The Oxonian Globalist Oxford University's international affairs magazine Wed, 27 Jan 2016 13:49:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Must Rhodes Fall? Wed, 27 Jan 2016 13:48:01 +0000 One of the defining issues in student politics this term (and last) is likely to be the continued Rhodes Must Fall movement, and the questions and debates which it raises. Already, we’ve had leaders across the world, and in the University, weigh in on the issue – seemingly to little substantive notice from RMF themselves. While I would agree that it is very important to have debates and discussions on our colonial legacy and such issues, the approach of RMF only serves to hinder this, both in its ideology and its demands – but we should not let this distract us from seriously acknowledging the harms colonialism produced in colonised countries, or continuing the debate.


The first point to make is that RMF’s dismissal of critics as being “white supremacists” or – worse – not caring about the suffering of former colonies, is extremely disingenuous and gratuitous in its assumptions of malice on the part of its opponents. Just as you don’t have to believe that monetary reparations for colonialism are necessary to acknowledge its harms, you don’t have to wish to tear down the Rhodes statue (whether to be put in a museum or otherwise – it’s far from clear what its fate would be) to not be an apologist for his actions; we can recognise the harm that his ideology and administration caused to southern Africa (most notably the Glen Grey Act which is often considered to have laid the foundation stones of Apartheid), while also remembering what is clearly his most positive legacy in the world today: the Rhodes Scholarships, which have allowed people of all races from across the globe to receive an Oxford education for generations, as well as his donation to the University which would be worth £44 million today. And, lest we forget, it is precisely because of this part of his legacy that the statue was erected.


It is also precisely for these reasons that it is wrong to characterise the relatively small statue built into a wall as being a “glorification” of Rhodes. That honour is better reserved for the much larger, plinthed statue at UCT which was taken down in South Africa – a country which had colonialism imposed upon it, so will obviously view his legacy far differently (though it is interesting to note that the anecdotal evidence of a recent Cherwell article on the subject of Rhodes in South Africa was that he was regarded far more positively than the Boers). The two are not remotely comparable; just like some statues of Lenin and other figures have been vigorously defended against the decommunisation program of the Ukrainian government in parts of Ukraine where they are remembered positively, and statues of Genghis Khan remain in Mongolia despite the fact he is often considered one of history’s greatest villains (certainly by death toll), the figure of Cecil Rhodes will be remembered for different reasons in the UK than in South Africa.


Moreover, we need to remember that not wanting to tear down a statue that is already up is far from the same as wanting to erect a new one; the very point of erecting statues is to keep a part of history preserved in the public square – which contains our past and our present, and therefore the key to our future – for future generations. And, to RMF’s credit, they have started a debate about how we approach colonialism, a debate which was both overdue, and only possible because the statue was there. It is a debate that will not be resolved in this generation of students, and must surely be preserved for the next one.


As has also been pointed out many times, the principle of RMF – much like many other student activist movements – would demand the removal of just about every other memorial or statue, perhaps in the world. Henry VIII, for instance, forcibly dissolved the monasteries, persecuted Catholics, and presided over many political executions (most notably of Anne Boleyn), yet there has been no parallel demand for removal of statues and memorials to him by Catholics – precisely because he is one of the most important historical figures in British, or even world, history whose legacy cannot simply be reduced to, or dismissed on account of, his many flaws. Such an honour instead belongs to the likes of Hitler and Saddam. Similarly, there would be outrage among many of the campaign’s supporters if people were to demand the destruction of the grand headstone and bust on the grave of Karl Marx, despite the incalculable harm his ideas have done, and continue to do, across the world. Such an honour instead belongs to thorough villains like Jimmy Savile.


Yet RMF, in starting a debate, seems to reserve for itself the ability to dictate both parameter and result of said debate. You are not allowed, for instance, to point out nuances in the government of Zimbabwe as Rhodesia (or to question whether Mugabe’s regime has been an improvement) or else you’ll be accused of outright apologism for colonialism. Moreover, nationally, we’ve already seen the result of attempts to reduce complex characters from history purely to their worst aspects in the person of Enoch Powell. Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech is rightly remembered as obscene and overtly racist, but what is forgotten is his many achievements, most notably becoming a full Professor at the tender age of 25, and being one of only two people to have managed to advance all the way from Private to Brigadier in the British Army, and his classical commentaries are still considered some of the most insightful in academia. Attempts to remember these, however, are often dismissed as apologism for Powell’s racism when the two aren’t remotely connected.


One of RMF’s own targets for the same treatment appears to be Winston Churchill, who was analogised as “a lurking criminal” (a telling analogy in itself) on account of his responsibility for the Bengali Famine, when there was surely no more revered man in Britain (and many other parts of the world) on Armistice Day 1945. While it is important that we actually do remember that Churchill was no saint by any means (such as the Bengali Famine), it would surely be foolish to ignore his accomplishments in defeating the Nazis and ultimately ending perhaps the most brutal regime to have ever existed. Yet this is what we are faced with in the official RMF campaign: not the starting and continuing of a debate about our colonial history, but the browbeating of an exclusively-negative view of our past through typical loud and aggressive tactics, such as a determination to make as much noise as possible during their Oriel protest (perhaps to encourage caving in so that the lives of normal Oriel students are no longer disrupted) and the barracking of a floor speaker at the Union’s Reparations debate to the point where he could barely get a word in edgeways during his speech.


And in RMF we also see the usual tactics of student “activist” movements which seek to remove that which offends them. People of Colour that disagree with the movement have been cast aside, tarred with a brush perhaps even more offensive than “Uncle Tom”: namely, that their minds have somehow been “colonised” (and their agency surely lost in the process). RMF claims to speak on behalf of BME students as if they’re some kind of collective, when the only evidence we’ve got – namely, the Cherwell’s own survey – suggests that BME students are hotly split on the issue, and a simple majority replied that the removal of the statue would make no difference to their lives. And, also uncommonly, they declare Oxford “our university”, forgetting that it’s not just “their” university but everyone’s, and if everyone could make that claim, we would have no public square at all. Nor does any one group have the right to monopolise the public square so that it suits them; just as I would have no right to demand that pictures of Chairman Mao be removed from the public squares of Beijing because I consider him a monster (when he’s still regarded highly by many in parts of China), nor does any one group such as RMF have the right to demand that Oxford’s statues and place names be removed.


Yet what some on the other side of the fence have said has been less than helpful. While Lord Patten is certainly right to say that we cannot force history to conform to modern sensibilities (indeed, we would hope that in 100 years, we are also granted the charity of being judged as creatures of our time rather than being expected to conform to new standards as alien to us as ours would be to future generations), that does not entail the flippant dismissal of your opponents that they should go to another country.


This is a debate that we do need to have, precisely because many people remain unaware of them, and a debate which we should take seriously. And surely, in order to better facilitate this debate, we shouldn’t be tearing statues down but building them up; the Spectator recently suggested that we erect a statue of Matabele king Lobengula such that people can see both, and rather than confine statues to museums (where, in fact, they can be politicised – novelist D.J. Taylor has argued that this has even happened with Swedish napkins, with explanatory notes talking about conditions in napkin factories rather than about the napkins themselves), we should be creating new exhibitions, or perhaps museums, on the other, dark, side of the British Empire.

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Nigeria’s Oil Industry: Five Key Challenges Facing Buhari in 2016. Fri, 15 Jan 2016 21:53:25 +0000  

Beyond the fiscal crisis that has resulted from the collapse in the global oil price, Nigeria’s flagging petro-economy has equally serious underlying structural issues to contend with. The task facing Nigeria’s newly elected President – Muhammadu Buhari, a former military dictator from Nigeria’s northern and predominantly Muslim region – in overcoming Nigeria’s oil related troubles in 2016 is truly immense. There is no doubt that, if he upholds his electoral pledges to clamp down on government corruption and rebuild Nigeria’s institutional capacity, his presidency has great potential to help Nigeria transition onto a new path of prosperity.

Nevertheless, if Nigeria is to successfully address the underlying structural issues associated with its inadequate capacity to regulate and enforce its oil industry, there are a number of prominent challenges that need to be carefully considered over the coming year. In this article I argue that these center on the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the oil industry’s regulatory bodies, industrial scale oil theft in the Niger Delta, the burgeoning indigenous oil sector and the President’s ability to award discretionary oil contracts.


Five Key Challenges


  1. The NNPC: At the root of Nigeria’s troubled relationship with its oil wealth is its opaque National Oil Company, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Problematically most government officials outside of NNPC – including many working in the central bank and the Ministry of Finance – are not fully aware of the true extent of corruption that takes place within its bureaucracy. What is clear, though, is that the NNPC has functioned as a patronage machine with studiously crafted opacity: every transaction enabling well-connected politicians to profit from the contracting process and the siphoning of oil revenues. Unsurprisingly, the NNPC is the lowest ranked National Oil Company (NOC) on Transparency International’s transparency ranking, with a score of zero.

