presidential nomination, only Kalonzo Musyoka decided to hive off and form his own party, ODM-Kenya, to contest the presidency. Odinga shrewdly picked Musalia Mudavadi as his vice-presidential running mate immediately after his own nomination thereby keeping the Luhya leader in the Orange fold. Most significantly, Odinga has been able to retain the support of a group of prominent younger Kalenjin leaders from the former ruling party, KANU, including William Ruto; while Uhuru Kenyatta, still the nominal leader of KANU, decided to sit this election out. Poor Kenyatta was caught in a bind when his mother, Mama Ngina Kenyatta and the third wife of Kenya’s first president, announced that she was supporting Kibaki. Former president Daniel arap Moi also encouraged Uhuru to do same, and he complied. Both Moi and Mama Ngina have been shielded from prosecution for alleged acts of corruption by Kibaki’s government, and shudder at the prospect of Kibaki being replaced by a government headed by Raila Odinga. The result, however, is that while the leader of KANU and the formal leader of the opposition is now supporting the Kibaki, most other leaders of his party, which draws most of its current support from the Kalenjin peoples of the Rift Valley, are backing Raila. With the exception of the defections of Kalonzo Musyoka and Kenyatta, who is no longer a candidate, ODM has remained largely intact.

    Withless than five weeks to go before Kenyans go to the polls, the presidential contest has come down to a three-way race that is too close to call. If the public opinion polls are valid, Raila Odinga may nip out the incumbent president by two to three percentage points or less. This would be Kenya’s closest election since the country’s return to multiparty politics in 1992.
    While the validity of the public opinion polls is always questioned, the quality of survey research and market research in Kenya is among the best in Africa. The surveys are conducted on a random sample basis, and most (though not all) polling organizations strive to reach a level of accuracy of plus or minus three percentage points. Perhaps most important, the major polls, such as Steadman and Gallup, have been reporting similar and consistent results since September. At the aggregate level, i.e. for Kenya as a whole, the latest Steadman poll, released on November 30 (based on 2709 interviews conducted between November 17 and 19) has Odinga up by 44 percent to 43 percent for Kibaki, with 11 percent favoring Kalonzo Musyoka and only 2 percent undecided or favoring minor candidates. Similarly, the latest Gallup Poll, released on November 22 (but based on interviews conducted between October 25 and November 10) has the race at 45 percent for Odinga, 42 percent for Kibaki, and 11 for Musyoka. As both polls have a margin of error of 2 to 3 percentage points, it is possible that Kibaki may in fact be in a dead heat or have a narrow lead of one percentage point.

    Theother consistent result from the major polls is their confirmation of the candidates’ ethno-regional bases of support. Thus, Steadman (and the earlier Gallup poll) reports that Kibaki enjoys an overwhelming lead of 92 percent in Central Province, the Kikuyu homeland, but fails to command a majority anywhere else. Kibaki also commands a plurality of 46 percent in Nairobi and 48 percent in Eastern Province, the homeland of the Embu and Meru people, and of the Kamba.

    Bycontrast, Raila Odinga is supported by the majority of likely voters in five provinces—86 percent in Nyanza Province, 73 percent in Western Province, 51 percent in Coast Province, 65 percent in the sparsely populated North Eastern Province; and 54 percent in Rift Valley Province. Most Kalenjins in Rift Valley and voters from other smaller groups in the province, who once followed Moi, are apparently deserting the former president. They are listening more to younger KANU leaders, such as William Ruto, who are backing Odinga, Indeed, a major sub-theme of the 2007 election is that the former president is no longer a political force. Odinga also has a strong following in Nairobi. Musyoka, not surprisingly, does best in the Kamba areas of Eastern Province, but is running slightly behind Kibaki in the province as a whole.

    Asummary of the latest Steadman Poll by province is reported in the table below. Most interesting is that not only does Kibaki’s support vary greatly from one province to the next, but his support and the support for his two principal opponents closely track the results from the constitutional referendum of November 2005. Where the referendum passed with an overwhelming vote as in Central Province, Kibaki is also far ahead in the polls. Where the referendum barely passed, as in Eastern Province, he is in a close race. And where the referendum was rejected, as it was by large margins as in Nyanza and Coast Provinces, he is far behind. Skeptics might reject the results of recent surveys in Kenya, but they cannot ignore the pattern of voting in the referendum, a pattern that will be repeated in the December election.

    SEETABLE

    The bottom line is that the outcome of the 2007 presidential election will most likely turn on which candidate can turn out his supporters in the greatest numbers. Although Kibaki has been consistently behind in the polls, the gap has narrowed to the point that the two leading candidates are in a statistical dead heat. Kibaki is also likely to benefit from a higher level of turnout amongst his political base in Central Province than Raila Odinga will obtain from supporters elsewhere in the country. Central Province has historically been the epicenter of Kenyan politics. Education and literacy levels, two determinants of public interest in elections and turnout worldwide, are also highest in Central. Odinga and ODM, however, have managed to establish themselves as a party to reckon with across a much broader ethnic and geographical segment of the electorate. There is also some indication that he appeals to younger and first-time voters more than Kibaki.

