The Italian government has proposed new legislation to crack down on the use of foreign languages in government, business and public life. The draft bill is particularly aimed at the use of English, which it says “demeans and mortifies” the Italian language. The proposed legislation would require employment contracts and internal regulations of overseas businesses operating in Italy to be in Italian.
Obeying such a policy would be difficult for many firms. France introduced a similar law in 1994, which has long been seen as unenforceable. Despite being in legislation for nearly 30 years, almost all multinational companies operating in France are thought to be in breach of the law.
How did it come to be this way? One clue can be found in Oxfam’s recently published inclusive language guide. The charity has attracted attention for describing English as “the language of a colonising nation”. The guide notes that “the dominance of English is one of the key issues that must be addressed in order to decolonise our ways of working”.
It is impossible to deny that the reason that English has its current status is because of historical expressions of power. The colonial expansion of the British empire between the late 16th and early 20th century led to English being spoken widely across the globe. This was often at the expense of local languages which are now endangered or wiped out as a result of the imposition of English.
The cultural and economic dominance of the US since the second world war has led to the further proliferation of English. This is particularly true among younger generations who learn English in order to consume popular culture. Additionally, global interest in business school education has meant that generations of managers have been taught the latest in business ideas and concepts. Often, these originate from the US – and are in English.
Companies who use English as their corporate language often portray it as a common sense and neutral solution to linguistic diversity in business. In reality, it is anything but.
The concept of Business English as a Lingua Franca (BELF) suggests the English used in organisations can be separated from native speakers and the grammatical rules that they impose on it. It emerged in the early 2000s, as management researchers began to investigate how organisations manage language diversity in their international operations. They discovered that although English was frequently used, it was not the same English that is spoken by native speakers.
The former CEO of Volvo, a Swedish company, once remarked that the language of his company was “bad English”. BELF encourages us to think that there is no such thing. If communication takes place successfully, and the message that you wish to transmit is understood, then you have used BELF correctly, regardless of any idiosyncrasies in grammar or spelling.
My own research has shown that although BELF can be used effectively in international environments, when native speakers of English are involved in the communication, they claim authority over how the language should be used. This can exclude those whose use of English does not meet expectations.
Clearly, organisations need to have some form of shared language to be able to effectively communicate to manage their operations. However, research suggests that there are particular benefits associated with using English, rather than something else, as a common corporate language.
English undoubtedly has great practical utility – but rather than understanding it as something neutral, it is important to understand the mechanisms of power and subjugation through which English arrived at its current status. Without reflection, it can easily be used as a tool to exclude, and continues to reproduce colonial mindsets about status and hierarchies. Its ongoing use, however practical, continues that domination.
In an unprecedented intervention at the African level, Tunisia chairs the 1st African council of informal workers’ unions. It must be noted that the gathering of all African informal sectors that involve most of the continent’s populations, in Tunis, is a very commendable effort.
Tunisia chairs 1st African council of informal workers’ unions
(TAP) – An agreement on the creation of the first African council of informal workers’ unions was signed Wednesday during a regional forum held under the theme “the representativeness of informal workers: for an inclusive social dialogue.”
The forum is organised on the initiative of the Tunisian Institute for Inclusive Employment, in collaboration with the Global Equity Initiative.
“Tunisia, which is represented by the Tunisian Institute for Inclusive Employment, is the chair of this African council which includes 6 unions of the informal sector of South Africa, Liberia, Rwanda, Guinea, Ghana and India,” said president of the institute Asma Ben Hassen.
She told TAP the council aims to implement the recommendations of studies developed by the Tunisian Institute for Inclusive Employment and the International Labour Office, on the informal sector to implement projects to promote social and health conditions of workers.
Ben Hassen stressed that the file of the informal economy is among the priorities of the Tunisian government for several considerations including the increase in the number of informal workers who reached about 1,592,000 in 2019, according to the National Institute of Statistics, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of economic and social crises.
For his part, Minister of Social Affairs Malek Ezzehi stressed the need to address the challenges of the social protection system for vulnerable groups and informal workers, noting the importance of launching a social dialogue to strengthen the transition from the informal economy to the formal economy and support the representativeness of workers in this sector.
A number of representatives of ministries and national organisations, such as the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) and the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA) took part in this meeting, along with components of civil society and specialised centres.
