Thursday, November 27, 2008

Unconfirmed report suggests piracy on land in Africa is systemic


The following unconfirmed reports points to the fact the leadership in the SADEC countries in the sub-Sahara is corrupt to such an extent that it far outweighs the criminality attributed to pirates and rebels.

With no food, no education, no water, no electricity and no medical care and no leadership it is no wonder that countries like Zimbabwe stand every chance of dragging the region into a fatal spiral of failure from which it is unlikely, from this vantage point, that it can recover.


This has a private source that I cannot disclose, but the person who has done this research has professional intelligence training and lives in the region with excellent contacts throughout. I can confirm other deals such as the BBR and the New Limpopo Bridge Company as well as contracts involving oil trade that have directly benefited both ruling parties and individuals in leadership in regional States; these are not covered in the analysis below and could be included.



The web of corrupt Practice and Politics in the SADC region

As part of an effort by the MDC to disrupt the flow of cash to Mr. Mugabe ' s regime I have been researching some of the financial interests of Zanu (PF) and its top leadership. Those interests seem to network strongly with senior politicians in The Congo, Angola , Namibia , Malawi and South Africa . All of these countries support Mugabe and are vocal in Africa opposing any deal that might compromise Mugabe. Mugabe ' s right hand man in The Congo, Billy Rautenbach stands accused of bribing South Africa ' s Police Commissioner. Interestingly Mbeki has done all he can to stop the investigation, including sacking the Director of The National Prosecution Authority, arresting the man investigating Selebi and disbanding the elite anti corruption squad; The Scorpions.

Below I list a summary of my research. Unfortunately I have to start with a brief summary of The Congo wars to understand the current military and financial forces in Southern Africa at present.

Let ' s start the story in August 1998.

Laurent Kabila (Senior), the newly installed leader of The Democratic Republic of The Congo is in big trouble . The D.R.C. was previously called Zaire under Mobutu ' s reign. Kabila had only overthrown Mobutu a year before and had only managed that with the help of Rwanda ' s disciplined RPF forces and the Ugandan military. Rwanda had invaded Zaire/The Congo to pursue the genocidal Hutu Interhamwe militias who were continuing their genocide against Tutsis in the Congolese areas surrounding Rwanda . But the Rwandan forces did not stop there and in association with Kabila conquered the rest of The Congo, including the mineral rich Katanga Province .

Kabila was initially hailed as a savior in The Congo having finally rid the Congolese of Mobutu ' s tyrannical regime which had plundered the country for decades. It soon became apparent however that Kabila was every bit as bad and corrupt as Mobutu. He was also having problems with internal rebellions and the fact that the Ugandan and Rwandan forces were showing no signs of leaving The Congo. Far from leaving they were consolidating their control of the vital mineral rich Katanga province. In August 1998 he ordered that the Ugandan and Rwandan forces leave The Congo along with all ethnically Tutsi Congolese.

The Rwandans and Ugandans replied by sending more troops to overthrow Kabila. This started the Second Congo war in which 5.4 million people died making it the deadliest war since the Second World War. The Ugandan and Rwandan backed rebels had quick and dramatic victories over Kabila ' s forces and within two weeks it seemed he would be ousted imminently.

On April 19, Kabila flew to Harare and met Mugabe who at that time was heading SADC ' s Organ on Politics and Defence. Three Three SADC countries; Zimbabwe , Angola and Namibia came to his immediate rescue. They were later joined by Sudan and Libya . It is alleged that Kabila signed $200 million worth of deals with Mugabe.

Once the Katanga province had been secured by Mugabe and Kabila ' s forces, Mugabe and Mnangagwa insisted that Billy Rautenbach lead Gecamines , Congo ' s state ' s mining company. Through Operation Sovereign Legitimacy (OSLEG) the Zimbabwean military involved itself in all sorts of mining deals. These are well documented in a UN report.

Namibian President Sam Nujoma also secured many contracts for his own businesses and those of his family. They remain heavily involved in The Congo ' s mining activity. Namibians worth investigating include The Permanent Secretary for Defence, Erastus Negona, T . Lamec, David Shimuuino, Army Chief Major General Shalli, Deputy Police Commissioner Fritz Nghiishililiwa and Police Inspector General Raonga Andima.

The Angolans grabbed the opportunity to invade their enemy UNITA ' s bases within the Congo . Until then UNITA had been involved in an illegal diamond scheme estimated to be worth about $500 million a year by De Beers. This then came under the possession on senior Angolan generals and politicians. The Angolans are listed second only to Zimbabwe in corruption lists of Southern Africa . In 2004 Human Rights Watch said that $4 billion was missing from the government ' s finances. "Angolagate" is shocking because it involved senior French Government officials, not least of whom was incumbent President Mitterrand ' s son, Jean Charles Mitterand. Jacques Jacques Chirac ' s knowledge of the deal is implicated too. Mitterand, Minister Pasqua and others were convicted in 2004 of tax evasion. In 2007 an investigative magistrate recently been indicted 42 people including Mitterand and Minister Pasqua.

On the issue of presidents sons, I have been unable to link Simon Mann and Mark Thatcher ' s attempted coup to any particular African politician. The fact that they landed in Harare for their arms makes it extremely likely that some Zanu politicians were involved before the deal turned sour. Both Thatcher and Rautenbach, and Rautenbach ' s son, are rally drivers.

So much for Zimbabwe , The DRC, Angola and Namibia . The story now jumps to May 2007 and to Pretoria , South Africa .

South Africa had an elite anti corruption investigative unit called The Scorpions. The Scorpions consisted of 2000 of the best police, financial, forensic and intelligence experts in South Africa . They came into being after the passing of The National Prosecuting Authority Act, 32 of 1998. This was one of Mandela ' s last projects before he stepped down in 1999. The Scorpions answered to the Head of The National Prosecuting Authority, not to The Commissioner of Police.

When Mandela took over in South Africa he appointed a professional Policeman, George Fivaz, as his Commissioner of Police. Mbeki replaced him Jackie Selebi who had no police experience whatsoever but was a trusted ANC man. He has been described as "the gatekeeper" of the ANC ; privy to all it ' s financial dealings. It appears that in 1999, as Mandela stepped down, South Africa involved itself in a controversial arms deal totaling $US4.8 billion. It appears over $200 million was paid in bribes. The Scorpions were investigating increasingly more senior members of The ANC about the deal. Names included Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma, Zuma ' s financial adviser Schabir Shaik, his brother Chippy Shaik and Joe Modise, founder of the ANC ' s military wing and then minister of defence.

