- Created: Wednesday, 19 February 2014 14:41
- Written by Charles Chinweizu
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 237 February/March 2014
Continued instability in the Middle East and the putative threat from emerging powers have forced imperialism to increase its military presence in Africa, to ensure control of a continent rich in strategic raw materials. Britain’s Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, says that after Afghanistan emphasis will ‘certainly’ shift to ‘conflict prevention in Africa’. France’s Finance Minister, Pierre Moscovici, said that ‘French companies...must go on the offensive and fight’ the presence of China. France remains a major player in economic and military terms, with recent interventions in several African states, as CHARLES CHINWEIZU reports.
Central African Republic, un porte avions
Conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) has reached the point of state collapse. France has been forced to intervene and openly recolonise its former colony to contain the fallout. A new interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, a French-trained lawyer, has been appointed after months of sectarian violence left thousands dead. CAR descended into chaos in March 2013 when Seleka, an alliance of three predominantly Muslim rebel groups, seized power and removed President Francois Bozize. Seleka leader Michel Djotodia took over as interim president. Two months later, Seleka had disintegrated back into its original groups, unable to agree on sharing power. By the time Djotodia officially disbanded Seleka in September 2013, it had de facto vanished into groups of uncontrollable bandits. This triggered revenge attacks by Christian militia known as anti-balaka, and fighting has escalated, despite the presence of French and African Union (AU) ‘peacekeepers’. The CAR’s entire parliament was summoned to Chad on 10 January 2014 and Djotodia and his prime minister forced to resign after nine months in power. The UN has approved a joint European Union military operation in CAR.
The violence, primarily between ex-Seleka rebels and soldiers loyal to former president Bozize, has escalated dramatically with the UNHCR reporting almost one million people, a quarter of the country’s population, driven from their homes by 3 January 2014. 240,000 are refugees in neighbouring countries and nearly half the population is in need of humanitarian assistance.
CAR is an impoverished former French colony, where 63% live below the international poverty line. By 2010, 6% of the population were dying every year, ‘a mortality rate comparable to or even higher than eastern Congo or Darfur’ (Journal of the American Medical Association, August 2010). CAR was carved out of French Equatorial Africa by France in 1960. France has intervened 11 times since independence, sometimes with US support. Every leader since 1960 has been removed by France. In 1993 Ange-Felix Patasse was elected to power, then removed by Bozize in 2003. CAR is rich in natural resources such as gold, diamonds, timber, uranium and oil, but its real importance to France and the US is its strategic position at the centre of Africa. CAR is regarded by France not as a country but un porte avions (an aircraft carrier), a military base for controlling the neighbouring neo-colonies of Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Cameroon, and Gabon; and for destabilising targets such as Sudan, Libya and DRCongo. Chad has also been used to destabilise CAR, Libya and Sudan. Chad is a French neo-colony. 14 neo-colonial African states including CAR, use the common CFA franc, tied to the French franc and now the euro. Regional central banks are required to deposit 65% of foreign exchange reserves at the central bank of France. The CFA franc facilitates French imperialist plunder of the whole region.
France removes Bozize
Bozize’s removal from power was the seventh coup since 1960. Seleka was accompanied by Chadian special forces and mercenaries from Chad and Darfur. Chadian soldiers, initially dispatched by the AU to bolster CAR’s army, refused to disarm Seleka. Seleka, numbering 1,000-2,000 fighters, was surprisingly well armed and organised, and faced Bozize’s weakened CAR army of 3,500.
The ex-Seleka and Chadian troops launched door-to-door raids against defenceless civilians. Looted property was sent to Darfur. Seleka also seized control of timber, ivory and diamond areas. Communities in north-western CAR (Bozize’s fiefdom) were also attacked. These attacks triggered violent reactions. Schools, orphanages and hospitals in the capital Bangui were systematically looted. Outside of Bangui services are virtually non-existent. Half a million people have been displaced in Bangui alone. Self-defence militias, peasants and anti-balaka vigilantes, some armed by former government troops and coordinated by Bozize’s son, have attacked Muslims and Chadian immigrants. There have been summary executions, sexual violence, torture, disappearances and burning of homes, churches and mosques. For months UN officials held numerous coordination meetings but took no concrete action to aid the people.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius claimed CAR was ‘on the brink of genocide’ and the US State Department’s Robert Jackson also claimed it was ‘a pre-genocidal situation’. This provocative language gave cover for the UN Security Council to authorise Operation Sangaris. 1,200 French troops entered CAR from neighbouring bases to join the 410 French soldiers already based in Bangui. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that Britain will assist the deployment of French military equipment to CAR. Another 5,000 AU troops have also been deployed.
France vs South Africa
Since 2003 Bozize has faced opposition from Patasse-linked armed groups and other anti-government elements. Negotiations and rigged elections failed to stabilise the country. Coup attempts were put down with a scorched-earth policy, including in 2006 when France bombed CAR to save Bozize. As CAR’s situation worsened, Bozize sought South African help. CAR and South Africa signed co-operation agreements in defence, minerals and energy and 400 South African troops were deployed as military trainers. South Africa attempted to monopolise CAR’s diamond industry, its main export, possibly worth $800m over 10 years. The plan fizzled out by 2008, but South Africa maintains interests in CAR and one battalion attempted to defend Bozize in 2013. Seleka demanded the withdrawal of South African forces. Bozize also promised, but didn’t deliver, CAR’s mineral resources to Chad. Chad’s President Idriss Deby wanted a final say in CAR’s affairs, including government appointees.
