contraband


Greed is the reason for the violence in the Congo. The violence is funded by the mining companies and all those, in many countries, who benefit from minerals and resource wealth extracted from the Congo. As a result of this violence, 1500 people die per day, 45000 die per month, 5.4 million have died in the last 10 years.

From the documentary Culture of Resistance two people who know the Congo tell us:

Maurice Carney -
The Congo is the deadliest conflict in the world since World War II. Congo is a geological scandal because of the mineral wealth within its soil. The conflict is based on who is going to control the resources of the Congo.

Kambale Musavuli -
If one person is brutalized in front of everyone, by the time that ends, everyone in the area are going to take their baggage and leave the community.
They have been displaced.
That is the cheapest way to move the people. So there are two rapes taking place, the rape of the land and the rape of the people. And these two rapes are inextricably linked.

[The above added February 22, 2012]

The [Democratic Republic of the Congo's] significant mineral reserves coupled with corrupt management of the mining sector helped fuel the 1998-2003 civil war leading to the death of some 4 million people. Conflict and massive displacement continues in the eastern part of the country. (UN 2007)

Map of Coltan ore locations in the Eastern Congo, DRC (click to enlarge) -1-

What is Coltan?

Columbite-tantalite, coltan for short, is a dull metallic ore found in major quantities in the eastern areas of Congo. When refined, coltan becomes metallic tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge. These properties make it a vital element in creating capacitors, the electronic elements that control current flow inside miniature circuit boards. Tantalum capacitors are used in almost all cell phones, laptops, pagers and many other electronics. The profits from mining have fueled a brutal civil war and severely damaged the forest and wildlife.

Map of mineral deposits in the eastern Congo, the DRC (click to enlarge) -2-

For over a century, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been plagued by regional conflict and a deadly scramble for its vast natural resources. The greed for Congo’s wealth has been a principal driver of atrocities and conflict throughout Congo’s tortured history. In eastern Congo today, resources are financing multiple armed groups,many of whom use mass rape as a deliberate strategy to intimidate and drive the local population away from mines and other areas that they wish to control.

Specifically, the conflict in eastern Congo – the deadliest since World War II – is fueled in significant part by a multi-million dollar trade in minerals. Armed groups generate an estimated $180 million each year by trading four main minerals: the ores that produce the metals tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. This money enables the armed groups to purchase large numbers of weapons and continue their campaign of brutal violence against civilians, with some of the worst abuses occurring in mining areas. These materials eventually wind up in electronic devices, such as cell phones, portable music players, and computers, including those sold here in the United States. Given the lack of a transparent minerals supply chain, American consumers continue to indirectly finance armed groups that regularly commit arocities and mass rape.
(Crisis in Congo PDF)

Map of sites of coltan and other mining exploitation in Kivu, Congo, the DRC (click to enlarge) -3-

You can see the geographical relationship between the mining, the mineral deposits, and the armed groups in these maps.

Map of four of the armed groups operating in the eastern Congo, Kivu North and South, the DRC, as of the end of 2007 (click to enlarge) -4-

The majority of the violence in the eastern Congo has been carried out in mineral-rich areas, by armed groups and military units on all sides of the conflict. This includes units of the Congolese armed forces, as well as the Rwandan rebel group the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, of FDLR, as well as an array of other militias.
(Crisis in Congo PDF)

These armed groups profit from the trade in two primary ways:

  • Controlling the mines, forcing miners to work in deadly conditions and paying them a pittance, an average of $1 to $5 per day.
  • Exacting bribes from transporters, local and international buyers, and border controls.

The armed groups trade in the 3T minerals – tin, tantalum, and tungsten, as well as gold:

Tin is used inside your cellphone and all electronic products as a solder on circuit boards. Fifty-three percent of tin worldwide is used as a solder, the vast majority of which goes into electronics. Armed groups earn approximately $115 million per year from trading in tin.

Tantalum (often called “coltan”) is used to store electricity in capacitors in iPods, digital cameras, and cll phones. A majority of the world’s tantalum – 65 to 80 percent – is used in elecronic products. Armed groups earn an estimated $12million per year from trading in tantalum.

Tungsten is used to make your cell phone or Blackberry vibrate. Tungsten is a growing source of income for armed groups in Congo, with armed groups currently earning approximately $7 million annually.

Gold is used mainly in jewelry but is also a component in electronics. Extremely valuable and easy to smuggle, armed groups are earning approximately $50 million per year from gold.

Gold from Ituri, used in jewelry and electronic components (click to enlarge) -5-

For one comparison, the amount of gold that Uganda exports in relation to the amount of gold it produces, see the following chart* (click to enlarge):
chart comparing small amout of gold Uganda produces with the large amount it exports

Ethnic rivalries are often blamed for the violence in eastern Congo, but they are a tool rather than a cause. The main reason for the violence is:

greed, the primary cause of the so-called “second war,” which began in 1998. A number of “elite networks,” as defined by a hard-hitting U.N. report, comprising military commanders, political leaders, and unscrupulous entrepreneurs in Kigali, Kampala, and beyond, backed up by international mafias, plundered the resources of eastern Congo (coltan ore, diamonds, gold, hardwoods) and turned the region’s economy to their personal profit. To accomplish their aims, they had to resort continuously to force, but without betraying their true objectives. In the “second war,” Rwanda and Uganda masked their predatory intentions by clandestinely maintaining regular or irregular troops, and above all by fostering armed bands, organized along ethnic lines, forming and reforming according to the current needs of their masters. The battles among these bands have rarely led to major victories or defeats; the whole idea is to maintain insecurity and justify the militarization that enables the massive plundering. Amid all this, the local people have paid a terrible price.