The Scorpions brought a successful prosecution against Schabir Shaik, Zuma ' s financial adviser. Shaik was given two 15 year imprisonment sentences. The Scorpions then turned their attention to Jacob Zuma, then Deputy President. Zuma ' s house was raided repeatedly. On 28 December 2007 The Scorpions served Zuma an indictment to stand trial in The High Court on counts of racketeering, money laundering, corruption and fraud.

During 2007 the Scorpions started to become concerned about Jackie Selebi, Mbeki ' s Commissioner of Police.

Selebi, it turns out, had been up to all sorts of unsavory business. His personal friend Glenn Angliotti turned out to be a mafia kingpin and drug dealer. Selebi claims they never discussed Agliotti ' s criminal activities but does admit to warning him of a British Intelligence request for information about him. Agliotti funded Selebi to the tune of about $170 000. Part of this funding was used to successfully lobby for Selebi ' s appointment as head of Interpol. Interestingly Zimbabwe ' s Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri has also had senior positions in Interpol. The senior Interpol positions are said to be useful in covering international money laundering and corruption tracks.

Among many other charges of corruption it is alleged that Selebi, in full police uniform, met Billy Rautenbach ' s lawyer and accepted US$ 40 000 to have the corruption charges against Billy Rautenbach dropped. Besides being Mnangagwa ' s right hand man, it turns out that Billy Rautenbach had many other financial projects. One of them was a transport company called "Wheels of Africa" which dominated SADC transport, especially up to The Congo. Through this he also had the exclusive deal for Sub Saharan Africa for Volvo and Saab. But it wasn ' t for his Volvo and Saab trucks that he got into trouble but rather his part in the sale of 35 BAe Saab/Volvo Gripen fighter planes which he allegedly sold to The South African government at the hugely inflated price of $65 million per plane (their real value was probably about $35 million).

Rautenbach ' s company Camtec acquired the Bougai and Kironde platinum concessions in Zimbabwe in April this year with an alleged payment of $100 million to a Zanu chef.

Mbeki ' s response to the charges laid out in front of him in May 2007 by the National Prosecuting Authority boss Vusi Pikoli against Police Commissioner Selebi was astonishing.

Instead of doing anything about Selebi, Mbeki in fact sacked the National Prosecuting Authority boss Vusi Pikoli, saying that there had been an irretrievable breakdown in the professional relationship of Vusi Pikoli and the Minister for Justice. The Scorpion Policeman investigating Commissioner Selebi, Gerric Nel, then found himself arrested on charges of "perverting the course of Justice."

The National Prosecuting Authority is still trying to pursue the case but fears the case will fall apart as The South African Police Service refuses to hand over vital documents on "security grounds". These include the details of Rautenbach ' s deal. Mbeki caused a stir last week by extending Jacki Selebi ' s contract. Mbeki has since had the Scorpions disbanded.

The most damning evidence though comes from The ANC ' s own Andrew Feinstein. Feinstein was head of The ANC ' s Parliamentary Public Accounts watchdog SCOPA. He was shocked when he tried to launch an investigation into the affair and was told that there was a financier, close to Mbeki and Zuma, who was off limits to his investigation. Feinstein resigned in disgust and wrote a book " After The Party" which has scandalized South African and international political commentators.

In view of these allegations listed above I believe the world should be very circumspect of any deals Mbeki negotiates. especially in mineral rich areas such as Darfur .

The story now moves to Blantyre , Malawi where President Mutharika astounded Malawian journalists last week when he told them to stop the negative reporting about Mugabe and Zimbabwe . He has since said he recognizes Mugabe as Zimbabwe ' s legitimate President. His brother and Vice President Peter Mutharika attended Mugabe ' s inauguration ceremony. Mutharika has many suspect ties with Mugabe ' s regime. He has diverted huge amounts (300 000 tonnes) of maize to Zanu PF, most recently during the just passed Zimbabwean election. There has been no entry in Malawian National Food Reserves Agency ' s regarding these deals. Similarly he has supplied Mugabe with fuel and also tear gas which killed 11 Zimbabweans in a single incident in 2005. Interestingly Mutharika has a farm in Zimbabwe , which is guarded by Mugabe ' s Presidential Guard.

Mutharika ' s past also merits some investigation. He was sacked when he was Secretary General of COMESA in 1995 for stealing money and diverting it to his Zimbabwean farm. He came to power in Malawi as The UDF ' s presidential candidate after the incumbent, Muluzi, had served the specified maximum number of terms. Soon after he came to power he began upsetting senior UDF and government people. His response was depressingly familiar. He undermined the Anti Corruption Bureau and then replaced the heads of the offices of The Director of Public Prosecutions and The Police Commissioner with trusted political associates. He had Muluzi arrested and Muluzi is currently being tried. Muluzi has dismissed the documents the state has offered to make its case as "laughable and fake." Their blatant forgery is reminiscent of many trials in Zimbabwe , such as that of Tendai Biti. The Zimbabwean CIO are said to be increasingly active in Malawi .

Monday, November 24, 2008

Carter shocked by Zimbabwe crisis - really!!

"Former US President Jimmy Carter has said the crisis in Zimbabwe is "far worse" than he had imagined."

That was the news reported by the BCC today.

The real shock is that Carter admitted to being shocked. What on earth was he expecting and where on earth has he been?

Zimbabwe's plight has been front and centre in the world's media for years and only now is Jimmy Carter shocked. Given the proximity of Kofi Annan, Graca Mandela and Elder chairperson Bishop Tutu to the action in Zimbabwe one cannot credit any one of the Elders with shock as to the peril the population faces in Zimbabwe. Feigning shock at this stage is pure theatrics.

The Elders have also stated that they do not mean to get involved in politics, only humanitarian issues. This ignores the fact that the politics of the Robert Mugabe dictatorship have lead us to the place where we are in Zimbabwe. It matters not a fig whether the Elders take a political, military or humanitarian stance. Only one thing matters; the women, children and helpless who have been cast adrift by the international community and SADEC - not for the first or last time - to drift towards a slow death in the vast ocean of Mugabe's insanity and neglect.

