Africa: US flexes its military muscle/ FRFI 230 Dec 2012/Jan 2013

FRFI 230 December 2012/January 2013

The US is increasing its military presence in Africa, under cover of the so-called ‘war on terror’ or humanitarian pretexts. Recent events, including the 2011 bombings of Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, and the planned attack on Mali, confirm this increasing militarisation which reflects the imperialists’ determination to control strategic raw materials in Africa, a region endowed with significant amounts of fossil fuels and mineral resources.

Africom

In June, Major General David Hogg, head of US Army Africa, announced a ‘pilot programme’ of a brigade of 3,000 US soldiers to deploy to Africa in 2013 for multiple missions at different locations. US Army Africa is a component of Africom (US Africa Command), set up in 2007 to begin a process of turning the continent into a web of US bases. Fourteen major Africom military exercises were scheduled for 2012. Over the past decade the US has maintained a rising number of troops at Camp Lemonnier, a training and logistics hub in Djibouti, where Africom’s Combined Joint Task ForceHorn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) is based. The US wants to ‘maintain a small footprint on the continent that is flexible and low cost...[and] will be different in each African nation’ said Amanda Dory, US deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs (12 October 2012).

In February 2008, Robert Moeller, a US Navy vice admiral and the first deputy to the Commander for Military Operations of Africom, stated that ‘protecting the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market is one of Africom’s guiding principles.’ Africom spokesman Pat Barnes admitted: ‘Africom has a small and temporary presence of personnel [in] several locations in Africa’, with approximately 5,000 US military and Department of Defense personnel based there at any one time.

US Marines, military contractors, British and French military personnel have been training soldiers in combat skills, house-to-house fighting, marksmanship, urban warfare and explosives handling in Uganda under the auspices of the ‘Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance Program’. US Marines African presence ‘could become more commonplace as troop levels in Afghanistan drop in line with an approaching 2014 combat mission end date’. 77 US Marines are currently in Mozambique as part of an ‘Africa Partnership Station’ mission, and in April 2012, 1,200 US Marines led the annual bilateral ‘African Lion’ military exercise in Morocco.

In November 2011, ten Special Forces units entered Nigeria to ‘hunt Boko Haram terrorists’. Nigeria is Africa’s largest and the US’s fourth largest oil supplier. In October 2011, the US sent 100 ‘combat-equipped military advisers’ to help ‘suppress the rebels’ of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army’ to operate in Uganda, South Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR) and DRC.

US interference in Asia started with the sending of ‘military advisers’ to Vietnam to assist France in the First Indochina War in the 1950s. By 1975, they had killed over seven million people. In March the EU also announced it would also send a contingent of 5,000 soldiers, led by Ugandan, South Sudanese, CAR and DRC officers to hunt down LRA leader Joseph Kony, whose exact whereabouts remain unknown.

Lily pads

In addition to a ‘continuum of training and maintenance capacity building’ of African armies (General William Ward, commander of Africom), the US has quietly created about a dozen air bases for drones and surveillance since 2007. In addition to Camp Lemonnier the US has created or will soon create bases in Burkina Faso, Burundi, CAR, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritania, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, South Sudan, and Uganda. The US has also investigated building bases in Algeria, Nigeria and in other West African nations: ‘A new generation of bases the military calls “lily pads” are small, secretive, inaccessible facilities with limited numbers of troops, spartan amenities, and prepositioned weaponry and supplies.’1 These secluded, strategically located and self-contained outposts are a critical part of an evolving US military strategy aimed at maintaining global dominance.

The US base in Sao Tome and Principe in the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa is to be another Diego Garcia, used to control Middle East oil. This growing collection of ‘lily pads’ in Africa is an attempt to control another crucial oil-rich region. US imperialism intends to bind African countries to continued US imperialist hegemony, entrench their influence and keep at bay the EU, China and other rising powers.

Since at least 2009, the practice of hiring private companies to spy on huge expanses of African territory has been a cornerstone of the US military’s secret activities on the continent, and consists of contractors flying from Entebbe airport in Uganda and other East African airfields. ‘They pilot turbo-prop planes that look innocuous but are packed with sophisticated surveillance gear’, (Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, 15 June 2012). US drones are being flown out of Arba Minch airport, also in Ethiopia, from the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean, and from Camp Lemonnier by the US military and the CIA to bomb political opponents in Yemen and Somalia. Surveillance planes used for spy missions over West Africa and the Sahara desert fly from Burkina Faso, a key hub of the secret US spying network in West Africa.2 The others are Uganda, Ethiopia and the Seychelles from where ‘hunter-killer’ drones fly over Somalia.