    Thewild card in this mix is Kalonzo Musyoka, the candidate of ODM-Kenya. Running a distant third, he can continue his candidacy through the election, and probably spoil the outcome for Kibaki. Or, he can fold his campaign and throw his support behind the President or Odinga. Given the popularity of the president in Eastern Province, Musyoka’s home turf, it is more likely that he would back the incumbent. But at what price? He has already served in the cabinet, and only the promise of appointment as Kenya’s Vice-President is likely to bring him into the President’s camp.

    Becausethe election is too close to call, it will also test Kenya’s fledgling democracy in at least two ways. The first challenge is whether the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) can administer a credible election in which the losers accept the verdict, even if the vote is close. In a country where allegations of “rigging” are the rhetoric of politics, the ECK must be fastidious in its approach. So too must election observers, both domestic and international, because in a close election, any assessment of how the polls are conducted can fuel post-election discontent.

    Thesecond challenge is that this is the first time since Kenya’s independence in 1963 that an incumbent president faces a genuine prospect of defeat at the polls. The stakes are high, and the incentive to cross the line of propriety and engage in questionable practices is there for both candidates. Both Kibaki and Odinga must rein in their activists, lest the final weeks of the campaign be marked by campaign violence. The international community, including the United States, also has a role to play by encouraging both leaders and their lieutenants to let Kenyans exercise their franchise freely and with the confidence that their ballots will be counted accurately.

    Source: Online APF

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    Thursday, 6 December 2007

    Ghana's Prime Rate Increases

    05/12/2007

    Monetary Policy Committee in Bank of Ghana raises its key policy rate, the Prime Rate, to 13.5 percent to place the economy firmly on the path of continued disinflation, and bring inflation into the middle single digit range within a time horizon of 18 to 24 months, fiscal consolidation is necessary in the forthcoming 2008 budget along with some monetary tightening to anchor inflation expectations to underpin financial stability and growth. In the circumstances, and given the balance of risks, the Monetary Policy Committee decided to increase the Bank of Ghana prime rate to 13.5 per cent.

    Source: BOG

    ECB holds rates at 4%

    Eurozone interest rates have been left unchanged at 4 per cent by the European Central Bank as the threat of slower growth in the 13-country region offsets the dangers posed by higher inflation

    Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

    Bank of England cuts rates to 5.5%

    The central bank cut interest rates from 5.75 to 5.5 per cent as its monetary policy committee judged that worsening conditions in financial markets and a tightening supply of credit had increased the risks of a sharp economic slowdown.

    Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

    Emerging markets' top challengers

    In a new study the Boston Consulting Group warns established industry leaders against the competition from emerging markets. Since 2004 the 100 New Global Challengers grew their revenues three times faster than the S&P 500 and now, says David Michael, the report's co-author, they will become potential acquirers:

    Never before have so many potential competitors and customers arisen so quickly on a global scale. Moreover, the challengers have completely different approaches to competition, taking advantage of their bases in emerging markets. Many established industry leaders are frankly unprepared for these new types of competitors

    The challengers brought over $1.2 trillion in total revenues in 2006. The report predicts that their combined revenues will reach $3.3 trillion by 2010 and $11.8 trillion by 2015.

    Source: PSD Blog

    Business counting on Bali agreement

    The ongoing UN Climate Change Conference is being closely monitored not just by environmental groups, governments and the media, but by those in boardrooms around the world.

    Climate change has been focusing the mind of business as never before, as hightlighted at the recent Business Forum at the Bank. Now the past week has seen the unusual sight of big name multinationals actively calling for more regulation. The Bali communiqué signed by 150 business heads, including from the US and China, calls for a legally binding UN framework to tackle climate change.

    A new survey by law firm Clifford Chance finds that 4 out of 5 firms worldwide want more regulation. As reported in the Washington Post, James Smith, chairman of Shell UK, spoke for the UK and EU Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change in arguing that enforceable standards will give business the confidence to make long-term investments in lower-carbon technologies. Big business believes it cannot afford to ignore climate change. Michael Porter and Forest Reinhardt, writing in a special report on the topic for Harvard Business Review agree that climate impacts on companies' operations are

    now so tangible and certain that the issue is best addressed with the tools of the strategist, not the philanthropist.

    They advocate an inside out analysis of the firm's impact on the climate and outside in analysis of global warming impact on the business environment. Firms will have to mitigate risks all the way down the supply chain, but might also spy opportunities to establish competitive advantages through new products (hybrid cars), exploring new inputs such as jatropha, or simply more effective management. No wonder that firms hope delegates in Bali focus on the matter at hand and don’t sneak off to the beach.

    Source: PSD Blog

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    Carbon CARMA - who's been good or bad

    So there are 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere every year. But who's exactly producing it and in what quantities?

