Africa mulls Obama’s presidency
November 2, 2012 | 0 Comments
Johannesburg – Four years ago Africa greeted Barack Obama’s election with rapture, predicting America’s first black president would smother the continent with attention. But instead of warm hand-holding, Africa got hard-headed, security-first policies.
Africa’s response to Obama’s election in November 2008 was nothing short of ecstatic. A Nigerian foreign minister wept, Nelson Mandela hailed it as proof that people should “dare to dream”, and Kenya declared a national holiday.
The fawning was quickly reciprocated, with Obama visiting Ghana just five months after his inauguration.
“I have the blood of Africa within me,” he emotively told the Ghanaian parliament and rapt television viewers across the continent. Africa, the new president declared, was now “a fundamental part of our interconnected world”.
But as America’s Great Recession deepened, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan trundled on and the Arab Spring exploded, sub-Saharan Africa found itself in a familiar spot; on the back-burner.
“There was an expectation that he was going to be the US President for Africa,” said long-time South African diplomat Thomas Wheeler, now of the South African Institute of International Affairs. “It was just an unrealistic expectation.”
“The fact that he had an African father did not mean that he was going to devote a lot more time to Africa.”
Symbolically, Obama’s visit to Ghana was to be his only trip to the region. Equally symbolically, it took until June this year for his White House to come up with a nine-page “US strategy toward sub-Saharan Africa”.
Yet the continent was far from ignored.
Air Force One has been conspicuous in its absence, but the US Air Force and other branches of the US security services have not.
Quietly, US policy toward Africa has started to look a lot more hard-headed and a lot more like policy toward the rest of the world.
“Obama to my mind is more engaged in Africa, but the nature of how the United States is engaging has changed. It is mostly security related,” said Jason Warner, a Harvard-based expert on African security.
According to Warner, Obama has helped “normalise” Africa policy. “There is no other region in the world that the US engages on simply humanitarian grounds.”
Since Obama took office it has been widely reported that the administration has expanded a network of air bases across Africa, training its might on al-Qaeda affiliated militants and other groups.
Clandestine bases in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Uganda are said to have been used variously to spy on al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and track elements of the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony.
Unconfirmed US drone strikes are reported with some frequency in Somalia.
According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, between 58 and 170 people have been killed in 10 to 23 strikes on Somalia, although some took place during George W Bush’s administration.
“The nature of what he is doing is definitely more covert. But you do get these glimpses every few months that the US is really deeply embedded in Africa,” said Warner.
A year ago Obama deployed 100 US special forces to help Ugandan troops scour thick African jungles of the Central African Republic for Kony – an indicted war criminal – backed up by surveillance planes.
The linchpin for this newly securitised policy toward Africa is the United States Africa Command, or Africom, which operates as a nerve centre for US military operations and military-to-military contacts in the region.
The command became operational barely one month before Obama was elected and now boasts 2 000 designated staff. By one count that is more Africa staff than the foreign aid department USAid.
But much like Obama’s security policy in Africa, Africom has remained largely low-key. It is based in Stuttgart, Germany, rather than in the region, in part to allay accusations of neo-colonial ambitions.
Officials are keen to talk up military training programmes and not so willing to discuss covert operations.
That lack of bombast has been welcomed by many on the continent.
According to Chidi Odinkalu, head of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and a respected activist, Obama’s policy toward one crisis – Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamist insurgency – has struck a balance.
“It would’ve been easy to overreach… and take Nigeria into the realm of the global war on terror. But I think the US has recognised the particularities of the situation.”
Still, there is little doubt that Obama has missed an opportunity to create goodwill through more high-profile appearances in African capitals, but according to John Campbell, a former US ambassador to Nigeria, the impact of the loss is limited.
“I don’t doubt that for many people on the street it is somehow or other disappointing,” he said. “But you keep looking for concrete examples of where it has damaged relations, and I don’t really see any.”
Regardless of the perceived neglect, Obama’s power to grasp the African imagination remains undimmed, according to Nigerian rights activist Odinkalu.
“I think the success of the Obama presidency goes beyond whatever he’s done for Africa.”
Africa: Calls for Obama, Romney to Debate Africa
October 18, 2012 | 0 Comments
Cape Town — American lobby groups advocating stronger United States government action to bring peace to Central and East Africa are calling on candidates in the U.S. presidential elections to give their views on the issue in their debates.
The Enough Project says in a blog post that Africa advocates want President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney to discuss what it calls “the growing crisis in Sudan,” as well as the regulation of conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the hunt for Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony in central Africa.
During the debate Tuesday night, the only Africa-related issue the candidates dealt with concerned the recent killing of the American ambassador to Libya.
Enough said on Tuesday that so far there had been only one mention of humanitarian intervention, in the vice presidential debate, when Romney running mate Paul Ryan had been asked for his party’s criteria for humanitarian intervention.
The next and last debate before the November election, which will take place on Monday, October 22, focuses on foreign policy.
Enough called on supporters to back efforts by Act for Sudan and the anti-genocide campaign, STAND, to press debate moderators to ask candidates how they would prevent atrocities around the world and “how they propose to change U.S. policy to better prevent human rights abuses in Sudan.”
Angola launches $5 bln sovereign wealth fund
October 18, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Shrikesh Laxmidas*
LISBON (Reuters) – Angola on Wednesday launched a $5 billion sovereign wealth fund to invest in domestic and overseas assets by funnelling its vast oil wealth into infrastructure, hotels and other high-growth projects.
Africa’s second-largest crude oil producer is looking to diversify its oil-dependent economy by developing infrastructure outside the energy industry. The country was devastated by a 27-year civil war that ended a decade ago.
Nigeria, the continent’s top oil producer, has already set up a similar $1 billion fund, although its progress has been hampered by political wrangling.
“The Nigerian fund is mainly for liquid, low-yield assets, while the Angolan fund’s mandate is broader, with investment in the real economy domestically,” said Richard Segal, head of emerging markets strategy at Jefferies in London.
The Angolan Sovereign Fund (FSA), which will also invest in financial securities, will be headed by President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos’ economic affairs secretary, the fund’s board said in a statement.
Jose Filomeno dos Santos, one of the president’s sons, will also sit on the three-person board, an appointment likely to raise further questions about government transparency. President Dos Santos has led the country for 33 years and was sworn in for a new five-year term last month.
The fund said its first investments will be in projects to develop agriculture, water, power generation and transport, with an early focus on the hotel industry in sub-Saharan Africa.
Until now the southwest African country was one of the few OPEC member states without a sovereign wealth fund.
Oil revenues represent over 95 percent of Angola’s export income and around 45 percent of gross domestic product. After years of double-digit growth, Angola’s economy suffered a rapid slow down after oil prices tumbled in 2008.
GDP, which the World Bank estimated at $101 billion last year, is set to grow between 8 and 10 percent this year thanks to higher oil prices and output.
Filomeno dos Santos told Reuters in a telephone interview the fund was not a stabilisation tool in the event of an oil price shock, but was aimed at diversifying the economy and creating wealth.
It will grow from further oil revenues transferred by the government and from returns on its investment projects, he added, although he declined to estimate the fund’s growth.
“There may be a lot of good intentions, but in a country where there is no transparency, corruption is high and key places go those close to the leader, we see little chance of this plan working to help Angolans,” Alcides Sakala, spokesman for main opposition party UNITA told Reuters.
The FSA board said it will be assisted by a council composed of senior ministers and the central bank governor, and will publish accounts annually and have them audited by an international audit firm.
“The transparency of the fund will be guaranteed by our strict reporting and auditing rules and an investment policy to be announced soon,” Filomeno dos Santos said.
It was not immediately clear when the investment policy would be announced, or if it would be enough to assuage concerns about governance.
“It seems there will be more transparency on this than is typical in Angola, but it will still be less than in other countries’ funds,” Jefferies’ Segal said.
