Mark Thomas watches aid money go down the drain

Africa may as well stick up an enormous sign saying "Clearance sale. Everything must go", as an enti

Just out of curiosity, I decided to see if Nostradamus mentions Paul Wolfowitz becoming president of the World Bank. A leading architect of the Iraq war put in charge of the west's leading mechanism for alleviating global poverty surely merits a mention on the path to Armageddon.

Sadly, he doesn't, though there is a passing reference to David Icke, a frog ringtone and the mark of the beast that starts 118.

The World Bank has long been an outrider for the privatisation of the developing world, and it can only get worse now. Given Wolfowitz's impeccable neo-con credentials, Africa might as well stick up an enormous sign saying "Clearance sale. Everything must go", as an entire continent is reduced to the status of a "pound or less" shop.

This won't faze Hilary Benn, the minister in charge of the Department for International Development. Over the past six years, DfID has paid more than £34m to the Adam Smith Institute - that right-wing so-called "think-tank" - and its offspring, Adam Smith International, for consultancy and advocacy work on privatising the utilities of some of the poorest nations. Great! Give a load of Thatcherites a bundle of public cash and - surprise, surprise - they say the solution is the free market.

Leave aside the incongruities of free marketeers being in effect subsidised by government money, without which they would probably wither and die like the lame-duck dogma dealers they are. What did the money buy? Well, £430,000 was coughed up to persuade the Tanzanian

public that the best way to get clean water in the country's commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, was to privati . . . oh, is there even any point in finishing the word?

This work included commissioning a "pop video" singing the praises of privatisation (surely enough to make even Cliff Richard cringe), a privatisation promotional calendar (Pirelli meets Milton Friedman, with the phrase "asset stripping" in there somewhere) and privatisation Christmas cards (I envisage a nativity scene where the star over the manger is owned by Enron and Bethlehem is subject to rolling power cuts). All of which is so embarrassing that DfID should have just given the Adam Smithies the money and told them to shut the fuck up. Frankly, the money would have been better spent had Benn bought 430,000 Lottery scratch cards and sent them to Tanzania.

And so it was that Benn wasted our money on a water privatisation project that has now been cancelled by the Tanzanian government, leaving the UK multinational Biwater suing the Tanzanians for breach of contract. Incidentally, for students of irony, Biwater used to advertise under the slogan "The perfect water company".

It is a shame that Benn, the World Bank and Biwater didn't heed the advice given by the firm's country manager for Zimbabwe, Richard Whiting, after Biwater pulled out of a proposed water privatisation project in Zimbabwe: "From a social point of view, these kinds of projects are viable but unfortunately from a private sector point of view they are not." Basically this can be interpreted as: we are not going to turn a decent profit and anyway the needs of developing countries are not best met by privatisation. Wise words, Richard.

And so on to another part of the world conveniently forgotten in the mission to bring democracy and peace to the globe - Western Sahara. This was ceded by Spain to Morocco in 1976, after Rabat had illegally annexed the territory the previous year. With more than 150,000 people living in refugee camps in the Algerian desert ever since, Western Sahara has been waiting patiently for the UN to introduce a referendum on independence. Morocco, desperate to suppress nationalist sentiment and stifle reporting of the area, expelled five foreign journalists last year.

However, news is trickling out about a popular intifada launched from the occupied town of el Ayoun on 25 May, in response to the brutality of the Moroccan authorities. This has been followed by detentions and raids on activists' homes, which were described as being "full of blood" when the Moroccans left. Readers can visit War on Want or the Western Sahara Campaign websites for information, but if you are in any doubt as to the nature of the regime, there is one thing that tells you all you need to know: new Labour broke its own code of conduct to sell arms to Morocco, specifically for the conflict zone. We can therefore conclude that Morocco is an anti-democratic and torturing state.

And finally . . . for those of you who don't read Indymedia or SchNews (and there might be a couple), Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, had carrot cake and cream planted in his face last month during a meeting of "Future Heathrow". Knowing this makes the world seem a little brighter. Just thought I'd share.

This article first appeared in the 06 June 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Mob rule