In addition, what are ostensibly African ‘trade’ blocs like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development have provided African cover for US and French imperialist designs in Africa and their roles will deepen in the coming period.

US imperialism vs French imperialism

In April 2011, France re-established control in Côte d’Ivoire. 3,000 people were killed in the process. Now the Ivorian economy is reserved primarily for French companies. In October 2012, the EU announced that it will send 150 military trainers to Mali in West Africa; France ordered UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and the African Union to submit ‘detailed and actionable recommendations’ within 45 days for military intervention. Germany will train Malian troops and provide logistical support. After the US ‘conferred to us the role of leader’, France is to redeploy two surveillance drones from Afghanistan. There are hundreds of French troops and Special Forces in Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Chad and Gabon. The US has expanded its satellite and spy flights and has Special Forces secretly deployed in Mali.

US Army Africa says its role is to teach medicine, combat famine, disease and terrorism, quell regional violence, assist sick and injured Africans and feed the famished in East Africa (armytimes.com, 8 June 2012). Why send soldiers to ‘assist the sick and feed the famished’? The idea that the imperialists’ presence in Africa is to counter terrorism is bogus, seeing as they are collaborating with some Al Qaida-linked groups in Libya and Syria. The record of US- and British-trained armies – for example in Uganda and Rwanda – is one of invasions, annexations, genocide and plunder of natural resources. As French imperialism remains a powerful force in strategic areas of West Africa, and China and the EU are increasing their investments in Africa, the US is asserting its military muscle, determined to assert hegemonic dominance, especially with the Middle East in turmoil.

1. David Vine, TomDispatch.com, 15 July 2012.

2. Nick Turse, TomDispatch.com, 12 July 2012.

Charles Chinweizu

Kony 2012: a cover up – March 2012

The makers of the Kony 2012 film pose with Ugandan troops, who have been accused of the same crimes that Kony is charged with
Photo: The makers of the Kony 2012 film pose with members of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

On 5 March 2012 the charity Invisible Children launched a social media campaign around a film, Kony 2012, about Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) operating in East Africa. Invisible Children has received financial backing from right-wing Christian organizations including the Discovery Institute, Caster foundation and the National Christian Foundation. Invisible Children has been in operation since 2004, but received a boost after the US government deployed 100 military advisors – special forces - to Uganda in October 2011.

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Horn of Africa: aid charade follows predicted famine/ FRFI 223 Oct / Nov 2011

FRFI 223 October/November 2011

In September 2011, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that 13.3 million people in East Africa were in dire need of food aid, up from 11.3 million in July. Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti are worst affected, but Sudan, Uganda and South Sudan also face food crises. In Somalia, as many as 750,000 people in the southern regions face starvation by January 2012.

Hundreds of thousands of stricken people have fled to refugee camps in search of food and medical care. The UN estimates that a quarter of Somalia’s population of 9.9 million are now either internally displaced or living outside the country as refugees, and 20 years of civil war in Somalia and conflict in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia has made a bad situation worse by preventing safe migration. Human Rights Watch reported in June 2010 that Kenyan police welcomed ‘the vast majority [of Somali refugees] with rape, whippings, beatings, detention, extortion, and summary deportation’ and extorted money from them. Thousands of Somalis unable to pay were sent back to Somalia, in violation of Kenyan and international law. In 2009, Oxfam reported that Somali refugee camps were ‘barely fit for humans’.

The Kenyan and Ethiopian governments have denied any famine, yet in Turkana, Kenya (near the Ethiopian border), acute malnutrition affects 38% of the population; the famine threshold is 30%. The US-backed Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which was formed in late 2004, is blaming Islamist militants Al Shabaab and pirates for the crisis, but Al Shabaab does not control any part of Djibouti, Kenya or Ethiopia, where there is also famine.

As Kenyans starve, the government’s policy of increasing domestic production for export means that flowers, coffee and tea grown on the most arable land are being exported to the EU and Britain. Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, M&S and Tesco all sell Kenyan or Ethiopian cut flowers. Kenya is also selling massive tracts of farmland to foreign governments and private investors (see FRFI 222, ‘Corporate land grabs in Africa’). The multinational agribusiness corporations to whom land is being handed over are depleting scarce water resources.

Somalia’s economy is dominated by agriculture, with livestock accounting for 40% of GDP. However climate change means that hotter and drier conditions are more prevalent and there are now droughts and starving people in Niger, Cameroon and Malawi. In fact, droughts have increased from once a decade to every two or three years, and the problems can only get worse. In the Horn of Africa alone, there were droughts and affected crop levels or food crises in 1984, 1991-2, 1997, 1999-2000, 2002-3, 2005-6 and 2008-9.