Delegations and experts from Africa and Asia were also present, as well as former Guinean Prime Minister Kabiné Komara.
Assessing the policy frame in pastoral areas of West Asia and North Africa (WANA)
The rangelands of West Asia and North Africa (WANA) region – which includes the Maghreb and Mashreq, Turkey and other countries of the Arabian Peninsula – are conducive to different patterns of pastoral resource management, due to the prevailing arid and mountainous conditions.
Camels in Tunisia. Photo: Linda Pappagallo
Environmental change in the region is quite intense, resulting from population growth, shifts in land use and climate dynamics, and is one of the main drivers of socio-economic and political transformation in the region.
In most WANA countries livestock rearing is a primary source of livelihood for a large segment of the population, and the governance of rangeland management and livestock trade are high priority issues for the national and regional political economy. Despite a fragmented and conflicting political setup that affects regional economic integration and the establishment of a common institutional framework, development trajectories regarding agriculture and food security have converged over time.
Throughout the region, there have been repeated attempts to convert herding communities into stable and controllable producers through their incorporation into state and market mechanisms. Patterns of herd management and livestock mobility have been profoundly reconfigured, and while the movement of animals is increasingly restricted as feed and water are brought to them, the mobility of rural dwellers has intensified, through intense migration flows that are contributing to major transformations in local societies.
Goats and sheep being trucked to Saudi Arabia for sale. Photo: Mathilde Gingembre
Over time, development approaches, institutional arrangements and market dynamics have proven inconsistent in addressing the long-term needs of rural producers and ecosystems. Particularly in the arid and remote pastoral regions, local livelihoods have significantly deteriorated in recent decades, and are now increasingly shaped by processes that take place outside the realm of livestock production and very often beyond regional boundaries. The reconfiguration of land, livestock and labour regimes has generated tensions and risks that have weakened the capacity of pastoralist communities to deal with evolving uncertainties.
The recent history of WANA drylands is one of strained economic development, stressed community networks and degraded ecosystems; the broader implications of the political and economic marginalisation of drylands have significant impacts for the entire WANA region and society.
Lebanese voters are signalling a desire for change, with Hezbollah and its allies losing ground across the country in a parliamentary election.
Just as the recent election in Northern Ireland brought a boost for the non-sectarian Alliance Party, Lebanon’s election saw significant gains for political representatives untethered to sectarian politics. Like Northern Ireland, Lebanon’s political system is set up to share power. Its new parliament will have various sectarian blocs, revolving around Hezbollah and rival party Lebanese Forces, and a sizeable non-sectarian group campaigning on economic issues, social justice and accountability.
Hezbollah, a pro-Iranian Shia-based party, emerged in 1982 largely in response to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. It gained prominence after the end of Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990) and its share of parliament seats started rising in the 2000 elections. After the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon in 2005, its alliance with key political players such as the other Shia-based political party, Amal, and the Christian-based Free Patriotic Movement allowed it to gradually block major policy processes deemed detrimental to its interests such as negotiations on its demilitarisation.
The Hezbollah bloc has lost ground to rivals across the spectrum. Results indicate that the pro-Thawra opposition candidates have made significant gains, capturing up to 13 seats. The Thawra name harks back to October 2019, as the state’s economy went into freefall, when an uprising of ordinary citizens, often called the Thawra, campaigned for all sectarian leaders to resign and for rights for foreign domestic workers, women and LGBTQ+ people.
In this election, the Lebanese Forces party has used widespread anger against Hezbollah and its allies to increase its number of parliamentarians. Lebanese Forces has positioned itself as the main faction willing to contest Hezbollah in the power-sharing government.
This national election took place as Lebanon struggled with a series of crises beginning in 2019, including an economic meltdown that left more than 75% of the population below the poverty line, in what the World Bank ranks as among the three most severe economic collapses anywhere since the 19th century. The country is also dealing with the aftermath of the port disaster. More recently Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed millions close to starvation because of Lebanon’s heavy dependence on Ukrainian wheat.
Relatives of victims of the August 2020 Beirut port blast carry their pictures during a protest near the port. Reuters/Alamy
Lebanon’s political power-sharing system is deliberately designed to protect the entrenched interests of the state’s powerful sectarian leaders. All seats in the 128-member parliament are reserved on a sectarian basis and the powerful factions have often functioned on behalf of other powers, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.
