May 2007

2006 victory in Somalia of the Islamic Courts

I remember reading or hearing that everything that guns can do for a country, they have done for Somalia. Of course the guns don’t get there by accident. And the US is throwing its weight behind expanding violence on the Somalis. The satirist Jesus’ General calls the Bush/Cheney foreign policy the Glorious Eternal War to Resubjugate Brown People“, and the more one watches, the more this description appears to be literal truth and not a joke.

Somalia has been a failed state for well over a decade. That is why northern, mostly European countries can dump nuclear and toxic waste off Somali shores, waste that was washed up and strewn about by the tsunami, left to be cleaned up by people with no protective gear.

I remember a couple of years ago I was talking about doing business back home with a Somali cab driver. He said he would really like to go back home and set up a business. But with the endless cycle of war, anytime you establish a business, some group comes along and seizes or destroys what you have built. To try and do business in these circumstances is pointless.

And now the US is compounding the problem, allegedly in the name of fighting Al Qaeda, but Al Qaeda has not found a welcome or a haven in Somalia. Somalia is hostile to Al Qaeda. And the US is sponsoring its Ethiopian proxies, an army of Ethiopian Christians fighting Somali Muslims (does the word crusade ring a bell?) trying to reinstall a hated and non-functioning warlord government.

Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda has failed for more than a decade to establish an operational base in Somalia due to the country’s austere environment and inhospitable clans, a new U.S. military report says.
. . .
“Al Qaeda found more adversity than success in Somalia,” states the report by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. “In order to project power, al Qaeda needed to be able to promote its ideology, gain an operational safe haven, manipulate underlying conditions to secure popular support and have adequate financing for continued operations. It achieved none of these objectives.”
. . .
“Al Qaeda is predominately an Arab organization, and Arabs tend to stick out in Somalia, so it’s difficult for them to establish large covert bases. The only thing they (Somalis) hate more than their own homegrown radical Islamists casting themselves as holier-than-thou are foreign terrorists coming in and telling them they are not good Muslims and acting holier-than-thou.”

But this does not stop Bush/Cheney from killing wounding and displacing hundreds of thousands of people. At present the number of refugees that have fled Mogadishu in the last few weeks is around 400,000. The US bombed civilians allegedly to kill or capture the bombers of the embassy in Kenya. As Chris Floyd writes:

Bush killed dozens of Somali civilians in bombing raids on fleeing civilians in an attempt to knock off a couple of the alleged dastards. He failed, of course; but at least the men, women and children who had their guts ripped out and their heads blown off and their limbs torn from their bodies died in a good cause. . .

The Somali “regime change” op intensified last month when Bush’s Ethiopian proteges launched a ferocious attack on resistance forces in the capital of Mogadishu. Tanks and artillery rained shells on residential areas, killing hundreds of people and driving hundreds of thousands more from the city. Many fled toward Kenya, where most were turned away, and others were captured by Kenyan security forces and American agents, then “rendered” to torture chambers in Ethiopia. The victims included a pregnant Swedish woman and a New Jersey man.

But don’t worry, neither of them were white, so it’s OK. If they had been of paler hue, of course, perhaps the Bush-backed bloodbath would have attracted more than a modicum of carefully massaged notice in the American media.

The US bombed civilians, and has monitored the conflict from its base in Djibouti. The Guardian tells us:

The Islamic Courts government was popular in Mogadishu after bringing relative order and driving out clan warlords responsible for 16 years of death and mayhem.
. . .
Washington encouraged the Ethiopian military – at the “invitation” of Somalia’s interim national government which was so unpopular it was unable to remain in Mogadishu – to invade and oust the Islamic Courts administration. The new Somali government includes some of the warlords who previously caused so much destruction.

Bush/Cheney will only allow a Somali government if it is composed of these warlords. The Islamic Courts are not a government I would want to live with, but some rule of law, and some order, is far better than none. The Guardian continues:

A report by the Royal Institute of International Affairs said that US and Ethiopian strategic interests in supporting a weak and factionalised government that is far less popular than the Islamic Courts administration are an obstacle, not a contribution, to rebuilding Somalia.