According to the U.N. report, which was published nearly a year ago, the number of “excess deaths” in Congo directly attributable to the Rwandan and Ugandan occupation can be estimated at between 3 million and 3.5 million. This conflict has been the deadliest since World War II. … Finally, acts of sexual violence accompanying the carnage have been without precedent in their frequency, their systematic nature, their brutality, and the perversity of the way they’re planned and staged.

… In this hospital, the sexually assaulted victims are two or three times as numerous as civilians treated for gunshot wounds, and four or five times as numerous as wounded soldiers. These are very significant ratios concerning the victims of eastern Congo’s interrelated conflicts.

… in eastern Congo, rape—extremely violent rape—“is soldiers’ work,” one of the rapists told one of his victims.
from Congo: A Hell on Earth for Women

Out of this violence, looted minerals are transported both by land, air, and water.

Map of mineral transportation routes out of the Congo, DRC (click to enlarge) -6

Air routes of minerals taken from the Eastern Congo, the DRC (click to enlarge) -7-

From the eastern Congo the minerals are:
(Crisis in Congo PDF)

  • Transported through neighboring countries including Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi.
  • Mainly shipped to East Asia, particularly to multinational smelting companies in Malaysia, Thailand, China, and India.
  • Once processed, bought by electronics manufacturing companies, turned into usable components such as capacitors, and added into the electronic devices.

The highest-selling devices with the 3T minerals are:
Cell phones and Blackberries * MP3 players * Digital cameras (also, TVs, computers, monitors)

Countries importing gold and 3T mineral ore from the Congo -8-

Crisis in Congo PDF cites the average annual wage of a civilian worker in the Congo as about $184 per year. It estimates the profits of the armed groups that trade in the Congo’s contraband minerals at $180,000,000 per year.

Rwanda and Uganda benefit most directly from the trade in contraband minerals from Congo. I have written about this previously in posts listed below. According to Crisis in Congo PDF, since January 2009 more that 900,000 people have had to flee their homes because of the violence. 7000 rapes have been reported, most rapes are not reported. Armed groups try to drive out local citizens and other armed groups. There are only 2 hospitals in all of eastern Congo that are able to perform surgury on fistula, a common result of the rapes. These rapes seem to fit the definition of genocidal rape, including:

… in genocide, rape is under control. It has become a tool, not an accident. In genocide, men rape in groups because they are ordered to or because they are systematically permitted to do so. It is calculated. The men rape not as individual men, but as members of their race, ethnicity, religion or nationality. They sexually assault women (and sometimes other men) of a particular group.

The goal in genocidal rape is not merely to hurt people. Much less is the goal simply to have sex. Group destruction is the goal. Sexual violence is not simply some ancillary tool to this goal. Indeed, because of the peculiar nature of rape and sexual torture, it is particularly suited to genocide. In war, the destructive effects of rape are largely beside the point. In genocide, the destruction is the point.

I am wary of the word genocide. I think in recent times it has been appropriated for political reasons, and thereby robbed of some meaning. What is happening to ordinary people living in the Eastern Congo is devastatingly painful to read about or contemplate, and I find it difficult to research or write about. Too much of it is happening because you and I enjoy our cellphones and other electronics.

For more detail on the violence against women there are quite a number of links on this page: women in conflict. It includes a video, and this article, Silence=Rape, which is hard to read but describes the problem. US demand for electronics helps fuel the problem. And the US isn’t helping, for example:
Congo’s Rape Epidemic Worsens During U.S.-Backed Military Operation
U.S. Civil Military Imbalance for Global Engagement: Lessons from the Operational Level in Africa

The training and weapons support the US provides to both Rwanda and Uganda, both active partners of the US Africa Command, is just more fuel for the violence in the Congo. This is even more questionable policy due to the profits and benefits US companies and consumers derive from the contraband minerals of the Congo.

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Maps from:
L’économie minière au Kivu et ses implications régionales, PDF [Maps 1,6]
*Etude sur le rôle de l’exploitation des ressources naturelles dans l’alimentation et la perpétuation des crises de l’est de la RDC, PDF [Maps 2,3,4,5,7,8] see the Abstract
Both documents contain a great deal more information and more maps.
Check out a great powerpoint overview of coltan and the coltan trade with maps and photos PowerPoint by Dr. John Katunga of the Wilson Center.

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Previous posts with related information and more links:
Paul Kagame, Warlord of Congo’s Wealth
DRC – Minerals, militaries, money and violence – part 2
DRC – Minerals, militaries, money and violence
Women in Rwanda and DRC – development vs military assistance
If Uganda Has Oil It Must Need The Pentagon’s Democracy

Canada funding and profiting from Congo’s wars
And more in this category:
http://crossedcrocodiles.wordpress.com/category/congo/

one of the most destructive wars in modern history has been going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s third-largest country. During the past eleven years millions of people have died, while armies from as many as nine different African countries fought with Congolese government forces and various rebel groups for control of land and natural resources.

