How Libya Blew Billions and Its Best Chance at Democracy

libya battle

 

 

When Muammar Qaddafi, then so-called the ‘Madman of Africa’, ruled Libya, this nation of nearly 6.5 million, despite brutal totalitarian rule and very strict control in all aspects of life, achieved unprecedented success as one of the richest, and most prosperous, in Africa. While dissident voices were crushed and government opposition was severely curtailed and tortured in underground prisons, literacy rate was nearly in its absolute terms. Healthcare was provided free for everyone, and its populace even received yearly bonuses from the government. It also has one of the world’s highest foreign exchange reserves, with the bulk worth more than 100 billion US$ stored safely in bank accounts across the globe, excluding their another sovereign wealth funds. Economy was highly booming, with numerous projects being implemented across the whole country. Infrastructure, in particular its irrigation, was fully functional.

All these hopes shattered when Arab Spring took the country by force. Preferring ‘freedom’ to ‘stability’, the country’s people, young and old, men and women, moderates and hardliners, all took their weapons to overthrow what they had deemed ‘four-decades of soul-deafening rule’. Everyone was looking for that voice, the opportunity for them to express themselves as they wished. They staked everything else for the sake of democracy, and for the sake of freedom.

Now, with Qaddafi’s rule coming to a tragic end, Libya is now at its own tatters. Democracy is partially achieved, but under a very dangerous cost: militia battles become a daily consumption for most of its populace. Paradoxically, and sadly enough, almost everyone was longing for his leadership, once again.

Read the full article in Bloomberg Businessweek to know more the fate of post-Qaddafi Libya.

 

Excerpt:

 

In the last few months, the Libyans have been finding out. Warring militias have destroyed large sections of Tripoli’s international airport with mortars, shoulder-launched missiles, rockets, and tanks. The fighting made the news again in July when a rocket or shell set a large oil depot on fire, sending clouds of choking black smoke over Tripoli. Shortly thereafter, 27,000 Libyans fled the fighting on foot in a single day, arriving as refugees in neighboring African countries. In just one week in July, according to a brief issued by the Soufan Group, a consultancy specializing in the Middle East, more than 60 people were killed in Benghazi, and the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, and Canada have evacuated their diplomatic personnel.

Libyan oil production has declined to about 300,000 barrels a day, and a half-dozen prominent figures on the Libyan political scene, whose names had appeared in optimistic Western newspaper articles about the brave Libyans who opposed Qaddafi and fought for a more equal and democratic future, have been murdered. Their deaths have passed without any demonstrations or other significant forms of public notice inside Libya, a measure of how irrelevant the causes for which Libyans fought three years ago have become.

Libya’s economic future, once touted as the brightest in Africa, looks equally bleak. Western news sources around the time of Qaddafi’s death reported that the dictator had stashed tens of billions of dollars away in overseas accounts that the country desperately needed to pay its bills. After the dictator was toppled, the search began for his hidden personal fortune—an El Dorado of imagined gold that was built in part on the confusion between Qaddafi’s personal assets and state-controlled assets such as the LIA. This fortune was estimated in various publications to be from $70 billion to $100 billion and quickly gave rise to a cottage industry in which fortune hunters struck deals with representatives of Libya’s National Transitional Council to locate missing assets in return for 10 percent of the take.

What failed Mitt Romney?

mitt romney

 

 

The story of how the presidential candidate, despite his decades-old expertise in business consulting and economic analysis, failed the election of 2012 against Barack Obama.

Hint: looking back at your past success was not always a guarantee you could win support among your voters.

Read the full article on Bloomberg Businessweek, originally published in November 2012.

 

Excerpt:

 

By the time Romney left Harvard in 1975, a wave of entrepreneurialism was changing how businesses were run. Large but poorly performing companies, undervalued by a nervous market, saddled with expansive bureaucracies and expensive labor issues, struggled to compete, and became easy targets for mergers and consolidations. Panicked executives turned to firms like BCG for answers, and Wall Street opened up to new kinds of people.

“It was a time of great foment and thinking about strategy,” says William Sahlman, a classmate of Romney’s and now a Harvard Business School professor. “American business hadn’t really had to compete for a long period of time. That whole period was the origin of the shift in the economy toward knowledge workers and gave rise to a meritocracy where anybody who was really smart could get a job and do well.”

Romney had plenty of connections to the old pedigreed world. But his acumen, more than anything else, brought him success in the new one. Working with CEOs, strategic consultants guided businesses through corporate successions and transitions, focusing them on doing a few core things well. If a company was underperforming, a good consultant could figure out why and advise on which divisions to shed. If a new product was under consideration, he—and it was then almost entirely men—could study the market and the competition to determine how, when, and where to launch it.

