|Tuesday 08th of October 2019
A Hub Where Humpback Whales Share Their Songs @SmithsonianMag
Humpback whales are the great crooners of the deep. Males are known to
emit a songs of complex melodies, comprised of moans, cries and
chirps, and their choruses can last for hours at a time.
Humpback populations also transmit their songs to one another, in a
west-to-east direction, so that a ditty might spread thousands of
miles across the sea.
Now, as Cara Giaimo reports for the New York Times, a new study has
identified one location where humpback whales seem to converge to
share their songs: the Kermadec Islands, a remote spot off the coast
of New Zealand.
Each year, humpback whales spend the summer in cold, northerly waters,
then migrate down to tropical breeding spots in winter. And each
breeding ground is associated with a unique song, which the males
switch up from year to year. (Females don’t appear to sing, though
they can make certain vocalizations.)
But researchers studying humpback whales in the South Pacific have
noticed that males at one breeding ground will sometimes incorporate
elements of songs from other breeding grounds—prompting experts to
wonder where they were picking up the new tunes.
“The song we hear in whales in New Caledonia this year—next year we’ll
hear elements of that song in the whales in Tonga,” Rochelle
Constantine, a biology professor at the University of Auckland and
co-author of a paper in Royal Society Open Science, tells Giaimo.
Conservation rangers had observed humpback whales converging around
the Kermadec Islands, and specifically a landmass known as Raoul
Island, in September and October, when the great creatures are making
their southward migration.
They have to go out of their way to get there, and the study authors
“hypothesized that if males do migrate past the Kermadec Islands from
multiple wintering grounds during their southward migration … we
should see some evidence of the cultural processes, song transmission
and/or convergence,” as the researchers note.
So the team recorded whale songs across multiple South Pacific
wintering grounds—from Eastern Australia to French Polynesia—and began
to transcribe them, looking for distinctive tropes.
“Transcribing the songs certainly was a big job,” lead study author
Clare Owen tells Vice’s Becky Ferreira. “When first analyzing the
sounds, they seemed so alien but as I spent more time listening to the
songs and focused on the details, I started to notice the patterns and
it really was like learning a new language.”
Ultimately, the researchers were able to divide the humpback songs
into three categories. “Song Type 1” was most frequently heard in the
central Pacific (the Cook Islands and French Polynesia), “Song Type 2”
was dominant in the west Pacific (New Caledonia, Tonga and Niue), and
“Song Type 3” was only heard in eastern Australia.
Next, the team compared the songs from the breeding grounds to
vocalizations from 39 humpbacks recorded around the Kermadecs. Most of
the whales there were singing Song Type 1 and Song Type 2, suggesting
that they had traveled from central and western Pacific.
Song Type 3 was not heard at the islands, leading the researchers to
assume that none of the whales had traveled from eastern Australia.
Intriguingly, one singer was belting out a “hybrid”—themes from both
Song Type 1 and Song Type 2. Perhaps, the researchers theorize, he was
in the process of switching from one song type to another.
“Hybrid songs are rare,” the study authors write, “and likely short
lived, so this hybrid song, with which we have likely captured some
part of the process by which singers change their song display from an
older to a new song version, suggests that the Kermadecs are a
location where song learning occurs.”
Previously, transmission hubs along whales migratory routes had been
“elusive” to scientists, according to the study authors. And the
Kermadecs may represent just one piece of the puzzle: the research
team believes that there are likely other important locations, such as
feeding grounds, where humpbacks from diverse locations gather for
Joker Didn't Just Set a Box Office Record @VanityFair
The film, directed by Todd Phillips on a $55 million budget, was
predicted to gross lower than other superhero movies mainly because of
its R-rating and dark tone, modeled after gritty ’70s and ’80s-era
films like Taxi Driver. Joker has also been beset by concerns that it
might incite violence with its depiction of a loner driven to criminal
ends. The film, starring Joaquin Phoenix in the lead, reimagines the
villain’s origin story, painting him as a mentally unstable man who
becomes an unhinged gunman after being abused by society. There have
also been rumors that the 2012 Aurora shooter James Holmes was
inspired by the Joker, a rumor that has since been debunked but still
caused concern going into this past opening weekend.
if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I've done before!). @realDonaldTrump
Law & Politics
As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey
does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be
off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of
Turkey (I’ve done before!). They must, with Europe and others, watch
Ozymandias PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY
Law & Politics
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
07-OCT-2019 :: China turns 70 @TheStarKenya
Law & Politics
“Longing on a large scale makes history.” ― wrote Don DeLillo and
these words streamed into my consciousness as I watched the
celebrations in Tiananmen Square, which were marking the 70th
Anniversary of Chinese Communist Party Rule. Xi Jinping and the Party
were seeking to project national power and confidence on a grand
scale. Nothing and Nobody was going to rain on this Parade. The Pomp
and Pageantry included a Parade that involved 15,000 soldiers and
sailors, 160 planes, 580 tanks and other weaponry including what Hu
Xijin [President Xi's trusted Mouth-piece] described as
''This is the legendary DF41 ICBM. But it is not a tale. Today it is
displayed at Tiananmen Square I touched one about four years ago in
the production plant. No need to fear it. Just respect it and respect
China that owns it'' Hu Xijin
My Friend Herve Gogo and I were simultaneously bamboozled by the all
women militia, selected from the militia force in Beijing's Chaoyang
District, who were a Sun-Tzu level Knock-Out Blow and certainly more
than the legendary DF41 ICBM which Mr. Xijin is welcome to keep as
long as he hands over the Ladies who are most welcome to stream in my
President for life Xi has been fending off a Trade War and been
dealing with a Flaring Up on the Periphery but last week was his
opportunity to paint on a blank canvas and show the World who he is
and what China wishes to be.
"No force can stop the Chinese people and the Chinese nation forging
ahead", he said.
The President for Life was seeking to project a sense of inevitable
forward Motion and a fulfilment of the promise that Mao Zedong made on
the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949 that
China would stand up. They have “stood up.” Xi's Model is one of
technocratic Authoritarianism and a recent addition to his book shelf
include The Master Algorithm by Pedro Domingos. Xi is building an
Algorithmic Society. Some of the Xi-era slogans are short and simple,
in the manner of Western advertising, such as the “Chinese Dream,” the
catchphrase embodying the party’s aim to become a global power by
2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People Republic of
China.In a way, this is also nothing new. But Xi has taken the
propagation of ideology and the cult of personality to extremes not
seen since the days of Chairman Mao. Xi in fact has replaced Jesus in
Churches and Mohamed in the mosques.
"Unity is iron and steel; unity is a source of strength,"
"Complete reunification of the motherland is an inevitable trend..no
one and no force can ever stop it!" he added
Today we know the Chinese Economy is slowing. but Xi is relying on
“If there is a decoupling between the two economies, so be it. The
Chinese people can endure more pain than the spoiled and hubristic
The Folks in Hong Kong [whom Xi is seeking to unmask so he can
exercise algorithmic control over them] are in open rebellion. Joshua
Wong told German Media "Hongkong ist das neue Berlin" referencing the
"Ich bin ein Berliner" speech given by United States President John
F. Kennedy given on June 26, 1963, in West Berlin. I am sure Xi sees
Hong Kong and Taiwan like a Virus and he is looking to impose a
quarantine just like he has imposed on Xinjiang. The Chinese Dream has
become a nightmare at the boundaries of the Han Empire. The World in
the c21st exhibits viral, wildfire and exponential characteristics and
Feedback Loops which only become obvious in hindsight.