Few realize that a main force driving this conflict has been the largely Tutsi army of neighboring Rwanda, along with several Congolese groups supported by Rwanda. (New York Review of Books)

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda addresses the UN (UN Photo/Mark Castro)

… some of Kagame’s greatest admirers are Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Starbucks magnate Howard Schultz. American evangelist Rick Warren considers him something of an inspiration and even Bill Gates has invested in what has been called Africa’s success story. Yes, Western liberals, reactionary evangelicals, and capitalist carpetbaggers alike tout Paul Kagame as the herald of a new, self-reliant African prosperity. (Pulse)

Africa’s World War is the most ambitious of several remarkable new books that reexamine the extraordinary tragedy of Congo and Central Africa since the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Along with René Lemarchand’s The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa and Thomas Turner’s The Congo Wars: Conflict, Myth and Reality, Prunier’s Africa’s World War explores arguments that have circulated among scholars of sub-Saharan Africa for years. … In all three, the Kagame regime, and its allies in Central Africa, are portrayed not as heroes but rather as opportunists who use moral arguments to advance economic interests. And their supporters in the United States and Western Europe emerge as alternately complicit, gullible, or simply confused. For their part in bringing intractable conflict to a region that had known very little armed violence for nearly thirty years, all the parties—so these books argue—deserve blame, including the United States. (NYRB)

These books:

depict the forces of Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front as steely, power-driven killers themselves.

Prunier calls the Kagame regime’s use of violence in that period “something that resembles neither the genocide nor uncontrolled revenge killings, but rather a policy of political control through terror.”

And it is that terrorism that continues in the Eastern Congo, ethnic cleansing, really political terrorism to move people out of the way of those acquiring the minerals. That is the reason for the murders and mutilations of Congo’s people, all genders, all ages and all ethnicities, and the overwhelming rapes and mutilations of women and children. These are political terror to move people out of the way of the mining interests. The US Africa Command is helping train and arm the Rwandan RDF. Keep in mind, as the quote above states, the: main force driving this conflict has been the largely Tutsi army of neighboring Rwanda.

KIGALI, Rwanda - General William E. "Kip" Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command (left of center), claps along to the spirited singing of Rwandan Defense Force (RDF) soldiers celebrating the conclusion of a live-fire demonstration at the RDF's Gabiro School of Infantry in Gabiro, Rwanda, April 21, 2009. The demonstration was part of a tour for a U.S. Africa Command delegation led by General William E. "Kip" Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command. The Gabiro School is the RDF's primary facility for infantry, armor, artillery and engineering training of RDF officers and enlisted members. (U.S. Africa Command Photo by Kenneth Fidler)

Most alarming is the integral role that Kigali has played in the Second Congolese War which has claimed upward of three million lives. The Rwandan government has been lending significant support to rebels within the Congo, especially in the mineral-rich north. There, the objective is widely considered to be securing the valuable resources of the region which have been trafficked through Rwanda during the conflict. While some press attention has been given to the horrendous plight of women in the area and the massive and mounting casualty figures, little connection seems to be drawn between Kagame and his complicit fans in Europe and North America.

Even The Economist took exception with his heavy-handed domestic policies and accused the new hero of Clinton and Blair as being more repressive than Robert Mugabe. (Pulse)

From the Financial Times:

It is likely that your mobile phone contains coltan mined in Congo’s east, the crucible of the conflict. It is unlikely this was exported by legitimate means. Only a fraction of revenues from the country’s prolific mineral exports are captured by the state.

Here is a map of the routes of coltan and other looted minerals out of the eastern Congo through Rwanda and Uganda to the Indian Ocean ports:

Map of routes of looted coltan and minerals (from INICA, click to enlarge)

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Added 2/26 – There is much more information at this page:
The Real Authors of the Congo Crimes. Nkunda has been arrested but who will arrest Paul Kagame ?

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Minerals supply chain from Raise hope for the Congo PDF, http://www.raisehopeforcongo.org/files/pdf/crisis_in_congo.pdf

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Pulse has an excellent bibliography, reproduced below:

(1) “Rwanda Rising: A New Model of Economic Development.” Fast Company, Wednesday, March 18, 2009. http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/134/special-report-rwanda-rising.html
(2) This comes on the heels of reports that Rick Warren and his reactionary cohorts where involved with neighboring Uganda’s efforts to execute homosexuals. http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/11/rick-warren-silent-enabler-of-hatred.html
(3) This BBC report is from the end of the election when Twagiramungu called on Kagame to “accept freedom of speech and association and also to accept democracy.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3104092.stm
(4) Reporters Without Borders profile of Paul Kagame (http://www.rsf.org/en-predateur13640-Paul_Kagame_.html) and also a brief report on the issue of fees for free press (http://www.rsf.org/Government-to-demand-exorbitant.html).
(5) “A Flawed Hero”, The Economist, August 21, 2008
(6) The New York Review of Books printed an extensive article on the matter by Howard W. French in their September 24, 2009 issue (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/23054). The UN has also issued annual reports on the Second Congo War every year which allude to the influence Kagame has played in the conflict.
(7) “Looted Wealth Fuels Congo Conflict”, Financial Times, November 30, 2009. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/8ae76ab0-dde6-11de-b8e2-00144feabdc0.html

Locally made guns

A photo of a real Makarov gun next to a fake one made by a Ghana blacksmith. (Anna Boiko-Weyrauch)

Suame Magazine, picture from johnnypayphone.net/labels/ghana.php

The gun business is creating harm in Ghana and among the neighbors: Locally made guns business flourish in Ghana.

Blacksmith Sarpong, 35, operates a small shop in Ghana’s second largest city, Kumasi. He is trained to produce cooking utensils, but prefers to make guns as he can earn more money that way.
When sales are good his shop brings in US$1,000 a week, he said. Foreigners paying better than Ghanaians. “Most of my buyers are from Nigeria or Sierra Leone.”

Sarpong sells to clients using a gun-runner – most of them are ex-peacekeepers or mercenaries according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime – in a growing clandestine small arms industry, according Ghana’s Deputy Interior Minister, Kwasi Apea-Kubi and confirmed by police officials.