The puppet governments in the region have used the droughts as political footballs and the crisis is being used by the imperialists in a cynical attempt to end the civil war in Somalia in favour of the puppet TFG. The famine has not stopped Barack ‘O’bomber’ Obama bombing Somalia, nor the CIA running secret torture sites there. Most ‘aid’ to Kenya, Uganda, Somalia and Ethiopia is in the form of military aid from the imperialists – and mainly from Britain.

Aid charade and corruption

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) dominates food aid in Somalia; the US is the leading donor. Al Shabaab barred 16 ‘aid’ organisations, including the WFP, in 2009 from southern and central Somalia which they control. WFP aid to other areas was worth about $485 million in 2009, yet people have continued to starve in these regions.

Aid benefits primarily the donor, but to add insult to injury, it has been looted by the TFG and its militias. In two separate incidents in August, 19 Somalis were killed in Mogadishu after troops looted 15 tonnes of humanitarian aid and vehicles carrying maize and oil meant for famine victims. TFG soldiers and its militias have raided camps, raped people and stolen their famine aid. A Somali soldier opened fire at a food aid distribution centre in Mogadishu’s Waberi district on 7 September, killing at least seven famine victims.

In March 2010 a UN Security Council report revealed that between 50% and 80% of food aid to Somalia is pilfered by corrupt TFG officials, businessmen and militias, so at least 50% of food never makes it to the people who desperately need it. The WFP steers 80% of its transportation contracts to three Somali businessmen, some with connections to the very Islamist insurgents they claim to oppose. The looted aid is then sold in local markets at exorbitant prices out of the reach of the poor. The Somali State Audit Office reported in May that $300m received between 2009 and 2010 by the British and US-backed TFG is unaccounted for. However the British government has no problem with these looters: this is simply part and parcel of imperialist plunder.

Charles Chinweizu

Corporate land grabs in Africa / FRFI 222 Aug / Sep 2011

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 222 August/September 2011

The number of people suffering from hunger worldwide is currently estimated to be 1.02 billion: it is a criminal fact that the countries that are the most food insecure are selling off land in order to secure food for other countries, in what has been dubbed ‘the great land grab’. Sudan has agreed that investors can export 70% of the produce that will be created through land grab deals – yet Sudan is the recipient of the largest food-aid operation in the world. In Kenya, the Qatari government has agreed to fund the building of a coastal port in exchange for a lease of 40,000 hectares of land – despite the fact that an estimated 30% of Kenyans currently suffer food shortages.

In fact, the Oakland Institute, a US-based policy think-tank, found that in 2009 alone almost 60 million hectares of land were leased or bought – that is an area the size of France.

The great land grab began after the global economic crisis broke out in 2007: massive tracts of rural land in underdeveloped countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa,1 are being bought up, largely by governments looking to avoid political uprisings in the wake of the crisis by securing their country’s food and energy supplies. Other purchasers are investors in the form of hedge funds and private equity houses, such as UK Emergent, which has invested in 14 different African countries through its Agriland Fund.

There are a number of other motives behind this land grabbing. Private investors, which include institutions like Harvard and other US universities acting through European speculators and British hedge funds, are buying up great stretches of land and engaging in speculative activity in order to make a profit: the soft commodities market (commodities that are renewable in nature) has provided a return that since 2007 has, together with the appreciation in the price of the land bought, begun to outstrip that of hard commodities.

The demand for land is also being driven by the growing biofuel industry, as well as other manufacturing requirements. Countries such as Britain and the US, which consume vast quantities of oil to meet their energy needs, are increasingly looking to biofuels to secure their energy supply for the future. For example, the EU intends to increase the proportion of biofuels used in land transport to 10% by 2020.2

But the majority of the perpetrators are foreign governments, often investing through sovereign wealth funds. Since the onset of the crisis, the price of food on the world market has shot up; in a protectionist measure, countries relying heavily on food imports are seeking to side-step the volatility of the global food markets by buying land and producing food directly. There are some countries, such as the oil-rich Arab countries, that have another problem: whilst they can afford food at almost any price, they cannot risk food-producing nations imposing export bans to protect domestic supply – as India did when it banned the export of wheat in 2007. Owning the food-producing land removes such risks.

The World Bank: central to exploitation

In previous decades, the buying up of foreign land was considered a risky and unstable investment due to problems with access and security and, in several countries, the presence of domestic laws prohibiting the ownership of land by foreign investors. Enter the World Bank (WB).

