August 2007

From Minshall‘s 1983 Mas production The River


“Prophets everywhere gaze upon the
horizon and declare
That judgment will come
As the savage hands of unscrupulous
Men defile everything pass by
Time is running out as we eat and drink
Species at the brink of being extinct
And I think no one can deny that the
price of progress is high, real high”

‘Progress’, sung by King Austin, was voted ‘Calypso of the Millennium’ by the Trinbago Unified Calypso Organisation (TUCO). Progress is a haunting song that calls attention to nature and direction of our development.

The words of ‘Progress’ really struck a chord in view of what I’ve been reading and writing recently. The song has been going through my head ever since I stumbled across the review of this book, The Progress of Winsford Devine, which is described as being more a collection of his works than a biography. If you are a soca fan, you should know the name of Winsford “Joker” Devine, but even if you don’t know his name, if you listen to soca and calypso music, you have heard his work.

. . . his themes span science, geography, civics, economics, civilization, culture, technology, history, socialization, development and a multiplicity of subthemes.
. . .
Winsford Devine’s mass of writings are an eclectic mix of poetry, social commentary and party songs.

And it is a wonderful mix, joining society, science, politics, sex and satire.

I only found one place online in the US where I could buy it, here. Although if you live in a large and international metropolitan area, you may be able to find a local bookstore that carries it.

Otherwise, if you are in the mood for soca and more, check out the Labor Day Carnival in Brooklyn September 3.

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”.

Renamo child soldiers in central Mozambique pose for a photograph
taken by their hostage William Blakely in 1985

In Darfur, before we talk of genocide or terrorism, we need to look at the US role in the beginnings of state sponsored terrorism in Africa. What is below is some background necessary to understand the situation in Sudan and Darfur, and necessary for understanding many African reactions to AFRICOM. In the words of Mahmood Mamdani regarding Darfur:

We need to keep in mind . . . the history of state-sponsored terrorism in that part of Africa begins with the US providing a political umbrella to South Africa to create a state-sponsored terrorist movement in Mozambique: RENAMO. And it is after a full decade of that impunity that others learn the experience, and Charles Taylor begins it in Liberia, and the Sudanese government begins it in the south.

Mamdani tells us more about RENAMO in Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: Renamo: Africa’s First Genuine Terrorist Movement:

Renamo was created as a terrorist outfit by the Rhodesian army in the early 1970s and was patronized by the South African Defense Forces after the fall of Rhodesia in 1980 . . . it never ceased to use terror with abandon.

(The alliance of UNITA) . . . with apartheid South Africa opened it (Unita) to learning the tactics of (Renamo’s) terrorism by example. . . . In sharp contrast to its unabashed support for Unita, the US government never openly supported Renamo. But this did not rule out collaboration between the political right in the United States and representatives of Renamo: “Renamo’s Washington office shared an address with the Heritage Foundation” and by 1987, right-wing pressure “brought Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole into the pro-Renamo camp.”
. . .
(The reason for US sponsored terrorism, backing Unita in Angola, was) . . . if only the level of collateral damage could be made unacceptably high, the people would surely vote the terrorists into power as the price of peace.
. . .

Political terror had brought a kind of war never before seen in Africa. The hallmark of the terror was that it targeted civilian life: blowing up infrastructure such as bridges and power stations, destroying health and educational centers, mining paths and fields, and kidnapping civilians – particularly children – to press-gang them into recruits. Terrorism distinguished itself from guerrilla struggle by making civilians its preferred target . . . What is now termed collateral damage was not an unfortunate by-product of the war; it was the very point of terrorism.

. . .

America’s role when it came to perpetuating the reign of terror that Renamo unleashed in Mozambique and that Unita periodically resorted to in Angola was one of political support.

. . .
The Reagan administration called that embrace “constructive engagement,” . . . Without American political support, the South African government could not have continued to prop up a terrorist movement in a newly independent African country for more than a decade and done so with impunity.
(from Good Muslim, Bad Muslim by Mahmood Mamdani, pp 89-92, hardback ISBN#:0-375-42285-4)

Proponents and opponents of AFRICOM, and interested parties, need to look at this history. People in Africa have not forgotten it. Many are still living it.

Those who have positive intentions in Africa need to understand, as Mamdani also tells us:
(cached version)

. . . peace cannot be built on humanitarian intervention, which is the language of big powers. The history of colonialism should teach us that every major intervention has been justified as humanitarian, a ‘civilising mission’.

The Stars and Stripes speaks of AFRICOM having military and charity roles. Africa has already had too much of both. What Africa needs is investment and business development.

In the Senate and House hearings on AFRICOM held August 1 & 2, these questions emerged:

  • How come Congress wasn’t consulted on this? Or Africans, for that matter?
  • What if China, which now sells weapons to African nations and buys their oil, wants to set up its own Africa Command?
  • Why do the Defense Department and White House think that Africans are interested in furthering “U.S. interests” on their continent?

The first question strikes me as the most important – How come Congress wasn’t consulted on this? Or Africans, for that matter? And nobody should even need to ask the third question. Though based on Defense Department and White House behavior, I guess it needs to be asked.

No answers were forthcoming. The Defense Department is running the policy, and so far it is running it alone. This is the same outfit that has been running Iraq policy, and their record does not inspire trust. If the Defense Department did not consult in creating the command, why would it consult anyone once the command is in place.

“I read about the administration’s plans to establish a new command in the newspaper,” said Rep. Donald M. Payne, D-N.J., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, during a hearing on AFRICOM last Thursday.

“There has been no consultation with this committee about the establishment or structure of the command. The few briefings that we have had — which by the way are not consultations — have not been particularly informative.”

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., former chairman and now ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned that the military should not create a humanitarian-sounding command before consulting the humanitarians.