Small arms proliferation destabilizes West African countries and has increased the intensity and human impact of conflicts in the region, according to regional arms experts.

Apea-Kubi recently toured the country to ascertain the state of Ghana’s small arms industry and along the way met with hundreds of gunsmiths who “openly admitted to producing guns”, despite that local small arms manufacturing is illegal.

“We know now that many of the armed robbery cases we are witnessing are being fueled by these small arms,” Apea-Kubi told IRIN.

Eighty percent of firearms Ghanaian police confiscate are homemade, according to Accra-based NGO Africa Security Dialogue and Research.


Gun production estimates vary. The National Commission on Small Arms, set up in 2007 to check the manufacture and cross-border movement of small arms, estimates 40,000 Ghana-made guns are in circulation; UNODC estimates 75,000, while Kwesi Aning, head of the conflict resolution department of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in the capital Accra, puts the figure at 200,000.

“Local production has recently gone through the roof,” Aning told IRIN.

Blacksmiths have the knowledge and skills to manufacture single-shot pistols, multi-shot revolvers and shotguns, according to UNODC. When IRIN investigated a locally-made pistol sale in Tudu neighbourhood – Accra’s small arms hub – a dealer known only as Musah would not go lower than $130 for a single-barrel shot gun.


UNODC’s July 2009 West Africa threat assessments report establishes a direct link between trafficked arms and instability in the region, with the chief clients of clandestine arms groups seeking to overthrow or challenge state authority.

“Instability in Togo, Nigeria, and Côte d’Ivoire has resulted in higher prices of Ghanaian manufactured arms,” Aning said.

Ghanaian gunsmiths have been invited to teach their gun-manufacturing skills to local blacksmiths in the Niger delta, Aning said.

However buyers of Ghanaian guns tend to be individuals while established insurgent groups purchase heavier weapons from outside the region, according to UNODC.


Alternatives

The government is seeking creative solutions to the problem, the Interior Ministry’s Apea-Kubi told IRIN, as past arrests and detention of guilty blacksmiths have only pushed the trade further underground.

“We know we have to do something but we don’t want to use force,” he said.

Interior Ministry officials are consulting gunsmiths across the country to explore how to attract them to alternative – legal – ways of making a living, as well as to examine how to prevent cross-border trafficking.

Apea-Kubi also hopes gunsmiths will allow their names and locations to be logged on a national database so their activities can be monitored. At least that way the industry will be less secretive, he said.

But Sarpong is not convinced. “No alternative can give me enough money like what I get selling the guns. They should not waste their time.”

Armed robbery is a dreadful scourge in Ghana. Recently we lost a young employee, shot to death by armed robbers. He left a wife and two young children. We can make sure the children go to school, but we can’t replace their father. And it has been an ongoing source of sorrow, as he was a good friend and someone who had always been there to help us. There are a number of precautions we take at the house, it is deeply painful to feel that any of them are necessary. This is the main “terrorism” we fear in Ghana, and it is only fueled by the arms trade and increasing militarization in the region. (For some perspective, I have lost more Ghanaian friends to gun violence here in the US over the years, than in Ghana, from a much smaller population of Ghanaians.)

At the same time I have much sympathy with the blacksmith Sarpong in the article. US$1,000 a week is a fabulous income in Ghana. It would be very difficult to voluntarily give that up. I would certainly find it difficult if I had the skills and was making that money in Ghana.

From Marketplace:

Drug dealers and thieves like handmade guns because they can get them under the table and don’t have to register them with the government. But, handcrafted guns didn’t used to be such a problem. Blacksmiths in Ghana have been making them for centuries, mostly for hunting and protecting farmland. When the British came in, they outlawed gun-making — but the demand continued.

Blacksmith Philip Nsiah lives five hours north of the capital.

… Nsiah says local guns are cheaper than imported ones, so they’re popular with farmers. He used to sell each shotgun for about $100. Those cheap pistols I saw earlier can go for as little as $4.

Nsiah trained for years to learn his craft. But then he found out how much harm these guns cause. Nowadays, he helps lead the local blacksmiths’ association, encouraging others to stop making illegal guns.

Nsiah: I can do any type of gun. If they allow me, I can do it. But since, I know the dangers involved that is why I don’t go in.

When the crime rate got bad, the police started rounding up blacksmiths. Many stopped making guns, because they didn’t want to be arrested and lose their legitimate business. The crackdown helped. But it pushed the industry underground.

Now, Police Superintendent Aboagye Nyarko says they’re encouraging blacksmiths to produce something else, like tools to prune cocoa trees and handcuffs for the police.

Blacksmith Philip Nsiah shows me some handcuffs he made seven years ago.

Nsiah: But you see, it’s still there rusting. Nobody is buying it.

But he’s been able to make a living without making illegal guns. He repairs authorized weapons, used by security personnel, he works on cars. And he’s made a tool-shed full of other products — garden shears, hunting traps and gong-gongs, or cowbells for making music and calling community meetings.

Nsiah says the government hasn’t been effective at promoting these types of alternative products. And without that backing, illegal handmade guns will continue to be the product of choice for many blacksmiths.

Ghana has enormously talented craftsmen. In general people are inspired by the hope of creating and accumulating for themselves and their loved ones. People in business understand business, understand its potential and its motivations. So businessmen and women should be far better suited to being partners in development than eleemosynary organizations, provided their motives are not entirely exploitive.

I may sometimes write as if I am anti capitalist, but that is not the case. Capitalism needs the regulation of democratic controls, otherwise it is the same as organized crime, but the hope of accumulation drives all of us. That is why I particularly liked this quote from the following article: what poor people need most is a way to make more money.