Fortunately, reforming the NNPC has been at the top of President Buhari’s list, and he has already begun to overhaul the NNPC by firing a number of its senior officials. These officials have been replaced as part of a reform process that will hopefully transform the state run oil company into a more effective organisation. Nigeria’s new vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo, has likewise begun to overhaul the operation of the state’s government agencies, giving the federal government greater oversight of its treasury accounts and thereby minimizing the ability of government officials to divert state funds. Previously the NNPC’s revenue and expenditure was not reflected in the national budget, which allowed substantial leeway for corrupt officials, whilst at the same time multiple treasury accounts maximized opacity.

Yet there is still a long road ahead: Despite nearly 50 years of operating the NNPC still has an extremely limited level of technical expertise in oil extraction. Indeed it remains reliant upon international oil companies (IOCs) such as Shell and Chevron to complete practically all activities related to oil extraction. Although it does have an oil producing subsidiary called the Nigerian Petroleum Development Corporation (NPDC), the NPDC has for a long time produced only an insignificant portion of Nigeria’s total capacity; approximately 10,000-50,000 barrels per day (bpd) of a two million bpd capacity, which it has only recently increased to nearly 200,000 bpd. Although the Former Minister of Petroleum Resources – Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, who was arrested in the UK on suspicion of corruption last October – commended the NPDC early last year for raising production up to 200,000 bpd, severe questions remain over its actual technological capabilities.

This is not to mention the NNPC’s woeful inability to refine its own oil produce. Ironically Nigeria is a net importer of refined oil, with its economy dependent upon oil subsidies due to the fact that nearly all of the crude that is extracted is exported and refined abroad. Whilst the state does have four domestic refineries they currently operate at around two per cent capacity due to their dilapidated condition. Thus if Nigeria is to capture the full value of its oil wealth there needs to be a sustained reconfiguration of the role of the NNPC.


  1. Regulation: The primary regulator of Nigeria’s oil industry is the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), which is tasked with the regulation of health and safety, environmental and operational measures and, until 1988, operated under the NNPC. However, the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the NNPC have watered down the DPR’s ability to perform its regulatory functions both independently and objectively. The mandate of the Ministry of Petroleum, which sits above both the DPR and NNPC, is to maximize production and encourage investment in the industry, signifying an inherent conflict of interest: Its willingness to lower its production in order to enforce regulatory standards is questionable. Indeed Shell has highlighted how “SPDC [Shell Petroleum Development Corporation] has received instructions from the government not to decrease production to reduce flaring” in one of its sustainability reports. There is also a case of self-regulation within the NNPC itself. As well as being an industry participant, the NNPC has assumed a number of regulatory functions such as the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS). NAPIMS is a division within the NNPC and oversees the spending of the Joint Ventures and supervises the Production Sharing Contracts.

Nigeria does possess a number of environmental laws, such as the Federal Environmental Protection Agency Act (FEPA 1992), the Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industry in Nigeria (EGASPIN revised 2002) and the Environmental Impact Assessment Act (EIAA 1992), however these are rarely adequately enforced. Accordingly the problem does not lie in the legislation, but rather with the regulators who have failed to do their jobs properly, due to either conflict of interest or a genuine lack of resources. Indubitably there is a clear case of regulatory capture because there is little incentive to impose penalties on gas flaring violations: if the DPR penalizes its Joint Venture operations with the oil majors, such as Shell, the costs are borne largely by the NNPC and therefore by the Nigerian government itself. This is compounded by the fact that both the Ministry of Petroleum and the NNPC can exert significant influence over the DPR, which itself suffers from low capacity. Given these internal conflicts of interest it is unsurprising that the 2011 United Nations Environment Program report recommended the “Transfer oversight of the EGASPIN legislation from DPR to the Federal Ministry of Environment”.

Concurrently the primary body tasked with oil revenue transparency, the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), is extremely limited in terms of enforcing any infringements of the law. Moreover NEITI reports are only published two years after any incident takes place, entailing a substantial time lag in picking up on offences that have occurred. This is problematic because there is no mandate beyond the NEITI that requires agencies that deal with oil – including the DPR, NNPC, Central Bank and Ministry of Finance – to disclose information and data to one another. Accordingly, whilst the NEITI has been greatly beneficial for increasing transparency, as an instrument in itself it is relatively limited.


  1. Oil Theft: Industrial scale oil theft has been a continued blight on the Nigerian states ability to capture the full value of its oil reserves over the last few decades. It is estimated that somewhere between 100,000 and 400,000 barrels are stolen from the Niger Delta every day, which has caused the Shell Petroleum Development Corporation (SPDC), Shell’s Joint Venture with the NNPC, losses of over $7 billion in recent years as production levels have fallen by over one third of capacity. Oil theft is organized by militants and local community groups in the Niger Delta and was the driving force behind the government’s decision to grant amnesty to all militants in 2009. This theft has been a primary cause of oil spills in the Delta and is cited as a major reason why the IOCs are divesting their assets onshore. The fundamental problem is that oil theft is inescapably intertwined with government corruption: Nigeria’s Joint Task Force (JTF) chiefs are complicit in allowing stolen oil to be refined in the Delta and exported to offshore tankers, providing they receive a bribe. Oil theft has caused the oil majors considerable losses in revenue and has contributed to these firms divesting their oil blocks in the onshore areas and moving into offshore regions. Unsurprisingly, plugging this industrial scale oil theft poses a significant challenge for the new President.


  1. Indigenous Participation: Rather than increasing GDP per capita, oil wealth has continually been channeled into the hands of a select group of Nigeria’s wealthy elite; largely those with close ties to the President. During previous oil licensing rounds, predominantly those in 2005, 2006, and 2007, former Presidents have used their discretionary powers to allocate licenses to politically connected firms. The introduction of Local Content Vehicles (LCVs) prior to the 2005 and 2006 bidding round, for example, forced international oil companies to offer up 10 per cent equity in their oil blocks to private Nigerian oil firms. These indigenous Nigerian firms have often lacked any prior experience in oil extraction and many are controlled by Nigeria’s political or business elites. A recent report the independent think tank ‘The Nigeria National Resource Charter’ has stressed how “the quality of participation and the processes by which indigenous companies are chosen to participate in the sector both require careful observation”.

The recent Strategic Alliance Agreements (SAA’s) are another example of this kind of political favoritism. SSA’s have enabled private Nigerian oil firms to operate state owned oil blocks run by the NNPCs de facto producing arm, the Nigerian Petroleum Development Corporation (NPDC). Nigeria’s ex-central bank governor, Lamido Sanusi, has claimed that these agreements contravene the Nigerian constitution because they transfer control over revenues and profits on state-owned assets to private firms. Out of a total of $7 billion in revenues generated under these arrangements only $400 million has been paid in taxes to the state. Monitoring the quality of this indigenous participation will undoubtedly be one of the largest tasks facing the new President.

Simultaneously oil theft has had a disproportionate impact on Nigeria’s indigenous sector. These firms’ ability to cope with financial loss from oil theft is especially problematic given their dependency on Nigerian banks and one incident can wipe out all revenue for one or two years. Unlike the IOCs who have been able to absorb the costs of theft due to their diversified asset portfolios, indigenous firms are considerably more financially exposed. Although local firms such as Oando claim that they are able to deal with theft more effectively than the majors this has not proven to be the case so far. These problems are compounded by the fact that revenue losses from low oil prices have already had a disproportionately negative impact on indigenous firms in relation to the IOCs, due to their smaller size. This underscores the need to critically reflect on whether the institutional and financial environment is strong enough to nurture this industry.


  1. Discretionary Powers: The Petroleum Act 1969 – the primary piece of legislation that governs how oil licenses are awarded in Nigeria – has for decades allowed the President to hand out oil licenses at his discretion. This completely undermines the transparency and accountability of the bidding process, as well as enabling the President to intervene in functions assumed by the DPR. During the last three licensing rounds, in 2005, 2006 and 2007, many of the IOC’s competitive bids were overruled through these rights to award oil blocks. This discretionary power has become an increasing point of contention in the redrafts of the Petroleum Industry Bill; if the new President wishes the state to move forwards he should remove it outright.




The Forlorn Petroleum Industry Bill


The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), whose passage has been delayed for over seven years, is the primary attempt by the Nigerian government to overhaul and transform the oil industry by updating its existing laws governing oil extraction, most prominently the Petroleum Act 1969. Whilst the PIB has undergone multiple revisions, in its current form it is set to break up NNPC and introduce a new tax regime along with new regulatory agencies. The previous President, Goodluck Jonathan, presented the most recent draft of the PIB to the National Assembly in 2012 and it has lain dormant ever since. The challenge for President Buhari will be to successfully integrate the aforementioned five points of concern into a new strengthened PIB in order to bring greater regulatory stability to the sector and change the industry for the better.

