Oil fall threatens future of North Sea fields; Rural slowdown dampens India PM’s promise of ‘better days’; What price an African life?

1 Oil fall threatens future of North Sea fields (Terry Macalister & Jill Treanor in The Guardian) The potential impact of the oil price slump on Scotland was underlined as a leading energy expert warned that North Sea oilfields could be shut down if the oil price fell by just a few more dollars. The rising sense of crisis about the plummeting price prompted the Scottish government to promise an emergency taskforce to try to preserve jobs in the offshore energy sector.

Meanwhile, Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England warned that the Scottish economy was heading for a “negative shock”. The oil industry consultancy Wood Mackenzie said that at the current price for Brent blend, of $46 a barrel, some UK production was already failing to break even, and further falls could endanger output.

Robert Plummer, a research analyst with the firm, said that at $50 a barrel oil production was costing more than its value in 17 countries, including the US and UK. Concern about cutbacks was heightened when Shell announced it was scrapping a $6.4bn (£4.2bn) energy project in the Middle East because it was no longer commercial, with oil prices falling to six-year lows.

Large companies such as Shell, BP and Chevron, have already spoken of hundreds of job cuts in Aberdeen amid expectations that overall spending across the industry will be slashed by anywhere up to 30% for the coming year. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, outlined plans to set up a new energy jobs taskforce with the aim of maintaining jobs and mitigating the impact of losses. Scottish Labour’s finance spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie, said: “The falling oil price is the biggest threat to jobs in Scotland since [the close of the steel plant at] Ravenscraig, and the Scottish government has been silent on the issue.”


2 Rural slowdown dampens India PM’s promise of ‘better days’ (Khaleej Times) Many Indian farmers have been hit by erratic weather and sliding prices for the cotton, soybean and rubber they produce. Tougher times in rural communities spell bad news for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who swept to power last May with a promise of “better days” – new jobs and development to lift hundreds of millions of Indians out of poverty.

It’s not just the weather gods and capricious markets that are to blame for the hardship. A shift in government spending ordered by Modi is also hitting rural consumers and the industries that serve them. “Rural consumption was one of the pillars holding up growth,” said Aditi Nayar, senior economist at ICRA, the Indian arm of ratings agency Moody’s. She expects weak demand in India’s rural areas to have contributed to a slowdown in economic growth in October-December from 5.3 per cent in the previous quarter.

Tractor maker Mahindra & Mahindra is idling its factories for a few days a month after sales slid by nearly a third towards the end of last year. Consumer goods firms and auto makers have also reported weak sales. More than 800 million of India’s 1.25 billion people live in the countryside, accounting for 35 percent of the economy.

To cap inflation and state borrowing, Modi has limited rises in farm support prices to below the inflation rate and scaled back the rural jobs scheme. He wants to invest savings in infrastructure and skills to boost India’s long-term growth. While inflation has eased with these policies, firms that profited from booming rural demand are struggling due to the sudden slowdown.

Modi’s shift from policies that support demand to ones boosting investment and productivity have also coincided with a steep fall in global prices of farm commodities, making imports cheaper and hitting Indian exports. The government’s ability to ramp up spending on roads, railways and irrigation projects that would benefit rural India is, meanwhile, hobbled by budget constraints.


3 What price an African life? (S’Thembiso Msomi in Johannesburg Times) Six years before he co-founded what we now know as the ANC, a young Pixley kaIsaka Seme delivered a memorable speech at Columbia University, where he was studying. In this 1906 speech, the then 25-year-old Seme articulated a vision of a great future for the continent, one in which the continent would take its rightful place as an equal among the nations of the world.

At a time when Africa was dubbed “the dark continent”, he opened by proudly declaring: “I am an African and I set my pride in my race against a hostile public opinion. Men have tried to compare races on the basis of some equality. An attempt to compare them on the basis of equality can never be finally satisfactory. Each is self. My thesis stands on this truth; time has proved it. In all races, genius is like a spark, which concealed in the bosom of a flint, bursts forth at the summoning stroke. It may arise anywhere in any race.”

To Seme, the “regeneration of Africa” meant “a new and unique civilisation is soon to be added to the world”. Some 109 years later, with all of Africa – except Western Sahara – now politically free, one wonders what Seme would say of the continent were he to rise from the dead.

He would be proud, no doubt, to know that colonial rule and racial oppression, among other injustices of his era, are now things of the past. But Seme would be disappointed, one suspects, to learn that some 50-odd years since most countries on the continent gained their independence life is still not valued enough – especially by Africans themselves.

Much has been made of the different kinds of attention the West has paid to the brutal slaughter of 17 people in Paris and the massacre of about 2000 villagers in Nigeria this week. The fact that the Paris attack dominated world news and very little was being said about Boko Haram’s massacre of scores of families and villages in one go has led to accusations of “racism” against Western countries and their media, which are said to care little about Africa and her people.

The less said about the African Union the better. All of this points to one sad reality – African life generally does not matter, not even to Africans themselves. Instead of wasting our energies blaming others, Africans must make African lives matter. Leaders like Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, who has been too occupied with his bid for re-election to worry about Boko Haram, should have no business running our countries.



About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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