Slumdog engineers of Suame magazine

As he pours dangerous molten metal from a home-made furnace at a ferocious 600 degrees, a worker flings a skimpy T-shirt around his head for protection. Another worker grabs a chunk of mud and shoves it into the makeshift foundry to plug the flaming lava flow of molten metal.

None have safety helmets or other equipment. Their neighbours at nearby industrial workshops are wearing plastic flip-flops and shorts. Their welding cables are ripped and exposed, risking a high-voltage shock, and few of the welders wear safety glasses.

Safety is an afterthought for the 200,000 people in horrific conditions in one of Africa’s biggest industrial slums. Survival comes first, and they need to eat.

The slum, known as Suame Magazine because of its origins among the artillery-makers at a local armoury, is a 180-hectare cluster of 12,000 repair shops and small-scale metal works on the outskirts of Ghana’s second-biggest city, Kumasi.

At first glance, it seems like a vast wasteland of tin shacks and wrecked cars and impoverished mechanics, where the dust-choked air is filled with hammering, banging, pounding and shouting.

But some look at this post-apocalyptic junkyard and see hope for the future. If the small-scale artisans and repairmen can be linked into the supply chain of multinational corporations, could they escape poverty and work in safer conditions?

That’s the experiment a Canadian group has launched. With a new aid philosophy that aims at business-oriented solutions, the Canadians are marketing the skills and ingenuity of the slum-dwellers, connecting them to foreign investors and helping them bid on valuable contracts that could transform their lives.

“My heart beats faster just thinking about this,” says Florin Gheorghe, a 21-year-old engineering student at the University of British Columbia who has been immersed in this giant scrapyard for the past seven months.

“I’ve come to believe that what poor people need most is a way to make more money,” he says. “Many development projects treat the poor as if they were incapable of fending for themselves, just sitting around waiting for whites to give them free food and clothes. It creates dependency and crushes local capacity …. The difference in our business-like approach is the dignity that comes in choosing to live a life that you value.”

Though the mechanics and metalworkers of Suame Magazine are poorly educated and 98 per cent lack any Internet access to help them seek customers, many are astonishingly skilled.

Some build entire buses or fuel tankers from scratch, or design drilling rigs or foundries. All they need, the Canadians believe, is a helping hand to market themselves.

Mr. Gheorghe, supported by a Canadian non-profit group called Engineers Without Borders, arrived at the slum in January to work for its industrial development organization. He put on a suit and tie and began knocking on the doors of multinational companies around the city, giving out his business card and sending a deluge of e-mails to companies around Ghana.

After weeks of going door-to-door, he and his colleagues began to persuade some companies to award business to slum-dwellers. They won contracts at several major U.S. companies, including Newmont Mining Corp., Coca-Cola, and the cocoa division of Archer Daniels Midland Co.

Under the first Newmont contract, valued at $30,000, the Suame Magazine artisans and repairmen were hired to build stairways, railways and platforms for massive Caterpillar trucks at the mining company.

It was followed by agreements on further contracts from Newmont, providing the much-needed prospect of steady revenue for the workers.


amusement and disdain soon gave way to respect as the mining company saw what the artisans could produce.

One group of 10 workers earning less than $4 a day were able to double their income when they landed the Newmont deal, with the prospect of further revenue from profit-sharing at the end of the contract.

The contract helped them learn new skills, including the ability to read computer-aided engineering drawings. And it encouraged them to invest some of their profit in safety equipment. For the first time, they have switched to steel-toed boots and safety glasses, instead of flip-flops and bare eyes.

“When we went to Newmont, our guys came back flabbergasted at the safety equipment there,” Mr. Gheorghe said. “Now they are always reminding me to put on my equipment.”

The workers say they’ve benefited from the marketing efforts and the multinational contracts. “We’re getting more experience and more jobs,” one worker said. “Since we started wearing the safety equipment, we don’t get injured any more.”

George Roter, the Toronto-based co-founder of Engineers Without Borders, says the project in Suame Magazine is an innovative approach that could produce broader lessons for the foreign aid sector.

“The concept of stimulating business development using demand from international resource-extraction operations could be powerful in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.

“It’s certainly a contrast to traditional aid-based approaches, and fits well with EWB’s philosophy of development that sees successful African businesses and entrepreneurs as the engine of development.”

As for Mr. Gheorghe, he is returning to the University of British Columbia this fall to finish his engineering degree after seven months of toil in the slum. But he’s already planning a life of activism. He is convinced that he can find more capitalist innovations to help the developing world.

“My ambition,” he says, “is to become incredibly rich, and to lift a million people out of poverty. I don’t think you have to be poor to help people.”

I like Mr. Gheorghe’s ambition.

There is another story I read recently that may relate to the guns:

Niger Delta militants training Ghanaians


A respected legal practitioner and lecturer at the University of Ghana, Law Faculty, Dr. Raymond Atuguba has chillingly revealed that militants in the Niger Delta region, notorious for blowing up oil pipes, kidnapping and demanding huge ransoms and causing unrest in the oil rich Nigerian region have started tripping to Ghana in droves.


He said, when he visited the Western region a few weeks ago, he discovered that “groups there were already creating linkages with groups in the Niger Delta”. According to him, the people were “preparing to create the same amount of chaos we have in the Niger Delta if we neglect their concerns.”

Dr. Atuguba stopped short of stating the exact ‘lessons’ the Ghanaians could be taking from the ‘visiting’ militants, but said people were preparing to protect their interest. He remarked that if the security agencies were on their toes, they would have noticed the movement of arms.

