Monthly Archives: December 2012

Back From Baghdad

The good news is that I am back safely from Baghdad where I attended (and spoke at) the Arab League conference on Palestinian prisoners in Israel. The bad news is that as usual I am knocked flat with a bug or two picked up on my travels.

I will write on the subject matter of the conference and on the Baghdad experience when I feel a bit stronger. But one thing is for certain – the politicians who peddle the line that, while they may have been wrong about WMD, Iraq is now a haven of freedom and democracy, are telling a most blatant lie. Nothing in the mainstream media conveys the sense of what a total disaster zone Baghdad now is, and I have never been anywhere – not Uzbekistan, not Turkmenistan, not Belarus, not Sierra Leone during the war – that felt less like a free democracy. More detail later.

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Swing to Mahama Across Nation

I am definitely predicting a first round victory for John Mahama, and also but with less confidence predicting he will get over 50% and there will not be a second round.

The regional swings look like this with 91 constituencies in my calculations:

Ashanti Region 1.9% swing to NDC
Brong Ahafo 3.9% swing to NDC
Central Region 1.9% swing to NDC
Eastern Region 0.5% swing to NDC
Greater Accra 1.4% swing to NPP
Northern not enough results
Upper East not enough results
Upper West 21.4% swing to NDC
Volta 3.2% swing to NDC
Western 2.9% swing to NDC

John Mahama needs an overall swing of 1.5% compared to the 2008 first round to overtake Nana Addo, and needs an overall swing of approximately 2.4% to get over the 50% margin and win in one round. That is an estimate based on the poorer performance of minor parties.

It looks like he will do it, but this is a projection based on a third of the results (not all of which were useful due to complex boundary changes). It is a fact that the majority of the first dozen or so results declared gave a definite swing to Nana Akuffo Addo and the NPP, across a variety of constituency types and regions, causing me and other pundits to jump to quite wrong conclusions. It cannot be ruled out that there will come a long run of swings to the NPP, but it is looking statistically unlikely now.

The swing is pretty consistent and there are not obvious anomalous results. The massive swing to Mahama in Upper West is in part a reflection of the expected northern excitement at having a northern president, and was predicted. I expect we will see larger than average swings to Mahama in Upper East and Northern as well.

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Rusbridger’s New Wig

Judging by his picture in today’s Guardian, Alan Rusbridger has invested in a new wig which plumbs new depths of unconvincingness, even by Rusbridger standards. He is moving past Donald Trump territory in the direction of Danny La Rue.

The great mortification of my own life is that Nadira insists upon dyeing my hair – there are evident cultural differences over the acceptability of the practice, to the extent that Nadir’s distress at a white-haired partner even exceeds my own shame and embarassment over the dyeing.

But what, you ask, does my or Rusbridger’s hair dishonesty have to do with our work or opinions? Nothing, really. But the Guardian seems to prize such pointless character assassination, like this from Polydor Airhead on Julian Assange:

But when Assange appears, he seems more like an in-patient than an interviewee, his opening words slow and hesitant, the voice so cracked as to be barely audible. If you have ever visited someone convalescing after a breakdown, his demeanour would be instantly recognisable. Admirers cast him as the new Jason Bourne, but in these first few minutes I worry he may be heading more towards Miss Havisham.

Which is an untrue description to the point of being an absolute lie. I have spent a lot more time, including insude the Ecuadorean Embassy, with Julian than Ms Airhead, and I can assure you that the most striking thing about Julian is he is very normal. Intelligent and interesting, but normal. These attempts to dehumanise him by portraying him as a weirdo are deeply sinister. It is also completely untrue that he does not meet many people in the Embassy. I am willing to bet he sees more visitors than Ms Airhead. And her speculation on who he is sleeping with is disgusting.

Rusbridger – a man more disgusting than his wig.

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Strong Swing to Mahama in Western region

There are fairly uniform swings to John Mahama all over the Western region:

Suaman 4.7% to NDC
Essikadu/Ketan 3.1% to NDC
Takoradi 1.9% to NDC
Sekondi 4.5% to NDC
Shama 2.5% to NDC

It looks like Mahama’s powerful showing in the West and the North might get him home, unless Akuffo-Addo performs very well in Accra. But not much evidence in from Accra yet.

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Up All Night for Exciting Election

I have calculated thw swing in the first sixteen constituencies whose Presidential vote has been confirmed by the Electoral Commission. This swing is as compared to the first round in 2008, which Nana Addo narrowly won. The swing is here calculated between NPP and NDC, ignoring other parties.