Goldman Sachs Appoints Nigerian Banker To Its Board
October 18, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Mfonobong Nsehe*
Ogunlesi, 59, is the chairman of Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), an infrastructure investment firm he co-founded.
Ogunlesi is popularly referred to as The Man Who Bought Gatwick Airport in African business circles- a reference to a 2010 deal in which he led GIP’s $2.4 billion acquisition of London’s Gatwick Airport. Ogunlesi also led the company’s acquisition of London City Airport and Edinburgh Airport in 2006 and 2012, respectively.
In a press statement, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein said that Goldman Sachs’ shareholders will benefit from Adebayo’s “wealth of knowledge and rigorous thinking”. “He has advised companies and institutions around the world and invested in many of the most important sectors in the global economy,” Blankfein said.
According to a brief biographical sketch from Ventures Africa, Adebayo (known as Bayo) Ogunlesi is the son of Nigeria’s first professor of medicine. He attended the prestigious King’s College Lagos, received a B.A with first class honors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University, a law degree and MBA from Harvard University. He practiced law for two years at Cravath, Swaine & Moore after clerking for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He then pursued a career on Wall Street. From 1983 to 2006 he held various positions at Credit Suisse Investment Bank and its predecessor firms. Ogunlesi is also the Chairman of Africa Finance Corporation, a Pan-African infrastructure investment firm.
* Source http://blogs.forbes.com/mfonobongnsehe .Follow author on Twitter @EmperorDIV
Africa and the US presidential campaign
October 11, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Simon Reich*
Certainly Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, has attempted to gain traction by criticising President Barack Obama over his reaction to developments in the Middle East and North Africa, his relationship with Russia, his economic policy towards China and his refusal to be drawn into specifics over US policy towards Iran.
Yet these have failed to generate much interest among the American public, and the President’s response, confined to his recent address to the United Nations, amounted to little more than rhetorical flourishes about these issues.
Although the presidential debates provide the opportunity for the candidates to discuss foreign policy, they will probably confine themselves to restating their position on these four issues. With the exception of limited exchanges regarding the assassination of Christopher Stevens inLibya,Africa will therefore receive little attention in these debates. Sub-SaharanAfrica will largely be ignored. Why is this so? Why should they focus their attention onAfrica and what will be the consequence of their negligence?
There is, of course, a simple two-part answer to the neglect of African issues. The first is that the relatively dire economic situation at home coupled with a diminished national security threat from global terrorism has engendered a parochial focus on domestic issues.Americahas historically led the global economy out of recessions. Yet this time, according to all the major indicators – unemployment, GDP, and public and private debt – it is lagging most of Asia and even parts of beleagueredEurope.
“All politics is local”, the adage goes, and in that context Americans – like their European counterparts – are much more focused on relieving domestic poverty than addressing global hunger. This is an election in which grand visions remain at a premium. Thus although every speech invokes the importance of American leadership and its significance as a model for development, such platitudes are little more than observed rituals in a taut political season.
The second predictable answer is that Africa remains a low strategic priority for the US. Certainly, there are notable exceptions. The UShas led the successful campaign in addressing the piracy stemming from Somalia, and it has deployed personnel to assist in the battle against Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Most notably, perhaps, the US remains the largest OECD aid donor toAfrica.
Yet this relative neglect of Africa generates a second question: why should theUSrise above focusing on the immediate and pay more attention toAfrica? The most obvious response is that it has a moral responsibility to address the dire needs ofAfrica’s vast population. Bluntly stated, however, this claim is unlikely to draw much support domestically. Neither advocating donor aid nor foreign investment is compatible with an electoral agenda that focuses on budget cutting and job creation. Foreigners are always surprised to learn that public opinion polls repeatedly suggest Americans heavily favour global engagement, multilateralism and philanthropic activity abroad. But in the current environment, the justification for any debate aboutAfricahas to appeal to American interests.
Yet there are two policy areas that should nevertheless be of strategic interest to the United States. The first concerns its national security, notably its lack of friends and allies in the region. The US has spent much of the last decade focusing on the threats posed by terrorism, nuclear proliferation, human trafficking and piracy. USintelligence has focused much of its attention on failed states as the source of these problems. Africa remains home to ten of the 15 highest-ranked failed states according to the 2012 Foreign Policy/Fund for Peace Index and therefore should be a priority for US security. Yet Africom, the Department of Defense agency that focuses on Africa, could not even find an African country willing to house its regional headquarters, as a result, is located in Germany.
From the American perspective, the death of Osama bin Laden and the decline in the number of piracy attacks has reduced the military importance of failed states. But the
unpredictable nature of these problems, as demonstrated by the recent surge in jihadism inMali andNigeria, suggests that Africa may again become the source of theUS’ national security threats, if not against its mainland then against its personnel and property abroad
The second policy area that should concern the USis, of course, economic. As Deborah Brautigam notes in her 2009 book, Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa, the People’s Republic of China has made enormous inroads as both donors and investors across Africa since the turn of the century. Although no official records are available, Chinese aid to the region is now estimated to exceed that of the World Bank, and is far more popular amongAfrica’s political leaders because the Chinese ignore concerns about human rights, labour standards and environmental protection that are key components of World Bank deals.
The Chinese commitment is significant: Africa reportedly received 14% of Chinese investment in 2010. Having already injected a comparable sum in the last decade, China recently pledged a further $20 billion in tied aid across Africa to complement its $166 billion in annual trade at a meeting of the Forum on Chinese-African Cooperation. The effect has been a huge growth in African-Chinese trade and in Chinese foreign direct investment, and China is now Africa’s largest trading partner. Indeed, some estimates suggest that trade could rise to as much as US$400 billion in the next few years, with natural resources flowing toChina and finished products back toAfrica.
And where are the Americans in all of this? What are the implications? WhileUSpolicymakers focus on national security in Asia and the influx of cheap Chinese imports at home, they are clearly losing the battle for the hearts, minds, markets and resources ofAfrica.
The failure of US policymakers to recognise that Africa is a vibrant emergent market, not just a security concern or a target for philanthropy, may cost them dearly in the years ahead, both economically and in terms of America’s already waning political influence in the region.
*The author is Professor in Division of Global Affairs inRutgersUniversity.Source http://theconversation.edu.au/africa-and-the-us-presidential-campaign-9816
Frosty relations with Hollande see Gabon break the French connection
October 11, 2012 | 0 Comments
President swaps colonial language for English after being inspired byRwanda’s example
With all the timing of a coup de théâtre,Gabonhas turned its back on French, the language of its former colonial rulers, in favour of English.
The move by the tiny, oil-rich country will put a damper on the 14th summit of the Francophonie, the gathering of 56 French-speaking countries due to begin in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Friday. “I am shocked by the timing of the announcement,” Francophonie secretary-general, Abdou Diouf, told France 24 Television.
The West African country is the latest African country to turn away from its colonial language. In 2009, in a strongly political move,Rwandadropped French in favour of English and joined the Commonwealth.
Gabon’s President, Ali Bongo Ondimba, spent last weekend inRwanda”to look closely atRwanda’s experience with the introduction of bilingualism,” said his spokesman, Alain-Claude Bilie-By-Nze. “The president ofGabonplans to introduce English into our country,” he added. “If the Rwandan experience is conclusive why should we not draw inspiration from such an experience…?”
Gabon, which has a population of 1.5 million, has only had three presidents since independence in 1960, and was a key player in “la Françafrique”, the name given to the network of French corporate influence over African nations.
Ali Bongo’s father, President Omar Bongo Ondimba, held power for 41 years and allegedly spent huge sums of money supporting the election campaigns of successive French presidents. But he died in office in 2009, around the same time as investigations by the French judiciary turned up suspicions of ill-gotten gains spent on sports cars and Parisian real estate. Among the Bongo Ondimba family’s acquisitions inParisis the Hotel Soyecourt in the 7th arrondissement, bought by the family in 2010 for €98m (£79m).