I would venture that Xi's high water mark is behind him. Shorting the
renminbi is a bit of a No-Brainer. The Pork Apocalypse speaks to a
very fragile Food situation. The Periphery requires a lot more finesse
than more blunt force. But he can rely on a US President whose
dereliction of his international duty is now in plain sight
“China will not interfere in the internal affairs of the US, and we
trust that the American people will be able to sort out their own
problems," China's very subtle Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in
response to questions around Trump's pursuit of Biden and his personal
political agenda at the price of the US' international Agenda.
@NBA rebukes @HoustonRockets Rockets boss after Hong Kong praise @FinancialTimes
Law & Politics
A tweet by the general manager of the Houston Rockets basketball team
supporting the Hong Kong protests has sparked outrage in China,
leaving the team and the NBA scrambling to limit the damage in the
league’s fastest-growing market.
Daryl Morey posted an image on Twitter — which is blocked in China —
with the words “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” on Friday
evening, echoing a common refrain of the demonstrators whose
four-month stand-off with authorities has plunged the city into
Mr Morey quickly deleted the tweet and wrote he did not intend “to
cause any offence” but that has not stopped the outpouring of anger in
the country, with commercial partners quickly cutting their ties with
The Chinese Basketball Association suspended all partnerships with the
Rockets, one of the most popular teams in the country, over Mr Morey’s
That set off similar moves by the NBA’s main distributors in China,
state broadcaster CCTV and tech group Tencent.
Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, the Rockets’ main China sponsor,
suspended its partnership and sportswear brand Li-Ning cut off all
business with the team.
The NBA has aggressively sought to build its presence in China to tap
into country’s vast number of diehard basketball fans.
Earlier this year, the league signed a five-year extension to its
online screening rights deal with Tencent worth $1.5bn, double the
amount paid under its previous contract with the Chinese group.
More than 490m viewers watched games on Tencent’s platforms last
season, nearly triple the number in the previous season.
The NBA distanced itself from Mr Morey’s comment, issuing official
statements in English and Chinese.
The English apology said it was “regrettable” that Chinese fans had
been offended, but added “the values of the league support
individuals’ educating themselves and sharing views on matters
important to them”.
However, the Chinese statement appeared to condemn Mr Morey’s tweet
more strongly, saying the NBA was “extremely disappointed by the
inappropriate comment” and that “he has undoubtedly seriously hurt the
feelings of Chinese basketball fans”.
The references to “inappropriate” and “hurt feelings” are considered
significant, as they were seen to echo language often used by Chinese
officials to describe cultural gaffes by foreign groups.
The NBA’s response failed to assuage the outrage in China but also
drew bipartisan criticism in Washington that the league was valuing
its commercial goals over American values.
Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican senator, wrote on Twitter that the NBA
was “shamefully retreating” in pursuit of “big $$”.
Tom Malinowski, a Democratic congressman, accused Beijing of “using
its economic power to censor speech by Americans”, and said the NBA’s
response was “shameful and cannot stand”.
Later this week, some of the league’s top executives, including NBA
commissioner Adam Silver, are expected to be in China for pre-season
matches in Shanghai and Shenzhen.
The games will feature LeBron James, one of basketball’s biggest
stars, whose Los Angeles Lakers team are due to play the Brooklyn
Nets, owned by Joe Tsai, co-founder of Chinese technology group
Mr Tsai wrote an open letter on Facebook explaining why Mr Morey’s
tweet touched upon historical wounds such as the Opium Wars by
supporting a “separatist movement.
“Chinese people feel a strong sense of shame and anger because of this
history of foreign occupation,” he wrote.
Taobao, Alibaba’s online shopping portal, took down Rockets
merchandise on Monday, with a company spokesman citing Mr Tsai’s
statement that the issue is “non-negotiable” as one reason, according
to Chinese state media.
The Rockets are a favourite among Chinese fans, in part because of the
legacy of former star Yao Ming, China’s best-known player who is now
head of China’s basketball association and who spent his entire NBA
career with the team.
Mr Morey, who has been the Rockets’ general manager since 2007, is
known for his strategic focus on analytics and efficiency. The
approach is known as “Moreyball” in an echo of the “Moneyball”
strategy first deployed by the Oakland Athletics baseball team in the
During Mr Morey’s tenure, the Rockets have reached the playoffs nine
times and he was named NBA executive of the year in 2018.
A hashtag asking whether Mr Morey would be fired was trending on
China’s microblog platform Weibo after China’s state broadcaster
released a clip on social media saying that the Rockets risked being
“taken off the shelves” in the country.
“Morey, this time you have really broken the rules. When you foul, you
must pay the price. If you fail to change after the foul, then you’ll
be sent from the court,” said CCTV news anchor Kang Hui.
PM speech to the UN General Assembly: 24 September 2019
Law & Politics
Mr President, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, faithful late
It is customary for the British Prime Minister to come to this United
Nations and pledge to advance our values and defend our rules, the
rules of a peaceful world.
From protecting freedom of navigation in the Gulf
To persevering in the vital task of achieving a two-state solution to
the conflict in the Middle East.
And of course I am proud to do all of these things.
But no-one can ignore a gathering force that is reshaping the future
of every member of this Assembly.
There has been nothing like it in history
When I think of the great scientific revolutions of the past - print,
the steam engine, aviation, the atomic age - I think of new tools that
we acquired but over which we - the human race - had the advantage,
Which we controlled.
That is not necessarily the case in the digital age.
You may keep secrets from your friends, from your parents, your
children, your doctor – even your personal trainer – but it takes real
effort to conceal your thoughts from Google.
And if that is true today, in future there may be nowhere to hide.
Smart cities will pullulate with sensors, all joined together by the
“internet of things”, bollards communing invisibly with lamp posts
So there is always a parking space for your electric car,
so that no bin goes unemptied, no street unswept,
and the urban environment is as antiseptic as a Zurich pharmacy.
But this technology could also be used to keep every citizen under
A future Alexa will pretend to take orders.
But this Alexa will be watching you,
Clucking her tongue and stamping her foot
In the future, voice connectivity will be in every room and almost every object:
your mattress will monitor your nightmares; your fridge will beep for
your front door will sweep wide the moment you approach, like some
silent butler; your smart meter will go hustling - if its accord - for
the cheapest electricity.
And every one of them minutely transcribing your every habit in tiny
Stored not in their chips or their innards - nowhere you can find it,
But in some great cloud of data that lours ever more oppressively over
the human race
A giant dark thundercloud
waiting to burst
And we have no control over how or when the precipitation will take place
And every day that we tap on our phones or work on our ipads - as I
see some of you doing now -
We not only leave our indelible spoor in the ether
But we are ourselves becoming a resource
Click by click, tap by tap.
Just as the carboniferous period created the indescribable wealth -
leaf by decaying leaf - of hydrocarbons.
Data is the crude oil of the modern economy
And we are now in an environment where
We don’t know who should own these new oil fields
We don’t always know who should have the rights or the title to these
gushers of cash
And we don’t know who decides how to use that data
Can these algorithms be trusted with our lives and hopes?
Should the machines - and only the machines - decide whether or not we
are eligible for a mortgage or insurance
Or what surgery or medicines we should receive?
Are we doomed to a cold and heartless future in which computer says
yes - or computer says no
With the grim finality of an emperor in the arena?
how do you plead with an algorithm? How do you get it to see the
And how do we know that the machines have not been insidiously
programmed to fool us or even to cheat us?