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) is a private – ie profit-making – agency of the WB. The IFC and the Foreign Investment Advisory Service (FIAS), which is managed by the IFC, have been central to the opening up of underdeveloped countries to international capital by selling ‘products’ to governments that comprise a programme of technical assistance and advisory services.

One such product is called ‘Access to Land’, which focuses on three key areas:

1 Accessing land: ensuring that serviced land is available for purchase and use by investors.

2 Securing land: the FIAS works with the client government to develop systems of land registration and methods for the acquisition and securing of rights over land.

3 Developing land: amending investment policy and simplifying the regulatory requirements for investors.3

The FIAS also works with governments to create ‘Special Economic Zones’ (SEZs); these are geographic areas that offer incentives such as duty-free importing to businesses that situate themselves there. In the 2009 financial year, for example, the FIAS developed SEZs in Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia.

The FIAS advises governments on the amendment of national law and regulatory reform which increases what the IFC terms the ‘Business Enabling Environment’. Many of the land grab contracts, which in Sub-Saharan Africa are usually for a duration of 99 years, come with unlimited water rights and rent-free periods that last for several years. In January 2010, Indian company Karuturi signed a 90-year lease of 300,000 hectares of land in the Gambella region of Ethiopia, with a 6-year rent-free period – and very cheap rent thereafter.

Unsurprisingly, the IFC is also an investment body; it lends or invests capital, with a view to obtaining a return. It has a global portfolio of projects. Thus, as the Oakland Institute’s report states, the IFC ‘advises governments from the perspective of an investor and with the objective of increasing and strengthening not only FDI in general, but its own investments and development agenda’. 4

Robbery and resistance

Contrary to corporate rhetoric, the players behind these deals are not interested in socially responsible investment, but instead are betting on civil war and political unrest. Philippe Heilberg, CEO of US investment fund Jarch Capital, is cited in the Oakland Institute’s report as someone who has professed that in making investment decisions, he relies on what he views as the inevitable breaking up of several African states in the coming years.

However these deals are not going down as smoothly as the ruling classes would like. In 2008 South Korean company Daewoo Logistics agreed to lease half of all arable land in Madagascar. This would have forced massive numbers of people off of their land, as 70% of Malagasy people live in rural areas; the news of this deal caused an uprising of the people that overthrew the government, and in January 2009 the corporation had to abandon its plans.  The Pakistani government is one that knows that resistance is inevitable (it has agreed that none of the national labour laws will apply to people employed by foreign investors and that 100% of the produce can be exported) and so is offering to Abraaj Capital, Qatar Livestock and other UAE investors a 100,000-strong security force spread across four provinces to protect their investment.

The WB and other investors claim that this land grabbing is a win-win deal, where the host country benefits from increased employment, improved infrastructure, the introduction of new technologies and seeds and the expansion of livelihood options for people. But turning a country into a monocrop producer (as large-scale commercial farming tends to do) makes it over-reliant on one crop, exposing it to market fluctuations – not to mention potential environmental havoc.

The majority of the world’s poor survive off the produce of small farms, but these deals will force small farmers out of work and into the exploitative employ of the corporations that will farm the land. The land grabs will also displace local populations – through manipulation or brutal force – and rob the world’s poorest of the ability to live and survive off their own land; those who already contend with the highest levels of food insecurity in the world are being pushed down on even harder.

Neeva Shanti

1 Massive deals have also taken place in the Philippines, Pakistan, Indonesia and many other countries.

2 Shepard Daniel with Anuradha Mittal, The Great Land Grab: Rush for the World’s Farmland Threatens Food Security for the Poor, The Oakland Institute, p4.

3 (Mis)Investment in Agriculture: the role of the International Finance Corporation in global land grabs, The Oakland Institute, p13.

4 Ibid, p10, their emphasis.

Anti-racist conference in Durban: Smash racism and smash capitalism

FRFI 163 October / November 2001

You cannot get rid of racism unless you are prepared to fight to get rid of capitalism, a social system that engenders inequality, class division and racial prejudice. This was the message from the Durban Social Forum, a coalition of organisations which came together for the biggest march held during the United Nations anti-racism conference held in Durban recently.

The march marked a turning point in South Africa. For the first time anti-imperialist forces were able, independently of the labour movement and the hegemonic ANC-SACP-COSATU alliance, to pull a crowd big enough to match the marches held during the anti-apartheid struggle in this country. Moreover on 1 September 2001, a day after the Durban Social Forum’s 20,000-strong march, the ruling ANC held its own pro-capitalist and pro-United Nations march with a much smaller turnout. This was a victory for the forces linked to the international anti-globalisation movement; they challenged the bourgeois nationalist ANC regime in the streets and won.

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