The then president, Nicholas Sarkozy, tried to smoothe over judicial hiccups by giving Ali Bongo Ondimba, 53, the Légion d’Honneur in 2010. But the damage was done and Ali Bongo set out to “diversify” the economy, bringing in new business partners from theUnited States,AustraliaandChina. He has also launched an ambitious rebranding exercise, masterminded not by a French PR agency but by the British lobby firm Bell Pottinger. When Gabon co-hosted the African Cup of Nations with Equatorial Guinea earlier this year, riot control vehicles were bought from a fellow Bell Pottinger client, the South African military hardware firm Paramount.
Meanwhile, the current President, François Hollande, has come under greater pressure than his predecessors to question the human rights records and democracy credentials of countriesFrancedoes business with. According to Paul-Simon Handy, deputy executive director of the Institute for Security Studies inPretoria,Gabon’s decision to move towards using English as a working language marks a clear break with the past.
“Gabonwould not have abandoned French under Sarkozy,” he said. “In many ways it is a pragmatic move that reflects the decline in influence of French. But what will be more interesting will be which African countries now feel free to followGabon’s lead. There could be quite a few.”
Shalom Africa Israel’s second coming
October 11, 2012 | 0 Comments
Brand new embassies, booming trade in agriculture, precious stones and information technology together with shadowy security deals:Israelis back inAfrica. But this time tycoons and generals are leading the charge.
From the besieged migrant workers in shanty-towns around the central bus station in Tel Aviv to the chauffeur-driven African diplomats threading through the traffic ofYitzhak Rabin Boulevardto the ministry of foreign affairs inJerusalem, the message is clear. The Africa-Israel axis is back in business.
More than 40 African countries have full diplomatic relations withIsrael, and that is more than before the rupture in response to the Six-Day War in 1967. Trade is growing rapidly – much faster than official data records – and new security arrangements are being set up in the shadows. Senior officials in the foreign affairs ministry such as Emmanuel Seri and Marc Attali talk of a new buzz in theAfricadepartment.
They see the accreditation of seasoned diplomat Haim Koren toSouth Sudanas a land-mark.Israelnow has five embassies inEast Africa, which it sees as its security backyard. Less discussed are the growing numbers of African politicians – in power and opposition – journeying toJerusalemto meet with their counter- parts, aid officials or securocrats.
Israelhas also sent a young Africa specialist, Sharon Barli to headIsrael’s mission inAccra, the first timeIsraelhas had an ambassador inGhanafor 30 years. More groundbreaking still isIsrael’s appointment of Beylanesh Zevadia, a Beta Israeli woman of Ethiopian origin, as its ambassador toAddis Ababa
Beylanesh’s appointment could also helpIsrael’s application to the African Union to reinstate its rights as an observer member.Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi had made a ban onIsrael’s attendance a condition of his financial contributions to the organisation.
Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s trip toEthiopia,Kenya,Nigeria,GhanaandUgandain September 2009 was the highest-level Israeli delegation toAfricafor 30 years. There are plans for another Lieberman trip this year, followed soon afterwards by one by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Although there was much fine talk on Lieberman’s trip about combating desertification, developing biotechnology and boosting farm yields, it had an overwhelming security imperative. Also on the plane with the minister was an official from the defence ministry’s foreign assistance department and a phalanx of executives from arms companies such as Soltam Systems, Israel Military Industries, Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems.
Some arms deals have proved questionable, such as a $275m contract withNigeriain 2006 for three Aerostar drones secured byIsrael’s Aeronautics Defense Systems and a little-known British-registered company called Hudson Marine Management for use against militants in the Niger Delta.
Executives from a rival Israeli drone manufacturer said the contract was appallingly overpriced and was secured mainly by the efforts of the ex-director of the Shin Bet intelligence service, Avigdor Ben-Gal, who is on the board of Aeronautics.
Similar criticisms about transparency and accountability were raised about a $100m contract between Israeli companies and President Teodoro Obiang Nguema’s regime inEquatorial Guineafor patrol craft and drones, initially due for delivery last year.Israel’s largest reputed arms deal with Africa in recent years was a $1bn set of contracts withAngola, supplied by Israel Aerospace Industries and Tadiran, and including more than $200m in artillery, mortars and ammunition from Soltam.
Yet, in the aftermath of Lieberman’s Africa trip, the deputy director of the foreign ministry, Haim Divon, told journalists that “the most important need ofAfricais countering hunger and the shortage of water, not arms.” He was pointing to the old tensions between diplomats and securocrats.
According to veteran Africanist and a former liberal member of the Knesset, Naomi Chazan, these tensions reflect the absence of a clear Israeli state strategy. Instead, private firms broker contacts with African governments and finance the visits of their leaders toIsrael. She writes: “If in the past there was an overt struggle between the diplomats and African aficionados on the one hand and the defence establishment and private interests on the other, in this latest phase of Israeli-Africa relations, this battle has been won by the latter.”
Certainly Lieberman, regarded as the most hawkish foreign minister sinceIsrael’s foundation, appears far more concerned with domestic politics than grand international strategy. He says he wants to revoke the citizenship of Israeli Arabs who will not swear an oath of loyalty to the state, and he tried to bar two Arab political parties that opposedIsrael’s 2008-2009 Gaza war from naming parliamentary candidates.
One academic compared Lieberman to a “bull in a china shop” whom Netanyahu has to keep away from the more delicately balanced politics of the Middle East and the fractious relations betweenIsrael’s ruling coalition and President Barack Obama’s government inWashington.
Police are currently investigating claims that diamond magnate Dan Gertler made substantial payments to companies controlled by Lieberman. Both men fervently deny wrongdoing and look untouchable politically, even ifIsrael’s independent courts can often surprise politicians.
However much Lieberman’s views grate with liberal Israelis, some express muted respect for the way he has been able to push Africa back onto the government’s political agenda, even if it is mainly for a combination of geopolitical, security and narrow business interests.
Chazan argues thatIsrael’s relations withAfricaare linked to “the shifting concerns of its decision-makers rather than any consistent policy design.” Israeli academics worry about the privatisation and personalisation of policy. That trend emerged in the 1970s when Mossad agents, military experts and tycoons – who would report to the Israeli government but also profit personally from their operations – replaced diplomats asIsrael’s intermediaries with African leaders and oppositionists.
Kibbutz to Kalashnikov
Abraham Avi Sivan, a former head of the Israeli defence delegation to Cameroon who died in a helicopter crash in 2010, became a security adviser to Cameroon’s President Paul Biya and founded the country’s Bataillon d’Intervention Rapide.
These sorts of ties are far fromIsrael’sAfricapolicy in the 1950s and 1960s, which was based on its own nation-building experience such as the socialist-oriented kibbutz and moshav agricultural cooperatives. That spirit reached its apogee under Golda Meir. She led missions to Africa, establishing close ties with leaders such asTanzania’s Julius Nyerere andKenya’s Jomo Kenyatta.
Part of it survives in Mashav, the agency for international development cooperation. But Mashav director Daniel Carmon emphasises that its resources and reach have been much reduced since the 1960s: “We don’t try to compete with USAID orBritain’s DFID, but we can often work well with them on a trilateral basis.”
The most successful projects, he says, are those where there is a large transfer of …
Read the original article on Theafricareport.com : Shalom Africa Israel’s second coming | The Africa Report.com
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South Sudan: First Paved Highway in South Sudan Constructed By USAID, Officially Opened
October 5, 2012 | 0 Comments
Washington, DC — On September 12, U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan Susan D. Page and President of the Republic of South Sudan Salva Kiir Mayardit inaugurated South Sudan’s 192-kilometer-long Juba-Nimule Road, the largest infrastructure project ever built in South Sudan, and the young nation’s first paved highway.
The inauguration comes one day after the two governments signed a new bilateral assistance agreement, which provides the legal framework for the U.S. Government’s provision of development assistance to South Sudan.