We already use all kinds of messaging services that offer instant
communication at minimal cost.
The same programmes, platforms, could also be designed for real-time
censorship of every conversation, with offending words automatically
deleted, indeed in some countries this happens today.
Digital authoritarianism is not, alas, the stuff of dystopian fantasy
but of an emerging reality.
The reason I am giving this speech today is that the UK is one of the
world’s tech leaders - and I believe governments have been simply
caught unawares by the unintended consequences of the internet;
A scientific breakthrough more far-reaching in its everyday
psychological impact than any other invention since Gutenberg
And when you consider how long it took for books to come into
The arrival of the internet is far bigger than print
It is bigger than the atomic age -
But it is like nuclear power in that it is capable of both good and
harm - but of course it is not alone
As new technologies seem to race towards us from the far horizon
We strain our eyes as they come, to make out whether they are for good
or bad - friends or foes?
AI - what will it mean?
Helpful robots washing and caring for an ageing population?
or pink eyed terminators sent back from the future to cull the human race?
What will synthetic biology stand for - restoring our livers and our
eyes with miracle regeneration of the tissues, like some fantastic
Or will it bring terrifying limbless chickens to our tables.
Will nanotechnology help us to beat disease, or will it leave tiny
robots to replicate in the crevices of our cells?
It is a trope as old as literature that any scientific advance is
punished by the Gods
When Prometheus brought fire to mankind
In a tube of fennel, as you may remember, that Zeus punished him by
chaining him to a tartarean crag while his liver was pecked out by an
And every time his liver regrew the eagle came back and pecked it again
And this went on for ever - a bit like the experience of Brexit in the
UK, if some of our parliamentarians had their way.
In fact it was standard poetic practice to curse the protos heuretes -
the person responsible for any scientific or technical breakthrough
If only they had never invented the ship, then Jason would never have
sailed to Colchis and all sorts of disasters would never have happened
And it is a deep human instinct to be wary of any kind of technical progress
In 1829 they thought the human frame would not withstand the speeds
attained by Stephenson’s rocket
And there are today people today who are actually still anti-science.
A whole movement called the anti-Vaxxers, who refuse to acknowledge
the evidence that vaccinations have eradicated smallpox
And who by their prejudices are actually endangering the very children
they want to protect
And I totally reject this anti-scientific pessimism.
I am profoundly optimistic about the ability of new technology to
serve as a liberator and remake the world wondrously and benignly,
indeed in countless respects technology is
already doing just that.
Today, nanotechnology - as I mentioned earlier - is revolutionising
medicine by designing robots a fraction of the size of a red blood
capable of swimming through our bodies, dispensing medicine and
attacking malignant cells like some Star Wars armada
Neural interface technology is producing a new generation of cochlear implants,
allowing the gift of hearing to people who would not otherwise be able
to hear the voices of their children.
A London technology company has worked out how to help the blind to
navigate more freely with nothing more than an app on their
New technologies, produced in Britain, helping the deaf to hear and
the blind to see.
And we used to think that printing was something you did to run off a
Now a British company has used 3D printing to make an engine capable
of blasting a rocket into space.
In African countries, millions of people without bank accounts can now
transfer money using a simple app;
they can buy solar energy and leap in one transaction from no
electricity to green power.
And new advances are making renewable energy ever cheaper, aiding our
common struggle against climate change.
Our understanding of the natural world is being transformed by genome
The discovery of the very essence of life itself
The secret genetic code that animates the spirit of every living being.
And allows medical breakthroughs the like of which we have never known.
Treatments tailored to the precise genetic makeup of the individual.
So far, we have discovered the secrets of less than 0.3 percent of
complex life on the planet,
Think what we will achieve when – and it is a matter of when – we
understand 1 or 2 percent, let alone 5 or 10 percent.
But how we design the emerging technologies behind these breakthroughs
– and what values inform their design –will shape the future of
humanity. That is my point to you tonight my friends, my Excellencies
At stake is whether we bequeath an Orwellian world, designed for
censorship, repression and control,
or a world of emancipation, debate and learning, where technology
threatens famine and disease, but not our freedoms.
Seven decades ago, this General Assembly adopted the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights with no dissenting voices,
uniting humanity for the first and perhaps only time behind one set of
And our declaration - our joint declaration - upholds “freedom of
opinion and expression”,
the “privacy” of “home or correspondence,”
and the right to “seek…and impart information and ideas”.
Unless we ensure that new technology reflects this spirit, I fear that
our declaration will mean nothing and no longer hold.
So the mission of the United Kingdom and all who share our values must
be to ensure that emerging technologies are designed from the outset
for freedom, openness and pluralism,
with the right safeguards in place to protect our peoples.
Month by month, vital decisions are being taken in academic
committees, company boardrooms and industry standards groups.
They are writing the rulebooks of the future, making ethical
judgements, choosing what will or will not be rendered possible.
Together, we need to ensure that new advances reflect our values by design.
There is excellent work being done in the EU, the Commonwealth, and of
course the UN,
which has a vital role in ensuring that no country is excluded from
the wondrous benefits of this technology, and the industrial
revolution it is bringing about.
But we must be still more ambitious.
We need to find the right balance between freedom and control; between
innovation and regulation; between private enterprise and government
We must insist that the ethical judgements inherent in the design of
new technology are transparent to all.
And we must make our voices heard more loudly in the standards bodies
that write the rules.
Above all, we need to agree a common set of global principles to shape
the norms and standards that will guide the development of emerging
So - here’s the good news - I invite you next year to a summit in
London, a wonderful city, where by the way it is not raining 94 per
cent of the time, and where at one stage - when I was Mayor of London
- we discovered that we had more Michelin starred restaurants even
than Paris. The French somehow rapidly recovered - by a process that I
wasn’t quite sure was entirely fair. But we still have by far, in the
UK, by far the biggest tech sector - fintech, biotech, meditech,
nanotech, green tech - every kind of tech - in London - the biggest
tech sector anywhere in Europe, perhaps half a million people working
in tech alone.
I hope you will come there, where we will seek to assemble the
broadest possible coalition to take forward this vital task
Building on all that the UK can contribute to this mission as a global
leader in ethical and responsible technology.
If we master this challenge – and I have no doubt that we can – then
we will not only safeguard our ideals,
we will surmount the limits that once constrained humanity and conquer
the perils that once ended so many lives.
Together, we can vanquish killer diseases, eliminate famine,
protect the environment and transform our cities.
Success will depend, now as ever, on freedom, openness and pluralism,
the formula that not only emancipates the human spirit, but releases
the boundless ingenuity and inventiveness of mankind,
and which, above all, the United Kingdom will strive to preserve and advance.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for your kind attention.
Published 25 September 2019
Amartya Sen's Hopes and Fears for Indian Democracy @NewYorker H/T @CelestinMonga
Law & Politics
Amartya Sen, the Indian economist, philosopher, and public
intellectual, lives on a quiet street in Cambridge, just around the
corner from Harvard Square. His home, which he shares with his wife,
the historian Emma Rothschild, is spacious but cluttered, with old
newspapers and magazines lying about and copies of Sen’s books on
crowded tables. There are also photos of Ted Turner and Kofi Annan;
framed paintings of the philosophers John Rawls and W. V. O. Quine,
hanging in the living room, which were done by Rawls’s wife; and a
photo of the poet Rabindranath Tagore in the entryway, which serves as
a reminder that Sen is often mentioned alongside him as one of
Bengal’s favorite sons.