“In an uncomfortably familiar pattern, genuine multilateral concern to support the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Somalia has been hijacked by unilateral actors – especially Ethiopia and the United States.” (emphasis mine)

(added May 17) Its about the oil, the same reason as the destruction and occupation of Iraq. Remember the Iraqi Hydrocarbon Law? As Carl Bloice says in US Sponsored Bombing of Somalia: The Hidden War for Oil:

Actually, there is no more reason to believe the Bush administration promoted this war, in clear violation of international law and the UN Charter, ‘to catch a handful of al-Qaeda men’, than that the invasion of Iraq was to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. What has unfolded over the past three months flows from much larger strategic calculations in Washington.
The invasion and occupation of Somalia coincided with the Pentagon’s now operational plan to build a new ‘Africa Command’ to deal with what the Christian Science Monitor dubbed ‘strife, oil, and Al Qaeda’. . . .

Last week came the news that the US now imports more oil from Africa than from the Middle East; with Nigeria, Angola and Algeria providing nearly one-fifth of it – more than from Saudi Arabia. . . .

On file are plans – put on hold amid continuing conflicts – for nearly two-thirds of Somalia’s oil fields to be allocated to the US oil companies Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Phillips.
It was recently reported that the US-backed prime minister of Somalia has proposed enactment of a new oil law to encourage the return of foreign oil companies to the country.


In 1986 Mr Reagan welcomed Savimbi to the White House and talked of Unita winning “a victory that electrifies the world and brings great sympathy and assistance from other nations to those struggling for freedom”.

I remember back in the 80s and early 90s my friends and I would joke about getting US military assistance to back us up in our petty arguments with each other. Military assistance seemed to be readily available to anyone who claimed to be anti-communist. Reagan and Bush Senior didn’t care about your goals or behavior if you said you were anti-communist. But our joking was also a cover for our shock at the suffering and destruction US military assistance created.

In 1988 Ronald Reagan said:

In a region as underdeveloped as Africa, which has relatively little access to private sources of capital, our ability to achieve our objectives depends in very significant measure on effective economic and security assistance programs. Too often security assistance is portrayed as a tradeoff against support for development. In Africa, this distinction is particularly ill-founded. Our security assistance programs promote a stable political and economic environment that permits the exercise of individual choice and the development of human talent. Without that environment, sustained development is not possible.
. . .
U.S. military training programs are an invaluable instrument for promoting professionalism and respect for human rights. The exposure to Western values that comes from such programs may foster a respect for the United States and democratic institutions among individuals who play a key role in determining the level of freedom and stability in African countries. Many of these programs also contribute to economic security.

Just how well did that turn out? Can we point to a single country in Africa that benefitted from Reagan’s military assistance? Is there a single country in Africa that Reagan “assisted”, either overtly or covertly, whose people are more successful and better off now than they were then? Has respect for human rights improved? In fact the opposite of his words has proven true, and security (military) assistance has been a huge tradeoff for development. And development, and respect for human rights, have suffered or died all over as a result.

Before Bush Junior the US had moral authority in the world, despite the actions of some US governments. Bush Junior has thrown that all away.

Compare Reagan’s words to the words of Theresa Whelan the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs announcing the creation of the Africa Command:

A U.S. Africa Command would work at “preventing problems from becoming crises and crises from becoming catastrophes,” Whelan said. “Instead of the United States being reactive, … we want to be more proactive in promoting security, to build African capacity to build their own environments and not be subject to the instability that has toppled governments and caused so much pain on the continent.”

Her words sound very much like Reagan’s. They may be very well intentioned, but the approach is wrong. The result will be far different from what the words describe, just as Reagan’s results were far different than the sunny vision he described, witness the work of “Dr.” Savimbi in Angola.

When Jimmy Carter was elected president, he announced that support for fundamental human rights would be the foundation of US foreign policy. The US shone as an example for all the world as a country who takes seriously the rights of human beings everywhere. But this genuine commitment to human rights was lost when Reagan was elected. And commitment to human rights has been missing in every Republican government since. People talk about human rights, but only to cover their less benign intentions and behavior.