The Juba-Nimule Road was the top infrastructure priority of the Government of South Sudan following the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended Sudan’s civil war. The road has reduced travel time between Nimule and Juba from eight hours to less than three hours, linking Juba with Uganda and providing the shortest, most efficient route to the Port of Mombasa in Kenya.
“This road literally paves the way to South Sudan’s future,” said U.S. Ambassador Page. “The road has integrated South Sudan into East African transportation and trade corridors, bringing to the people of South Sudan ordinary goods they need day to day, humanitarian assistance for those in need, as well as equipment and materials for those who are investing and building in South Sudan.”
President Kiir lauded the continuing friendship of the American and South Sudanese people, as exhibited in the building of this important road. “These are our friends, and they will be our friends for good,” he said. “This is an achievement that should not be forgotten,” he added.
The U.S. Government, through USAID, also helped the Government prepare policy and implementation guidelines for establishing and enforcing axle load controls to prevent overloading of trucks, which can be dangerous and make the road deteriorate more quickly. USAID is also working with the Ministry of Roads and Bridges on allocation of space for construction of weigh stations. The Draft Traffic Act, which is being reviewed by the South Sudan National Legislative Assembly, will provide the legal basis for regulating and enforcing axle load control and other operations and use of the road networks.
The road has generated economic activities along the route, and created employment and training opportunities for South Sudanese communities, thereby enhancing stability. It has also facilitated the return of refugees and internally displaced persons and the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and provides security and improved access to services such as health care.
The project, which began in 2007, included demining; grading and tarmacking the road; construction of eight new bridges built to modern standards to handle truck traffic, replacing dangerous, decades-old bridges; and a road safety education program that won the 2011 International Road Federation global achievement award on road safety.
When the project began, the route between Juba and Nimule was unpaved and difficult to travel. The improved road has not only reduced travel time and enhanced trade, but has brought other benefits to local communities and the government, including boreholes that were drilled in locations so that communities could benefit from them following the road construction, and training of South Sudanese companies in road maintenance, so that local private sector companies will have the skills needed to maintain the Juba-Nimule road and other roads throughout South Sudan.
Three construction camps that were used for road building activities have been handed over to the Ministry of Roads and Bridges for use in road maintenance and highway patrol.
The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, in partnership with the Department of Justice, trained the first-ever Highway Patrol Unit in South Sudan to provide a police presence and enhance road safety on the vital Juba-Nimule Highway. In the fall of 2011, the program provided training to the officers of the Highway Patrol Unit, and in summer 2012, 10 motorcycles and safety equipment were turned over to the officers who use them to patrol the highway.
Is Brazil the inheritor of the Portuguese empire in Africa?
October 5, 2012 | 0 Comments
|China has been under scrutiny as it invests in Africa, but another player has been largely ignored: BrazilBy Nikolas Kozloff*|
Though much ink has been spilt on Beijing’s rising economic presence in Africa, few have written about the continent’s most recent up and coming player: Brazil. It’s not clearwhy commentators have ignored such important geopolitical developments. Under Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva as well as his protégé Dilma Rousseff, Brazil has been conducting a big push into Africa which could have far reaching consequences.
Brazil’s rise on the international stage has not escaped notice by the American right. Recently, a columnist at Henry Kissinger’s National Interest wrote that one cannot overlook “Brazil’s inheritance of the Portuguese Empire’s mantle in Africa”.
To an extent, Brazil’s push into Africa is only natural. With the financial downturn taking its toll in most nations of the world, Brazil sees the Sub-Saharan region as one of the few bright spots for economic growth. Concerned that the eurozone crisis may pose a financial threat to her country, Rousseff has placed great importance on Brazil’s African expansion. Indeed, Brazil’s trade with Africa has snowballed, from just $4bn in 2000 to more than $27bn in 2011. In a sign of the times, Rousseff recently travelled personally to South Africa, Mozambique and Angola in an effort to shore up economic co-operation.
Though certainly dramatic, Rousseff’s Africa pivot is nothing new: Under predecessor Lula, Brazil opened an impressive 17 new embassies in the continent. The South American juggernaut’s giant corporations, which now operate in 21 African countries, have plunged into such diverse sectors as mining, oil exploration and tropical agriculture. Traditionally present in the Lusophone, or Portuguese-speaking African countries, Brazilian firms are now pushing into Francophone and even Anglophone nations such as Nigeria.
With such an impressive and growing presence, Brazil could one day challenge China in the scramble for Africa’s vast mineral deposits and consumer markets.
New Portuguese Empire?
As it reaches across the Atlantic, Brasilia has pursued largely economic goals by propping up its own corporate agenda, though in time the South American juggernaut could develop political interests in the region as well. Will Brazil be perceived as an interloper or a benevolent presence in Africa? As the South American nation expands its African footprint, Brazil will have to tread lightly.
Indeed, Brasilia’s political and economic elites are aware of the need for shrewd public relations. Former President Lula has remarked, “Africa cannot be looked at like it used to be seen, as a simple supplier of minerals and gas… We have to find African partners. We don’t want hegemony; we want strategic alliances.” The corporate sector, meanwhile, stresses the need for environmentally and socially sustainable policies. “We need to increase dialogue with local society, because we don’t want to come across as imperialists,” the CEO of Brazilian mining firm Vale has remarked.
In an effort to ingratiate themselves in host countries, Brazilian companies tend to hire and train local Africans and offer social projects to foster domestic development. In Angola, Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht is the largest private employer of local people in the country. During a recent trip to the African nation, Rousseff reinforced the need to hire such labour and to observe and respect domestic laws. Perhaps, it is no coincidence that Rousseff issued such statements in Angola, where Chinese companies have been criticised for not employing African workers.
Unlike China, which is enmeshed in a struggle to secure major resources, Brazil is already a resource-rich country and a major oil exporter in its own right. Brazil then sees Africa as a means of diversifying its export markets in such sectors as food, seeds and agricultural machinery while internationalising production of its major companies such as oil and biofuels giant Petrobras and mining colossus Vale. As it ventures into Africa, Brazil has also stressed its commitment to human rights, an issue which China tends to gloss over.
For the time being, such PR moves may go down well but Brazil must be careful lest it be perceived as imperialist. Brazil’s national development bank – or BNDES – is thinking about accelerating its financing for projects in Africa, including possible hydropower projects in Mozambique.
Given the bank’s tawdry environmental record, that could spell bad news for people living in the crosshairs of Brazilian investment. The BNDES corporate colossus, which seeks to create strong Brazilian multi-nationals via below-market loans, is fast outstripping even the World Bank and has rapidly become the bane of South America’s indigenous peoples.
Indeed, throughout vast areas of South America the left and indigenous peoples are just as prone to attack Brazilian imperialism as Washington’s foreign policy. From Paraguay to Guyana to Peru to Ecuador, local residents have protested Brazil’s large boondoggle projects.
In Bolivia, when BNDES announced it would support road construction through remote indigenous territory, the effort sparked protest from local Indians who characterised President Evo Morales as a foreign lackey. In Peru meanwhile, BNDES has been linked to the infamous Inter-Oceanic Highway, designed to connect Brazil to Pacific ports via Amazonian road networks.
Underside of energy colossus
In yet another sign which hardly bodes well, Brazilian state energy giant Petrobras is also making a big push into Africa.
A corporate colossus, Petrobras is the eighth-largest publicly traded firm in the world, and enjoys privileged political access at the top. Indeed, Rousseff herself formerly worked as chairwoman of the board at Petrobras, and the firm receives credit from BNDES. Currently, the corporation has operations in a whopping 28 African countries. On Africa’s west coast, Petrobras’ main goal is to find light oil in tandem with the company’s strategy to seek opportunities in ultra-deep waters.