Once again Africa has turned its back on its own. And Carter is shocked. Oh please, who are the ELDERS kidding?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Comment on letter from Zimbabwe

It is amazing how Zimbabwe's neighbours just stand by and allow this disintegration to happen. Thabo Mbeki has a lot to do with this but seems to have walked away scott free. The only solution I think in the end will be to divvy up Zimbabwe into separate provinces run by the surrounding countries. Zimbabwe really ceased to be viable more than a decade ago and the chances of survival as a sovereignty have slipped away for good. It has gone from viable to Chapter 11 to all-out bankruptcy and from that letter now it seems absolute collapse. Essentially Zimbabwe exists is name only, the cadaver fast rotting in the African sun. Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Palestine, probably even Haiti have much brighter futures ahead of them than Zimbabwe. Hard to comprehend. 

A letter from Zimbabwe

Dear Family and Friends,

Within half a kilometre of a main army barracks and in view of a steady
stream of traffic and hundreds of people, a man lay next to a main road
leading to the Harare airport this week. Barefoot, painfully thin and with
thick, unkempt hair the man lay unmoving on the verge, his feet protruding
into the busy road. Standing on the opposite side of the road four men in
army camouflage stood hitch-hiking, choosing not to see the man lying a few
steps away from them. Is this what Zimbabwean authorities did not want the
former UN Secretary General and former US President to see on a planned 2
day humanitarian assessment visit? Is this why these two respected Elders
were denied visas to enter Zimbabwe?

Outside banks, building societies and post offices the crowds of people
trying to withdraw their own money have grown to multiple thousands. Many
people have resorted to sleeping outside the banks in order to be near the
front of the queues where they can only withdraw five hundred thousand
dollars a day - enough to buy one mouthful of a single cornish pasty being
sold at a local bakery this week. Two and a half million dollars was the
price tag for this simple take away snack - five days of queuing at the bank
to buy one meal for one person. Is this what the authorities in Zimbabwe did
not want Kofi Annan and Jimmy Carter to see? Is this why they were denied
visas to enter Zimbabwe?

On a seventy-kilometre stretch of road through what used to be prime
agricultural land on the way to the capital city, there is silence and
desolation as roadside farms lie unploughed and unplanted while the country
remains barren of seed and fertilizer. Even as the rains fall on the land
and the ground turns springy underfoot, the weeds are sprouting but not the
food. The lushest crop I saw in 70 kilometres was grass being carefully
manicured on a golf course. Is this what the authorities did not want Mr
Annan and Mr Carter to see and why they were denied visas?

In supermarkets, the majority of which are not allowed to trade in US
dollars, the shelves are empty. There are no staple goods, no dairy
products, no confectionary, no fast foods, no tinned or bottled products,
nothing to eat at all. From all over the country there are first-hand
reports of people barely surviving by eating roots, wild berries, beetles
and insects. Is this what the world's respected Elders were not supposed to
see and why they were denied visas to come into Zimbabwe?

Hospitals without disposable gloves, medicines, drips, bandages or
disinfectant. Nurses who cannot afford to come to work. Toilets and taps
without water. A growing cholera outbreak in all areas of the country with
300 people already dead. Raw sewage flowing in the streets of high density
areas. Dustbins which have not been collected in urban residential suburbs
since July in my home town. Men, women and children collecting water in
bowls and buckets from swampy streams and murky pools. No soap to buy in the shops so no chance of preventing the spread of cholera by washing your hands with soap and water. Is this what Mr Annan, Mr Carter and Mrs Machel might have seen had they been granted visas to see for themselves the humanitarian catastrophe now engulfing Zimbabwe?

We hope that the Elders will not give up on Zimbabwe, even though there is
no welcome mat at our doorstep.

Until next time, thanks for reading,
©Copyright cathy buckle 22 November 2008.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Why are we treating Ford, Chrysler and GM as equally guilty and equality innocent?

Got bailout fatigue yet? We are living in one of the most interesting times ever in fiscal history; how can one be bored when our head is on the guillotine but the executioner has us lying face up so that we can see the blade racing towards our necks at the speed of an electronic trade on Wall Street.

Bailout or failout? That is the question on each US lip this dismal week just before the Christmas month. One curious thing (or it at least it should be a matter of curiosity for Congress) is that the three CEOs - three stooges? - who came to Congress cap in hand this week seemed to speak as one and in turn Congress speaks of them as one. What the fuck happened to competition in the US? Are we to believe that Ford, Chrysler and GM follow the same design/build strategy, the same marketing strategies, the same financing and quality control policies, the same safety and emissions principles? Or do they not as separate entities have a mind of their own? Have they for all these years been sharing the same, solitary brain cell? Congress seems to thinks so. And that notion is more troubling than the bailout, or perceived need for a bailout, itself.

The US government must think that its citizens are fools, or they are fools or the government is a fool, or all of the above. One would think that Congress would treat the three auto giants - perhaps not the appropriate terminology - as separate entities and that they ought be reviewed on their individual merits going forward. A wholesale bailout would lead one to believe, once more this year, that the US as a country has turned its back on capitalism in favour of socialism, if not outright communism. Whatever happened to supply-demand. Or is it a case of 'no one demands our vehicles anymore, so would you mind supplying some cash. Please sir, can I have some more?"

On the bright side, $50 West Texas Intermediate means relief a the pump when the Lear or the Gulfstream pulls up at the pump in Detroit. In 2008 the voters in the US made the first right decision. Now is the time to make the next bright decision; dump Ford, Chrysler and GM.

Here's a thought; the US helps out Ford, Chrysler and GM by providing financing to Renault, Citroen and Peugot to acquire the big three. The European car makers can then use the plants in Detroit to manufacture cars that make sense. In the meantime Ford, Chrysler and GM can form a tripartite consortium called USMASSTRANSIT and set about building a national transit system that makes sense.

Leave one manufacturer to build pick-up trucks and that would be Toyota with Honda a close second. No one needs to loose a job or a pension. All they need to do is stop suckling on the aging tit of an aging auto philosophy.

In the Haney rear view mirror

2008 is the new 1929

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

And the doctor replied:"Well, don't go to those places then."

Hilarious British stand-up comic, magician and well-documented alcoholic Tommy Cooper said he went to the doctor and complained that his arm hurt in several places. The doctor said: "Well, then don't go to those places."

The recent spate of Cap'n Jack Sparrow events - commonly referred to as piracy - around the Horn of Africa and specifically near Somalia reminded me of the Tommy Cooper quip. The owners of the vessels should simply not go to those places. The Cape route, long favoured by navigators would welcome the business and other than perhaps getting mugged on Adderley Street or hijacked in Bellville, the crews should come away relatively unscathed.