Born in 1933 in what is now the Indian state of West Bengal, to a
family of Hindu academics, Sen went on to study economics at Cambridge
and to serve on the faculties of the Delhi School of Economics, the
London School of Economics, and Oxford, among other institutions; he
was the master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and, for the past
fifteen years, has been a professor at Harvard. During more than six
decades of teaching and writing, Sen has transformed the study of
famines and the field of welfare economics, work for which, in 1998,
he received the Nobel Prize. His “capabilities approach,” which he
developed with Martha Nussbaum, argues that countries should pay
attention to broad-based measures of human flourishing, from lack of
poverty to time for reflection, which requires a focus on both
opportunity and the allocation of resources. His work on India—from
exposing the lack of gender parity to calling for more attention to
welfare spending and explaining the causes of the 1943 Bengal Famine,
which killed between two and three million people—has made him one of
the most important commentators on Indian affairs.
In a number of books, including “The Argumentative Indian,” from 2005,
Sen has celebrated the multiculturalism of Indian existence and the
capacious nature of the Indian constitution; both work against the
ills of what Sen calls “solitarism,” or the idea that human beings
have one principal identity. Those values are on the wane, however,
under the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and his
Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Modi, especially after
winning reëlection this year, appears intent on cementing Hindu rule.
His government has suspended autonomous governance in the
Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir; the territory, which has
faced decades of brutal occupation, is now under strict martial law,
with reports of torture and extralegal detention. Sen has often
criticized Modi’s sectarianism and has said that his government has
“taken a quantum jump in the wrong direction” on poverty and health
care. In 2015, Sen withdrew his nomination for a second term as the
chancellor of Nalanda University, in Bihar, after the government made
clear its displeasure with his tenure.
When I visited Sen, we spoke for several hours in his kitchen before
going to lunch. He is eighty-five, and walks gingerly and with a cane.
But he has a boisterous laugh and an astonishing memory for people and
ideas. When I asked him whether he had reflected on the fact that he
was now somewhat of a living embodiment of the distinction between
mind and body—he is still writing regularly (including a memoir, which
he said made him feel “ancient”), teaching, and interviewing
candidates for the Harvard Society of Fellows—he said, “I am not the
type to give thanks to a creator. But, if I were, it would be for it
to have happened this way rather than the other way around.” Our
conversation, edited for length and clarity, is below. In it, we
discuss his boyhood in pre-independence India, his fears and hopes for
Indian democracy, and why contemporary politics hasn’t led him toward
So, you have been following what’s been going on in India since before
Way before Partition. I was schooled in British India.
What are your memories of that?
Very strong memories of thinking of the ways and means of getting rid
of British rule. Strong memories of my uncles and cousins—both on my
father’s and mother’s side—being in prison in what the British used to
call “preventive detention.” Not because they had done anything but
because they could do something terrible against the empire unless
they were kept in prison. There was no need for proof that they had
done anything terrible.
I remember talking with my grandfather and saying, “Do you think
preventive detention is ever going to go away from India?” And him
saying, “Not until independence. We have to gain independence for
that.” Unfortunately, we have gained independence, and at first the
Congress Party introduced preventive detention in a rather mild form.
And now, of course, it is very strong. There is an act called the
Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which was amended this year to
give the government the right to designate someone as a terrorist,
without having to provide any proof and without having judicial
review. And that is back again, which I never thought would happen now
that we are an independent country.
Do you have memories of the war, or Partition?
Oh, yes. Partition, yes, and the war, yes. And the Hindu-Muslim riots.
I come from Dhaka, which is now the capital of Bangladesh, though I
was educated and stayed with my maternal grandfather in what is now
West Bengal, in Santiniketan, a progressive school that Tagore had
started. And I loved it. In Bengal, Hindu-Muslim violence was not very
common. Even in 1937, in the elections, the secular parties won. But
then, by the beginning of the nineteen-forties, the influence of the
pro-Partition forces became strong. I think the first time the Muslim
League actually won the elections was only 1946, the year before
Where was your family in 1947, when Partition occurred?
My father was a professor at Dhaka University, so he was teaching
there along with quite a few rather good academics. But, in 1946, I
think five or six people left because Dhaka University had so much
rioting and trouble that there were hardly any classes. Along with my
father, there was S. N. Bose, the physicist known for Bose-Einstein
Statistics. My father, who was a chemist, moved, after looking for
other jobs, to Delhi, and was Delhi’s land-development commissioner.
But then he became the chair of the West Bengal Public Service
When did you decide you wanted to leave India?
I’m afraid I am rather boring in that way. I was very keen on studying
in one or two particular places that attracted me, which included
Cambridge. Cambridge was pretty good in economics in those days, in
particular Trinity College. I applied there and then they rejected me
and then somebody dropped out, so they asked me at the last moment to
come. They recollected that when, many years later, I became master of
the college. [Laughs.] I have always had interests in economics and
politics. I was interested in mathematics also. But Cambridge
economics didn’t have very much math at that time. On the other hand,
Trinity was the great mathematics college, beginning with Isaac
Newton, and so on.
Do you think your math and science interests helped when you moved
into other fields?
I think they did. And it’s also the case that Trinity had a certain
level of standing in the gigantic battles that were going on in
Cambridge at that time, which were between Cambridge economics and
what they called neoclassical economics, which was old-fashioned
economics. I was attracted not only by the fact that Newton and Bacon
and many others went there but also by the fact that Maurice Dobb, who
was probably the leading Marxist economist, was in Trinity. Piero
Sraffa, who was a very close friend of Antonio Gramsci and represented
a different type of Marxian thinking, was there. And Dennis Robertson,
who was the senior economist there, was very conservative. And they
all seemed to get on quite well with one another. And that attracted
What were your politics back then?
Left. Left of center, certainly. I was in this odd position. I was
influenced by Marxian thinking without becoming a Marxist, ever. I
particularly liked a few things. I liked his manuscripts of 1844. I
liked “The German Ideology.” I liked “Critique of the Gotha
Programme,” from 1875. And also, in terms of sympathy for the poor, I
thought the communists had something really important to offer. On the
other hand, I was always shocked by the absence of political theory.
It is not often recognized that Marx had very little interest in
political organization. This whole idea of the dictatorship of the
proletariat really makes no sense whatsoever. [Laughs.] And, as John
Kenneth Galbraith argued, you need opposition, what he called
“countervailing power.” There is no countervailing power in their
When I was a student in Calcutta—that was where I began—I loved the
fact that so much of the student body took interest in the poor and
the downtrodden and the untouchables and so on. On the other hand, I
was shocked by the fact that they did not seem to regard opposition to
be important. Democracy, often called bourgeois democracy—I always
thought that was a complete misdiagnosis of what the problem of social
So I was left, but at the same time I was very skeptical of
everything. I read a lot of [Nikolai] Bukharin—and then suddenly being
told that Bukharin had been trying to destroy the Soviet Union, and
confessed, and American tourists like John Gunther said that he was
there and it was quite clear he hadn’t been tortured. I remember
telling my classmates, “If you believe that, you will believe
anything.” [Bukharin, formerly a close ally of Stalin, was tortured,
confessed to espionage and treason, and was executed along with other
prominent Bolsheviks in 1938.] When Khrushchev gave his speech at the
Twentieth Congress [in which he spoke critically of Stalin], it didn’t
come as a surprise to me at all.