Carter sought to spread democracy through diplomacy, while the neoconservatives now seem to embrace aggressive and unilateral intervention in foreign affairs.'”
(Conservatives Without Conscience, by John Dean, ISBN 0-670-03774-5, p.100)

And that is the chief problem with Africom, it was created by people who have an aggressive authoritarian view of the world, and who do not believe in equality. No matter how good and well intentioned US soldiers are, Africom is military assistance. With Africom, what we get is military policy, not diplomacy. Without genuine diplomacy, it is not possible to foster stability or development.

Terrific as always, see them here.

For comprehensive information about avian flu, what you need to know, and what you may need to do, see the Flu Wiki. The Flu Wiki,, brings together all the information about avian flu, where it is, what is happening, what you can do, and any other news and developments.

The arrival of bird flu in Tema is most unfortunate. The virus has already circled the globe through the migrations of birds, so it can break out anywhere. If a pandemic flu hits, we can expect around 30% of ourselves and our neighbors to become ill and incapacitated. This will have a devastating effect on commerce, government, the water, food, and energy supplies, because around 30% of the workers will be ill and unable to work. H5N1, when it does effect humans, kills 56% of the people who get it. Luckily, so far, it is not easy for humans to get, although it can be devastating for domestic poultry.

The one circulating now in Asia and Africa and Europe in birds is H5N1, a particularly nasty character that kills more than 56% of those people who get it. While ducks and other birds can get H5N1 and live, it’s especially deadly to chickens and domestic poultry. It’s very difficult to catch, and even more difficult for humans to spread because the receptors in human airways for the current H5N1 are deep in the lungs of humans and not in the nose and throat.
. . .
We don’t fully understand exactly how flu is spread, but the above basics apply. However, should something happen that would make a novel bird flu like H5N1 easier to spread, such as having the virus mutate to a form that likes the nose and upper airway receptors (so that it’s easy to catch and easy to spread by sneezing), or prefers the temperature of the human nose, it could start to spread in a human population.
. . .
This has happened before. in fact, in 1918-9 H1N1 spread around the world, killing 50 million people. There were milder pandemics in 1957 and 1968, and we really haven’t seen one since, at least on that scale. But since we get around three each century, we are due, and that’s why scientists say that a pandemic of some sort is inevitable.

If you are worried about bird flu, can you eat poultry? Here is what the World Health Organization has to say about that:

Is it safe to eat poultry and poultry products?

In areas experiencing outbreaks, poultry and poultry products can also be safely consumed provided these items are properly cooked and properly handled during food preparation. The H5N1 virus is sensitive to heat. Normal temperatures used for cooking (70oC in all parts of the food) will kill the virus. Consumers need to be sure that all parts of the poultry are fully cooked (no “pink” parts) and that eggs, too, are properly cooked (no “runny” yolks).

Consumers should also be aware of the risk of cross-contamination. Juices from raw poultry and poultry products should never be allowed, during food preparation, to touch or mix with items eaten raw. When handling raw poultry or raw poultry products, persons involved in food preparation should wash their hands thoroughly and clean and disinfect surfaces in contact with the poultry products Soap and hot water are sufficient for this purpose.

In areas experiencing outbreaks in poultry, raw eggs should not be used in foods that will not be further heat-treated as, for example by cooking or baking.

Avian influenza is not transmitted through cooked food. To date, no evidence indicates that anyone has become infected following the consumption of properly cooked poultry or poultry products, even when these foods were contaminated with the H5N1 virus.