Given the frequency of the piratical pranks around the Horn one cannot but help speculate on the notion that these naughty nauticals might be the doing of none other Osama bin Sailing the famous Saudi yachtsman. It would come as no surprise to learn that Al Qaeda's Caisse is running low, now that West Texas Intermediate is hovering around $50 and we find the financial markets distressed by ever ill imaginable. Hard times for Wall Street is reflected by hard times in the Wadi. And arming the buggers ain't cheaper as Osama was overheard saying in Harrod's the other day.

None of the usual scare mongers in Washington or the Pentagon have hit on this theory (it maybe more than a theory), but given the state of politics and social upheaval that dog the region it would take very little for Osama to arm a few local fishermen and instruct them to cast their nets a little wider than usual so that they can haul in a handsome ransom and reload Al Qaeda's recession-hit treasury. I'm surprised Osama has not put in his plea to Congress for some bailout cash - after all, we are entering the giving season.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Go BIG and Go Home

Well, the village of Mape, as I sometimes call it, can now, at least for a while, settle back into some semblance of 'normaldumb' as George Bush would say.

The incumbent set out to 'go big or go home' and judging by the money spent on his campaign managed, in one deft move, to pull of both; he went big and he went home.

The much maligned Sather managed to the surprise of many to garner considerably more votes than the incumbent. If there were any surprises in the Maple Ridge election then that was probably it.

Many friends and associates were behind Uncle Ernie's campaign and were rewarded for their common sense approach. A two-term Mayor is a rare thing in Maple Ridge, but as of now it is quite possible that we may have a two-term or perhaps even three-term guy with his hand on the gavel (I know, I know - he does not have a gavel).

As for council; Dueck, Hogarth and Ashlie make for a powerful trio of like-minded individuals. King and Speirs will continue as the conscience of Maple Ridge and defenders of all things social and green. Morden will find his way and learn the ropes quickly. I am keeping one of his campaign ads (not really, I'm just saying that) on my desk to see how closely he tracks his promises over the next three years. Just a guess, but he is certain to fall in line with Uncle Ernie, Dueck, Hogarth and Ashlie on most issues.

According the economists we are in for a quiet three years. Urban sprawl and big shopping centres in the Albion area will be less of a threat to rural Maple Ridge for a while. This then is a good time to plan. And plan we will, because that is what we do best. Plan and plan and plan.

Here's a to do list:
  • Improve our image when it comes to outside investors
  • Improve our desirability as a place to base a business
  • Improve our downtown as promised by everyone and achieved so far by none
  • Improve (ahem) transport
  • Improve our 'branding' - a Morden chestnut and something that needs serious attention
  • Improve our image as a festivals, cultural (both intellectual and agri) centre
  • Improve, improve relations with outside agencies including provincial and federal
  • Improve public safety in the downtown by getting on Athawal's case with some degree of seriousness
  • Improve our museum - as in build a new one on 224th street
  • Improve

Saturday, November 15, 2008

and the winner is...............


What is this obsession with global growth?

From the BBC online news November 15, 2008

(George Bush) Summit pledge to 'restore growth'

Global leaders at the G20 financial summit in Washington have pledged to work together to restore global growth.

President George Bush said that finance minsters would now work on detailed reform proposals and report back.

The actions countries were taking were "beginning to work" in dealing with the financial crisis, said the president.

In their communique, the leaders said they were determined to work together to achieve "needed reforms" in the world's financial systems.

"We are adapting our financial systems to the realities of the 21st century," said Mr Bush in his address at the end of the summit.

At the meeting in Washington, leaders pledged to "lay the foundation for reform to help to ensure that a global crisis, such as this one, does not happen again".

The report above is much as expected from today's 20 country summit on the world's so called financial crisis. And in the heat of this particular international debate not a single commentator, economic pundit, politician or observer has questioned the the need for growth or even growth's worth.

In the natural world we have come to accept growth as something beyond our control - well almost beyond our control - and that tinkering with growth is generally frowned on.

In the world of finance and commerce however we have devised these many national and international systems which governments at a whim can use to slow growth or accelerate growth, but rarely if ever ignore growth. Thanks to the Internet and an electronic media that spans our global community almost every citizen on the planet understands the fundamental mechanisms of money supply and interest rates. Though I think we lost them on the Credit Default Swaps and the Asset Backed Commercial Paper. Sub-prime? Well it speaks for itself; now louder than ever.

So finding ourselves stuck between Iraq and the 1929 depression we find ourselves scratching our global heads and wondering how we may, as a planet, extricate ourselves from what many see as a problem, to wit, the slowing (nay shrinking) world economy. Given that we are all flying the same space ship (earth) it would seem that the ratio of country to country and person to person remains the same. The rich are still rich and the poor (unhappily) still poor. The fed and housed (notwithstanding the mortgage defaults) remain fed and housed. Nothing has changed other than the price we pay at the pump and elsewhere. All that has changed effectively is the rate of growth. The disadvantaged remain disadvantaged, the privileged remain privileged. It seems odd therefore that such immense effort and great expense is being poured into saving one financial institution or the other or one business or the other. The truth is that we have too many banks, hedge funds, mutual funds and private equity groups. The truth is that we have too many business. The truth is that every consumer has too much as a result of consuming almost everything put in front of them. The truth is they consumed themselves (and consequently the world's economy) to a standstill. What then, is wrong with a little fiscal growth rest. Perhaps it is time the economy hit the couch, opened a bag of chips and popped a can of beer - both bought in the good times - and sat back to watch the game on the  LCD flat screen.

It is clear that even the brightest minds are struggling with this. The same minds and thinking that got us into this mess. 'Another fine mess you got us into.' The less summits we have the better. The more summits we have, the messier things will get. Nature will take over and the economy will eventually correct itself - no hurry. The economists and world leaders will pat each on the back for a job well done. Hooray!!

Take you happy....don't worry......enjoy the bad times while you can, they may be the best times you'll ever have.

Nature Boy


Friday, November 14, 2008

Letter published in TIMES November 14, 2008

Albion flats is the wrong area for big boxes
The Times
Published: Friday, November 14, 2008


While the fight over Jackson Farm carries on, I see that a new website has sprung up to promote a shopping centre on Albion Flats. We need to think long-term and big-idea. We need to think culture -- historic, aesthetic, economic. I was, and am, strongly opposed to simply plunking down a Walmart in the Albion flats.