Dr. Atuguba is of the view that the culture and livelihood of the people located at the coast of the region will be greatly affected due to the infiltration of various forms of social vices the region will have to embrace.

As if making a case for the them, Dr. Atuguba said as a result of the governmental decision to drill oil in their area, “prostitution is going to increase in their community, stealing and contract killings are going to increase in their community, land grabbing has started in their communities such that they can’t even buy a piece of land in their communities to build a house.”

“You have dislocated the man in his own society and you expect him to sit there and watch you do it …and the politicians will take the money and stuff it in their foreign accounts somewhere…”

Dr. Raymond Atuguba who is also the director of the Law and Development Associates warned that it will be ghastly to ignore the concerns of those communities. “We should not underestimate it…”he advised.

I wonder about this. The oil in the west will be offshore, so, other than potential oil spills, the environmental degradation should not be similar to the Niger Delta. There are certainly some in the Western Region who feel agrieved. And there is much potential for them to feel more agrieved. I also get the impression that there are those who want to stir up more trouble over oil in the west. When I asked friends about this they said it was someone trying to make trouble, but I think this was more opinion than information. I wondered when I first read this story whether it might be part of a US Africa Command “information operation”. I don’t have enough information myself to make an intelligent guess. Dr. Atuguba may be trying to do his best for the people of the Western Region.

Land ownership issues are huge throughout Ghana, and are particularly bad around cities and towns, but hardly limited to the urban areas.

There are Delta militants across West Africa, and there are certainly some in Ghana, and likely in the Western Region. If they are there in organized groups, they are probably not buying the locally made guns, as the …

… buyers of Ghanaian guns tend to be individuals while established insurgent groups purchase heavier weapons from outside the region …

If the militants are visiting the Western Region, it is unlikely they are there to learn gunsmithing, because the skilled practitioners are likely to be in the larger urban areas where there are more customers. The proximity of Ivory Coast, and its recent civil conflicts might be a factor if there are organized militants in the area. I am doubtful about how much organization there is at this point.  People from the Niger Delta are moving away in many directions, to avoid the problems there, and to try and make a living.  Unfortunately some bring criminal training and skills with them.

The government needs to listen to the people in the Western Region and throughout Ghana. The business model in Suame Magazine working with the Canadians, described above, is something that the government and other organizations interested in development should look at long and seriously. And suggesting people go into another form of business, as with the gunsmiths like Mr. Nsiah or Mr. Sarpong, without assisting them to reach current markets or create new markets, is a waste of time and effort.

view over the opium fields

. . . the U.S. military of involvement in the heroin trafficking from Afghanistan to Europe. The Vesti channel’s report from Afghanistan said that drugs from Afghanistan were hauled by American transport aircraft to the U.S. airbases Ganci in Kyrgyzstan and Incirlik in Turkey.

. . .

Russia today has about six million drug-users – a 20-fold increase since the collapse of the Soviet Union and a huge figure for a country of 142 million people.
. . .
Narco business has emerged as virtually the only economy of Afghanistan and is valued at some $10 billion a year. Opium trade is estimated by the U.N. to be equivalent to 53 per cent of the country’s official economy and is helping to finance the Taliban.
. . .
One of the best-informed Russian journalists on Central Asia, Arkady Dubnov, recently quoted anonymous Afghan sources as saying that “85 per cent of all drugs produced in southern and southeastern provinces are shipped abroad by U.S. aviation.”

This is something that needs to be watched very carefully. As Mahmood Mamdani writes in Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, in the words of David Musto, White House advisor on drug policy, regarding the opium crop in Afghanistan back when the Soviets invaded:

“Are we erring in befriending these tribes as we did in Laos when Air America (chartered by the Central Intelligence Agency) helped transport crude opium from certain tribal areas.”

. . . “we were going into Afghanistan to support the opium growers in their rebellion against the Soviets. Shouldn’t we try to avoid what we had done in Laos?”

. . . Musto’s concerns went unheeded.

. . . as the CIA knew too well from experience, nothing could rival the drug trade as a reliable source of big money for covert warfare.
. . . “so the agency’s aid to the mujahideen guerrillas in the 1980s expanded opium production in Afghanistan and linked Pakistan’s nearby heroin laboratories to the world market.”

The heroin economy literally poisoned Afghani and Pakistani life. The figures who thrived in this cesspool had been hailed by Ronald Reagan as “moral equivalents of America’s founding fathers.”
(Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, ISBN 978-0385515375, p.140-3)

Drugs are the quickest easiest way to fund covert operations. If the US military is once again involved, it is only a matter of time before covert military operations are expanded around the globe, based on available revenues. With the militarization of US policy in Africa that AFRICOM represents, this is a very worrying development. US officials and employees have been involved in the drug trade in Latin America, in Southeast Asia, and in Afghanistan. With the current problems West Africa is facing with drugs, mostly the transshipment of cocaine, it would not be a great leap for military, or for mercenary corporations in Africa to fund their activities, and look for profits in the drug trade in Africa. Drugs and guns are the same trade, used as currency for each other.

The USS Fort McHenry in Dakar Senegal. This picture was attributed to a US Navy photographer by the State Department. Then later MSNBC attributed it to an AP photographer, Rebecca Blackwell. As per a comment from b real, this change in attribution looks rather like state propaganda.