However there are no guarantees that the President will be able to overcome the tensions that have delayed the PIB’s passing over the last seven years, even if his electoral mandate did state that he would be tougher on corruption. The fundamental issue is that too many politically connected individuals have benefitted from the current structure of the industry for there to be any incentive for reform that would allow Nigeria’s oil wealth to be used for the general benefit of its population. There is resistance to industry change throughout the Nigerian government, stretching from Joint Task Force (JTF) chiefs, who are complicit in the oil theft that takes place in the Delta, all the way to corrupt Ministers within the NNPC. Unfortunately the government in Nigeria is immensely strong and resistant to change in the status quo. Whilst the challenge facing the new President is immense, initial signs have been immensely positive, particularly with regard to the reform of the NNPC. The question will be whether Buhari – nicknamed ‘Baba go-slow’ due to the six-month period it took to submit his list of ministers to the senate and then assign them posts – can engineer this transformation within his four-year term. The progress he makes over the course of 2016 will be instrumental in determining his overall success.

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The Corruption Underpinning Nigeria’s Indigenous Oil Sector: From Bidding Rounds to Regulation Fri, 08 Jan 2016 07:08:01 +0000 For decades, political corruption has torn at the roots of Nigeria’s petro-economy, yet what does it really translate to with respect to the indigenous oil sector? International Oil Companies (IOCs), National Oil Companies and indigenous firms each have different nuanced relationships with the Nigerian state. These relationships intersect the President, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) (Nigeria’s state-run oil company) and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) (the primary regulator of Nigeria’s oil industry). Yet whilst much has been discussed regarding the corruption associated with the NNPC and the IOCs, little is known about the corruption that surrounds Nigeria’s burgeoning indigenous oil industry.

What is evident is that many indigenous firms are – or at least have been in the past – highly politically embedded: Friendships and political connections underscore many of these indigenous firms’ relationships with state officials. The nature of these relationships needs to be questioned because the awarding of oil contracts should be made on a competitive basis, and founded on technological capacity, whilst increasing local content should not come at the expense of regulation. In this article I examine the issues associated with the awarding of licenses for indigenous firms and scrutinise the relationships that many of these firms have had with the DPR and NNPC.


The Awarding of Oil Licenses


Historically, individuals politically connected to the President have benefitted from his ability to award licenses under the discretionary powers of the Petroleum Act 1969. This Act is the principal legislation that governs how oil licenses are awarded in Nigeria and enables the President to hand out oil licenses at his ‘discretion’. Many indigenous firms have leveraged political relationships in order to secure oil license agreements, not only during the last three oil-licensing rounds in 2005, 2006 and 2007 but also through ‘secretive’ unofficial discretionary awards based often on friendships.

During the prior-to-last presidency, this discretionary awarding of oil licences was compounded by the fact that President Obasanjo illegally appointed himself as the Minister of Petroleum as well as the Chairman of the Board of NNPC. Not only did this mean that oil matters were never discussed in cabinet, but it simultaneously undermined any pretence of Ministry and NNPC independence. This provided the government with influence over commercial and operational decisions relating to licencing awards, which it has been unable to restrain itself from utilising.

The result of this weak institutional capacity is simple: those firms that do not profit from political patronage have not put in tenders for contracts and licenses. The end result is that high-level public officials (both current and former) are understood to channel lucrative deals to either their political allies or companies that they partially own. During the last three licensing rounds, many of the IOCs’ competitive bids were overruled through the Presidents discretionary powers to award blocks. Although there is little information available on which companies won which blocks during each licensing round – meaning it is difficult to find out whom these firms belong to – there are some distinct examples.


The 2005, 2006 and 2007 Bidding Rounds


There are a string of cases where influential Nigerians with considerable shareholdings in indigenous firms have been awarded lucrative production contracts. During the 2000 licensing round, for example, an indigenous oil firm called Orandi – which was linked to Peter Odili, then Governor of Rivers State and a close associate of President Obasanjo – won one of the eight blocks being auctioned. Comparable events took place during the 2005 and 2006 bidding round when the government introduced the Local Content Vehicle (LCV) policy, which forced IOC operators to offer ten per cent equity to an indigenous company. Importantly, the LCV scheme was questioned at the time as a ploy to guarantee politically connected individuals a piece of the action. Emmanuel Ojie’s firm NJ Exploration Services was one of the approved LCV’s on one of the Korean blocks – Ojie was a close business associate of President Obasanjo at the time. Similarly, Southland, which was owned by Andy Uba – one of the Presidents closest advisors – was made an LCV for KNOC.

More concerning is that incorporation records from 2009 show that in the 2005 bidding round Senator Lee Maeba – the then Chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Upstream) and serving Senator of the Federal Republic in the upper legislative House – had an 80 percent stake in one of the LCVs, New Tigerhead PSTI Limited, which had won Oil Prospecting License (OPL) 257. Prominently, Senator Maeba was the driving force behind the NOGICD Act, having tried to push the bill through the House of Representatives in both 2005 and 2007, and was directly responsible for overseeing the licensing of oil blocks. Other examples include the owner of Shore Beach Exploration and key financier for the ruling party, Emeka Offor, as well as the owner of INC Natural Resources, Alhaji Saminu Turaki; the Former Govenor of Jigawa state. Contracts were awarded under the discretionary powers of the Petroleum Act 1969, favoring Nigerian elites, meaning that the relevant government agencies such as the Federal Revenue Service and the Office of the Accountant-General never received basic information on oil transactions, such as export prices, costs and production volumes.


Strategic Alliance Agreements (SSAs)


The Nigerian Petroleum Development Corporation (NPDC) – Nigeria’s state owned oil producing subsidiary of the NNPC – has also come under serious criticism more recently for acting as a mechanism through which oil wealth can be channelled away from the central bank, largely through ‘Strategic Alliance Agreements’ (SAA’s) with local indigenous firms. SAA’s are agreements specifically between the NPDC and indigenous firms allowing indigenous firms to take over operatorship of government owned oil blocks. These agreements are claimed to contravene the constitution because they transfer control over revenues and profits on state-owned assets to private firms. Out of a total of $7 billion in revenues generated under these arrangements, only $400 million was paid in taxes to the state.  Two indigenous firms – Seven Energy and Atlantic Energy – were recently given the right to manage five of the NPDC’s oil fields through these ‘unconstitutional’ no-bid contracts. Through these SSA’s, neither firm pays taxes to the Nigerian government, and they themselves have subsequently sub-contracted production work to other operators. Importantly, both firms were co-founded by one of Nigeria’s wealthy elites, Kola Aluko, along with Jide Omokore, one of President Jonathan’s close associates.


Technological Inadequacy


A corresponding issue associated with many of these discretionary awards is that many LCV’s and other indigenous companies have had virtually no prior experience in oil. For example, another firm also owned by Emeka Offor, Starcrest, had no history or credibility as an oil company, and was only registered days before the the bidding round in 2006. Similarly, Atlantic energy, one of the firms licensed under an SSA to operate drilling on the block on behalf of the NPDC was only incorporated as an oil firm the day before the agreement. Many of the LCV’s have opaque ownership and finances and very few have the ability to fund their share of operations in either the mature Niger Delta area or in offshore regions. In 2005 this was compounded by the fact that the oil industry regulator, the DPR, decided to give out information selectively and was inherently negligent in its due diligence. Accordingly, favouritism and corruption has fundamentally undermined competition in Nigeria’s oil industry and has resulted in the awarding of blocks to unqualified companies who are unable to exploit complex geological reserves.


Relationships with the Regulatory Bodies    


There are also nuances in the direct relationships that indigenous firms have with the regulatory bodies. One senior employee of the NNPC with whom I spoke highlighted how many senior Nigerian businessmen working for the indigenous firms have direct personal relationship with senior figures working for the NNPC and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources. He claimed that they are very much an elite, and the nature of these relationships has opened up space for greater preferences when they are available, enabling indigenous firms to be treated less harshly than the IOCs if things go wrong. This general attitude towards purportedly accommodating regulatory breaches associated with indigenous firms has most likely evolved out of the Nigerian governments desire to bend over backwards to encourage indigenous companies as part of its drive to encourage local content. The unfortunate side effect is that some indigenous firms have not adhered to their work programs and financial commitments. If these cases involve an IOC, you would expect the government to terminate these firms’ licenses, but instead there has been a discernable tolerance towards indigenous firms. Whilst the local regulatory authorities should step in at the point at which these companies come up for budget reviews for work program discussions and the letting of contracts, this is often not taking place in reality. This is problematic because is has been posited that these indigenous Nigerian companies have less concern for governance issues and weaker internal regulatory mechanisms.