So I realized that I would not belong to a full-fledged political
tradition. I decided that I had to combine some understandings
generated by Marxian analysis with other political and intellectual
lines of reasoning. I was very strongly influenced by Adam Smith—his
economics as well as his philosophy. And John Stuart Mill. I had to
combine all that along with my own interests. Sanskrit was, along with
mathematics, my favorite subject. And I knew the Sanskrit classics,
including the Lokayata, which is of the materialist school. So I was
influenced by a number of things. In many ways, the old Sanskrit
studies that I had, along with, for the want of a better word, left or
progressive European thought, combined well with me.
Does the turn that India has taken in the past five years make you
think differently about the founding of the country, and its
constitution, or is that too much hindsight?
I think it is too much hindsight. The Indian constitution was pretty
well based on analysis of the Constituent Assembly, which had some of
the finest discussion of what the constitution should be. What it
overlooked, I think, as a committed secular democracy, is that if
there is a political group or party or movement that came to get a
huge amount of support, which happened in India with the Hindutva
movement, they can manipulate the situation pretty sharply. And here I
think the Indian Supreme Court is very slow and divided, and, despite
the good it has done, hasn’t been able to be as much of a guardian of
pluralism as it could be.
Today, everything is dominated by a hard-nosed, hard-Hindutva
thinking. And the President, Prime Minister, the leadership are all
Hindu. But if you compare that to a dozen years ago, 2007, let’s say,
we had a Muslim President, a Sikh Prime Minister, a Christian leader
of the ruling party. The majority of the parliamentarians were Hindu,
but they were not trying to impose their way of thinking over
everyone. And that’s what’s happened. And now we are suddenly in a
position where you can chastise a Muslim for eating beef, which is
also very nonclassical. If you go to the very old Sanskrit documents,
like the Vedas, there is nothing prohibiting the eating of beef. So
there is a decline not only from secularism and democracy in
post-independence India but also in the understanding of the heritage
even of Hindu India.
We are also overlooking the fact that India was quite important in the
eastern world, and Sanskrit was pretty much the lingua franca of the
first millennium A.D., because of the influence of Buddhist thinking.
For a thousand years, India was a Buddhist country. That is our
heritage, too. When we try to revive Nalanda—which is the oldest
university in the world, started in the fifth century, to which
students came not only from India but from China, Japan, Korea,
Indonesia—when we tried to revive that with coöperation with East
Asian countries, the government, the Hindu government, made it no
longer a prominent Buddhist university, and it was made to look more
and more like a Hindu establishment. I am Hindu, too. [Laughs.] I have
nothing against Hinduism. In fact, oddly enough, when I was young,
Penguin asked my grandfather to write a book on Hinduism. His English
was quite limited. So the first book I had to edit and translate was a
book on Hinduism. He was always saying what’s gone wrong in Nehru’s
India was talk about Hindu-Muslim tolerance, but what was important
was joint work rather than tolerance between Hindus and Muslim—that
was to be celebrated as part of five hundred years of Indian history.
The importance of multiple identities is something that comes up time
and again in your work, I’ve noticed—
Absolutely. It is very central. And, if you think about that,
Bangladesh has been, in many ways, more successful than India now. It
used to have a life expectancy lower than that of India. Now it is
five years longer. Women’s literacy is higher than in India. And, in
terms of the kind of narrowness of Hindu thinking, it is not reflected
in a similar narrowness of Muslim thinking in Bangladesh. I think
multiple identities have done a lot for Bangladesh. It was doing a lot
for India, too, until there was a deliberate attempt to undermine it.
That had been present earlier. In the nineteen-twenties, there was a
strong pro-Hindu movement. Gandhi was shot by an R.S.S. [Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh, the Fascist Hindu movement] member, which is the
dominant influence on the B.J.P. today. But they were not in office.
We didn’t feel threatened because they seemed like a fringe. But that
fringe gradually became more dominant until the latest election, and
they had a massive victory, a victory partially based on political
Modi doesn’t have the breadth of vision about India—multireligious,
multiethnic India. He has been, from his childhood, relating to the
R.S.S. and the propaganda of that perspective. On the other hand, as a
political leader, he is dynamic and enormously successful. So there
was the Modi factor. They also got a massive amount of money. I was
quite surprised how the business community, not just two or three that
are often quoted as the big donors, they got support from the bulk of
the business community. They had more money and gumption at the time
of the election than any other party. They won an election with a
massive majority, but, again, you have to look at the issues I have
written about, even in the context in America. The electoral system
has its flaws. That massive majority he had was based on less than
forty per cent of the vote.
Yes, although unlike someone like Trump or Erdoǧan, who struggle to
get much more than fifty per cent support, Modi is enormously popular.
A large majority of the country approves of him.
It’s not clear that is the case. India is a country of more than a
billion people. Two hundred million of them are Muslim. Two hundred
million of them are Dalit, or what used to be called untouchables. A
hundred million are what used to be called scheduled tribes, and they
get the worst deal in India, even worse than the Dalits. Then there is
quite a large proportion of the Hindu population that is skeptical.
Many of them have been shot. Many of them have been put in prison. In
these circumstances, to say that a majority supports him would be
difficult. It’s a situation where there are many restrictions. The
newspapers don’t get government ads, and they probably don’t get many
private ads, either, if the government is against you. As a result, it
is very hard to have independent TV or newspapers, because of
difficulties created by the government.
The big thing that we know from John Stuart Mill is that democracy is
government by discussion, and, if you make discussion fearful, you are
not going to get a democracy, no matter how you count the votes. And
that is massively true now. People are afraid now. I have never seen
this before. When someone says something critical of the government on
the phone with me, they say, “I’d better talk about it when I see you
because I am sure that they are listening to this conversation.” That
is not a way to run a democracy. And it is also not a way of
understanding what the majority wants.
But is there any tension between saying that there is popular
resistance to him, and to Hindutva politics—
And there would be more if they weren’t afraid.
But it seems that, if they are afraid, that calls into question where
Indian democracy is. It seems like how we think about India as a
democracy should be different than it was before. Or you don’t think
I do think so. But it is not all gone. First of all, there are
courageous newspapers that don’t mind taking the risk of publishing
things. There are one or two television stations, one or two radio
stations, there are public meetings held. India is also a federal
country. There are a number of states in which the B.J.P. is not the
only dominant force.
Including West Bengal.
And similarly in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. There are also other areas
where the B.J.P. monolithism is under dispute. Similarly, there is
also the Supreme Court. I am a great believer in the court. But it has
also been very slow, and some of the justices have been quite willing
to kowtow to what the government wants. So, in many ways, there are
elements of democracy left. On the other hand, has democracy declined
since ten or fifteen or twenty years ago? Yes. We had a huge threat in
the nineteen-seventies, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s government
had an Emergency, but she went into a general vote, the opposition was
not as afraid and restricted as we thought it was, and she lost. She
gave that up. So I think there are elements of resistance that could
become stronger. There is a category called Naxals, who are supposed
to be Maoist extremists. There are people who have been accused of
that and put in prison for that. So it is a mixed picture. But it is
not the kind of shining democracy that we could have easily had, and
to some extent almost had earlier.