Also from the State Department: Africans will be ferried to their floating school, the USS Fort McHenry, via a high-speed Swift boat. (U.S. Navy)

Africa Partnership Station (APS), embarked aboard amphibious dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), escorts news media into a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB), while the Senegalese navy displays their training.
DAKAR, Senegal (Nov. 7, 2007) – Africa Partnership Station (APS), embarked aboard amphibious dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), escorts news media into a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB), while the Senegalese navy displays their training to enhance regional and maritime safety and security. APS is scheduled to bring international training teams to Senegal, Liberia, Ghana, Cameroon, Gabon, and Sao Tome and Principe, and will support more than 20 humanitarian assistance projects in addition to hosting information exchanges and training with partner nations during its seven-month deployment. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class R.J. Stratchko (RELEASED)

At a military ECOWAS meeting in Liberia:

West African military chiefs charged that the United States has failed to adequately consult with countries that will be affected by a planned American military command for Africa.
. . .

“The heads of state should be fully briefed; the heads of state should ask pertinent questions that will give them the direction to cooperate fully,” said Col. Toure Mahamane, head of political affairs, peace and security with the commission of the 15-member Economic Community Of West African States, or ECOWAS.

He said the U.S. had neglected such procedures in a disregard for common “due process” on the continent.

Meanwhile the USS Fort McHenry is off the coast of West Africa, and has begun its training mission off the coast of Senegal. For an excellent summary of the history of AFRICOM, and how the AFRICOM spending is being planned see:

Africom: The new US military command for Africa by Daniel Volman.

. . . the difference between Africom and other commands—and the allegedly “unfounded” nature of its implications for the militarization of the continent—are not as real or genuine as the Bush administration officials would have us believe. Of course Washington has other interests in Africa besides making it into another front in its Global War on Terrorism, maintaining and extending access to energy supplies and other strategic raw material, and competing with China and other rising economic powers for control over the continent’s resources; these include helping Africans deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic and other emerging diseases, strengthening and assisting peacekeeping and conflict resolution efforts, and responding to humanitarian disasters. But it is simply disingenuous to suggest that accomplishing these three objectives is not the main reason that Washington is now devoting so much effort and attention to the continent. And of course Washington would prefer that selected friendly regimes take the lead in meeting these objects, so that the United States can avoid direct military involvement in Africa . . . The hope that the Pentagon can build up African surrogates who can act on behalf of the United States is precisely why Washington is providing so much security assistance to these regimes and why it would like to provide even more in the future. Indeed, as argued below, this is actually one of the main reasons that Africom is being created at this time.
. . .
U.S.S. Fort McHenry amphibious assault ship will begin a six-month deployment to the Gulf of Guinea in November 2007. The ship will carry 200-300 sailors and U.S. Coast Guard personnel and will call at ports in eleven countries (Angola, Benin, Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, and Togo). Its mission will be to serve as a “floating schoolhouse” to train local forces in port and oil-platform security, search-and rescue missions, and medical and humanitarian assistance. According to Admiral Ulrich, the deployment matches up perfectly with the work of the new Africa Command. “If you look at the direction that the Africa Command has been given and the purpose of standing up the Africom, you’ll see that the (Gulf of Guinea) mission is closely aligned,” he told reporters.

The perfect match Admiral Ulrich describes is also a perfect match for training African surrogates to act for US interests. Volman provides some breakdown of AFRICOM related budget appropriations and requests. According to the figures he provides, it looks like a lot more is being spent on military arms and equipment than on any “humanitarian” endeavors. What is also interesting is the money that was not requested:

African Coastal and Border Security Program (ACBS Program)

This program provides specialized equipment (such as patrol vessels and vehicles, communications equipment, night vision devices, and electronic monitors and sensors) to African countries to improve their ability to patrol and defend their own coastal waters and borders from terrorist operations, smuggling, and other illicit activities. In some cases, airborne surveillance and intelligence training also may be provided. In FY 2006, the ACBS Program received nearly $4 million in FMF funding, and Bush administration requested $4 million in FMF funding for the program in FY 2007. No dedicated funding was requested for FY 2008, but the program may be revived in the future.

What appears to me to be the current greatest threat to civil society along the coast of West Africa is organized crime, and right now the cocaine trade is the major problem for Ghana. There is also heroin, illegal oil bunkering, and human traffiking, and illegal fishing. And all of these (including the fishing?) are one and the same with the arms trade. Illegal goods are used to pay for arms. And arms are used to pay for illegal goods. The African Coastal and Border Security Program (ACBS Program) sounds like it would help African countries protect themselves. Protecting themselves is one of the reasons AFRICOM spokesman Theresa Whelan has given for the command. As the State Department article puts it:

The USS Fort McHenry arrived off the coast of West Africa in November to lead an international team of experts that will train African sailors to confront the daily challenges of illegal fishing, piracy, drug trafficking and oil smuggling.

It is easy to add this lack of a funding request to the list of behaviors that make it look like the US is training Africans to act in US interests, and not in their own interests. Although I am profoundly skeptical about US military assistance in Africa, this is the area where it could conceivably be helpful. The US war on drugs has been a resounding failure. The US training for Latin American military has been a breeding ground for coups and crime. So maybe Africa is better off without that kind of help. But the fact that no 2008 funding was requested for this program is worth noting.

It does not look like any country is turning down the training the US is offering. I think it would be foolish to do so. It is always useful to see first hand what your “neighbors” are doing and planning, particularly if they are concealing their motives and intentions.

Before Bush, US military training was the best in the world. Now, with the Bush administration reliance on mercenaries, and with the US military increasingly deployed in Iraq without adequate protective gear, training, or rests between deployments, the US military is in serious trouble. What effect this will have in Africa remains to be seen. Oversupplies of arms and mercenaries look like the biggest danger.