Signs of Reform?                                                   


With the impact of corruption on government revenues compounded by the sustained lows in the global oil price – Brent Crude is at $38 dollars per barrel at time of writing – the task of Nigeria’s newly elected President – Muhammadu Buhari – to cleanse Nigeria’s oil industry of corruption is more pressing than ever. Whilst only time will tell as to whether President Buhari lives up to his electoral mandate – founded upon a bid to rid corruption in Nigeria’s oil industry – the initial direction of his policies is positive. Nigeria’s new vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo, has already begun to overhaul the way in which the state’s government agencies operate, giving the federal government better oversight over its treasury accounts, thereby minimizing the ability of government officials to divert state funds; previously the NNPC’s revenue and expenditure was not reflected in the national budget – allowing substantial leeway for corrupt officials – whilst at the same time multiple treasury accounts maximized opacity. Buhari has also begun to overhaul the NNPC by firing a number of its previous management and replacing them through a reform process that will hopefully transform the state-run oil company into a more dynamic profit generating organisation. This long-overdue reform is an essential step in plugging the billions of dollars in state oil revenues that have gone missing over course of previous administrations, and should, tentatively, pave the way for reform in the sector as a whole, principally in the form of the Petroleum Industry Bill.  Given that oil accounts for roughly 70 per cent of government revenue, reforming Nigeria’s oil industry by plugging internal revenue leaks is more important than ever before; hopefully this will include the indigenous sector as well.

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World Corbynism Tue, 13 Oct 2015 10:46:10 +0000 The year is 2020. The Conservatives are in disarray; divided by referendum rebellions and haemorrhaging votes due to rising inequality, house prices and unemployment. Meanwhile the “New Politics” of a certain bearded outsider have brought millions of non-voters to the polling station, returned Scottish constituencies to their Labour roots and attracted supporters of the floundering Lib-Dems and Greens. As the results of the election – a landslide for Jeremy Corbyn – are broadcast worldwide, Donald Trump switches off the Oval office television in disgust.

This vision may be an unlikely one, but stranger things have happened in politics, and a Labour defeat in 2020 is by no means a certainty. Thus it is worth exploring the implications of Corbyn’s foreign policy – what I would term “World Corbynism” – for the UK, its allies and its enemies.

Two important caveats are needed in any exploration of world Corbynism. The first is that, with the party conference having only just concluded, and several years until the general election, the final form of World Corbynism has yet to solidify, and thus predictions can only be based upon the stated position of Corbyn himself, in addition to that of his foreign secretary, Hilary Benn. The second is that Jeremy Corbyn faces significant opposition within his own party, with Tom Watson (the deputy labour leader) and Benn being particularly high-ranked dissenters. Undoubtedly this will mean that many of Corbyn’s expressed policy positions will have to be toned down or abandoned should he assume office.

This process can already be seen at work in the fate of the two most radical elements of world Corbynism; NATO withdrawal and unilateral disarmament. On the first topic, although Corbyn remains against NATO’s political and geographic expansion, he has retreated from previous calls for the UK to pull out of the organisation. Corbyn also still supports unilateral disarmament and has committed to persuading his colleagues on this; however the recent Labour conference made clear the overwhelming opposition he faces. Not only did the delegates vote against debating non-renewal of trident, they also voted in favour of a continuous at sea deterrent, a policy that necessitates full renewal of all four submarines. In addition there has been outspoken opposition to unilateral disarmament from Hilary Benn, Maria Eagle (shadow secretary of defence), Andy Burnham, Paul Kenny (leader of the GMB union) and other influential labour party figures. The probable renewal of Trident in 2016 will make unilateral disarmament still less attractive, since it will then be an active choice to retire updated weaponry, instead of passive retirement of an obsolescent programme.

Disposing of Trident thus seems unlikely to come to pass, but it could be argued that Corbyn’s stated refusal to ever use the deterrent would amount to unilateral disarmament by other means. But this is to mistake the primary purpose of Trident as a symbol of power, rather than an actual weapon to deploy against our current enemies. We do not exist in a situation at all comparable to the mutually assured destruction of the Cold War, so as significant a gesture as Corbyn’s refusal to use Trident is, it is far less important than the actual removal of the missile system itself.

It is telling that despite the absence of his most radical ideas, World Corbynism would entail a jarring break with the post-1980s consensus, as manifested in three main ways. The first would be the reduction in British military involvement overseas. Although Corbyn’s shadow chancellor Hilary Benn has indicated that “we [the UK] are right to be offering air support to the government of Iraq” in the current fight against ISIS, thus indicating the possible continuation of low-grade international interventions, support for airstrikes on Syria (without UN approval) was defeated in the most recent vote. More significant still is Corbyn’s stated desire to only send troops abroad if UN support could be secured. Given the difficulty of avoiding Russian and Chinese Security Council vetoes, this would make overseas interventions incredibly unlikely. Couple this with Corbyn’s long history of pacifism (including chairing the Stop the War coalition) and his expressed doubts about the affordability of the UK’s “global reach”, it is easy to foresee a freeze or reduction in UK military spending. This reduction might become a necessity if Labour is to genuinely attempt fiscal discipline of the sort John McDonnell set out at the conference.

Although the post-cold war era could enable escape from a large and costly military establishment, Britain may face certain unavoidable commitments, most notably over the Falklands. Hopes for the return of Las Malvinas to Argentina have already been raised by Corbyn’s victory (Kitchener describing it as a “triumph of hope”). These are not assisted by the current mixed messages of the shadow cabinet; with Hilary Benn supporting self determination, whilst Corbyn himself has maintained that the islands are “negotiable” and raised the prospect of a power sharing arrangement with Argentina. Much will depend upon the resolution of this internal dispute, but a reduction in British military capability coupled with reluctance to fully commit to the defence of the islands can only increase the chances of future hostilities. Nevertheless the political situation in Argentina is very different from the 1980s (not least given the fall of the military junta) thus making a diplomatic offensive a more probable response to weakness than a military one.

The withdrawal from military interventionism will exacerbate the second major impact of World Corbynism, namely the alteration of the UK’s relationship with its major allies. The “special relationship” between the UK and US will be placed under significant strain for two reasons. Firstly the next US president (be it Hillary or one of the republican field) is likely to be hawkish on foreign affairs, creating a marked divide between them and the non-interventionist, NATO-sceptic Corbyn, who is far more likely to criticise US policy than support it. Secondly Corbyn’s historic links to Hamas and Hezbollah are anathema to the pro-Israel political lobbies in the US, and may engender personal distaste in a relationship (in)famously tied to close personal friendship between PM and president.

The change in our relationship with the EU, presuming a vote to stay in during the 2016 referendum, would be almost as significant. Currently the conservative government supports the free-trade delivered by the EU, whilst being suspicious of its “social” and regulatory aspects. This is a precise inversion of Corbyn’s sympathies. Corbyn “oppose[s] the current austerity ideology” of the EU as well as measures such as the TTIP which he argued showed the EU pursuing “its central goal of being a place where big business has free reign”. At the same time he is a strong supporter of the legislation for workers rights enshrined within the EU. Currently the UK’s closest allies within the EU are Eastern European nations such as Poland whilst countries like France – protectionist and heavily regulated – are its greatest political opponents at Brussels. A reversal in ideological outlook might well reverse these political affinities.

The main direction of World Corbynism seems thus far to be an inward one, a retreat from the idea of maintaining order or peace through intervention or military might, and a loosening of alliances based on trade or joint defence (or, as perceived by Corbyn et. al., exploitation and militarism). But the prospect of World Corbynism does have a more outward facing aspect. This concerns his policies on refugees, retention of the human rights act and an increased commitment to solving the global environmental crisis. The first of these commitments might well win goodwill abroad (specifically in the EU). However its extent remains highly uncertain; although Corbyn has said that accepting 20,000 over the next five years is “far too low” he has also consistently refused to present his own target.

So what will World Corbynism mean for Britain’s place in the world? It will be a diminished one, in which the UK either relinquishes or refuses to use a significant part of its power. To do so will leave the UK relatively exposed; cooling alliances and reheating old rivalries. In this new climate the question of whether Britain’s global power is desirable, or whether it is useful in countering the modern threats of terrorism and cyber warfare, will become moot. A Corbyn government will represent the ultimate acknowledgement that Britain has lost its empire, but also the discovery of a new, more minor but more manageable, role.