To an almost unimaginable degree, given their age and experience, consultants still in their twenties and thirties reset the course of major American businesses (including Chrysler), helping many CEOs twice their age survive by forcing them to confront the realities of a new marketplace. A colleague of Romney’s from this period, seeking to convey the challenge consultants faced, says that Chrysler executives firmly believed people would continue to buy Chryslers because they had always bought Chryslers. Consultants found that this was a common tendency among executives: the belief that past success was a strategy for the future. Romney shone as someone possessed of both the analytical ability to find the right answer and a presence that inspired trust in more experienced executives.

Saving dying Kiribati

kiribati

 

 

Many little countries, as a consequence of global warming, are dying. Maldives, a country populated by no more than 350,000 people, and bulk of which is scattered in atolls and small isles vulnerable to every slight bit of rise in sea level, is one example. Tuvalu, a smaller one, populated by only 10,000 people, is a similar case: their area stretches no larger than 10 sq km, and depends mostly on foreign aid to sustain the livelihood.

This time, Bloomberg Businessweek picks up Kiribati, another island country in South Pacific Ocean inhabited by only 100,000 people, as their case study. What happens as with the global warming? A whole nation is being put at perils of extinction. Or indirectly speaking, a ‘genocide’ is being triggered out. Unless the world reaches a hardly-won consensus among developed and Third-World nations, more countries like Kiribati will face their own imminent destruction.

Read the full article here.

Excerpt:

Kiribati is a flyspeck of a United Nations member state, a collection of 33 islands necklaced across the central Pacific. Thirty-two of the islands are low-lying atolls; the 33rd, called Banaba, is a raised coral island that long ago was strip-mined for its seabird-guano-derived phosphates. If scientists are correct, the ocean will swallow most of Kiribati before the end of the century, and perhaps much sooner than that. Water expands as it warms, and the oceans have lately received colossal quantities of melted ice. A recent study found that the oceans are absorbing heat 15 times faster than they have at any point during the past 10,000 years. Before the rising Pacific drowns these atolls, though, it will infiltrate, and irreversibly poison, their already inadequate supply of fresh water. The apocalypse could come even sooner for Kiribati if violent storms, of the sort that recently destroyed parts of the Philippines, strike its islands.

For all of these reasons, the 103,000 citizens of Kiribati may soon become refugees, perhaps the first mass movement of people fleeing the consequences of global warming rather than war or famine.

The hidden world of Indonesia’s palm oil industry

palm oil

 

 

Palm oil is a Janus-faced commodity, worshiped on one side, and condemned by the other. On one side, it helps alleviating our planet’s current global warming problems – all despite slash-and-burn allegations by certain environmental protection movements worldwide. On the other hand, it is one of vicious exploitation, and of repressive human rights abuses, of the labors toiling hard to fulfill the former.

This article, highlighting the situation faced by many of Indonesia’s palm oil industry workers, was released in Bloomberg Businessweek in July 2013. This article serves no intention to outflank one of Indonesia’s most strategic economic sectors, though; it only helps voicing out the concerns of those who have long been oppressed by certain irresponsible corporations in charge of this industry worth 44 billion US$.

Excerpt:

The experience of “Adam,” a 19-year-old Indonesian from North Sumatra, shows the coercion faced by untold numbers of palm oil workers. (Out of concern for their safety, Adam and another alleged victim asked that their names be changed.) In July 2010 a stocky Indonesian foreman named Atisama Zendrato allegedly lured Adam and his cousin two thousand miles away from their home in Nias, a poor, largely underdeveloped North Sumatran island. He promised to pay them $6 a day (roughly the minimum wage at their destination in Borneo) to drive trucks. Partway through the three-week journey to Berau, East Kalimantan—after Zendrato had transported them and 18 other recruits, some as young as 14, to his house in Duri—he compelled them to sign contracts that spelled out different terms, Adam says.

The contracts bound the workers to Zendrato’s boss, a Malaysian based in Medan, North Sumatra, named M. Handoyo, and compelled them “to work without the freedom to choose the type of work, to be obliged to do any work as asked by the employer.” Under the terms, the daily wage was dropped to $5 per day. But Zendrato allegedly said the firm wouldn’t pay workers anything for two years, instead “loaning” them up to $16 a month for necessities such as rudimentary health care. Food beyond meager rations could only be purchased from a company store allegedly owned by Handoyo. The contract stated that workers, who included men, women, and children, would not be allowed to leave the plantation, even temporarily, without permission, and that Handoyo “will not accept any reason/excuse whatsoever from the [worker] to go back to his/her village during the [two-year] term of this contract.”