I hate the idea of swallowing up all small business prospects in Albion for a generation with an aesthetically revolting big-box store on 20 acres of asphalt, which is what they have in many Walmart locations.

But the idea of an actual, diversified shopping community, with an appealing layout and architecture, where smaller business mixes with anchor tenants, is something different. The Coopers mall at 240th and Dewdney is a good, small-scale example of this idea.
The demand for shopping is obviously there, but does it need to be another terrible, generic, thoughtless exercise in design where a quick dollar trumps other, more thoughtful, considerations?

As for Jackson Farm, I ask these questions: In a land of strip malls and subdivisions, how many significant historic touchstones do we have?

How many areas of historical significance combined with pastoral beauty? Surely enough people recognize the need to maintain and celebrate the few such areas that we have. There are numerous areas in Maple Ridge for potential subdivision development. Why, why, why, does every piece of land have to generate visions of housing? Where there's a will...

Albion still has the potential to be a model for sensible suburban development, but it is on the cusp of being overrun by short-term interests. Think of the possibilities: An appealing, diverse shopping development on the Flats and a gorgeous, historic park within biking distance. Claus Andrup has long put forth, to anyone who will listen, creative and exciting ideas for turning the banks of the Fraser into a quay-style development. 

The possibilities are many and great, but one pleads with the universe that a critical part of any plan will be to contribute positively to the long-term culture of this, and any, local area.
Think different, Maple Ridge.

Geoff Westby,
Maple Ridge

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Free Markets - WIKEPEDIA definition

Bush 'n Bull

Well, well. Today we learn that George Bush blames not the free markets for the economic shambles of 2008. Know what? I agree. It is not the fault of the free markets. Simply put, it is the inability of the Federal Bank and the Treasury Department to apply the rules of a free market when the rules are most needed.

In a supply demand world gravity is dominant force. Free Markets are, so to speak, the oceans wherein the piscatorial economic species thrive most and where they are almost exclusively found. Free markets in a word or perhaps two are the natural habitat for supply demand organisms.

For free markets to fully function and for supply demand economics to thrive they need to be left free to make their own way across the globe. Some will make and some will perish; just as it should be.

When the rules are broken and federals officials and legislators panic and feel tempted to put the brakes on or artificially support the free markets through intervention then they ignore their own rules and the consequence of this is that we are left with two philosophies grappling over a single problem. Only the problem can lose.

Paulson's decision yesterday to backtrack on the rules of $700 billion bailout for the US financial institutions could have been avoided if he had not let himself be talked into the bailout in the first place. 'Talked into?" Why yes, it is unlikely that he came up with this scheme himself. A more likely recounting of the truth would have him disagreeing with the bailout and then subsequently proving his point when the bailout had no effect other than to expose even greater woes domestically and abroad. The result then was that European banks and Asian banks followed suit, just at the moment when the US was rethinking the merits of the primary bailout.

The upshot of these poor decisions over the past few weeks is that not being allowed to free fall as free markets should, they were temporarily held up, built up a head, and then accelerated downwards. Now, as one would expect, they will take longer to correct. But correct they will.

There is nothing wrong with Free Markets and Supply Demand rules as long as they are not manipulated. George Bush is right. But at this stage he can put on a red nose and a clown's hat and dance around Time's Square naked and no one would raise an eye-brow - or an interest rate.


A free market is a market in which property rights are voluntarily exchanged at a price arranged completely by the mutual consent of sellers and buyers. By definition, buyers and sellers do not coerce each other, in the sense that they obtain each other's property without the use of physical force, threat of physical force, or fraud, nor is the transfer coerced by a third party.[1] In the aggregate, the effect of these decisions en masse is described by the law of supply and demand. 

Free markets contrast sharply with controlled markets or regulated markets, in which governments directly or indirectly regulate prices or supplies, which distorts market signals according to free market theory.[2] In the marketplace the price of a good or service helps communicate consumer demand to producers and thus directs the allocation of resources toward consumer, as well as investor, satisfaction. 

In a free market, price is a result of a plethora of voluntary transactions, rather than political decree as in a controlled market. Through free competition between vendors for the provision of products and services, prices tend to decrease, and quality tends to increase. A free market is not to be confused with a perfect market where individuals have perfect information and there is perfect competition.

Free market economics is closely associated with laissez-faire economic philosophy, which advocates approximating this condition in the real world by mostly confining government intervention in economic matters to regulating against force and fraud among market participants. Hence, with government force limited to a defensive role, government itself does not initiate force in the marketplace beyond levying taxes in order to fund the maintenance of the free marketplace. 

Some free market advocates oppose taxation as well, claiming that the market is better at providing all valuable services of which defense and law are no exception, and that such services can be provided without direct taxation. Anarcho-capitalists, for example, would substitute arbitration agencies and private defense agencies.
While some economists regard the free market as a useful if simplistic model in developing economic policies to attain social goals, others regard the free market as a normative rather than descriptive concept, and claim that policies which deviate from the ideal free market solution are 'wrong' even if they are believed to have some immediate social benefit. Paul Samuelson treated market failure as the exception to the general rule of efficient markets[citation needed].

In political economics, one opposite extreme to the free market economy is the command economy, where decisions regarding production, distribution, and pricing are a matter of governmental control. Other opposites are the gift economy and the subsistence economy. The mixed economy is intermediate between these positions.

In social philosophy, a free market economy is a system for allocating goods within a society: purchasing power mediated by supply and demand within the market determines who gets what and what is produced, rather than the state. Early proponents of a free-market economy in 18th century Europe contrasted it with the medieval, early modern, and mercantilist economies which preceded it.

Composure the clear winner at Webster's Corners last night

We saw it earlier this month in the US presidential race, aside from his other qualities Barack Obama is the master of composure. Washington of course is some distance from Webster's Corners, but composure counts all the same in politics, notwithstanding Adolf Hitler's notable lack of it.

By definition one expects composure from the mayoral candidates. The rule does not always apply however. The incumbent won the last time around notwithstanding a less than composed approach. During his tenure however he learned composure and uses it now to his benefit. The green candidate Sather is blessed with a natural composure that may be attributed to all the fresh air he breathes while researching the woods and fells around Maple Ridge. Uncle Ernie takes composure a step further, almost relaxed he addresses his audience as though they are old friends [many are] and we are all sitting in his living room.