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The Saffron Flag Wavers Tue, 13 Oct 2015 10:34:47 +0000 A year on from victory in a general election which shattered the opposition, the Bharatiya Jana Party (BJP) under Narendra Modi has a lot to boast about.  Coal corruption – a hallmark of Congress rule – appears to have been ended, with considerable benefits for state governments. The Prime Minister’s tours around the globe has seen successes, most notably with the US – a country which not so long ago had denied him an entry visa. Even the failure to get to talks with Pakistan could be seen as a sign of strength, considering the continued deaths of civilians through shellfire and the evident sympathy for Pakistan and even ISIS by dissidents in Kashmir. Yet in India, it’s reputation is fraught – why is its popularity abroad not echoed at home?

The answer lies in part with the Congress Party, despite a humiliating loss of power – or, in fact, because of it. The party which ruled India for most of the past six decades has succeeded in reinventing itself as the ‘people’s party’. Its prime ministerial candidate, Rahul Gandhi (who attended Cambridge) has become a man of the working people. Under the tutelage of his mother, veteran Congress president Sonia Gandhi, he has championed the fight against the land acquisition bill, a piece of legislation widely disliked by farmers. This in turn has seen Congress at least nominally supported by a number of regionalist parties – though  it seems no coincidence that many suffered heavily at recent elections won by the BJP, and are still struggling to regain their political stature. The BJP has failed to land a convincing blow on the grand old party of Indian politics, and in turn given the Gandhi dynasty yet another shot at regaining power.

It’s unfair to blame the BJP’s woes entirely on the opposition. One of the most notable promises in its own manifesto, OROP (One Rank, One Pension), is still in the process of being implemented – a delay which led to widely-covered agitation from ex-servicemen on Independence Day. The policy, which allocates pensions based on rank rather than date of retirement, was a flagship promise, but bloated and inefficient state bureaucracy has delayed its implementation.

Equally problematic was the government’s complacency in Delhi. The Aam Admi Party (AAP), a protest party, formed a coalition government there in 2014, ruling with Congress. They resigned the same year in protest at the failure of the other parties to enact legislation for cleaner government. This left Delhi under ‘President’s Rule’, and de facto under the BJP’s governance. Rather than capitalising on this victory, they ignored Delhi until just before the 2015 legislative elections, then parachuted in celebrity candidates. The AAP won 67 out of 70 seats: even with dissension in their ranks, their popularity as an anti-Congress, anti-BJP protest party mars Modi’s government’s triumph.

And then there are the perennial problems which affect every Indian government, albeit to varying degrees: religion, caste, ethnic conflict, and lower-level corruption. In an astonishing and horrifying series of events which could only have ever happened in India, public outrage has been stirred by the murder of a 50-year old Muslim man caused by rumours that he had beef in his fridge. This follows an outright ban on the slaughter of cattle and the possession of beef in a number of states, threatening to further polarise Hindu-Muslim relations. Equally troubling for Modi will be agitations in his home state of Gujarat by the Patel community. They have protested vigorously at the reservation system, designed to provide affirmative action for traditionally underprivileged groups, but often criticised for failing to account for inequality within other castes: at some points, this has spilled over into riots. For Modi, who has long touted Gujarat’s stability and economic strength as an exemplar for India – and evidence of his leadership skills – this has been a somewhat embarrassing problem (a number of Patels also came out in protest before his visit to the UN). Persistent failures to deal with mistreatment of women, or to shake off accusations of support for far-right Hindutva groups continue to hamper the BJP’s attempts to convert foreign success into domestic credibility.

The BJP has four more years to win over the Indian public. It is hardly a given at this stage that they will make it, between the return of regional parties and the Congress Party’s incredible ability to adopt the role of the underdog. The Indian electorate has often proven itself fickle, with voters ‘bought’ with gifts varying from food, to alcohol, to tablets for students: it is not a political system which favours or rewards honesty. A strong foreign policy track record, except with Pakistan, may not be enough if Congress continues to win the PR war. Still, if Modi and his government can make India a more attractive place for investors, secure a seat at the Security Council, and deliver material benefits for Indians, the long game could well play off.

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Identity Politics: Policing, Not Empowering Voices Wed, 30 Sep 2015 08:22:40 +0000 BrowneThe issue of so-called “identity politics” has reared its ugly head again many times since the General Election. While the homogenising of identity on which it relies is nothing new, increasingly it has become all the more obvious that the goal of modern, far-left identity politics is not to empower voices, but to police opinions.

The recent Maryam Nawazie affair is quite typical of the way such politics works in practice – Ms. Nawazie had apparently been no-platformed out of fear that she would offend Muslims, as if in the first instance all Muslims can be homogenised into a monolithic bloc who are offended in exactly the same way. Such charges are depressingly common, however; in the wake of both the Muhammad cartoon protests in 2006, and the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo this year, those who decided to condemn the cartoons rather than the violence stated – without any apparent exaggeration – that they believed the very identities of 1.4 billion people had been degraded by publishing such cartoons. This allowed them to explain away the violence as a natural response. Indeed, Stop the War went so far as to suggest after Charlie Hebdo that such attacks should be happening more often because of ceaseless “provocation”, which apparently justifies such attacks.

Of course, nobody could possibly substantiate such grandiose claims, but it doesn’t appear to matter; that’s the box assigned to Muslims by identity politicians. It’s the same box containing the idea that radicalisation is caused by the security services and not radical preachers themselves, and even that ISIS is a reaction to “Western imperialism” – a force evidently so bad that it causes young men on the other side of the world to join a cult of death, suicide and murder which enslaves and rapes women and girls from religious minorities and destroys World Heritage Sites. It’s the same box which considers Mo Ansar – a man who compared Namazie to Anders Breivik and blamed Pamela Geller’s “Draw Muhammad” competition for the attempt on her life – and well-known hate preacher Anjem Choudhary (who featured as a contributor in Ansar’s latest documentary on Islamophobia) as more “authentic” voices than Maajid Nawaz. It is a box which Nawaz described as containing the “angry little Muslim” and represents nothing more than the racism of low expectations.

The implication of such attitudes is fairly clear: because one is Muslim, one should subscribe to a radical, “anti-imperialist” discourse. However, Muslims are not the only group to be homogenised by identity politicians. The far-left “liberationist” response to the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the US was to attack it rather than celebrate, with the administrators of Oxford-based Facebook Group No HeterOx – a supposedly inclusive platform for the discussion of LGBTQ* issues – attacking the very idea of marriage, and portraying the SCOTUS decision as only benefiting white, middle-class gays. This is a view that goes against liberal public opinion across the globe across all genders and races, given that many LGBTQ* couples have waited years (sometimes decades) for their relationships to be considered just as valid as heterosexual ones, fighting for equal rights and equal dignity rather than the abolition of marriage.

For reasons that remain unknown to me, the response of the administrators of the aforementioned Group to criticism of their stances following the ruling included attacks on Israel, and defending the use of the word “zio” by a prominent Group member; in an Arab-Israeli context, the word was coined by David Duke (Google “zio jews” or “zio Israel”) to refer to all Jews. When this was pointed out by a Jewish member who felt uncomfortable with the term being used (as it was used in such a context), he was told that the word was simply shorthand for “Zionist”, despite the fact that it simply is not used as such. Where normally the highlighting of such slurs would be applauded as a “call-out”, instead it was branded as derailment, and escalated to a purge of all conservatives and (alleged) Zionists including myself, and a declaration by the administrators that the Group was anti-Zionist, among other radical positions. Perhaps, if the administrators were honest in their assertion that there is no one LGBTQ* community, they would change the sub-heading of the zine from “for Oxford’s Queer and Trans Voices” to “for Far-left Anti-Zionists, Ideally Queer or Trans”. The message of the whole affair was similarly clear, however: in the minds of the administrators, a “good” LGBTQ* person should be anti-marriage, anti-police and anti-Zionist purely on account of their identity.

An interesting point of contrast, however, is the reactions of many of the same individuals to Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to include any women in the most senior ranks of the Shadow Cabinet, and his decision to appoint the inexperienced and controversial John McDonnell Shadow Chancellor over the far better qualified Angela Eagle, despite having previously pledged to have at least 50% of his Shadow Cabinet positions filled by women (a pledge he could only honour by creating more positions than those which conventionally exist). When normally the simple fact that certain groups are considered to be under-represented within institutions would be sufficient grounds for imputing actual bias onto the institution in question, we were told that in the case of Corbyn’s senior positions, someone’s identity should not matter and positions should be awarded on merit. It is a point that conservatives have made innumerable times to gales of laughter from the very identity politics activists now making it to defend a politician with whom they agree. This begs the obvious question: is identity politics less about empowering voices and more about pretending that every member of a certain group is or should be a socialist?