Though Petrobras is known as a world leader in deep water drilling technology, the corporation has seen its share of environmental disasters. In 2001, for instance, Petrobras lost the world’s largest floating oil platform off the Brazilian coast following a series of explosions which killed nine workers. Moreover, environmental groups like Greenpeace charge that Petrobras’ plans to develop deep water “pre-salt” oil reserves 200 miles off the Brazilian coast will add 35bn tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere over the next four years.
In another ominous development, Brazilian company Eletrobras is considering building a $6bn hydroelectric power plant in Mozambique, possibly with the assistance of BNDES. Eletrobras has been a partner in developing the controversial Belo Monte dam along the Xingu River in the Amazon. Indigenous peoples are concerned that the project will dry up the river and drive them from their ancestral lands. Moreover, if Brazil assists Africa in constructing dams then this could exacerbate climate change. As I’ve noted before, hydroelectric plants lead to emissions of methane that are formed when vegetation decomposes at the bottom of reservoirs devoid of oxygen. That is troubling, since methane is 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Could biofuels help Africa out of the energy trap? To be sure, some African countries could use help as they are obliged to import energy. It is doubtful, however, whether Brazil can provide the continent with clean and sustainable alternatives, and in fact biofuels may exacerbate social tensions.
While sugarcane ethanol is certainly less ecologically destructive than some other biofuels, the industry’s boosters have overlooked one key fact: You’ve got to plant sugarcane somewhere. In Brazil, sugarcane crops have led to deforestation of the rainforest and, paradoxically, more carbon emissions.
In Mozambique and Kenya, the aforementioned Petrobras has been pushing biofuels projects as well as ethanol and sugar enterprises. Meanwhile, in Angola, Brazilian firm Odebrecht and BNDES are investing in a project aimed at using sugarcane to produce sugar, ethanol and power.
By turning arable land over to biofuel production, however, Brazil may wind up taking food from the hungry. According to Friends of the Earth, biofuel demand in Africa is already driving a new land grab and protests in Tanzania, Madagascar and Ghana have targeted foreign companies which acquired rural property.
Africa, a continent which has suffered from recurring food shortages and needs to feed its growing population, looks enviously at Brazil. Indeed, over the last 30 years Brazil has reversed its status as a food importer to become an important agribusiness producer of soybeans, amongst other products. As part of its big overseas push, Brazil set up a credit line to Africa to promote farmers’ purchases of agricultural equipment, and meanwhile, the Rousseff government is providing technical assistance in rural areas.
There have already been some bright spots in this Brazilian-African agricultural exchange. In 2010, for example, farmers from Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa visited Brazil to learn about the planting and harvesting of Creole or native seeds. The farmers, who were interested in developing community seed banks and strengthening family farming, met with the Brazilian Landless Peasant Movement (known by its Portuguese acronym MST). During their visit, the Africans learned about biodiversity conservation and organic farming techniques.
Such advances, however, stand to be overshadowed by Brazilian agribusiness which has created a social and environmental disaster in the Amazon and adjacent areas (for more on the soybean industry and its activities, see my book No Rain in the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet). Currently, the Brazilian soybean industry is already up and running in the Sudan and is poised to leap into Mozambique as well.
Blunting corporate message
If it wants to be perceived as something other than a mere corporate juggernaut, Brazil should find other, more progressive means of interacting with the African continent. To her credit, Rousseff has already pushed a social agenda which could wind up benefiting millions.
Take, for example, Brazil’s provision of cheap and generic anti-retroviral drugs to Mozambique which will help those infected with HIV. Brazil has longtime expertise in tropical medicine too, and Rousseff has helped to finance hemophilia and sickle-cell anaemia centres for Africa.
Furthermore, the Rousseff government has awarded scholarships to Mozambican students to study in Brazilian universities. Meanwhile, from Cape Verde to Guinea-Bissau, Brasilia has been building vocational training centres
In the social arena, too, Brazil has much to offer. Under former President Lula, Brazil carried out the so-called Bolsa Familia programme which disbursed cash payments to the neediest. In less than ten years, Brazil lifted 20 million people out of poverty, and today countries such as Angola are seeking to replicate the success of such programmes. Finally, Rousseff has also provided grants to Africa to help ameliorate local food shortages.
It’s up to civil society
Up until now, Brazil’s foreign policy role in Africa has been a decidedly mixed bag. While Rousseff has championed a variety of social programmes for the Continent, such overtures could be overshadowed by Brasilia’s corporate agenda. In the short-term, there’s little danger that Africans will associate Brazil with other imperialist powers which historically played a nefarious role in the region’s affairs, much less China which is voraciously eating up resources in the present day. Yet, as Brazil deepens its presence in Africa, the South American nation may find that it needs to articulate a more over-arching vision. Brazilian civil society, which traditionally hasn’t played much of a role in foreign affairs, should try to steer the agenda in a more progressive direction.
Specifically, it will be interesting to see whether the Afro-Brazilian community seeks to shape the larger contours of Rousseff’s foreign policy. Presently, African cultural influence is extremely pronounced in Brazil. Indeed, it’s almost redundant to speak of Afro-Brazilian culture since almost 90 million Brazilians share African roots. During the colonial period, African slaves from Angola, Congo and Mozambique were imported into the port of Rio de Janeiro, and the new arrivals brought with them their religion, music, dance and cuisine.
To this day, many Brazilians eat dishes based on palm oil, beans and okra; dance to samba; practice an African-based martial art called capoeira, and follow candomblé, an African religion. In recent years, the Brazilian “black movement” has come into its own, helping to push new policies such as the compulsory teaching of Afro-Brazilian and African history in public and private schools. What is more, several Brazilian universities have picked up on the shifting cultural mood within the country and have begun to target admissions toward Afro-Brazilians.
Having both suffered through centuries of colonisation, slavery, poverty and oppression, Brazil and Africa share a common historical legacy. “It’s time for Brazil to pay off its enormous debt with Africa, African blood was spilled in the plantations and the ‘quilombos‘ [escaped slave communities],” Lula remarked recently. Yes, but the South American giant has yet to decide how to pay off such a debt, and so it will probably fall to civil society to steer foreign policy toward a more just and fair social agenda as opposed to narrowly defined corporate interests.
*Source Al Jazeera.Nikolas Kozloff is the author of No Rain in the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet.Follow him on Twitter: @NikolasKozloff
America’s Mr Africa
October 5, 2012 | 0 Comments
J Brooks Spector *
The chief American diplomat for Africa participated in an Internet press conference with reporters across the continent earlier this week. J. BROOKS SPECTOR joined in – virtually of course
American Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson has had one of those special careers for a diplomat. He has glided between promotion-enhancing, interesting, challenging jobs on Capitol Hill to get an insight into the ways of Congress, at the National Intelligence Council, in increasingly senior positions within the State Department and with stints as US ambassador to Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda once he came into his full stride. Now he’s got the big desk for all of Africa (except for the Maghreb, fortunately for him, that’s somebody else’s problem).
Carson’s discussion was clearly meant as a follow-up to Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to eight African nations. The attention is timely. There are issues across the Sahel and into East Africa that continue to worry many. If there is good news that Somalia actually has a president for the first time in years (although people keep setting off bombs in the capital), there are also the depredations of Islamist militias in Mali that control a third of that country and those continuing Boko Haram bomb attacks in northern Nigeria.
For some observers at least, the promise of Barack Obama’s new partnership with Africa was announced in his speech in Accra, when he declared the era of the authoritarian African big man to be over – kaput! Thereafter, African nations would work hand-in-hand with the US on a continental agenda of economic growth and democratic advancement answering the promise that was trumpeted in a recent issue of the Economist. But for Americans at least, this seems to have shrunk down to more modest goals. Partly this is a function of the American government’s budgetary difficulties, especially as they may afflict foreign aid expenditures next year. Partly, too, this comes from the challenge of China’s full court press into the continent in a very big way.