Not surprisingly the council candidates vying for the six spots on council number many more - close to 30 this election period. Also, as expected, for many this is their first time. It shows. Composure is often tossed out the window with the rhetoric, cliches and not too sophisticated tricks of the trade which may seem effective when in the hands of the professionals but look downright silly in the hands of a novice.

One candidate suggested that "....if we can put a man on the moon, then we can fix Maple Ridge......". This is the first time that the citizens of Maple Ridge were exposed to the long-held secret that the UBC Research Forest is in reality a secret NASA outpost where once upon a time scientists worked on the moon lander. They are now working on the the far more complex task of bringing better lighting to the streets of Maple Ridge. One member of the audience [it may have been me] was heard muttering about sending some of the candidates to the moon and leaving them there.

The questions last night revolved around some uniquely local issues focused on 256th Street. New candidates struggled for meaningful answers, incumbents offered stock answers, dragged out, dusted off and repeated; all issues that the old hands went to school on over the past three years. As always the candidates felt they did not get enough time to make their points and as always some in attendance felt that a minute was easily long enough for certain candidates to demonstrate why they are perhaps not suitable for office. Those candidates who could not formulate an answer for a question simply agreed with the previous speaker; ignorance masqerading as accord.

There are many, many new faces among the council contenders and one hopes voters give these eager newbies a shot. We are daily bombarded with the promise of 'fresh ideas' and 'creative solutions' and a 'new approach' and 'time for change'. These are stock themes that are dragged off the shelf and presented to the public every three years. And true, once in a while a new idea emerges and true, in time a new idea or two makes its way into reality's realm; a bridge here, a road there. New ideas, one would think, come from new people. On other hand, experienced councillors may be better equipped when it comes to decision-making.

And experinced councils can lean on their civic memory. Al Hogarth reminded us that we have a fibre optic line running along railway line into to town. He could have embelished on this theme by pointing out that all fuss on Lougheed Highway this week is to do with the extension of the fibre optic network in our downtown. Some fresh ideas do therefore make it through the bureaucratic barriers to the public domain.

A stranger last night put me on the spot (I'm no candidate I whined) and asked me what the issues were for me. I did everything I could to avoid answering the question in a clear, concise, honest, unbiased manner - I even tried to walk away. You could be forgiven in thinking I am a politician in training. The stranger pressed me further. Damn, I thought, this one is good. She may even get a job at the NEWS or the TIMES. Finally she pushed me to the point where I could resist no longer and sadly, as I blurted out my unscripted answer, it dawned on me that I could never run for council as I conceded defeat and answered the question as asked.

The issue for me are: revitalize the downtown (yawn), make our streets safer (zzzz) and of course please, please stop all new development that begins with the 's' word - sprawl (here I dozed off right in front of her).

Curiously none of the mayoral candidates or council candidates mentioned the fact that we are in the midst of a recession-come-depression. Here in the Shangri-Maple-Ridge the world economy has apparently leaped over us. Funny that; not only was Maple Ridge by-passed by the booming economy of recent years, but now we are also it seems going to be overlooked by the recession. Talk about irrelevant; even the good times are bad.

So the candidates had many great ideas for jobs and new business and how we can stimulate our economy by creating a cultural and tourism haven in the Fraser valley, but none of them acknowledged the fact that we are are up to our collective waist in economic excreta. Presumably the hope is that it will all blow over by the end of their term. Now there's something we can all hope for. Not the end of their term, the end of the recession. Duh!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Jack the bat

Here follows an excerpt from council candidate Tyler Ducharme’s campaign website. It offers an intimate glimpse at the behavioural patterns associated with Jack Athwal, a local landlord. The battles between Athwal, the public and District of Maple Ridge are well documented and show up frequently in the local press. He has been sued (successfully) by the District and is in a running battle with District over a wreck of property on Fraser Street known as Northumberland Court. Northumberland Court has no equal when it comes demonstrating almost ever social ill that befalls Maple Ridge. In short, it is a microcosm of social malaise. Athwal controls this hell hole and refuses to either knock it down, sell it, improve or do anything that will vaguely improve not only the lives of the residents, but the businesses and residents who are affected in the neighourhood.

The piece written by Tyler Ducharme below points to a more serious side of Athwal’s persona. One does not have to read between the lines to recognize that in Athwal the community is up against a psychotic with deep anti-social issues. It is as well that Mr Ducharme reported Jack Athwal’s threats to the local constabulary on November 9, 2008. I am certain th
at they, and the residents of Northumberland Court will consider Jack the bat flagged for being a very, very naughty man.

“I want to start by thanking everyone for their kind comments today regarding my participation at the all candidates forum at the senior's center. It is quite heartening to hear that as a candidate people appreciated actual answers to questions. While working the downtown area today for votes I spoke with three different people who were at the meeting and all had polite and encouraging things to say.

Someone who did not have a nice thing to say to me today was Maple Ridge's most notorious slum lord, Jack Athwal. His exact words, as I reported them to the RCMP were: "I have a bat … I'm going to hit you". Now I don't know if he actually had a bat in his truck, but he was reaching for something. Suffice to say I've dealt with tough guys like him before and most are way too cowardly to actually do anything. Seems that Jack doesn't care for being called out on what he is, and if that is the case he is going to like it even less when the public pressure campaign against him and city kicks into full gear.

As it stands there is one more all candidates meeting for those of us running for council. I should be able to get in one more full day of campaigning and ideally get in about 8 more hours of campaigning on top of that. Will it be enough? Hard to say at this point, but the electoral voters do seem ready for change. I understand the advance polls were double what they were last election and generally a bigger turn out means that change is on the way. We are losing our medical clinic in Haney and this is entirely the fault of Jack Athwal and a council that will not enforce the bylaws to hold him accountable for his actions in attempting to destroy our community. I don't' think that bodes well for Jack or any of his ilk. The time for abusing an entire community is coming to an end. Not because the prior council did anything to end it, but because the people in Haney, and I think the rest of Maple Ridge, are tired of this abuse going on and the embarrassment it causes.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thinking (perhaps not) outside the BIG BOX

In the back of their minds our council hopefuls (mayors have no say as the incumbent has pointed out) probably already know which way they will vote when it comes to the Smart Centres proposal for a big box complex north of the Lougheed Highway in the Albion area.