For its supporters, the power-sharing system gives guarantees of political representation to the main groups and ensures that no faction can control the government.
While the protests eventually ran out of steam, it built a platform for a political movement that has now gained independent parliamentary seats.
While it is tempting to suggest that Lebanon’s election has ushered in significant change, caveats are required. Voter turnout was 41%, lower than in 2018. This may point more to apathy and disillusionment than hope.
Obsolete electoral laws have not kept pace with people’s lives, and may have been a factor in the low turnout. In Lebanon, people must vote in the constituencies where they were born. With fuel prices rising and a crumbling transportation system, many could not travel to their birthplace hours away.
This result could lead to political stalemate and confrontational power-sharing. The parliament could turn into a polarised arena where parties with opposing agendas are supposed to share power. The main factions are likely to disagree on the new speaker of parliament and on the allocation of executive ministerial positions, making it difficult for the council of ministers to address the disastrous economic situation.
Factions are also likely to disagree on the new presidential candidate set to replace current president Michel Aoun five months from now at the end of his term.
Yet there is still room for optimism. The success of these independent candidates demonstrates that anti-sectarian politics can succeed in an environment designed to prohibit it flourishing. Unlikely breakthroughs in sectarian strongholds represent notable and exceptional gains.
Independent candidates have not had the array of tools at the disposal of the major sectarian parties. They do not have the economic clout to court votes or have links to powerful media networks to echo their message. They also can’t ask for support from powerful states, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Their candidates are more likely to be harangued and attacked by sectarian factions.
Nevertheless, their victory in Lebanon’s elections has powerful implications. It is one of the key achievements of the 2019 Thawra movement, a landmark episode that many had dismissed for not having achieved very much.
The top featured image of Reuters is not only for illustration but meant to draw some attention to one of the most important cause of this traumatic situation of Egypt as well as that of many countries in the MENA region. Russia-Ukraine crisis poses a serious threat to Egypt, that with an over-population still on the rise, has a limited but diminishing arable lands area. Building on farmland coupled a certain lack of control of all real estate developments bear on the lower social classes; those supposed to be at the forefront of food production.
Russia-Ukraine crisis poses a serious threat to Egypt – the world’s largest wheat importer
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could create a global food security crisis. It is disrupting agricultural production and trade from one of the world’s major exporting regions. This threatens to drive rising food prices still higher and create scarcity, especially for regions most dependent on exports from Russia and Ukraine.
Particularly affected is the Middle East and North Africa – or MENA – region. These Arab countries consume the highest wheat per capita, about 128 kg of wheat per capita, which is twice the world average. More than half of this comes from Russia and Ukraine.
As agricultural and food security experts, we have explored the impacts of the war on the wheat market, focusing on Egypt.
Wheat is a key food item for Egypt, representing between 35% and 39% of caloric intake per person in the last few years. And wheat imports usually account for about 62% of total wheat use in the country.
Despite the government’s efforts following the global food crisis in 2007 to 2008 to diversify sources of cereal imports, the vast majority of cereal imports, between 57% and 60%, come from Russia and Ukraine.
A number of key policy actions are needed that will reduce dependence on Russia and Ukraine in the short term. This will help Egypt’s agriculture and food system to become fairer and more resilient – an absolute necessity in the context of looming threats from climate change, water scarcity and conflict.
Black Sea import disruptions
Egypt is the world’s largest importer of wheat. It imports a total of 12 to 13 million tons every year. With a population of 105 million, growing at a rate of 1.9% a year, Egypt has become increasingly dependent on imports to meet food needs.
Imports of cereal crops have been steadily increasing over the last three decades at a rate higher than that of domestic production.
Egypt’s wheat market and trade regime is largely controlled by government agencies. The General Authority for Supply Commodities, operating under the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade, usually handles about half of the total wheat imported, while private trading companies handle the other half.
Government agencies are already feeling the impact of the war, which has led to recent cancellation of tenders due to lack of offers, in particular from Ukraine and Russia.
Still, there is no fear of shortage in the coming weeks. In early February, Egyptian MoSit Minister Aly Moselhy said that the country held sufficient inventory to cover five months of consumption. But the outlook beyond that is less clear.