KEEA 0.8% swing to NPP
Ningo Prampram 3.7% swing to NPP
Efutu Central 2.6% swing to NPP
Asowase 0.7% swing to NDC
Anlo 0.7% swing to NPP
Afigya Sekyere West 2.6% swing to NDC
Nkawkaw 0.9% swing to NDC
Krachi East 0.8% swing to NDC
Cape Coast North 0.4% swing to NPP
Gomoa East 1.9% swing to NPP
N Juaben South 0.2% swing to NDC
Sekondi 4.5% swing to NDC
Abuakwa North 0.2% swing to NDC
Mampong 2.1% swing to NDC
La Dade Kotopon 0.8% swing to NDC
Lambussie 14.5% swing to NDC

Aggregarting all the votes, there is a swing of 0.4% from NPP to NDC compared to the first round in 2008. But that still leaves Nana Addo in the lead, just. As usual, a Ghanaian election is way too close to call early.

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Election Day in Ghana

Today is election day in Ghana, both for President and Parliament. My phone has been hot all day with calls from around that country, and it seems strange to be following from a snowy Ramsgate.

I am in the curious position of being a good personal friend of both the main Presidential candidates, Nana Akuffo Addo and John Mahama. As you can see from the photograph above, they are fairly good friends themselves. I was actually there in Kyebi when that photo was taken a year ago. John was there for the Odwiratuo festival as Vice President, Nana was present as a member of the Akyim royal family, and I was there as a guest of the Okyenhene. In yet another example of the appalling slip in BBC standards, they today report wrongly that Nana is an Ashanti!

Both John and Nana are two of the nicest, best motivated and most “normal” people ever to be involved in high politics. They are both particularly kind individuals. It says something about Ghana that two such pleasant men are contesting for President. By contrast, politics in western countries seems to necessitate a degree of sociopathic ruthlessness that is entirely absent from both men.

I find myself thinking less about who will win, than being concerned for whichever of my friends loses. Ghana’s genuinely democratic elections have all come down right to the wire, and last time there was a tiny majority for the NDC – Nana lost by only about 20,000 votes across the entire country, after being just ahead but below 50% in the first round.

Nana is not getting younger and whether he will get another chance if he does not win this time remains to be seen – though the late President Mills won the last Presidential election after two successive defeats. John Mahama’s position in the NDC is also not automatically secure should he lose, having been promoted from Vice President to President on the demise of President Mills, but having had only a few months to consolidate the affections not just of the Ghanaian people but of his own party.

Whichever of my friends loses cannot therefore be certain of getting another chance in 2012, though I very much hope they will.

I was absolutely appalled by the standards of the Ghanaian media in the last election. There was no debate on policy, but merely unceasing stories about the candidates’ private lives and health. Thankfully this year has been a bit better, with Nana’s promise of free senior high school education breaking new ground in introducing real policy discussion into the election. John’s commendable agreement to participate in the televised debates was also a breakthrough, and the inclusion of the “minor” candidates with full rights in those debates shamed western “democracies”.

One unfortunate feature of modern western democracies has however been reflected in recent Ghanaian politics. The theoretical right/left split between the NPP and NDC appears not to reflect much in real policy difference. I expect the NDC would have done rather better had they tried harder to regain their role as the representative of the poorer sections of society. Rent control is an urgent necessity for the urban poor as property prices boom with oil development, but nobody wants to take on the World Bank over the issue.

We can expect a swing to Mahama in his native north, with probably the NDC holding on to some of 2008’s gains in the West. But the Presidential election will really be decided in the huge urban constituencies of Accra and Tema, with the Ga vote likely to be decisive. Peculiarly the Ga are virtually never mentioned by political commentators.

From 2000 to 2008 Ghana enjoyed a golden period of economic growth under John Kuffour, which propelled them to the front of the first rank of African economies. However pre-election fiscal looseness by the NPP in 2007-2008 coincided with the global economic crash. The NDC inherited a large deficit and debt problem. Kwabena Duffour, the Finance Minister, has done an extremely good job of keeping economic growth going while repairing the budget deficit. Kwabena is worth six of George Osborne any day.

But the deficit remedy medicine did require a reining back of government infrastructure spending, and this will hurt the NDC; Ghanaian voters do like to see something tangible for their money. There was a real sense in which 2008 was a good election to lose, as the winner was constrained from doing popular things.

By contrast, 2012 is a great election to win; as the booming of the economy accelerates towards double figure growth and oil revenue starts to flow through properly. Whoever wins this election will have the opportunity to undertake projects that will make a real mark in Ghanaian development, and ought to be well placed to win a second term.

Ghana will be in extremely good hands in 2013-17 whatever the outcome. I cannot feel either John or Nana deserves to lose, and my thoughts will be with the loser, much as I shall congratulate the winner. Remember, politicans are people, too. If you cut them, do they not bleed?

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The End of the Catholic Orangemen

I have just opened the last of fifty boxes of 24 books which comprised the 1200 privately published hardback copies of The Catholic Orangemen of Togo. They have all sold – not more than half a dozen were given away. This has been a hard slog. Long term readers will know that I had to self-publish after multi-millionaire hired killer Tim Spicer threatened my publishers with a libel action, causing them to pull out. I then published myself and invited Spicer to sue, but he bottled out.