Finally, Americans may simply be suffering from simple issue overload. There are just too many other problems crying out for attention in the foreign policy arena. There is the Middle East in all its manifold difficulties in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Libya, along with Iran, Israel and a would-be nuclear moment; there is Afghanistan and Pakistan; there are continuing problems with the euro zone; and there is also the an increasingly tense relationship with China, in spite of the massive volume of trade between the two nations. By those standards, Africa is simply not at the front of the line. Instead, maybe it’s back there just ahead of the Kazakhstans and Bolivias of the world.
When asked by Daily Maverick about a seemingly shrunken agenda that consists mostly of efforts to suppress low-level, non-state, Islamist insurgencies in West Africa and the Sahel and efforts to outflank Chinese investment and trade in Africa, Carson ticked off the key bullet points of the June strategic plan towards Africa released by the White House. He argued US interests in the continent fundamentally stem from its interest in strengthening trade to help African states grow their economies and meet development needs, even as it works with countries to help solve all those long-running conflicts.
With an obvious nod towards China, but without mentioning the Middle Kingdom by name or noting any specific consequences of China’s economic and trade movements, Carson responded that the US recognizes the right of any nation to pursue commercial, trade and political relationships with any country. The strategy paper Carson worked from states that the US wants to work with African nations to strengthen democratic institutions, good governance and efforts to stamp out corruption; to spur economic growth through market-driven, free trade principles; to assist the continent’s nations in dealing with ongoing security crises such as Somalia, the squabble between Sudan and South Sudan, in and around the Great Lakes region; and to address development needs like health and to build support for stronger local agribusiness industries.
In a bit of throwaway line, Carson also slid in a reference to a long-time US relationship with Africa by virtue of the African heritage of 12% of the country’s population (most of whom were involuntary migrants of course) and the president’s Kenyan heritage as a way of asserting the importance of Africa to the US these days. Hmm.
As the conversation continued between Carson and some 40 others on the line, virtually every question revolved around one or another local security issue. One questioner after another wanted to address successive military-style challenges. What are the prospects for a successful, violence-free election in Kenya? How can we achieve a stable election and transfer of power in Madagascar? What are the prospects for the success of further military actions by the multi-national African force in Somalia? And what are the prospects for a peaceful Ghanaian election a month after Americans vote?
Further questions dealt with Mali and Nigeria. The first was in response to what was needed to reach a successful resolution to the Malian crisis, where a mainly Tuareg, Islamic militia has gained control over an area the size of France (although this mostly desert space is part of the “very light land” a British colonial secretary had dismissed when describing French colonial lands in Africa a century ago).
The second, and maybe more troubling one, was the seeming contradiction between this anti-terrorism, anti-Islamic militia push by the US in places such as Mali and Somalia, and a reluctance by the US to declare Nigeria’s Boko Haram movement a terrorist group. Carson’s answer was that Boko Haram was not a homogenous, monolithic organization. Rather, he added, it was comprised of several different groups.
He noted that the US has now designated three people in that movement as individuals involved in terrorism, saying, “We believe those three have established contacts with foreign terrorist organizations and relationships with them.” But, he added, the bulk of Boko Haram seems focused on trying to discredit the Nigerian government inside the country. The question of Boko Haram’s organizational circumstances was still under review, but, he added, “Those three have a broader agenda.”
Curiously for a continent-wide conversation that was billed as being about the broad US – Africa relationship, there was barely any discussion of how to encourage more American investment in Africa; how to encourage more sales of US goods to the continent; how to wind down the kinds of trade restrictions that hobble intra-Africa trade. And left unanswered was a question that should have been absolutely front burner: What happens if, when the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) runs out in the near future, Congress refuses to vote favourably on it again, or even allow it to come to a vote.
In that sense, this was a lost opportunity in a conversation that could have been potent in helping point out the need for African nations to begin to express how AGOA has helped them, how it can help more and how trade and economic issues remain central for the development of the continent. Raise that AGOA question, have it reported widely in the African press, and a real discussion on trade between Africa and the US might yet happen. But not, for most countries apparently, until the security questions get shoved off the front page, above the fold. DM
“Africans have always had enormous potential for freedom, justice and self-determination.”
September 22, 2012 | 0 Comments
-Closure of Pambazuka regrettable
-AU, ICC, Media in Africa et al, FAHAMU Founder and former Editor of Pambazuka Firoze Manji bares his mind
By Ajong Mbapndah L
With over thirty years in international development and human rights, Dr Firoze Manji remains a leading voice for the voiceless in the continent. The Founder of Fahamu and former editor of Pambazuka exhibits unparallel knowledge and brilliance in his analysis of challenges confronting Africa and the way forward. From his departure from Fahamu and the closure of Pambazuka Press, to the scramble for Africa, the African Union, the ICC, and more, Firoze of Kenyan nationality bares it all in an interview with Ajong Mbapndah L for PAV.
PAV: Dr. Firoze, thanks very much Sir for accepting to talk to PAV, we start with the question that intrigues many Africans, why did you decide to part ways with Pambazuka after toiling hard to make it a leading voice for the voiceless in the continent?
Firoze Manji: It is with much regret that I had to part ways with Pambazuka because of irreconcilable differences with the Fahamu board of trustees. Pambazuka News has become one of the principle sites for analysis, discussion, organizing and communication on the struggles for freedom and justice in Africa. It is my sincere hope that it will continue the tradition it has established over the last decade. I have long been committed to the principles of ensuring that Pambazuka News was always freely accessible and considered as part of the Commons. It is important that we always ensure that the Commons are not commodified. The closure of Pambazuka Press is also regrettable – there remains a vacuum in book-publishing that gives voice to those engaged in emancipatory struggles in Africa and the global South. Printed books are currently priced outside the reach of the majority of activists in Africa. We have to find a way in which books can be placed in the hands of those who are engaged in transformative struggles across the continent.
PAV: With over thirty years in international development and human rights you certainly have seen it all, in broad terms where you situate Africa today, everyone is talking about potential, but in what areas do you see tangible progress and what areas is more work needed?
Firoze Manji:The people of Africa have always had enormous potential for freedom, justice and self-determination. Our history is littered with crimes that have undermined and prevented us from being able to determine our own future. The Atlantic slave trade decimated the continent of some 20 million of its youngest and finest. Europe’s industrial revolution, the wealth it accumulated over that period was a direct result of the pernicious trade in human beings. The colonization of the continent by European powers destroyed our cultures, our creativity, and resulted in the integration of the entire continent to the needs for European capital. But at the same time there has always been a spirit of resistance that has constantly reasserted our humanity and claims for freedom. In the post Second World War period, that resistance swept the continent, affecting every country from Cape to Cairo, from Djibouti to Dakar. It was that uprising – in the cities, on the farms, in the urban ghettos, in plantations and factories – that swept the nationalist movement into power that led eventually to some degree of political independence. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost in that struggle – recall the wars of liberation in Algeria, Congo, Kenya, Angola, Mozambique, to name but a few. Empire did not take these defeats lying down. They used assassinations, coups d’état, misinformation, invasion, and all manner of tricks to undermine the move to independence. The roll call of the finest leaders whose lives were cut off is too long to recall, but included people such as Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, Augustino Neto, Kwame Nkrumah, Steve Biko, Samora Machel, and so on. And that is to say nothing of the many outstanding women and men who gave up their lives in the struggle to assert their humanity and cry for freedom. But it is important to note that the betrayals and conspiracies came not just from empire, but included those who from within the movements.
Nevertheless, in the short period after independence, there were some extraordinary achievements. Whatever one might say about the shortcomings of post independence governments, one has to acknowledge that in a very short period of time they transformed their countries: where once there was no health care or education, there was universal access provided; where there were no roads, an extensive communications network was set up. Within a short period of time, parameters such as life expectancy, infant mortality, maternal mortality, child mortality and so on showed dramatic improvements.