With the abrupt closure of Ukraine ports and current maritime trade in the Black Sea – wheat is transported across the Black Sea – Egypt will have to find new suppliers if Ukraine is unable to export wheat this year and if sanctions against Russia impede food trade indirectly.
Such opportunities are, unfortunately for Egypt, limited.
Currently, wheat producers in South America – Argentina in particular – have larger than usual surpluses from the last harvest available to export. Overall, however, it will be difficult to expand the global wheat supply in the short run. About 95% of the wheat produced in the European Union and about 85% of that in the United States is planted in the fall, leaving those regions little room for expanding production in the near term.
In addition, wheat competes with crops such as maize, soybeans, rapeseed, and cotton, all of which are also seeing record high prices. In combination with record-high fertiliser prices (also exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict), farmers in some regions may favour less fertiliser-intensive crops, such as soybeans.
About 20% of world wheat exports come from the Southern Hemisphere (primarily Argentina and Australia) which typically ship from December through March.
In addition, Canada and Kazakhstan are large producers that harvest in the fall. Over the coming year and beyond, their exports may be able to make up much of the deficit created by the loss from Ukraine production, but at a higher cost due to longer shipping routes and increased transportation costs triggered by higher oil prices.
Rising global wheat prices hit a 10-year high at US$523 per ton on March 7. This is a serious problem for the Egyptian government’s budget and a potential threat to consumer purchasing power.
Even just before the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war, prices of commodities in Egypt were increasing. The war has started adding further pressure and consumers are feeling these impacts.
Some countries have already imposed export restrictions in response to rising prices. These trends, coupled with disruptions in Russia’s and Ukraine’s exports, will likely add further upward pressures on prices going forward. Even under the most optimistic assumptions, global wheat prices will remain high throughout 2022 and the trend is likely to persist through 2023, given limits on expanding production.
The Egyptian government has been spending about US$3 billion annually for wheat imports. The recent price increase could nearly double that to US$5.7 billion. This, in turn, threatens Egypt’s Baladi bread subsidy program. This program provides millions of people with 150 loaves of subsidised bread per month. About 90% of the production cost is borne by the government at an annual cost of US$3.24 billion. The program requires about 9 million tons of wheat annually about half of the total wheat consumption in Egypt and three-quarters of Egypt’s wheat imports.
In the short term, Egypt needs to diversify its food import sources.
The government is actively exploring this option, while also increasing planned procurement from domestic sources by 38% over last year’s figure. The government has just announced a new and relatively higher buying price for domestic wheat from farmers.
In addition, the government has decided to ban exports of staple foods, including wheat, for three months to limit pressure on existing reserves.
In the long term, Egypt needs to explore options for reducing the gap between domestic supply and demand. Here are some of its options.
Boosting domestic wheat production will be challenging, as Egyptian farmers are already achieving high yields, relying on high input and water use. While there are some opportunities to expand arable land, modernise farming systems and improve water management practices, the country’s principal focus should be to adapt the farming system to address imminent water shortages and climate change threats and increase resilience, rather than unsustainably expanding production.
Reducing the high consumption and waste of bread has significant potential. Egyptians on average consume about 145 kg of wheat per capita annually – double the global average.
Improve the efficiency and targeting of the Tamween food subsidy program. This provides beneficiaries with ration cards for various foods. The program absorbs a large share of imported wheat and vegetable oils. Reforming it could reduce inefficiencies in the wheat sector and the cost of running the program.
In conclusion, the Russia-Ukraine war poses a big challenge to global food security and particularly difficult obstacles for Egypt. The short-term and long-term impacts will of course depend on how the war unfolds and affects exports from Russia and Ukraine over the coming months and years. Impacts on Egypt will also depend on other countries’ responses to global price hikes and cereal shortages.
Egypt can mitigate some of these impacts with short-term actions as outlined above, but major global shocks like the Russia-Ukraine war are also reminders of the need of longer-term reforms and solutions.
Originally posted on HUMAN WRONGS WATCH: Human Wrongs Watch (UN News)* — Disinformation, hate speech and deadly attacks against journalists are threatening freedom of the press worldwide, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Tuesday [2 May 2023], calling for greater solidarity with the people who bring us the news. UN Photo/Mark Garten | File photo…
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