Perhaps the best evidence for an affirmative answer is not what has already been discussed, but the treatment by such activists of people who leave the little box which has been prescribed for them. Maajid Nawaz, for instance, has been called everything from “Muslim validator” (of other people’s bigotry) to the startling epithet of “porch monkey”. This is in spite of the fact that, as an ex-extremist himself, he surely knows a lot more about the extremist mindset (and how to defeat it) than your average metropolitan preacher of ‘anti-imperialism’. Similarly, it remains common for right-wing People of Colour to be called “Uncle Toms”, “race traitors” or even “house n*****s” purely for disagreeing with the far-left, somehow suggesting that far-left politics represents ‘loyalty’ to one’s race. This is a shockingly racist attitude which suggests that only the far-left are “real” People of Colour, and everyone else’s identity is somehow compromised. Even those public figures who such activists normally support are not safe when they dare to disagree with some of their stances ; witness the raising of Twitter mobs against veteran LGBTQ* rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and prominent feminist classicist Mary Beard for daring to sign an open letter against no-platforming.

Perhaps one of the most blatant display of outright contempt by today’s far left towards those they claim to represent came in the immediate aftermath to this year’s General Election; the news that the Tories had won the election led to riots in London and even an op-ed in the Guardian calling for democracy to be abolished because it “fail[s] the poor”. The evidence for such an assertion? “The poor” in some pivotal areas of the country (including working-class areas such as Leeds) had decided to vote for a party that wasn’t left-wing enough to satisfy the self-appointed guardians of the working classes, so they must have been brainwashed by the “Murdoch Empire” or just incredibly stupid. Never once did they consider the possibility that working class people might have a better conception of their own self-interest than out-of-touch metropolitan far-leftists.

But what today’s far left forget most of all is that there is nothing about someone’s identity which means that they should inherently be predisposed towards a certain ideology. It is a shame that the self-proclaimed heirs to Foot and Benn lack the intellectual robustness and courage to engage in meaningful intellectual discourse with society as a whole, instead resorting to vacuous identity politics as a means of appropriating voices to their positions by casting far-left politics as inherently wed to a facet of one’s identity. If identity politics was really about empowering voices, it would embrace diversity of opinion within groups, but its treatment of those that stray out of the boxes into which people are put, suggests that it is instead an increasingly brazen and proactive policing of opinion. The real danger to our society lies in its arrogant and bigoted assumption that certain people should hold certain views purely because of who they are, and the subsequent intolerance of anyone who thinks differently that such an assumption generates. If not put to rest, such identity politics will silence the voices of the majority in each case – who are not far-left – and lead to a situation where liberation issues become a laughing stock rather than something to be taken seriously.

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The Tears of the Mediterranean Tue, 22 Sep 2015 16:40:03 +0000 Scarcely a day has passed by this summer without yet another headline addressing the European Union’s refugee crisis. What began as a humanitarian emergency in the Mediterranean has rapidly evolved into a political crisis afflicting the entirety of Europe as the continent struggles to cope with an ever increasing influx of desperate refugees from Syria, Libya, Eritrea and further afield. Hungary has decided to flout the European Commission and construct a fence on its southern border with Serbia at the cost of further antagonizing its neighbours. Greece and Italy are complaining ever more vociferously about the burden of housing, feeding and processing thousands of refugees. Reception centres in parts of Germany have become the targets of vandalism, arson and xenophobic demonstrations even as refugees storm train stations in Hungary and asphyxiate in overcrowded vans in desperation. Regrettably, Europe’s leaders have demonstrated tragically little vision or leadership in coping with this crisis. Prime Minister Orban of Hungary made headlines when he declared that Europe had a ‘moral duty’ to tell refugees to ‘don’t come’, but his remarks, shocking and distressing as they are, merely reflect a significant strand in public opinion across the continent.

It is tempting to declare that politics should not be allowed to stand in the way of basic human compassion and empathy. Certainly, Orban’s comments are despicable. In characterizing the current situation as mass migration, he trivialises the travails of refugees who have fled from jihadists, barrel bombs and chemical weapons. By invoking Europe’s Christian identity as a reason to keep refugees out, he demeans the faith of millions of compassionate believers across the continent who believe in assisting those less privileged than themselves. It is certainly worth noting that churches of all denominations have been at the forefront of helping arriving refugees irrespective of their religious beliefs and calling for a more proactive approach from national governments.

The fact of course remains that politics is an integral part of the equation. The refugees who are currently in Europe will not simply disappear – under international law, they must be housed and fed whilst their applications are being processed. At least 350,000 refugees have been detected at the EU’s borders this year thus far, and there are undoubtedly thousands more who managed to enter undetected. Hundreds of thousands more are following in their footsteps from various failed states and the flow shows no sign of abating. Conservative politicians across Europe have suggested that many of these asylum seekers are economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa or the Balkans and there is certainly some substance to these claims, but by the far the largest single group of refugees are Syrians who have witnessed the gradual destruction of their country amidst internecine warfare. Many of the Nigeris, Malians and Nigerians who have arrived in Italy and Spain can claim to have fled from Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda in the Magreb and other extremist groups in the region, whilst Afghan refugees include former translators for NATO’s ISAF and members of vulnerable ethnic minorities. In short, Europe is empathically facing a legitimate refugee crisis, not economically driven mass migration. Of course, it would be foolish to deny that many asylum seekers were in part motivated by the prospect of a better life, but that in itself does not qualify them for automatic deportation.

Equally however, the political will to resettle every single last one of these genuine asylum seekers is lacking. Those who are already in the European Union will certainly have to be taken in one way or another, but even the most liberal government will inevitably encounter political resistance to a policy of open-ended resettlement. David Cameron’s reluctance to take in more refugees has justifiable come under flak from a wide spectrum of society, including many Conservatives, but he has a point in that taking in more and more asylum seekers is hardly a sustainable long-term solution. The current debate regarding quotas for individual countries is tragic not only because many governments (mainly in Eastern Europe) have vehemently rejected even laughably small allocations, but also because it utterly fails to resolve the long-term question. For each refugee who is successfully resettled, another swiftly arrives to take his place, creating political capital for Europe’s populist right.

The first step must thus be to arrive at a comprehensive resettlement of all current asylum seekers in Europe. The European Commission’s latest target of resettling 160,000 refugees will be an important first step, although that in itself has already proven deeply contentious. Angela Merkel’s proposal of creating a Union-wide list of ‘at-risk countries’ to expedite the processing of applications must be adopted without further delay, and even if a full list cannot be immediately drawn up certain countries (Syria, Eritrea, Libya) are self-evidently danger zones that merit inclusion. Germany and Sweden have already been generous to a fault, but the EU’s other major players need to accept tens of thousands of refugees as quickly as possible. At the same time, credible deterrents need to be put into place to prevent resettled refugees from immediately attempting to move on. Not every refugee will find themselves in Britain, Germany or Sweden, but such is the lottery of life. The challenge then is to enforce such policies without unravelling the entire Schengen Zone. Generally speaking, refugees who are more successfully integrated into their new communities have fewer incentives to move to another country. National governments that swiftly act to provide language training, basic healthcare and education, accommodation and transition assistance can potentially help to persuade many refugees to stay in their new homes. Refugees who do decide to move on to Germany or other destinations would need to be forcibly deported back to their original place of asylum and face the deprivation of certain benefits. Such measures are deeply antithetical to large segments of the liberal left across Europe, but in the absence of such policies it would be difficult to persuade sceptical publics to countenance an influx of refugees. In any case, asylum seekers have strong incentives at present to move on to wealthier and more generous countries. That is only natural, but their desire to do so imperils the entire framework of quota based resettlement and threatens to stir up resentment in the more popular destination countries. Germany has already witnessed an upsurge of anti-refugee violence, and there is a very real danger that the public mood can shift in an intolerant and illiberal direction if the status quo continues indefinitely. Certainly, resentment at free-riding by other countries threatens to undermine the very fabric of the European Union. Asylum seekers from Syria and Libya have a legal and moral right to lead a safe and dignified existence free from persecution and brutality. They do not have the right to live in a specific part of the European Union any more than I have the right to live at One Hyde Park. Refugees who fail to acknowledge this fact run the risk of transforming themselves into economic migrants who enjoy substantially fewer rights under international law.