Sadly that was not to last long. From the beginnings of the 1980s, we saw the reversal of all the gains of independence across the continent as a result of the willingness of our leaders to collude with the West in implementing the structural adjustment programmes (later called the ‘PRSPs’) by the international finance institutions including the World Bank and IMF. We saw wholesale privatization of what was then part of the commons – land, water, electricity, healthcare, education and so on. And what was not privatized was sold off to the Northern ‘development’ NGOs. Support for farmers, agricultural subsidies, inputs, cooperatives, marketing boards, all these were cut. Instead public funds were used to subsidise the private sector. And the economies were transformed from being net food producers to being net importers of food. The countries were opened to the voracious appetite of the multinational corporations and banks. Currencies were devalued, and debts had to be repaid in dollars. To get dollars meant producing not for the need of the people but for the needs paying the banks and finance houses of the US, Europe and Japan. And in the process, the local elites got rich, while the majority got poorer. Enrichment of the few at the expense of impoverishment of the many. The last 30 years have been marked by a mass scale dispossession, dispossession of land, dispossession of the commons, of mineral resources, oil, agricultural products and so on. But the worst dispossession of all has been the political dispossession: today our governments are more accountable to the banks, international financial institutions, the multinational corporations than they are to their citizens. That is the tragedy of the last three decades.
We are constantly reminded that many African countries are demonstrating significant growths. But the reality is that only a few have benefited from that growth. Today the majority are poorer today than they were even under colonial rule. This is what Walter Rodney characterized as growth without development. Can we call that progress? And meanwhile, the continent has faced military interventions on a wide scale – Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, Somalia, are just the beginning. The US AFRICOM is now spreading its wings across the continent. Everything is being militarized, with the encouragement and collusion of our ruling elite.
But at the same time, we have witnessed important developments in the last few years. There have been significant popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, what the West has come to refer to as the ‘Arab Spring’, that led to the downfall of those close allies of imperialism, Ben Ali and Mubarak. What has inspired these uprisings has not been merely the existence of repressive regimes, but more importantly the growing discontent and anger at the loss of all the gains of independence, the widescale impoverishment that the last 30 years have brought. But these uprisings have not been confined only to North Africa. Today, the gathering momentum of movements for change defines the social and political scene on the continent. We are witnessing not so much an Arab Spring as an African Awakening. There have also been protests, strikes and other actions in Western Sahara, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Gabon, Sudan, Mauritania, Morocco, Madagascar, Mozambique, Algeria, Benin, Cameroon, Djibouti, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Namibia, Kenya, Swaziland, South Africa, Malawi, Uganda and more recently in Nigeria and Togo. Indeed, they have much in common with events we have witnessed last year in Wisconsin (USA), Spain, Greece and indeed in the Occupy movement. The mass uprisings and protests that erupted across the continent and in the Middle East share a similar etiology. Over the last 30 years, countries in the global South, and in particular in Africa, have seen the systematic reversal of the gains of independence. The net effect was to reduce the state to having a narrowly prescribed role in economic affairs, and precious little authority or resources to devote to the development of social infrastructure, resulting in the erosion of the ability of citizens to control their own destinies. These events have been the topic of a recent book edited by Sokari Ekine and myself: African Awakenings: the emerging revolutions (Pambazuka Press, 2012).
PAV: As mentioned earlier, there is unanimity on the incredible potentials of Africa, and there is these great scramble from foreign powers, the Chinese, Americans, Brazilians, etc, is the continent as it stands today better equipped to face the challenges of a second scramble? Based on your knowledge and rich wealth of experiences can you walk us through a few pros and cons of partnership with some of the leading actors seeking inroads in the continent, the Chinese, Americans, Europeans, Brazilians and Indians
Firoze Manji: I think not. With the growing economic crisis of capitalism, we see the race for accumulation by dispossession taking place at an unprecedented scale. The resources of Africa, its cheap labour, is being eyed by many. The unfortunate fact is that few of our governing elites are willing to challenge this growing urge to exploit the continent – far from it, they know that they have much to gain from filling their pockets and their off-shore bank accounts by colluding with those who what to rob the continent.
While the entry of China, Brazil and other ‘emerging powers’ has provided some level of breathing space in the sense that our governments have alternatives to the hegemony of the US, in practice the policies of these countries in relation to Africa do not necessarily constitute an intervention that favours emancipation. But we cannot leave the task of self-determination and emancipation to either our governments or to external powers. That task is one that we need to build the confidence of African people to achieve.
But it would be a serious mistake to view the entry of the ‘emerging powers’ with those of the US, Europe and Japan. The latter are the dominant exploiters of African labour, extractors of natural resources, and decimation of the environment. China, for example, is certainly becoming as big as the US in terms of trade. But in terms of natural resource extraction and in terms of extraction of wealth through debt financing, they remain a very small player in comparison to the US, Europe and Japan. Remember, the domination of the multinational corporations, banks and international finance institutions is guaranteed not by the ‘emerging powers’ but principally by the US. There is a growing US military presence in Africa in the form of US AFRICOM. We have seen military intervention in Africa from the US and its NATO allies in Somalia, Côte d’Ivoire, Libya. There has been no equivalent military intervention and occupation by the emerging powers.
PAV: The African Union recently elected its first female Chairperson; do you expect the new leadership to finally shake the continental body of its lethargy?
Firoze Manji: I don’t believe so. Having a woman head what is essentially a patriarchal institution does not constitute a transformation of the goals and aims of an institution. The election of Margaret Thatcher in the UK, Indira Ghandi in India, Sirleaf Johnson in Liberia, has not resulted in progressive transformation of those countries. The election of Nkosozana Dlamini Zuma represents a victory not so much for women, but especially for the growing power and influence of South Africa on the continent. Bear in mind that South African capital’s penetration into Africa has grown significantly since 1994.
PAV: Leadership to many remains an issue of concern, not only within individual countries but at the continental level, is it Nigeria with endless tales of corruption and security challenges posed by Boko Haram or is it South Africa which according to many has failed to rise up to the occasion in providing decisive leadership for the continent, how does Africa address the leadership problem? There has been an increasing clamour for democracy across the continent, but sometimes the democracy has not necessary come with development and Mali can be used as an example, in contrast, a country like Ethiopia under the leadership of late President Meles Zenawi made so much progress yet Ethiopia was not viewed as a democracy, what is your take on this?
Firoze Manji: The question I think we need to ask is: to whom are these so-called leaders accountable? As I have commented earlier, our governments have become more accountable to the international corporations, banks, international finance institutions and speculators than they have to the citizens who elected them. There is a democratic deficit. And that is not just a comment about elections, but rather a more profound question about who makes decisions that affect our lives. Who decides what is produced, for whom it is produced, how it is produced, who benefits from the production, who has a say in the distribution of wealth? Why are our farmers condemned to producing crops that feed the North, but leaves them destitute? I think we need to start asking such questions, because it is by doing so that we can begin to think about deciding what kind of ‘leadership’ we want. I think we are living in a period where new forms of collective leadership are emerging: look at how decision making began to develop in Tahrir Square in the rise of the Egyptian revolution and in the Occupy Wall Street movements. These were forms of democratic decision making. The revolution in Tunisia and Egypt were not led by individual leaders, but by collective action. That, I believe, is the future.
The increasing cries for ‘democracy’ cannot be reduced to the holding of elections and the ballot box. The popular cry is for democratization rather than merely voting every few
years. Remember, while citizens are allowed to cast their vote once every four or five years, Wall Street and the 1% cast their votes every second of every day, making decisions that have devastating effects on the 99%. Take, for example, the frightening escalating price of food that has lead to more than a billion people starving. This is not because of shortages of food, but rather because the 1% are speculating on food and food production as commodities. The rich get fat on gambling on the price of food, while the rest are forced into hunger.
As for the situation in Ethiopia: we need to ask the activists, political opponents, journalists and many others who are languishing in Ethiopian jails whether they think there has been ‘democracy’ under Meles. As far as I can tell, the situation is not likely to change with the departure of Meles.