J. Peter Pham writes:

More often than not, American perspectives on Africa were framed almost exclusively in terms of preoccupation over the humanitarian consequences of poverty, war, and natural disaster. Alas, as noble as these moral impulses have been, they lacked the “staying power” needed to sustain a long-term commitment. Rightfully, many of our African friends viewed us as well meaning, but unreliable.

The American public at large may believe US involvement in Africa has been mostly humanitarian. That perception is being fed most recently by celebrity condescension. It is misleading. The US government’s actual involvement with Africa has been a policy of arming and fueling conflicts for decades. US policy has been quite the opposite of what J Peter Pham describes in his article on Selling AFRICOM. US policies have not been well meaning, certainly not in their effects, but rather, violent and manipulative. If the “noble” “moral impulses” Pham describes existed, they were quickly buried. The problem was never with noble moral impulses, the problem was always the behaviour that occurred instead, arming the worst authoritarians, and promoting discord.

As William Hartung and Bridgit Moix wrote in 2000:

The reality, however, is that the problems facing Africa and her people — with eleven armed conflicts under way, political instability, and the lowest regional rate of economic growth worldwide — have been fueled in part by a legacy of U.S. involvement in the region.

Throughout the Cold War era, from 1950 to 1989, the United States delivered over $1.5 billion worth of weaponry to Africa. Many of the top U.S. arms clients –Liberia, Somalia, the Sudan, and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DRC) — have turned out to be the top basket cases of the 1990s in terms of violence, instability, and economic collapse.
. . .
During the 1990s, the U.S. supplied over $227 million in arms and training to African nations. In addition, U.S. special forces have trained troops from 34 of Africa’s 53 nations under the Joint Combined Exchange Training program, including forces fighting on both sides of the Congo’s civil war.
. . .
Meanwhile, even as it fuels military build-ups, the U.S. continues to cut development assistance to Africa and remains unable (or unwilling) to promote alternative, non-violent forms of engagement. While the U.S. ranks number one in global weapons exports, it falls dead last among industrialized nations in providing non-military foreign aid to the developing world.

And in 2004 we learn:

Since the beginning of the war on terrorism in 2001, the United States’ top 10 sources of oil imports have experienced a 350 percent increase in U.S. military aid and training. In 2003, the United States plans to provide these countries with $58 million in military assistance. In fiscal year 2001, their military assistance totaled $12.2 million.

A large part of the increase is explained by Washington’s rewarding of regimes like Algeria and Nigeria for their ability to cloak domestic repression in the rhetoric of the “war on terrorism.”

. . . Washington’s desire for Nigerian oil and territory triggered deeper military relationships. During the reign of Gen. Sani Abacha military ties were frozen. But since his death in 1999, the thaw has been quick. That year, Nigeria purchased $74,000 in U.S. weaponry. By 2001, the United States delivered thousands of times that-a total of $3.1 million. Military aid also skyrocketed, from $90,000 in 1999 to more than $4 million for 2003.

How increased military aid will improve human rights and efforts toward democratization is unclear.

How increased military aid will improve human rights and efforts toward democratization remains unclear with AFRICOM. If the US wants to help Africa, it needs to listen to Africans. Pham is rather blatantly disinclined to listen, for example, calling the testimony of Dr. Wafula Okumu “rather incoherent and self-contradicting“. Although if you read the testimony with an open mind, you will learn a lot about African points of view. Dr. Okumu was certainly clear and coherent. I think it was the message that Dr. Pham did not like.

It is not possible to work cooperatively unless you are willing to listen to the people you are “cooperating” with. I don’t see any sign that the US has a clue about this when it talks about AFRICOM.

The US needs to stop arming repressive governments, and stop arming and inciting opposing factions. There is almost nothing I read in the US press or see or hear in the US media, that indicates people in the US are willing to listen or learn from Africans, or change the US approach to Africa away from the emphasis on military assistance. AFRICOM just offers more of the same militarization and destabilization the US has been offering Africa for decades, as a “payment” for taking away the natural riches of the continent.

The blessings of tax cuts and the war on infrastructure, and Uncle Sam goes to the Iraq Lost & Found.

U.S. Navy Seaman fires an Mk-38 25mm machine gun during a general quarters drill aboard the dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry. This machine gun system is a single-barrel, air-cooled, heavy machine gun capable of firing 175 rounds per minute. The USS Fort McHenry will be in the Gulf of Guinea for 6 months starting in November of this year. U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Marvin E. Thompson, Jr.

Military aid and questionable trade are the twin pillars of US involvement in Africa. The Ruin of Nations by Karamoh Kabba has more detail on this. This article reminded me of a lot of things I had forgotten, and would be better forgotten if it did not look like the same behavior and the same mistakes all over again.

From Africa Media:

Just another aid agency — with really big guns. (See the YouTube question that wasn’t asked of the US Presidential candidates about this plan. For a general consideration of YouTube and the debates, see Jewels in the Jungle‘s post.)

Here is a little something to keep in mind when considering the Africa Command and why Africans may be skeptical about the reasons for the command. From the article The Ruin of Nations by Karamoh Kabba.

There is far more in the article than what is here, with more detail on what happened in Liberia and Sierra Leone in West Africa.

From the testimony of Wayne Madsen, an expert on intelligence and privacy issues in international investigative journalism before the US House of Representatives in 2001:

“It is beyond time for the Congress to seriously examine the role of the United States in the genocide and civil wars of central Africa, as well as the role that P.M.C.’s [private military companies] currently play in other African trouble spots like Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Cabinda … At the very least, the United States, as the world’s leading democracy, owes Africa at least the example of a critical self-inspection.”

These actions leave Africans pondering aloud why Africa is being treated by the West as a place “where it pays to play.

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