You wrote, after the election, “Many might prefer the account that the
B.J.P. won what is called ‘the ideological argument’ against the
Congress Party. But there has been no particular victory for the
philosophy of Hindu nationalism and no noticeable vanquishing of the
idea of inclusiveness and unity championed by Gandhi, Nehru and
Tagore.” Can you explain what you meant by that, and if you still feel
I do feel that way. It is very easy to excite people on particular
causes, like Kashmir, which I think is a bad cause, because there is
no reason Kashmir should not have continued to have the dispensation
it had as a part of the Indian regime. But it is easy to increase
popular support. That, of course, happened in the general election, in
much the way it happened in favor of Mrs. Thatcher at the time of the
Falklands War. If you remember, Mrs. Thatcher was losing the election,
and then came the Falklands War.I was born that year, so I don’t
remember. But yes, the “Falklands factor.”
The Falklands changed the British into becoming nationalists. It
didn’t last very long, but enough to get Mrs. Thatcher a massive
victory. If you look at the election earlier this year, a part was
played by strong propaganda, a part was played by the fear factor, a
part was played by the excitement of the war that was going on between
Pakistan and India, when there were government claims about a sabotage
of an Indian Army convoy. Worse than war was war hysteria. Given that
that’s the test of Hindutva being popular, it wasn’t as popular as the
vote indicated. Every time there have been attempts to see whether
minorities should be crushed, in the rural areas in India, you don’t
see that massive desire to crush the minorities. There is a tolerance
of minorities, and that is a strong tradition that continues to this
India did elect someone as Prime Minister who presided over massive
ethnic violence against minorities.
That is true, yeah. One of his big successes has been to get the court
to squash the case against him and the Home Minister, Amit Shah, in
the Gujarat killings of 2002. And so lots of Indians do not believe
it. [In 2002, shortly after Modi became the chief minister of the
state of Gujarat, more than a thousand people were murdered in
anti-Muslim riots. Modi was barred from the United States after being
accused of helping incite the violence and failing to intervene to
I think if you wanted to say there was a victory of the Hindutva idea,
then it has to be the case that everyone has a great chance of finding
the truth. More public discussion, more newspaper freedom, more
television freedom. And with no one threatened with being in prison.
So I think I wouldn’t say that there has been a victory. There would
have been a victory if there was a press without fear, censorship from
government, and the tyranny of advertising control. If all this hadn’t
happened, and he had won the election, I would have said yes.
It seems to me that it is a longstanding R.S.S. desire to change India
in ideological ways.
Yes, they have generated an outlook which is quite effective: “This
country has been dominated by Muslim invaders for a long time, and it
is our time, and we should destroy that for once and all. And the
country is mostly Hindu, and that should be reflected.” But it
overlooks that, in Hindu history, there is a lot of tolerance of
different points of view. I once wrote a book called “The
Argumentative Indian,” where I discuss how much arguing there was.
They have constructed an ideology, which they have sold and which has
become very, very effective.
It’s a sad story, but I think it is a mistake to play up the sadness
too much because it is still in our hands. When I grew up in British
India, the British were immeasurably more powerful than the Indians
were at that time, than Gandhi was, for example, and yet it became
possible to win that war.
In the past month, things have obviously worsened in Kashmir, but
Kashmir is also a place where things have been bad since Partition,
and especially in the past thirty years. Do you think there was a
failure on the part of Indian liberals and intellectuals to speak out
about Kashmir during the past several decades?
I think it is certainly part of the story. Kashmir looked like it was
Indian-administered, rather than part of India. But, after recognizing
that, Indians often carried out very punitive retaliation of the
separatist tendencies, sometimes even more than pro-Pakistani
tendencies. It was often the case that the separatists got more harmed
by the Indians than the pro-Pakistanis, because the pro-Pakistanis
could escape to Pakistani Kashmir, whereas the separatists had nowhere
to go, and it was easier to destroy them, thereby making the
anti-Indian movement turn more pro-Pakistan than for independence. So
there were all kinds of political mistakes that were made by the
previous governments, too. And, as you rightly say, by a kind of
apathy by the Indian majority, even secular majority, to get involved
in that story. I think that was a mistake that should have been
addressed much earlier.
Do you wish you had addressed it more?
Possibly, but I had enough to do. People had other callings, and often
found Kashmir difficult to really understand, particularly because you
are dealing with essentially an alienated people. And people kept on
saying that there was no way of avoiding the situation, except by
tough actions. And that was a mistake. Do I think I, too, should have
written more about Kashmir? Possibly, yes. I think the answer is yes.
But, on the other hand, can I explain why I didn’t? I can, because
with famines and poverty and gender inequality and so many other
things, my hands were pretty full. So yes and no.
The Gates Foundation just announced they were going to give Modi an
award. Are you surprised that internationally he is still seen as a
Yeah, I think the world likes success, and I think the Gateses like
success. And Modi is so powerful that he is often seen as a success of
some kind. I was surprised and shocked, quite frankly, by the news of
the Gates award to Modi.
You have written a lot about famines and the importance of democracy
in preventing famines, the need for democratic accountability, and so
on. When you see democracies where institutions get weakened, or
respond less, or get captured by non-democratic forces, does that make
you think differently on the work you have done on things like
No, I still think famines take place only in the absence of democracy.
Democracy does not succeed so much in preventing non-visibly explosive
nastiness, such as regular undernourishment, regular inequality of
women, and so on. It can be used to do that, but that depends on
political organization. Democracy isn’t an automatic remedy of
anything. It isn’t like quinine to kill malaria. Democracy is a way of
enabling. The enabling circumstances are very easy with famine. And
that is why, even though British India had famine right to the end of
imperial rule, it stopped immediately when press freedom became widely
available and there was a multiparty election. It was extremely easy
to politicize the nastiness of famine. But the nastiness of regular
undernourishment, the regular deprivation of women compared with men,
and the continuation of bad schooling for children, these are much
harder to politicize. I don’t know if I use the word “democracy” too
much. But for some things it is a very easy remedy. For others, it is
You seem generally more sanguine about things, and less depressed
about the state of the world, than I expected to find you.
I wouldn’t say sanguine, but I am sometimes less hopeless than I am
expected to be. [Laughs.]
Why do you think you are expected to be hopeless, and why do you think
you are not?
Because as a child I came through an experience where things looked
really bad. When I was growing up, all my uncles were in prison, in
preventive detention, and there was no hope for when they would be
released. When I was nine, there were things like the Bengal Famine,
which I saw, where three million people died. I saw Hindu-Muslim
riots, including a Muslim day laborer who had come to our largely
Hindu area and got knifed by the local Hindu thugs. I was playing in
the garden, and he came in profusely bleeding, and he came looking for
help and water. I shouted to get my father and I did get a glass of
water. He was lying on my lap. My father took him to the hospital, and
he unfortunately died there. He told me in an inarticulate way, and my
father in a more articulate way, that his bibi, his wife, had told him
not to work in a Hindu area, but he said the children had not eaten
anything, and he had to get income to get them a little food.
I had never seen anything like that, and the experience, at the age of
ten or eleven, to have someone bleeding profusely, and then my father,
from the description he gave, had picked up which thugs had killed
him. He told that to the police, and the police in this Hindu area
refused to do anything. I experienced that, and I experienced India
So I have seen big problems and then their being solved. That doesn’t
mean that I am sanguine. I am not sanguine about anything. It does
mean that I don’t see that one has to be hopeless before such
hopelessness is due.
Is there some subject or area you wish you had worked on more?
There are some philosophical problems. I have been so tied up with
things that I haven’t gotten back to epistemology, so I have to do
more on that.
Because it is important or because it is the type of thing you would like to do?