PAV: Looking at the continent today, which are some of the leaders who inspire you and which are some of the countries you will consider as models for the rest of the continent to follow?
Firoze Manji:The leaders who inspire me are those whose hard work led eventually to the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions; the young people in the ghettos of our cities who have taken to the streets with great courage to demand a better future; the women who have organized and fought against oppression and violence against women; the women farmers who are ensuring the survival of sustainable and environmentally positive African family farming systems and who are opposing the attempts of Bill Gates and Kofi Annan to chain them to the agro-industrial corporations through AGRA (Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa); the communities that have fought to prevent the decimating environmental impact of natural resource exploitation such as in the Niger Delta; the workers who organize to defend their interests against the exploitation of international corporations – such as we have seen recently in the mining industry in South Africa; those brave activists from LBGTI and queer movement in Africa who show immense courage in asserting their humanity against the most terrible threats; those who organize to ensure that the struggle for self-determination is not lost, such as those in Western Sahara, Diego Garcia, etc. These are some of the leaders that inspire me and whom I believe we should consider as models for the rest of the continent to follow.
PAV: In France, the assets of Theodorine Obiang , the son of Equatorial Guinea’s President were recently confiscated, and the French civil society has cases against a number of African leaders for siphoning state funds, considering the pervasive nature of embezzlement and mismanagement of state resources, do you consider this the way forward to punish and dissuade those who loot with impunity?
Firoze Manji: The problem here is who benefits from confiscating the riches stolen by our presidents and dictators? Will the Egyptian people benefit from the return of the millions that Mubarak stole and banked in England? How will citizens of Libya benefit from the appropriation of Gaddafi’s millions? Of course thieves need to be punished: but if justice is to be done, then the loot has to be returned to those who created it.
PAV: On the International Criminal Court, Charles Taylor jailed, Laurent Gbagbo on trial, a warrant on Sudanese President El Bashir, what is your response to critics especially within government circles who think the court is unduly targeting African leaders?
Firoze Manji: The problem we face is three-fold: first, who has the greatest influence on how the ICC decides who is to be prosecuted? The irony is that the primary influence on the ICC comes from the Security Council. And the Security Council is dominated by the US – the state that refuses to sign up to the ICC. So we see that decisions about who to go after by the ICC is politically determined. Which is why – in keeping with the US’s history – it is Africans who are primarily targeted.
And that brings me to the second issue: if the decision to prosecute or arrest is politically determined, then that is an admission that these actions by the ICC are not about justice but rather to serve the political ends of particular powerful states. It makes a mockery of the whole purpose of having an international court. I would be more convinced about the ICC’s role if we were to see people such as Bush and Blair arrested and tried. They are not arrested for political reasons: it has nothing to do with the evidence that is there for all to see that there is just cause to arrest them for crimes against humanity.
Thirdly, by trying people outside the national terrain, you decontextualize the crimes. The whole procedure becomes more about revenge than about justice. By removing the criminals from the national terrain, you deprive citizens of the possibilities of seeing justice done, and to experience the catharsis that is necessary to be able to move on. It is frequently argued that the ICC is necessary because of the weakness and lack of independence of the judiciary in our countries. Sure, that is a short term solution. But it begs the question about what do we do to develop a judiciary that is both competent and independent.
PAV: How do you size up the African media today and its role and contribution in helping the continent meet up its challenges?
Firoze Manji: Over the last 30 years there has been an unprecedented level of centralization and concentration of capital, as well as an unprecedented level of financialisation of capital. This has resulted in almost every aspect of production and almost every aspect of our lives being controlled by some 500-700 international corporations – what Samir Amin calls ‘oligopolies’. That phenomenon has also happened in the media sector. So despite the growth in the number of media institutions in Africa, if you look carefully you will find that the main ones are owned by a handful of corporations. So these institutions are not independent – they represent the interests of the 1%. To attract advertisements and to be profitable, they need to serve those interests faithfully. It puts truly independent media in great difficulty to be able to survive. The pressure on increasing profits means that nowadays newspapers and other media houses employ fewer and fewer journalists. This means that journalists aren’t able often to do the kind of investigative work that is core to their profession. To be able to generate enough stories, they therefore rely on the news services – basically European and US sources of news – that they just recycle. This means that what is generated by corporate media in the North is recycled as ‘news’ in Africa. It also leads to a certain level of laziness, relying on news and information circulating on social media such as Twitter and Face book. Journalists don’t have time to check stories, so this results in stories circulating that have not been checked. I think there is a great deal of demoralization amongst media workers who are capable and smart, but are not able to find an environment that enables them to work as they should. The development and nurturing of an independent media is something that remains a priority on the continent.
Pambazuka News sought to fill the gap only insofar as it provided a platform for analysis from intellectuals, activists, bloggers, social movements etc. It never aspired to be a conventional news service.
PAV: Last question Sir, prior to this interview, we discovered you were a dentist, how did you transition from that to the indefatigable social critic and activist you are and now that you left Pambazuka, what next will you be working on?
Firoze Manji: Well, the transition from dentistry is a long story, but suffice to say that I have long been an activist, even before I qualified, but to support that I needed to earn an income somehow. I drifted from dentistry to public health research, into international development, human rights, and eventually established Fahamu in 1997, and launched Pambazuka News in December 2000. What one does to earn a living should not prevent you from being politically active in the cause of emancipation. But I also think that while each of us have our own histories and pathways, the past is something we need to learn from but not become imprisoned by. So while I was once a dentist, I don’t need to continue in that pathway unless I have no choice.
I remain committed to the cause of emancipation and justice. There are many ways in which I may be able to contribute to that. For the present, I need to reflect on the possibilities for the future and so I am taking time off to regroup.
U.S. urges African air forces to form NATO-style ties
August 29, 2012 | 0 Comments
By David Lewis*
(Reuters) – The United States urged African nations on Tuesday to pool their air force assets in a NATO-style effort to take on terrorists and international criminals rather than struggle to fund costly independent operations.
Many African air forces are small components of the national military and Washington, concerned about Africa-based al Qaeda agents, traffickers and illegal fishing, wants to help improve cooperation across the continent.
General Philip Breedlove, commander of the U.S. Air Forces, Europe, told African air chiefs meeting in Senegal the situation meant any one nation would struggle to tackle groups operating across borders.
“Taking them on requires a regional approach … by developing partnerships, countries can assist one another in meeting these requirements,” he said.
“We can best support these efforts by effectively deploying our air assets as an air team against these extremists.”
Breedlove made no reference to specific threats and did not give details on any U.S. support but warned: “The consequences of insignificant action, I believe, are dire.”
Outside a few rich nations, African air forces are often limited to a handful of helicopters and sometimes ageing fixed wing jets.
While U.S.-backed African forces have made progress retaking parts of rebel-held Somalia, the takeover of northern Mali by Islamists linked to al Qaeda has created a new security void that many countries fear is a launch pad for radical violence in the region.
Latin American drug traffickers, sometimes aided by local officials, have taken advantage of West Africa’s porous borders to use the region as a transit point for a cocaine trade valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Illegal fishing in under-policed waters cost governments in West Africa as much as $1.5 billion in lost revenues.
U.S. officials speaking at the start of three days of talks between American officers and their African counterparts drew comparisons to NATO and its policy of pooling resources between nations.
“That applies equally to West Africa as it does to Europe,” said Lewis Lukens, the U.S. ambassador to Senegal.
Law enforcement officials say varying abilities of regional forces, a wide array of legislation and basic barriers like language have prevented regional cooperation.
Lukens said cooperation could change this.
“There is no reason that in the future, information from a Senegalese aircraft couldn’t use be used to support Senegal, the Gambia, Cape Verde as they pursue illegal fishing boats or narco-traffickers through each other’s waters,” he said.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)