South Africa is a significant investor in Africa, with the fifth largest cumulative Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) stock in 2011, ahead of China in sixth, but way behind France, US and Britain, the main exploiters of Africa. The final straw for the imperialists came when Bozize turned to China for loans and mineral exploration. Seleka’s first actions were to cancel Chinese and South African licences. France, having overtaken Britain and the US with the most capital stock invested in Africa, has a lot to lose and is determined to maintain control over CAR and the wider region.
The Rise of BRICS FDI and Africa
Country FDI stock 2011
France $58 billion
US $57 billion
UK $48 billion
Malaysia $19 billion
South Africa $18 billion
China $16 billion
India $14 billion
UNCTAD, 25 March 2013.
South Sudan collapses
In South Sudan the national army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), has split into two warring factions and the country is on the verge of collapse. Nearly 10,000 people have been killed and half a million people driven from their homes. South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, seceded from Sudan in 2011, with Britain and the US pulling the strings from behind the scenes, as part of their strategy for regime change in Sudan. The imperialists plan to divide Sudan into north, south and west (Darfur). Britain plans a long-term military presence in South Sudan; BP estimates it holds sub-Saharan Africa’s third biggest oil reserves. South Sudan has fallen apart after two-and-a-half years and imperialist plans lie in tatters.
Sudan has been wracked by conflict since 1955, with a brief respite from 1972 to 1983. South Sudan had always been the most marginalised part. Foreign states, notably Israel, Ethiopia, Uganda, Chad, France, US and Britain have interfered, fuelling the fighting which, by 2005, had led to two million deaths and four million refugees. The most heinous atrocities were committed by southern rebels against fellow southerners. John Garang, who formed the SPLA in 1983, wanted autonomy for the south within a unified Sudan – his colleagues, including current president Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, former vice-president, pushed for full independence.
A split in 1991, when Machar left to form an SPLA-splinter, led Machar to collaborate with the Khartoum government, which used southern proxies to weaken the SPLA. (The SPLA was the armed wing of the SPLM (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement) now the ruling party.)A peace accord in 1997, alienated Machar from Garang, Kiir and the rest of the SPLA leadership. In 2002, Machar and his forces were reintegrated into the SPLA. A Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2005, sponsored by the US, Norway and Britain. In May 2012, Uganda’s Foreign minister Okello Oryem admitted for the first time: ‘We supported the SPLA activities as government of Uganda and we don’t regret [it] since...South Sudan is now an independent state from Sudan.’ Uganda is a military proxy of the US and Britain.
In January 2012, South Sudan decided to cut oil production for 15 months, over a dispute with Sudan about oil transit fees. South Sudan depends on oil for 98% of its revenue, but has no means to export its oil which travels through Sudan’s pipelines. When South Sudan became independent, it took about 75% of united Sudan’s oil production, cutting Sudan’s major export earnings. Sudan earned more than $230m in fees for exporting South Sudanese oil in 2013. A period of austerity, ‘forcing difficult and swift spending cuts’ on both countries followed, whereby South Sudan turned to China for loans of $8bn. All the promised investments from the imperialist’s oil corporations before secession have not materialised due to instability; additionally nearly one-third of all oil revenues earned from 2005-2011 ($4bn) was stolen by 75 SPLM officials, according to the World Bank and President Kiir. This corruption accommodates factions that might cause destabilisation.
In April 2012, South Sudan invaded and occupied the Heglig oilfield, responsible for almost half of Sudan’s daily production, causing extensive damage. A British national, equipped with military hardware, was arrested by Sudan’s security forces in Heglig. The US praised their ‘impatient... good friend South Sudan’ but condemned Sudan as ‘very belligerent’. Sudan’s oil revenues shrank by over $700m and exports plunged 83% after the Heglig attack. South Sudan and Israel have continued to fuel rebellions in Sudan, arming and training rebel groups. Israel has also bombed Sudan.
Both the January and April 2012 decisions conflicted with South Sudan’s interests and were based on advice from the imperialists. In July 2013, President Kiir fired his entire cabinet. In December 2013, at an acrimonious meeting of one of the highest organs of the ruling party, the SPLM, Kiir was accused by Machar of ‘dictatorial tendencies’, such as dissolving SPLM organs unilaterally. Machar’s group was excluded and later that night violence between sections of the presidential guard followed. Integrating the presidential guard was one of the key demands of the imperialists as part of the CPA. Violence spread to five of South Sudan’s ten states. Oil regions quickly became strategic areas of control between government and Machar’s group, the ‘rebels’, who occupied two of three oil states before they were driven out. Production has fallen 21%. For now the imperialists have supported Kiir’s faction against Machar’s. Uganda has bombed rebel positions and sent in 1,600 troops to prop up the state. This has been opposed by Kenya and Ethiopia. Sudan, which planned on generating 10% of its 2014 budget from oil fees, has offered to send personnel to operate and protect South Sudan oil assets. China is mediating between the two sides. The plan to isolate Sudan using South Sudan is unravelling as the proxy implodes.