Both. But I can’t withdraw from politics, especially with what is
going on in India. I am a very proud Indian. I am not only a proud
Indian. [Laughs.] I am also a proud Asian and proud human being. One
of the great advantages of the school I went to, Tagore’s progressive
school, was that I was allowed to specialize even as a child of eight
or nine, so I studied a lot of history.
I once read that you called yourself an “unreformed secularist.” Are you still?
Yeah. That’s not an issue, actually. There should be no need to talk
Democracy should cover that your origin doesn’t matter. But, if you
need to play that up, that is because democracies often fail, and that
is why multiple identities become very important.
Do your kids read your work?
Not a lot. [Laughs.] One is a journalist. Another writes children’s
books. Another is a musician. And one is an editor of a magazine. I
never particularly wanted them to be high-grade achievers rather than
doing what they liked doing. I didn’t have any predetermined idea
about how they should excel. I was astonished to see some actress
going to jail, because she tried to push her child—
Oh, Felicity Huffman.
What she did seems exorbitant. It may be quite important if you think
it is important for your child to go to a good school. It can’t be all
that important. [Laughs.]
Do you get to read fiction anymore?
That is what has declined a lot. I had cancer twice. The first time I
had it, at eighteen, I had to get radiation. They said I had a fifteen
per cent chance of living five years. That was sixty-eight years ago,
so I take it I am O.K. now. I have been treated for prostate cancer,
which also was a huge amount of radiation—though recent tests show no
sign of relapse. I had to lie down with a linear accelerator, so I got
a lot of chances to read. I read a huge amount of novels at that time.
Short stories I still read a lot, but novels need a longer span of
time, and I feel I should spend more time reading novels. I want to
have more time to read. I don’t think I will get it.
Debt campaigners have accused @IMFNews of encouraging reckless lending by extending $93bn of loans to 18 financially troubled countries without a debt restructuring programme first @guardian
In advance of the IMF’s annual meeting in Washington next week, the
Jubilee Debt Campaign (JDC) said the the Fund was breaking its own
rules by providing financial support without ensuring that the debt
burden was sustainable.
The JDC said the IMF was creating a moral hazard because lenders knew
that they would be bailed out no matter how risky their loans might
Debt sustainability has come into the spotlight over the past year
after the IMF controversially lent a record $56bn to Argentina even
though its annual debt repayments far exceeded the Fund’s own limit.
The IMF said Argentina, the second biggest economy in South America,
was a special case.
But the JDC said Argentina was merely the most acute example of a
wider problem, with the IMF also encouraging reckless lending in 17
other countries: Afghanistan; Angola; Cameroon; Central African
Republic; Chad; Ecuador; Egypt; Ghana; Jordan; Mauritania; Mongolia;
Pakistan; São Tomé and Príncipe; Sierra Leone; Sri Lanka; Tunisia; and
The campaign group said that credit agencies had rated Egypt, Pakistan
and Ecuador to be high risk.
Sarah-Jayne Clifton, director of Jubilee Debt Campaign, said: “The IMF
has a policy not to lend into an unsustainable debt situation, but we
are seeing it breach this policy far too often, bailing out reckless
lenders. This creates a moral hazard in the sovereign debt system.
Lenders and borrowers are jointly responsible for ensuring debt crises
“By constantly bailing out countries in debt crisis without requiring
debt restructuring, the IMF is placing the burden of a crisis squarely
on the shoulders of the citizens of a debtor country, letting lenders
off the hook and ensuring the cycle of debt crises continues.”
The IMF defended its approach. A spokesman said: “The methodology used
in the Jubilee report is flawed, starting with the misleading headline
number of $93bn. More than half that amount is accounted for by one
programme – Argentina, which has unique circumstances.
Is a split in the works between Zambia and its long-time business partner, China? @SCMPNews
If there is an African country in which the Chinese have found a home
it is Zambia. At the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in the
capital Lusaka, the first billboard that welcomes travellers is one
advertising the services of the Bank of China.
Zambia, in south-central Africa, is one of the few countries on the
continent where the government-owned Bank of China offers fully
fledged banking services in the Chinese currency. Customers can even
make deposits and withdrawals in yuan.
The bank has branches in Lusaka and in Kitwe, a town in the Copperbelt
region, to serve the growing number of Chinese firms and immigrants
A landlocked nation of some 17 million people, Zambia is said to host
one of the largest populations of Chinese expatriates: investors,
workers, merchants and farmers.
Some sources estimate there are between 80,000 and 100,000 Chinese in
Zambia, but the government puts the figure at under 20,000.
Like many other African countries, Zambia, a former British colony
rich in copper and cobalt, has embraced China. In return it has
received billions of dollars in investments.
Africa’s second-largest copper producer, Zambia was one of the first
countries on the continent to receive a major infrastructural
investment from Beijing.
It took the form of the Tazara railway, which was built by China in
the 1970 to links the Copperbelt to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
But this five-decade relationship has been put to the test in recent
years. Short of critical funds to plug its budget deficit following a
slump in the price of copper, which constitutes 70 per cent of its
exports, Zambia turned to Beijing for loans.
It borrowed US$6.37 billion between 2000 and 2017, according to the
China Africa Research Initiative at the Johns Hopkins School of
Advanced International Studies in Washington.
Lusaka used the money, most of which came from China, to expand roads,
motorways, bridges, power dams and airports, including an upgrade of
Kenneth Kaunda International, named after Zambia’s first president.
China Jiangxi Corporation for International and Technical Cooperation
was contracted tohandle the project, estimated at US$360 million,
partly financed by the Zambian government and Exim Bank of China.
The same company is building the Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway at a
cost of US$1.2 billion with financing from Beijing. AVIC
International, another Chinese firm, is building the Copperbelt
International Airport, among other big-ticket projects.
Zambia also issued Eurobonds worth US$2.8 billion between 2012 and
2015 but now plans to refinance them to cut the cost of debt service.
However, with the country’s economic prospects having deteriorated,
Fitch Ratings recently downgraded Zambia’s creditworthiness to CCC or
junk – meaning there is a very high possibility of debt default.
Fitch estimates that Zambia faces total external debt service
repayments of US$2.4 billion (9.9 per cent of its gross domestic
product) in 2019.
The company said also that Lusaka must prepare to meet the principal
repayment on its outstanding Eurobonds due in September 2022 and April
With the yields on its dollar-denominated bonds topping 20 per cent
this year, refinancing will be extremely costly and issuance of
additional bonds is not viable, which has sent the country into chaos.
Analysts at Capital Economics, an economic research consultancy in
London, said Zambia faced three key economic issues. The first is the
country’s large public debt burden.
“Investor concerns about the country’s fiscal situation pushed up
yields on the government’s US dollar debt to record highs in May,
which have since remained at elevated levels,” said Virág Fórizs,
emerging markets economist at Capital Economics.
The second is slower growth in the crucial mining sector, the result
of lower copper prices and the Zambian government’s tax dispute with
During the first half of 2019, copper production declined by 5.3 per
cent and earnings fell by 23.5 per cent. The decrease is attributed
mainly to low-ore grade, suspension of some mining operations,
operational challenges and depleting ore reserves at old mines.
And third, a persistent drought the past two years has lowered
agricultural output and electricity generation.
“The latest official GDP growth projections for 2019 have come around
to our long-held view that the economy will expand by just 2 per cent
this year,” Fórizs said.
The unbridled uptake of debt, falling copper prices and drought in
Zambia that has hurt agricultural production and electricity
generation, have sent shock waves in the economy.