Ultimately though, the international community needs to arrive at a broader and more comprehensive solution to deal with this crisis. David Cameron is right to suggest that without lasting peace and stability in Syria and Libya, refugees will continuously try to enter the European Union, risking their lives in the process and leaving them open to exploitation by unscrupulous human smugglers. However, given that no one seems to be any the wiser with regards to bringing peace to the Middle East, a more realistic solution would be to strengthen cooperation with other regional powers so as to regulate and control the influx of asylum seekers. One reason for the reason crisis is that existing camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are already grossly overstretched and an increasing number of refugees have largely given up hope of returning to their shattered homes in the near future. Even if the will and capacity to house every single refugee who reach the shores of Greece exists, that alone will do nothing to reduce the dangers of the journey itself. Refugees will still be at the mercy of unscrupulous people smugglers who have thus far exhibited a shocking disregard for the sanctity of human life, and offering additional incentives for families to undertake this perilous crossing only plays into their hands. In the long run, the European Commission needs to simplify the application procedure for refugees through creating processing centres in the refugee camps themselves. With such mechanisms in place, refugees will have much weaker incentives to endanger themselves along the journey to Europe. From the perspective of sceptical European publics, a formalized application process offers a multitude of benefits. Firstly, it ensures that the number of refugees admitted per year can be controlled and adjusted by national governments. There can be no doubt that unregulated refugees at Calais, on the Greek Islands and in the Eastern Balkans have interrupted the normal flow of goods and people, creating much disruption for local inhabitants in the process. Within a legal framework, refugees can be flown to Europe on chartered flights and accommodated at designated reception centres without inconveniencing and alienating local communities. Secondly, the presence of screening mechanisms will go a long way towards alleviating legitimate security concerns and undermine one of the far right’s favourite arguments in this debate. Last but not least, a well-regulated application process offers far greater protection for the refugees themselves and upholds their basic human dignity. Never again can Europe afford to let innocent men, women and children asphyxiate in the backs of van or drown off the coast of holiday resorts.

Such a solution would do much to stabilize the wider region and save thousands of lives in the process, but it cannot succeed without much greater cooperation from the international community. It is deeply hypocritical and irresponsible for Americans to criticize the actions of Viktor Orban in Hungary whilst refusing to admit more refugees themselves. The European Union, acting as a unified bloc on the global stage, should pressure and shame other developed countries to make sizeable financial contributions towards the costs of feeding and accommodating the refugees displaced by the Syrian conflict. The UNHCR has already been forced to cut rations in refugee camps due to a lack of funding, strengthening the incentives for families to travel to Europe. Governments that refuse to contribute towards the UNHCR’s work are not only displaying a shocking degree of callousness, but they are also undermining regional security and stability. At the end of the day, the greatest burden thus far has not been borne by Greece or Italy but by Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. If we cannot put an end to the bloodshed in Syria, we should at least take active steps to assist those who have suffered the most in this tragedy. In an age of unprecedented mobility, no country can afford to stand aloof from bloodshed and chaos in today’s failed states.

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Modi’s first year in power: what it means for India? Sat, 19 Sep 2015 17:36:22 +0000 On 26th May 2014, Narendra Damodardas Modi was sworn in as the Prime Minister of India leading the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The campaign that brought the Modi government into power was a meticulously planned affair, with the unanimous backing of corporate India. The backbone for the campaign was provided by 700,000 volunteers who unleashed a campaign to polarise the electorate through selective targeting of Muslims and other minorities. Modi’s PR team and the corporate controlled media served to portray a larger than life image of him, backed by the myth of the Gujrat model of ‘development’, Gujrat being the state where Modi served as a Chief Minister for three and a half terms before becoming the PM of India. Coupled with popular animosity towards the previous regime due to corruption charges, ineffectual government and slow growth, the campaign was successful in firmly establishing Modi in power, with his party winning a clear majority in the parliament.

‘Acche Din’ or Good Times, was the catch phrase used by the BJP in their election campaign to sell the dream of economic growth and job creation to the masses using effective media management. Modi’s personal PR team consisted of marketing gurus hired from top advertising firms, for which the BJP spent a third of its colossal $115 million election campaign budget (the most expensive in Indian history by any party). The Vice-President of the defeated Indian National Congress (INC) was right on the spot when he said at a party meeting, “The opposition (BJP) is very good at marketing, they can even sell a comb to a bald person”. In reality, Modi’s idea of development is but a very narrow-minded vision of economic growth with complete disregard for economic equality, social inclusion and environmental sustainability. This exclusion is manifesting itself in consistent efforts by Modi’s government to diminish the public’s ability to take decisions regarding their development, including through seeking recourse in the courts.

One of the most glaring examples of such regressive policy changes is the amendment introduced by Modi in the Land Acquisition Act of 2013. It was enacted by the previous regime to ensure a transparent process for land acquisition for the purpose of industrialisation and urbanisation as well as ensuring fair compensation and rehabilitation for displaced citizens. While the 2013 Act was not perfect in itself, it did give some negotiating rights to the public in case their land was acquired by private companies or public-private-partnership (PPP) projects. The 2013 Act mandated the consent of 80% of affected land losers in the case of private developments and 70% in the case of PPP projects. The Act also made it compulsory for the government to carry out a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) before the acquisition of land, which would include an assessment of the impact on land losers and the environment. The Ordinance for amending the Act was introduced by the Modi government in 2014, with the Bill being presented and passed in the parliament in 2015. Under the new amendment, the conditions of 70% (or 80%) consent and carrying out a SIA have been exempted for five areas – industrial corridors, PPP projects (excluding private hospitals and colleges), rural infrastructure, defence, and affordable housing. It should be noted that almost every private development can be justified under one of these five carve-outs. Effectively, the Act has ensured that there are enough loopholes so that private parties can forcefully (but legally) evict people from their land and bypass any form of assessment on the social or environmental impact of land acquisition. Land is being taken from people and given to corporations at throw away prices. Whilst certainly worrying, this trend is not on the whole surprising. The ‘Gujrat Model of Development’, which was the centerpiece of Modi’s election campaign, provided the template for the model that Modi has in mind for India. Gujrat is the state in Western India where Modi served as a Chief Minister for three and a half terms before being sworn in as the Prime Minster. Investigations by Forbes magazine have revealed that the Adani Group (an Indian MNC) has leased land from the Gujrat government, without competitive bidding, for as little as one cent per sq. meter. It has in turn been sub-let by the Adani group to other companies, including the state owned Indian Oil Company, for as much as $11 per sq. meter. There are several other cases of the Adani group being given vast swathes of grazing lands in the state, without the consent of residents and owners. Land acquisition has always been a subject of intense conflict as it leads to the displacement of entire communities in rural India. These changes are bound to exacerbate such conflicts and further entrench rural poverty in the name of ‘development.

‘Development’, ‘Job-creation’ and ‘Inclusive-growth’ are the words of choice used by the corporate houses and Modi, in order to justify such blatant violations of basic socio-economic rights. Such violations were hardly uncommon under previous regimes, but they have certainly multiplied since the self-styled ‘Iron Man’ Modi came to power. In seeking to placate major corporations, the two national budgets presented by the Modi regime have prioritized business interests over basic social needs like education and health. India’s healthcare budget, which stood at a measly 1.2% of GDP before Modi took over power, has been drastically slashed by 15% in the 2015 budget. In comparison, China spent 3% and USA 8.3% of GDP in the same period on healthcare. The education budget has not been spared either, with a 16% contraction being announced in the same budget. These clearly contradict the promises made to the electorate during the election campaign only a year ago. At the same time, the government has announced generous tax exemption amongst other benefits for the ultra-rich in the name of stimulating growth. For instance, corporate tax is being cut from 30% to 25% whilst the wealth tax will soon be abolished. At the same time, the service tax has been raised to 14%, which would adversely affect the middle and working classes by increasing the cost of consumer goods. These ‘reforms’ have been justified on the grounds of deficit reduction and fiscal prudence. But in a country where about one third of the world’s 1.2 billion poorest people live, and one which has a HDI ranked 136th in the world, stimulating growth can hardly be used to justify cuts in basic services like health and education, let alone generous tax reductions for the privileged.

Another critical aspect of Modi’s economic policy has been the drive for privatization in order to raise revenue. Public sector companies in India are widely regarded as inefficient, loss-making burdens on the government and the tax-payer. This is arguably in large measure as result of the propaganda and that has been fed to the people by successive regimes. Key strategic sectors such as ports, rail, roads, power, education and health are being handed over to well-connected businessmen despite numerous problems. While some state controlled companies are seeing divestments on large scale (the 2015 budget seeks to raise $13 billion from sale of state assets), others are seeing a gradual starvation of funds, which would ultimately lead to their collapse in the coming years.

In a country like India, where the top 100 richest families account for 25% of GDP, and 836 million people live on less than half a dollar per day, the pro-rich and anti-poor policies of the current regime can hardly be justified. The direction for India in this Parliament is clear, but what remains to be seen is how far Modi will go in undermining democratic rights for the sake of enriching big business.