There are a lot of candidates this time around and the betting is that the majority of them will favour a 'new shopping experience' in the Albion. And in all likelihood the majority of citizens in Maple Ridge will agree that, yes indeed, Maple Ridge is in dire need of a large shopping complex slap bang in the middle of Albion. Why not? Just look at the place; nothing but grass and bog and a handful of scruffy buildings and crumbling greenhouses.

In the past - recent past actually - Maple Ridge council and staff fought bravely [bless them] to ward off the advances of that evil empire, Smart Centres, the Darth Vader of retail. Famously Glen Bury of First Pro, as Smart Centres then called itself, asked council in chambers whether Maple Ridge was 'open for business?' Back came the resounding answer 'no'. One felt that the reaction was not so much aimed at First Pro but rather at poor Glen himself; that Hannnibal appoach, while popular among developers, does not go down well in Maple Ridge. 

Pitt Meadows, under the leadership of its own brand of despot, seemed and seems far more in tune with the Smart Centres modus developi. This was demonstrated when it became evident that land was being prepared on the north side of Lougheed for the inevitable big box build in Pitt Meadows - a matter of pride to many folk in Pitt Meadows.

The current retail climate, one would think, will send our local shoppers back to the Loonie Stores and the other little bucking shops that haphazardly litter these two communities. The financial landscape from Wall Street to Walmart has changed drastically, setting back most capital expenditure plans for the foreseeable and, some say, unforeseeable future. Plans that will doubtless include the Albion, which will once more is set to escape the evil empire, perhaps for decades, as this recession [let's be honest and call it a DEPRESSION] has all the makings of a doozy.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

What next for Albion Flats? Developers.....start your engines!!

This proposal was made to the District of Maple Ridge early on this Century. It was well-received despite its lofty goals. The along came First Pro which in a typically cynical marketing move rebranded itself "Smart Centres" in a dimwitted attempt to hoodwink those that care, that this bunch of clowns somehow shared the values of Smart Growth on the Ground. Be that as it may, no one was sucked in and Smart Centres were tossed out of Maple Ridge. Not known for being short of ideas Smart Centres took one step west and started buying land along the Lougheed Highway in neighbouring Pitt Meadows. By all accounts things are not now going well for Smart Centres in Pitt Meadows. No problem, the current bickering among politicians in Maple Ridge has opened wide the door to Smart Centres who were quick to spot the gap and here they are again. 

The difference today is that the dice are loaded in the favour of Smart Centres. The only thing between Walmart and Costco showing up in boggy Albion is the area plan anticipated in the current Official Community Plan. The betting is that the Albion area plan will be the first item to hit the council chamber in 2009. The background to this is the new West Coast Express station which will be built near 240th in the east Albion area near Bruce's Market.

Protest though ye may the Albion Ferry will be history by this time next year so farewell Fort Langley, it was nice knowing you.

It is an ill wind.....................................

Friday, November 07, 2008

Big box trouble stalks Maple Ridge under cover of nasty municipal elections

Our local papers have seldom been as interesting as they presently are. The current council members are, to put it mildly, ranged heavily against our Mayor, whathisname?  It seems he has rubbed them the wrong way. And here he had the community convinced that all was fine and dandy up at Haney Place. Cohesion and consensus apparently only masquerading, disguising coercion and obfuscation. 

Given the ferocity of the dissension among the Magnificent Six it is no wonder that the remaining Magnificent One must be feeling a little irked, betrayed perhaps. Truth be known, they never liked him anyhow. It was just not convenient to tell him while he was Mayor; a sort of omission of candour if you will. Imagine if the big spender is re-elected along with most of the current avengers. What an interesting and entertaining three years lies ahead in that case.

Amid the hoohah and night of the long knives one wonders perhaps if the candidates should not pay more attention to the positive aspects of their own agendas and aspirations.

If it gets too messy they may all find themselves out of a job replaced by an entirely fresh bunch of politicians, relatively unblemished by a history of crap judgement or whimsical voting. Sather may find himself as Mayor, surrounded by everyone other than the ones he would prefer to be surrounded by. Without King, Gordon, Speirs and one or two others he could well land up in the same situation as the incumbent now finds himself. On his own he would be faced with seeing off the evil empire of Smart Centres who have chosen this moment to appeal once more to the local consumers by offering the temptation of a big box bonanza on the Albion Flats. The Albion Flats have never been more vulnerable. This time around however it will be a flailing economy that sinks the Smart Centres' less than smart ideas for the Albion. That, and the continuing determination of staff in the Planning Department to 'do' the town centre first before entertaining any fancy-schmanshy schemes for the Albion.

Here, as they say, we go again. We'll be due for a new Official Community Plan soon. I can't wait.

Our best bet is Mr. Daykin surrounded by new, young faces. Faces equipped with articulate mouths. Faces on the front of heads that have open minded brains.  Passion for this or that is fine. But is the community really best served by polarizing passion or cold logic. Whoever wins the local race on November 15 the best advice we can probably offer is "Stop. Think."


Mugabe seeks new Obama relations

Obama to Mugabe: "Get to the back of line, idiot."

Maple Ridge Chamber of Commerce hosts 2008 candidates Q&A

One or two candidates had complained earlier in the day that the Maple Ridge Chamber of Commerce gave very short notice regarding this meeting. Not only that, but the all-candidates Q&A meeting conflicted with a fund raiser for another group and many candidates, frankly, would be better viewed attending the (perhaps more worthy) fund raiser. The MC for the Chamber of Commerce apologized for the short notice and, as candidates trickled in late, they each excused themselves by saying that they had been at the other event.

Notwithstanding the fact that when your correspondent arrived a number of candidates were still at the fund raiser and it did appear for a moment that at the Chamber of Commerce meeting the questioners were outnumbered by the answerers i.e. council candidates v. general public and members of the Chamber of Commerce. There is, as an aside, no way of telling who of those attending were members and who were general public.

The venue at Thomas Haney is cavernous so the combination of all candidates and the audience did little to fill it. None of the three Mayoral Candidates were present. Perhaps they lingered at the aforementioned fund raiser hoping to snag a vote or two. Or perhaps it was just that evil mix of rain, wind and a cold fall night that kept the Mayoral Candidates away from the Chamber of Commerce meeting. And what a meeting it wasn't.