The situation has been made worse by the failure to secure an aid
package from the International Monetary Fund and the delays in having
its loans from China restructured, which would include swapping its
Chinese debt from dollars to yuan in a bid to ease pressure on foreign
reserves, according to Zambian treasury officials.
China holds the key in Zambia’s economic renaissance as Chinese debt
restructuring is a condition before it can unlock the US$1.3 billion
credit facility from the IMF. Zambia approached the fund for a bailout
in 2017 but talks fell through last year when the IMF questioned its
heavy borrowing when local revenues could not pay for the loans.
Total public and publicly guaranteed debt including arrears at the
end of 2018 was 78 per cent of GDP, with the external debt stock at
the end of June reported at US$11.5 billion, according to the IMF.
Zambia owes China more than a third of its foreign debt – about US$4
billion – but critics, including the IMF, believe Lusaka may be hiding
the extent of its indebtedness – as happened in neighbouring
Mozambique, which in 2016 was forced to admit it had kept secret US$2
billion of borrowing.
The IMF’s push for Zambia to put its debt records in good shape caused
a major rift, when the IMF was forced to recall its country
representative unceremoniously last year.
As a condition to secure the credit facility Zambia sought, the IMF
last year demanded that it restructure its loans from China and other
foreign lenders. The IMF set similar conditions for the Republic of
Congo earlier in the year, helping unlock US$449 million from the IMF
Talks resumed early this year, but Zambia is yet to secure funding
from the IMF. With the slump in the price of copper, there is growing
fear that it may find it even more difficult to meet its debt
Fórizs said that despite Zambia’s appointment of a new, IMF-friendly
finance minister in July, there had not been much progress on securing
a deal. This is probably because Zambian President Edgar Lungu
continues to resist the IMF’s policy demands.
Charlie Robertson, global chief economist at Renaissance Capital, said
that Zambia’s problems stemmed from fiscal irresponsibility. The
budget deficit has been running at 6 to 9 per cent of GDP in recent
“Investors have lost faith in government promises to get spending
under control and the government has fallen out with the IMF as well,”
For the Beijing bailout, Zambia is seeking a review of loan terms
including the extension of the repayment period and probably loan
“China might be willing to offer some support on the debt front, but
it too wants to see credible proposals,” Robertson said.
Jan Friederich, head of Middle East and Africa Sovereign Ratings at
Fitch, said there was no progress on the IMF programme.
“Essentially, the IMF and the government still seem to disagree on the
appropriate level of fiscal deficits and debt accumulation over the
coming years,” he said in an interview. “Specifically, the IMF remains
too concerned about debt sustainability in Zambia.”
Further, he said Zambia was keen to renegotiate terms of loans from
China, “but we have no visibility on the progress of these
negotiations. China is a key source of financing, but it remains
reluctant to engage in formal agreements on debt restructuring”.
No one paints the Zambia picture as dire as Lungu, who told parliament
earlier this month that “the art of borrowing is the ability to pay
“There is an accumulation of domestic arrears which has not only
negatively impacted the operations of suppliers and contractors but
also the performance of the financial sector through an increase in
non-performing loans,” he said after Chinese state-owned Sinohydro,
which was building a power dam, suspended operations indefinitely due
to what sources attributed to non-payment for work already completed.
Sinohydro halted work on the Kafue Gorge hydroelectric project because
of “difficulties beyond its control”. The dam is being built by a
partnership of Sinohydro and the Zambia Electricity Supply
Corporation, Zambia’s state-owned power company.
Analysts at Capital Economics say Lusaka’s dispute with the
international mining company Vedanta over Konkola Copper Mines (KCM)
has continued to depress investor sentiment.
In May, the Zambian government appointed a liquidator to run KCM –
which is 20 per cent owned by Zambia’s state mining company ZCCM and
the rest by Vedanta – over the non-payment of US$5.8 billion import
duties. China’s Jiangxi Copper Company is said to be in the race to
acquire the mine.
Lungu’s administration is anxious and admits that there is trouble as
the country falls behind in its payments schedule with most suppliers
In the short term, if Zambia does not succeed in securing the IMF
credit facility or have China restructure its debt, it will struggle
to meet both local and international obligations.
Fórizs said that without securing an IMF-programme or a debt
restructuring deal with China, an acute debt crisis could be in the
cards – one likely to involve another large depreciation of its
currency, the kwacha, another spike in inflation and markedly slower
And the US-China trade war might further fuel Zambia’s fire. China is
one of the world’s largest consumers of copper, and the IMF said in a
report last month that with the slowdown in the Chinese economy,
Zambia’s exports would struggle to grow.
“Escalating trade tensions and a slowdown in growth in China could
adversely impact copper prices, while the modest recovery anticipated
in mining activity in 2020 after a decline in 2019 is subject to
uncertainty,” it said.
Zimbabwe economy seen contracting up to 6% in 2019 -treasury document @ReutersAfrica
Zimbabwe’s economy is projected to contract by up to 6% this year due
to a drought that hit farming output and electricity generation but is
expected to rebound next year on better agriculture prospects, a
treasury document showed on Monday.
The southern African nation’s economy is grappling with its worst
crisis in a decade, with triple-digit inflation, rolling power cuts
and shortages of U.S. dollars, medicines and fuel that have revived
memories of the 2008 hyperinflation under late President Robert
Idi Amin's mastery of media revealed in newly published photos @guardiannews
Now tens of thousands of newly discovered images have shown how Idi
Amin exploited cutting-edge media technology, populism and radical
ideologies to maintain his bloody grip on power in the 1970s.
Most of the 70,000 pictures were taken by a team of photographers from
the information ministry who followed the Ugandan dictator over the
course of his eight-year rule.
Many show Amin at public occasions, but some are of private episodes,
such as the arrest and humiliation of alleged petty criminals shortly
before their execution.
Historians say the images, found in a locked filing cabinet at the
Ugandan state broadcaster’s offices by archivists four years ago but
only now given a public view, provide extraordinary new insights into
Amin and the nature of his regime, which was one of the worst in
They also cast new light on the reality of life for ordinary Ugandans
under the rule of a man held responsible for between 100,000 and
Dr Richard Vokes, an anthropologist at the University of Western
Australia, who was involved in the discovery, said the photographs
depicted a “kind of manic energy” that was both “behind the brutality
and part of the brutality”.
“We see how [Amin] embraced the media and understood its power ... How
he had a great sense of how media could amplify his ego and his
political will,” Vokes said.
Uganda's central bank cut its key lending rate by 100 basis points to 9.0% on Monday @ReutersAfrica
Uganda’s central bank cut its key lending rate by 100 basis points to
9.0% on Monday, saying the reduction would revive economic growth in
the eastern African country, a prospective crude oil producer.
It is the first time the Bank of Uganda has changed its main rate
since October last year.
Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile, the bank’s governor, said a benign
outlook for inflation had also provided room for the policy easing
move. The pace of growth, he said, slowed in the first half of 2019
compared with the second half of 2018.
“The BoU believes that the benign inflation outlook provides room for
a reduction in the policy rate to support economic growth,”
Uganda’s year-on-year headline inflation declined to 1.9% in September
from 2.1% in August, driven by lower food prices, a stronger local
currency and subdued consumer demand.
A widening current account deficit and public sector financing needs,
he said, were likely exert upward pressure on interest rates and
potentially further depress growth.
“The economy still has spare capacity and lower interest rates will
help reduce output gap,” the governor said.