I made the book available free online and I don’t know how many read it that way, but at least fifty thousand while we were keeping a track on the major download avenues. I suspect that increased rather than decreased sales of the hardback, but the real problem was that I found it impossible to get a self-published book accepted by bookshops, despite the commercial success of Murder in Samarkand.

Anyway, the final two dozen are now available. Great Christmas presents! It is a book of which I remain very proud.

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I am off to Baghdad on Sunday for an Arab League conference on Palestinian detainees held in Israel. This is part of my determination to devote more of my time to helping the Palestinian cause. It seems to me we are at a crucial point where the Palestinians are in genuine danger of an accelerated genocide, as Israeli intentions to annex Est Jerusalem and the West Bank become ever plainer.

In retrospect, my life has mostly been based on the idea that I may not be able to do much to help in a particular situation, but it is incumbent on me to try. So I am trying.

A “two state” solution has, from the start, been advanced in bad faith by promoters such as Blair and Bush, with the intention always that it would be a Bantustan solution. For those too young to recall, the grand plan of apartheid South Africa was that the black population would be corraled into a number of small regions which would become “independent states”.

I have said before that I am often pleasantly surprised by Sky News security correspondent Sam Kiley, who seems to get away with talking great sense by hiding behind a Ross Kemp style persona. A couple of days ago he reported from the West Bank that Israel was “moving towards an apartheid state”. There is no doubt that is true – even in Israel proper, there are over three hundred ethnically based Israeli laws prescribing different treatment for Jews and others, across almost every activity of the state. I fear Sam Kiley will not be on mainstream TV long – a tendency to tell the truth being career fatal.

Bibi’s desire to kill off the two state solution is a terrible, genocidal threat but strangely also an opportunity. Botha and De Klerk did not succeed, and Bibi may not either. I personally would have deplored a Bantustan based solution, with crammed and split Palestinian lands deprived of resources, water, communications and any hope of economic viability.

The ultimate solution must involve a proper single state in Israel/Palestine which is blind and fair in its laws to race and religion. That solution can ultimately bring security to the people of Israel, not based on their ability to kill or evict their neighbours and steal their land. The essentials of the agreement will have to be most people staying where they are – including most West Bank settlers – and very serious compensation to dispossessed Palestinians, with the settlements enlarged to become mixed communities.

On the Palestinian detainee question, for me it shows up yet again Israel’s extraordinary capacity for shameless sophistry in matters of international law. Israel justifies its naval blockade on the San Remo Convention, which is only applicable in times of armed conflict. Israel states that it is in a de facto permanent armed conflict. However it denies being in an armed conflict when it comes to its treatment of Palestinain detainees, captured outside Israel, who are not treated as prisoners of war. Both positions cannot be held simultaneously, but secure in the collusion of the West’s bought politicians, Israel does so.

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Leveson: Wrong Answer to the Wrong Question

I am with David Cameron and Rupert Murdoch in one respect on the Leveson report. British mainstream politicians are still more repulsive and self-seeking than the British mainstream media, and state regulation of the media, however modulated, is not good.

But Leveson was answering the wrong question.

The real problem is the ownership structure of UK mainstream media. Newspapers and broadcasters function as the propaganda tool of vast and intertwined corporate interests, shaping public opinion to the benefit of those corporate interests and ensuring popular support for politicians prepared to be complicit with those interests.

The only answer to this is to break up the corporate structure of the UK mainstream media. The legislative framework to do this is not difficult. What needs to be changed are the criteria. I would propose something like this; no organisation, state or private, should be allowed effective control of more than 20% of the national or regional newspaper market or the television market, or more than 15% of those combined markets.

The extraordinary thing is that Leveson specifically states that plurality issues do fall within his terms of reference, and that he must address them. He then completely fails to address them. At pages 29-30 of the executive summary of his report, he acknowledges that the current situation is unsatisfactory but makes no recommendations for change, only urging “Greater transparency on decision making on mergers”.

Leveson has provided us with the distraction of an argument about a regulatory body to look primarily at invasion of privacy abuse. The important factor for Leveson is not what Cameron or Clegg think of that idea. It is what Murdoch and the media corporations think of it, and the truth is that they could live with it, after huffing and puffing, because it would have zero effect on theirfinancial bottom line.

But what Leveson has totally failed to do – and doubtless never had the slightest intention of doing – was anything that hurts the corporate financial interests. Leveson’s failure seriously to address the question of media ownership and its use in the nexus of commercial and political interests is itself an appalling act of establishment collusion. Very successfully so – in all the “debate” going on about the regulatory body, the media ownership question has completely vanished. Brilliant.

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