A town is just a town, after all. It is easy to exhaust the questions: what is your vision for Maple Ridge; what can we do about crime, homelessness, drug abuse, vandalism; can we improve transport; how can we attract more business; what have we done; what should we do; and of course, why do you think you rather than anyone else at the table can do it? If the questions sound familiar it is because they are. Ditto the answers.

Densification and revitalization of the downtown core and business area has been on the table for several decades now. True, it is given more airtime in 2005 and 2008 than at any previous electoral discussion. It is as though the candidates are piling into the discussion three years at a time. Your erstwhile correspondent would like to have heard a question regarding demographics.

Anyone interested in macro or micro economics will be aware that the answers to most of the run of the mill questions submitted at these meeting every three years is simply demographics. Gender, age, education, marital status and to some extent ethnic background and whether or not one is new to Maple Ridge or not. And in this consumer society, let's not count out income and occupation, white collar, blue collar or simply no collar at all. For an interesting Chamber of Commerce Meeting hire an expert in demographics. He or she will have the questions, the answers and perhaps even a glimpse at the future to offer.

The dreary thing about demographics is its relationship to time; birth, population movement and death (death can be unpredictable at times) move at a slow pace. And it these fundamentals that determine for instance the success or failure of a plan to say, densify our population in downtown Maple Ridge. And as we grow so do the the seedier aspects grow happily in the shadow of our loftier aspirations. More people, more crime, more homelessness, more drug abuse. Managing growth is all we can hope for from the elected officials. It is brave and kind and good of them to stand for office. To the articulate, and more than one of them rose to the occasion in the gloom of this meeting last night, hopefully go the spoils. To the less than articulate (and I suspect they know who they are) one hopes that office will be denied.

It did occur me last night that had I not attended last night it may have caused me to make one or two poor decisions. I departed the meeting with a somewhat altered slate than the one I arrived with. It pleased me that what I heard and saw caused me to change my mind and my vote. In this era of change, after all, change is seen as a good thing. This community of 73,000 would be better off it more voters dragged themselves out to all candidates meetings to hear what the hopefuls have to say. If not you are more or less voting to keep things just as they are. On reflection. "keeping things just as they are" would perhaps be an appropriate tag line for Maple Ridge's now familiar "Deep Roots. Greater Heights." The District of Maple Ridge, at least from what this correspondent has observed these past 15 years, is more about the roots than the heights.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

From a friend in California

One sunny day in February 2009 an old man approached the White House from across Pennsylvania Avenue, where he'd been sitting on a park bench.

He spoke to the U.S. Marine standing guard and said, 'I would like to go in and meet with President Bush.' The Marine looked at the man and said, 'Sir, Mr. Bush is no longer president and no longer resides here.'

The old man said, 'Okay' and walked away. The following day, the same man approached the White House and said to the same Marine, 'I would like to go in and meet with President Bush.'

The Marine again told the man, 'Sir, as I said yesterday, Mr. Bush is no longer president and no longer resides here.' The man thanked him and, again, just walked away. The third day, the same man approached the White House and spoke to the very same U.S. Marine, saying 'I would like to go in and meet with President Bush.'

The Marine, understandably agitated at this point, looked at the man and said, 'Sir, this is the third day in a row you have been here asking to speak to Mr. Bush. I've told you already that Mr. Bush is no longer the president and no longer resides here. Don't you understand?'

The old man looked at the Marine and said, 'Oh, I understand. I just love hearing it.'

The Marine snapped to attention, saluted, and said, 'See you tomorrow.'

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Trouble at Mill, Mall and Hall

Vitriol in every guise, one reads, has slipped out from the whispered mutterings and under the breath innuendo up in the District of Maple Ridge's sacred corridors of power and now spills naked on the pages of our beloved local paper, the NEWS.

Clearly not all is well up at the Hall. The larger than life Mayor of our hamlet is receiving a very public spanking from the six council members who he claims are party to the most cohesive council since the 12 apostles. When it comes to walking on water, healing the addicted and the poor and homeless, or dividing the Lougheed thus making room for a wondrous light rail system or turning farmland and green space space....then Mister Cohesive is the super hero for you.

"Foul" each council member howls choir-like or solitary around the kitchen tables or in the local SBX. A nauseatingly expensive promotional campaign set the standard for all. The message in the  ads is clear: "Spend $100,000 and you too can be Mayor" Many candidates are shocked by the amount of money being thrown at the incumbent's campaign, but not nearly as shocked as they are by the content. If I read correctly between the line then our current council are stunned to learn that the Mayor is responsible decision taken these past three years and they in their state of mindless cohesion are responsible for all the worst decisions - at least that is what the incumbent mayor seems to be saying. Confused? So you should be.

Maple Ridge has lost its way. Is that possible? It would take a genius to mess up so simple an organism as this. Cohesion and confusion are not spelled the same way, nor do they share even vaguely any semblance of meaning. Deception and sleight of hand are not well obscured by the smell of snake oil wafting around our village this November.

There is a very strong possibility that the incumbent will prevail on November 15. There is also a strong possibility that many council members will be returned to their seats up at the Hall. Were this to happen then Maple Ridge is guaranteed three years of whatever the opposite of cohesion is and a continuation of what confusion most certainly is recognized for being - not good for a growing community.

Do we really need a community that will waste three years of its time in an atmosphere of confusion and uncertainty. The incumbent promised he would not run for a second term. It is every voter's duty to see that the incumbent first wish comes true and that he does not confuse us with a second term.


A South African perspective on President Barack Obama


In the last two months of the US election campaign South Africa's president has been deposed and its main political party split.

But 14 years after South Africa elected its first black president, Barack Obama's bid to follow suit has remained front page news.

In a country acutely aware of race and its role in politics Mr Obama appears South Africa's overwhelming preference.

On election day itself one newspaper proclaimed "Obamania: World Wants Illinois Senator in White House".

That preference appears to be based more on symbolism than any evidence that Mr Obama will mean a real change in bilateral relations.

In fact it's possible that America's next president may be less favourable to Africa than his often derided predecessor.

George W Bush is widely credited with increasing foreign aid for Africa and for South Africa in particular, his support of HIV/Aids-related projects has been welcome.

Mr Obama has promised to double foreign aid - but his running mate Joe Biden has already suggested that the global financial crisis may mean that commitment not being met.

President Bush is also credited with the African Growth and Opportunities Act which allows African countries like South Africa to export selected goods into the US tariff free.

With the Democrats enjoying closer ties to the trade unions and a recession imminent there may now be pressure on President Obama to take a more protectionist stance.