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Back to 1979: Do not pass go, do not collect £200 Wed, 02 Sep 2015 16:01:24 +0000 There is something oddly endearing about the reigns of Charles X of France or Franz I of Austria. Inefficient, sclerotic and corrupt as their regimes undeniably were, I must confess to finding their utterly futile attempts at holding back the tides of social change wrought by the French Revolution somewhat magnificent, albeit in the sense commonly associates with the Charge of the Light Brigade. Between their rejection of railroads (on the grounds that it promoted mobility and hence dissent) and a severe addiction to protocol and ceremony, both men appear to us as ossified survivals from the ancien regime in a rapidly changing world. The rigid conservatism and suffocating orthodoxy represented by both governments has reappeared in the 20th century in various guises. Perhaps the most notable of these was Antonio Salazar’s regime in Portugal from 1932 to 1968, who deliberately sought to trap his country in poverty for the sake of stability and security.

It is nevertheless surprising that such conservative obduracy survives into the present in one of Europe’s most dynamic and innovative societies. Perceptive readers might already have guessed who I am referring to here – Jeremy Corbyn, savior of the British Left and prophet for the 21st century. Mr. Corbyn represents one particular strand of the Labour Party, the strand that has ‘forgotten nothing and learned nothing’ from the history of the past 75 years. His pledges to reopen coal mines and redevelop Britain’s heavy industry betray a tragi-comic level of economic illiteracy and an apparently limitless ability to engage in wishful thinking. His foreign policy shows all the nuance that might be expected from a five year old – in his worldview, any opponent of America is deserving of sympathy and support. Substituting ‘America’ for ‘liberalism’ would have been an apt summary of Franz I’s foreign policy. As a self-professed champion for the underprivileged and oppressed, it is somewhat odd to see Mr. Corbyn denying the Kosovo genocide and holding up an endless series of justifications for Hamas, Hezbollah, Putin and a variety of other unsavoury characters who do not bother to hide their intolerance for those who do not fit neatly into their agenda. Much of his policy platforms come straight out of the 1980s – unilateral nuclear disarmament, leaving NATO (and probably the EU as well), nationalisation of key industries and punitive levels of taxation – yet Britain has changed dramatically since Mrs. Thatcher left 10 Downing Street. His intention to tackle inequality, alleviate poverty and increase social mobility is both commendable and necessary, but it is difficult to see how this can be achieved with an economic programme lifted straight out of the immediate post-war era. The dark satanic mills associated with the Industrial Revolution are no longer a feature of Britain’s landscape not because of capitalist greed or Conservative heartlessness but because of the rise of off-shore production. The coal mines of South Wales or the shipyards of Belfast would have withered away even if Mrs. Thatcher had never taken office – as Marx himself recognized, fundamental economic trends are beyond the control of individual politicians or parties. Mr. Corbyn is in truth a reactionary, one worthy of Charles X or Salazar in his sheer ignorance of modern economic realities and dogmatic refusal to evolve with the times. It is thus doubly ironic that many, though by no means all of his most fervent supporters are youthful idealists who evince a near-visceral hatred of the Conservative Party and all it stands for.

The truth is that Mr. Corbyn, like reactionaries of all stripes, has successfully tapped into a deep wellspring of fear and resentment. Fear of a changing world where index-linked pensions, lifelong employment and job security are no longer within reach of all but a privileged minority. Resentment of a global economy which has given rise to ever greater inequality, one in which material rewards are disproportionately awarded to those who are the best-connected, not those who work the hardest. The appeal of a state-socialist platform to those who feel left-out of today’s prosperity is evident – Britain under Harold Wilson was a lot grayer and far less prosperous, but arguably more equal than the Britain of Tony Blair and David Cameron. In the long run though, adopting the failed solutions of the past to tackle the problems of the present is a path towards catastrophe. Subsidies for cottage industry and absurdly high tariffs against British imports did not alleviate the agricultural depression that befell Southern Germany and Austria in the 1830s. Likewise, renationalizing the railroads, imposing punitive taxation and scrapping tuition fees cannot address the fundamental causes behind rising inequality or low wages. Contrary to popular belief, Britain cannot simply choose to seal itself off behind the Channel and ignore global economic forces, and any attempt to do will merely generate economic disruption and chaos. 19th century clerics desperately attempted to ward off the tide of liberalism through censorship and ever more strident public warnings to absolutely no avail, and their spiritual successors in today’s Twitterati can scarcely hope to perform any better. That so many people have opted for Mr. Corbyn’s agenda is a tragedy for both the Labour Party and British democracy.

There can be no doubt that the European centre-left is deeply in trouble – to put it bluntly, it has failed to come up with meaningful answers to the major issues of our time and practical solutions to a seemingly endless series of crises. The Labour Party lost the last election by an unexpectedly large margin because its policies failed to inspire its working-class base, yet came across as too radical for wavering voters in the middle, many of whom had once supported the Liberal Democrats. Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall have all come up with plausible programmes for the party to adopt in the next five years ahead, programmes that should appeal to different demographic groups who defected from Labour in this election. Alone of all the candidates in this leadership election, Mr. Corbyn has opted for the politics of protest. That alone is a large part of his appeal – many of his youthful supporters have little stomach for the compromises which form an inevitable part of governing. Yet those who most fervently desire a party purged of Blairites and ‘Tory-lites’ are rarely those who are the worst-off in this country. Many of them are in fact members of powerful public sector unions which have tried their best to derail the government’s ambitious and genuinely radical reforms. In a country which has always been rather less egalitarian than most of its continental counterparts, it is heartening to see the proportion of state-school pupils applying to and entering top universities increase every year since 2010. State schools in Britain, long a source of despair for parents and experts alike, are being revamped through decentralization and greater accountability. As uncomfortable as that might be for entrenched public sector employees, this cannot but benefit their pupils and the country as a whole.

Democracies function best when the government is effectively brought to account for its actions and policies. The Conservatives are not perfect, and David Cameron has made mistakes in the past, some of which he has to his credit admitted in public. When one party abdicates that role in favour of armchair criticism and ideological purity, it commits a grave disservice to the public as a whole, one that will not and should not be readily forgiven. Portraying the Prime Minister as some ungodly mixture of Enoch Powell, Louis Philippe and Metternich might be great fun, but is hardly what the British public wants or needs. Labour has made this mistake once before – it owes it to the country not to repeat it a second time.

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Vote! It Matters. Wed, 06 May 2015 10:07:38 +0000 general election 1Tomorrow Britain goes to the polls in an election that many have dubbed the most unpredictable in a generation. The rise of the SNP, UKIP and Green Party has undeniably altered the political landscape, and as witnessed by the TV election debates, the three major parties no longer hold the monopoly they once had. Certainly no one expects a clear cut result, with multiple alliances mooted as potential outcomes.  As such, the vote of the individual has never been more important. Voting in a general election is a chance to enact real change, have one’s voice heard, and to take an active role in this country’s democracy. I believe it is particularly important for women to exercise this right, a right, hard fought and for a long time, denied from us.

Perhaps the most exciting piece of pre-election theatre so far has been Russell Brand’s controversial interview of Ed Miliband, and its somewhat unprecedented result. Self-proclaimed Mr Don’t Vote had a last minute turn around, instead urging the youth to vote after all, abandoning his previous position that abstention from voting was a viable, and indeed preferable, mode of political resistance. Brand, having come round to right thinking at last, brings home the fundamental point, that your vote does matter, and that voting is the single most effective way of enacting political change.

Many of you may have already cast postal votes in your home constituencies, but those who haven’t, can, and should, take the opportunity to vote here in Oxford.  The majority of Oxford colleges fall under the Oxford East constituency, a semi-marginal Labour seat, which last election was closely contested with the Lib Dems.  The candidates are as follows: Melanie Magee (Conservative), Andrew Smith (Labour), Alasdair Murray (Liberal Democrat), Ian Macdonald (UKIP) and Ann Duncan (Green). A recent debate, covered by the Oxford Tab, revealed that the candidates (except for the Conservatives who failed to take part), hold surprisingly similar views on a number of issues such as electoral reform and no platform policies, however, there were significant divergences on important issues such as Benefits. The full article can be found here. The Jericho colleges, however, fall under the Oxford West and Abingdon constituency, an extremely marginal seat, which in 2010 was won by the Conservatives from the Lib Dems, with a majority of under 200 votes. The candidates standing are Nicola Blackwood (Conservative), Sally Copley (Labour), Layla Moran (Liberal Democrat), Alan Harris (UKIP) and Larry Sanders (Green).

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ella Crine, and Sam Rakestrow (with assistance from Syed Imam), for their highly informative and compelling articles on Labour and Liberal Democrat policies, respectively.  If anyone is looking for a last minute summary of the party manifestos and an overview of policy, I would highly recommend giving these articles a read, here and here. We of course extended the same opportunity to the Oxford University Conservative Association, however, unfortunately they were unable to submit a piece.

Vote! It matters.

Daniella Reichenstein



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