    Carbon Monitoring for Action Database (CARMA) - a new online-database containing information from 4,000 utilities and 50,000 plants – has the answers by country, city, company or a single plant.

    Source: PSD Blog

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    Global development matters

    The Center for Global Development – the publisher of the Commitment to Development Index (CDI), which ranks 21 richest countries on their policies' effect on poor countries - launched Global Development Matters.

    The new site, designed with the U.S. audience primarily in mind, has five new short videos on the topics ranging from health issues to global trade and subsidies. Microfinance video below:

    See also their new GDB Blog. It tracks each of the U.S. 2008 presidential candidates and their stance on global development issues.

    Tuesday, 4 December 2007

    Privatization in Africa

    Privatizing your largest bank to foreigners certainly invites scrutiny if not criticism especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. A recent study asseses the sale of government-owned Uganda Commercial Bank to the South African Stanbic and suggests that the privatization has been relatively successful.

    The portfolio of the privatized bank, which was cleaned prior to sale, remains fairly strong and profitability and credit growth are now on par with other Ugandan banks. Though market segmentation still is a concern, since Stanbic faces little or no direct competition in many remote areas, early results suggest that access to credit has improved for some hard-to-serve groups.

    Source: PSD Blog

    African nations in EU trade deal

    The five countries that make up the East African Community have agreed a plan that will gradually open their markets to the European Union (EU).
    Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda are covered by the EU deal. The new agreement will replace preferential trade obligations, which are due to expire in December and have proved controversial in recent years. A number of other nations in Western Africa, and some Pacific nations, have yet to accept the new arrangements.

    Steady move
    The East African Community (EAC) trading bloc has agreed to "gradually open their markets to goods from the EU over a period of 25 years", an EU official said. Despite giving European firms more access to their markets, some industries will still be protected from competition to prevent local businesses from going bankrupt. Under the terms of the new deal, about a fifth of EAC trade would still be exempt from the requirement to lower customs duties. Industrial products and agriculture are among the sectors that are to be given extra protection. The EU said that negotiations would continue next year in an effort to have a more comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in place by 2009.

    Tough choices
    The new deals will replace earlier preferential trade obligations that linked the EU and many of its trading partners but which have been heavily criticised by other nations, particularly those in Latin America. The deals have been ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization and the 27 members of the trade bloc have until the end of the year to establish new arrangements with partners. But it is not thought that all 80 nations in Europe's former African, Caribbean and Pacific colonies will have signed up to the EPAs by 1 January because there is still a lot of opposition to the deals. Critics argue that the EPAs could damage developing economies by cutting their customs revenue and making it harder for local businesses to compete with larger foreign rivals.

    Source: BBC

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    Friday, 21 September 2007

    UK watchdog faces flak over Northern Rock

    By Chris Giles, Kate Burgess and Peter Thal Larsen
    Published: September 20 2007 22:51 Last updated: September 20 2007 22:51
    The City regulator was on Thursday facing criticism from MPs and investors that it failed in its job by not tackling Northern Rock’s aggressive financial practices before the bank ran into trouble. Questions over the competence of the Financial Services Authority moved to the fore even as Mervyn King, Bank of England governor, was fighting to defend his own performance in the handling of the debacle. Mr King told MPs on the Treasury select committee that legislative shortcomings prevented him from stopping the bank run. John McFall, the committee chairman, described Mr King’s testimony as “unconvincing”, and established a formal inquiry into the mess, which was on Thursday still driving down shares in the banking sector.
    But much of MPs’ concern related to the FSA’s role. FSA officials acknowledged on Thursday night that the regulator had not foreseen a total drying up of liquidity in the money markets, nor had prepared banks for such an eventuality.
    “The FSA has a lot of questions to answer ... about why Northern Rock wasn’t identified as the most obvious risk,” said Michael Fallon, committee vice-chairman, adding: “Callum McCarthy, [FSA chairman], now has arguido status” – Portuguese for official suspect, a reference to the Madeleine McCann case.
    Some of the UK’s leading institutional investors, speaking on condition of anonymity, also turned on the FSA.
    One said: “The FSA is the lead banking regulator. They can’t shirk that one.” Another said: “Northern Rock has fallen foul of the dislocation in markets. But the model was always vulnerable. Why wasn’t that spotted?”
    Mr King and Sir John Gieve, the Bank deputy governor responsible for financial stability, were not off the hook after their often nervy performance in front of MPs. They were accused of being asleep at the wheel during August and creating greater unease with Wednesday’s U-turn to lend to banks against collateral that was much weaker than normal.
    Mr King insisted that the decision was his and was made after more money market volatility earlier this week and to address concerns about the reputation of the British banking system.
    Bank stocks tumbled on concerns of further contagion. Northern Rock shares plunged another 27.9 per cent, with shares in Bradford & Bingley losing 8.6 per cent, Alliance & Leicester falling 7.4 per cent, and HBOS shedding 4.2 per cent.
    Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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