Today’s automatic weapons are designed to be small enough, light enough, and easy enough to handle, that they can be routinely used by children.

Yesterday the President of Botswana visited the US, and asked what all those of us following current events in Africa are asking:

President Festus Mogae has re-iterated the need for Africa to know the full details of the proposed US Africa Command (AFRICOM) before it commits itself.

So far the US has defined AFRICOM by what it isn’t, rather than what it is. Of course everyone knows what it is about, oil, and terrorism (defined as opposition to US oil interests) and China. However, these are clearly colonial intentions. The US cannot openly admit them, even though these are routinely the reasons given for the creation of AFRICOM in the US press.

The American Enterprise Institute held a forum titled: AFRICOM: Implications for African Security and U.S.-African Relations, on September 20th. Theresa Whelan of the U.S. Department of Defense was there repeating her usual remarks about what AFRICOM is not. According to Henry Ekwuruke:

The United States’ new African military command structure – Africom – will neither base nor deploy U.S. forces on the African continent, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, Teresa Whelan said Thursday . . . “we will have no bases… and we will not be deploying U.S. forces on the African continent.” However, Africom as a command structure “will have a presence… in the form of staff officers” throughout Africa, she added. Nevertheless, “no more than 20 percent of the entire command will actually be physically present on the African continent.”

And in another account:

Speaking at a panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute, Whelan also worked to allay fears and dispel rumors that AFRICOM represents an American militarization of Africa and a possible usurpation of power from African leaders. She said critics are wrong in their assertion that AFRICOM is an attempt to further expand the war on terror in Africa, secure oil reserves, or hedge against Chinese influence there. “That is patently untrue,” she said.

In fact, the US cannot find a single African country willing to host AFRICOM. As upyernose points out:

there are 46 countries in africa, more than in any other continent in the world. and that number bumps up to 53 if you include the disputed western sahara and island nations like cape verde, são tomé and príncipe, madagascar, the comoros, the seychelles, and mauritius. together that’s about 25% of the total number of nations on earth. and yet, even among some of the poorest countries of the world who would surely reap economic benefits from a large first world military base, we could find not a single taker.

53 countries and no takers is truly remarkable. Of course there are a number of small bases in a number of countries, plus Djibouti, but no African country is willing to host AFRICOM headquarters so far. So for now the headquarters remains in Germany. But as Defense News points out, they haven’t stopped looking for an African host. The same article cites oil and terrorism as reasons for the command. And it quotes a Heritage Foundation fellow saying the headquarters must be based in Africa. The article also says the command will be divided into 5 regional teams:

One team will have responsibility for a northern strip from Mauritania to Libya; another will operate in a block of east African nations -— Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, Madagascar and Tanzania; and a third will carry out activities in a large southern block that includes South Africa, Zimbabwe and Angola, according to the briefing documents. A fourth team would concentrate on a group of central African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and Congo; the fifth regional team would focus on a western block that would cover Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Niger and Western Sahara, according to the briefing documents.

This does not stop the militarization of US foreign policy that AFRICOM represents, it continues it. And it does not stop the destructive arms policies of the US, which has been pouring arms into Africa throughout the Bush presidency, just as in the bad old days of the Cold War.

As Frida Berrigan points out in The New Military Frontier: Africa

Even as these discussions continue, some African nations are receiving significant increases in military aid and weapons sales; most of these increases have gone to oil-rich nations and compliant states where the U.S. military seeks a strategic toehold. The Center for Defense Information recently completed “U.S. Arms Exports and Military Assistance in the “Global War on Terror;” an analysis of increases in military aid since September 11, 2001. The report compares the military aid and weapons sales in the five-year leading up to 2001 and the five years since.

For example (among the African countries receiving this military assistance): since September 11, Kenya, which the State Department describes as a “frontline state” in the war on terrorism, has received eight times more military aid than in the preceding five years.

Djibouti, which has opened its territory to U.S. forces, received forty times more military aid, and an eightfold increase in the value of weapons transfers.

Oil-rich Algeria, where the surveillance equipment is based, has received ten times more aid and a warm embrace from Washington.

Nigeria, the fifth largest supplier of oil to the United States, is slated to receive $1.35 million in Foreign Military Financing for 2008 despite persistent human rights abuses.

Mali is described as an “active partner in the war against terrorism” by the State Department and is a good example of a little military aid going a long way . . .

U.S. arms sales to Ethiopia, which has one of Africa’s largest armies, have roughly doubled and military aid has increased two and a half times.

As the Center for Defense Information points out:

The data clearly shows that the United States is sending unprecedented levels of military assistance to countries that it simultaneously criticizes for lack of respect for human rights and, in some cases, for questionable democratic processes. As a foreign policy, this is confusing, short-sighted and potentially very dangerous. Once weapons are delivered to a country, it becomes increasingly difficult to control how they are used and difficult to prevent them from being illicitly diverted anywhere in the world. While these countries are currently considered important to U.S. efforts in the “war on terror” now, political and military instability makes their continued allegiance to the United States questionable. Arming such countries with U.S. weaponry has troubling pitfalls: U.S. origin weapons could be used against the United States, its allies, or its interests. Selling arms for short-term political gains undermines long-term U.S national security and strategic interests.

This is NOT development aid. Many of these arms will go into the contraband pipeline, and help fund more drugs, human traffiking, child soldiers, and terrorism. These arms will decrease security, increase human rights abuses, and in the long run will earn the US more enemies than friends.

2/2008 – You can read my article reviewing the documentary trail on the Origins of AFRICOM over at the African Loft.

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