ODIOMA, NIGERIA: A villager walks through the ruins of the southern Nigerian community of Odioma, a fishing and trading centre, and a historic centre for the Ijaw people in the oil-rich Niger Delta. It was burned to the ground on 19 February 2005 by government troops. 17 people were reported to have been killed and two women raped when soldiers raided the town of Odioma. The attack was ostensibly to arrest members of an armed vigilante group suspected of killing 12 people, including four local councillors. Some of the raiders were reported to have been recruited by a sub-contractor of Shell’s subsidiary in Nigeria and to be responsible for security in an area where oil exploration was being conducted, despite their alleged criminal record. The suspects were not captured but 80 per cent of homes in Odioma were razed. . . . “We have nothing… If we protest, they send soldiers. They sign agreements with us and then ignore us. We have graduates going hungry, without jobs.” Eghare W.O. Ojhogar, chief of the Ugborodo community in Delta State

Here is the core of the debate over African oil development:

  • Can oil revenues be made to work for Africans or will they profit only the corrupt few?
  • Are oil revenues destined to fuel civil wars and pay for the abuse of human rights or can they build peace and prosperity?
  • Is oil development in Africa’s interest or in the interest of the United States (or, I would add, can the two interests be balanced)?
  • Can African oil and gas reserves be exploited without harming the environment, or is the expansion of the world’s oil-based economy ultimately inimical to our collective future on this planet?

There has been an enormous amount of contact and activity between the US and African countries in recent months.

From oil rich northern Angola up to Nigeria, from the Gulf of Guinea to Morocco and Algeria, from the Horn of Africa down to Kenya and Uganda, and over the pipeline routes from Chad to Cameroon in the west, and from Sudan to the Red Sea in the east, US admirals and generals have been landing and taking off, meeting with local officials.

They’ve conducted feasibility studies, concluded secret agreements, and spent billions from their secret budgets. Their new bases are not bases at all, according to US military officials. They are instead “forward staging depots”, and “seaborne truck stops” for the equipment which American land forces need to operate on the African continent. They are “protected anchorages” and offshore “lily pads” from which they intend to fight the next round of oil and resource wars, and lock down Africa’s oil and mineral wealth for decades to come.

. . . it’s about the oil. And the diamonds, and the uranium, and the coltan. But mostly about the oil.

When we ask the question; i
s oil development in Africa’s interest or in the interest of the United States? I would argue that unless it can be made in the interest of both, it is in the interest of neither. Unfortunately, the leadership in both places seems to have very little interest in the well being of the people they govern. And the leadership in both the US and in Africa seem to be thinking very short term. Even those countries in Africa that have some form of democracy, seem to want to practice something closer to a Bush administration style kleptocracy, rather than practicing more representative democracy.

And without more local and democratic participation in the decision making, and the profits, we have an unfolding environmental nightmare that is a political nightmare as well.

“West Africa alone sits atop 15% of the world’s oil, and by 2015 is projected to supply a up to a quarter of US domestic consumption.” A foretaste of American plans for African people and resources in the new century can be seen in Eastern Nigeria. US and multinational oil companies like Shell, BP, and Chevron, which once named a tanker after its board member Condoleezza Rice, have ruthlessly plundered the Niger delta for a generation. Where once there were poor but self-sufficient people with rich farmland and fisheries, there is now an unfolding ecological collapse of horrifying dimensions in which the land, air and water are increasingly unable to sustain human life, but the region’s people have no place else to go.
. . .
In a typical gesture of disregard for local black lives and livelihoods, the natural gas which sits atop many oil deposits but is more expensive to capture and process than petroleum is simply burned off or flared at African wellheads. Throughout the 1990s it is estimated that 29 million cubic feet per day of Nigerian natural gas was disposed of in this manner. Many of the flares, according to local Niger delta residents, have burned continuously for more than twenty years, creating a toxic climate of acid fogs and rains, depositing layers of soot and chemicals that stunt or kill ocean and riverine fish and livestock, and poison the few surviving crops. For this reason, flaring at oil wells has long been outlawed in the US. But many African communities near the mouth of one of the planet’s largest rivers are now entirely dependent on water trucked in from outside.
. . .
Local Africans are demanding respect and a share in what is after all, their oil. They are now routinely, viciously suppressed in eastern Nigeria, in Equatorial Guinea and elsewhere, by African troops trained and equipped with American tax dollars. When resistance continues, as it certainly will, America is preparing to up the ante with more American equipment, with military and civilian advisers, with bombs, bullets and if need be, with American bodies. That’s what AFRICOM is about, and what it will be doing in the new century.

I hope this is an unduly pessimistic view. But keep in mind that it’s the Bush administration that is “looking after” US interests here. With the history of western involvement in Africa in mind, which continues to the present day, and the track record of Bush/Cheney, this pessimism looks like matter-of-fact realism, maybe even sunny optimism.

This is probably the single largest foreign policy-related failing among American politicians and members of the policy and media elites: A failure to make a serious effort to ask how things look from the perspective of other countries.

Including George Bush’s medals here.

Rice calls brutal oil-rich dictator a “good friend.”
Condoleezza Rice sharing a photo-op with Equatorial Guinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. Nguema is “one of the most brutal, most corrupt and unreconstructed dictators in the world”; he also controls the third-largest oil reserves in Africa.

The Council of Foreign Relations has published a Backgrounder on The Pentagon’s New Africa Command.

Though Africom will be led by a top-ranking four-star military general, unlike other regional commands, its deputy commander will be a State Department official.
. . .
Even if interagency personnel are brought into the command, it is not clear how instrumental they will be in the command’s decision-making process.
. . .
Some defense officials say that Africom could function like the interagency task force within Southern Command; in that structure, interagency members have the authority to make decisions without consulting Washington.

. . . lack of information extends to other aspects of the command.

Before Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense, the US had the best trained and best equipped military in the world. There are many smart people in the military, patriotic people who understand the ideals and principles on which the country was founded: representative democracy, and the rule of law. Many soldiers understand these principles far better than the people currently running the US government. Training and cooperative agreements with the US military might be very beneficial in many countries, improving professionalism and competence.

Unfortunately, Rumsfeld and Cheney are the creators of the Africa Command. These two have never been right about anything in US policy. With Bush, they have broken the US military in Iraq, and it will take decades to recover. Their destructive incompetence has damaged or destroyed everything it has touched.

With all the talk of good intentions and cooperation, the actual deeds we can see do not look good. Immediately after the announcement of the creation of Africom:

. . .the Bush administration organized the overthrow of the first stable government Somalia has had since 1991, stirring up a hornet’s nest of regional rivalries in the strategic Horn of Africa.

And then there is Equatorial Guinea. It has huge oil deposits, and its leadership has been been described by a variety of human rights organisations as among the worst abusers of human rights in Africa.

Given the modest population size of Equatorial Guinea, about half a million people, one might expect there to be plenty of money for everyone by way of revitalizing the economy and building up infrastructure. But most Equatoguineans are malnourished, typically with no running water or electricity. Malaria and yellow fever are rampant. The average life expectancy is 54. Sewage runs free on the streets of Malabo, the capital city, and there is no public transportation. Most citizens eke out a living, as best they can, farming rice, yams, and bananas
. . .
For 1998, the IMF, which Obiang stated will never learn how much money he takes in, calculated that Obiang’s government received $130 million in oil royalties. The government had only reported $34 million (9). This record of mismanagement of revenues has led the World Bank and the IMF to discontinue many aid programs since 1993
. . .
African officials claimed that international oil interests influenced the U.N.’s decision to stop regular human rights monitoring in the troubled country.

The US government is good friends with Nguema in Equatorial Guinea, and US military assistance to date seems intent on shoring up his repressive regime.

The country is unstable, desperately poor, and run by a repressive government that is being challenged by a persistent armed resistance. . . With extensive “under-governed spaces” as potential terrorist havens and bordering countries with equally uncertain futures, the country was termed “a model country for security assistance” by the regional combatant command. Civilian embassy officials, however, are demonstrably less keen. They question the rate at which military programs are rapidly escalating and the sizable and still growing presence of U.S. military personnel in-country. . . It would be a major setback if the United States were to be implicated in support of operations shoring up the repressive regime, regardless of the stated intent of such training.

This is exactly what the US should not be doing. It is exactly what the delegations traveling around Africa are claiming is not happening, and that this is not the intention of Africom. But even if US citizens are not informed, other people around the world can see what is going on. And it does not look good.

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