September 2007

The Flagship of Nigerian Navy – NNS ARADU

From Stratfor comes this assessment:

Nigeria is moving to block AFRICOM, the U.S. combat command for Africa, from establishing itself in the Gulf of Guinea region. A few countries will go along with Nigeria, but oil and natural gas newcomers Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome and Principe probably will resist the move.

And Uzodinma Iweala asks:

I just wonder if YarAdua and his foreign/defense policy people are savvy enough to actually thwart this. What would it take?

1.) Security agreements with all of the major players (probably even a security agreement with the US). When our navy can’t even deal with oil bunkerers or the Niger Delta we’re going to go and patrol X thousand square miles of Open Ocean.

2.) Economic inducements (which we can do with Sao Tome and some of the smaller countries but we can’t hope to compete with the coercive economic power of the US)

3.) Pan African solidarity (almost laughable)

4.) A MAJOR arms/security deal with China (bingo! lets further sell ourselves to the Chinese).

I pray to God the US keeps out of this… otherwise you’ll see our leaders make some really foolish decisions perhaps more so than they’ve done in the past.

Nigeria seems to have come to the same conclusion I did, that the US is using terrorism to blackmail Nigeria into hosting a military base. There may be other reasons for the US playing the terror card.

There are plenty of other problems for the countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea, including devastating amounts of illegal fishing by European and Asian countries, drug and arms and other contraband smuggling, and plenty more. I know I read somewhere, but don’t know if it is true or exaggerated for humor, that the Nigerian Navy has more admirals than ships.

Also, Kufuor is due to be in the US this week. It seems likely the US will ratchet up the pressure on him. He also owes a lot to Nigeria.

At last West Africa speaks up! Nigeria says NO to AFRICOM.

From This Day:

The Federal Government has begun moves to frustrate the plan by the United States to establish a military base in the Gulf of Guinea.
. . .

“Nigeria is not taking the issue lightly at all and the government is not going to allow the US establish any military base anywhere in the ECOWAS region. The interest of the US government in the Gulf of Guinea has reinforced the commitment of the government to intensify its efforts at providing the needed security in the sub-region,” the source said.

It was learnt that the Federal Government was worried by the terror alert raised by the US authorities last week and saw it as a ploy to label Nigeria and countries in the sub region as unsafe in order to get the opportunity to create a military base in the region.

As a first step to checkmate that plan, the FG has vowed to frustrate the campaign by the US to establish a base in the gulf.

“The government of this country is not ready for any blackmail. What they cannot get through the back doors they want to get through blackmail. We are not going to succumb to that game,” the source said.

I think this can only be good news. While Nigeria’s governments have not demonstrated any great responsiveness to the needs of her people to date, or established any reputation for good governance; letting the US recolonize the Niger Delta and the Gulf of Guinea will cause a great deal more suffering. The present US government is not capable of running the US, and has destroyed Iraq. Until the US can demonstrate both competence and good intentions, all countries should be wary in their dealings with it.

Iweala, born here to Nigerian parents, wrote “Beasts of No Nation” after meeting a Ugandan war survivor. “This huge story came out of it,” he says. (photo By Susan Biddle — The Washington Post)

Concluding b real‘s comment on the previous post is this quotation:

he who captures the symbols by which public feeling is for the moment contained, controls by that much the approaches of public policy. … a leader or an interest that can make itself master of current symbols is the master of the current situationwalter lippmann

Today Africa has many successes throughout the continent. Unfortunately, one rarely hears of these successes. Rather one hears of war, famine, and natural disaster. Africans are portrayed as helpless, people whose survival, and whose success, is entirely dependent on the generosity of the developed world. This narrative is constantly reinforced by celebrity condescension, Bono (see Kameelah’s observations on Bono) for example, or the constant humanitarian ad campaigns that portray suffering children. Humanitarian ads pop up constantly on television, magazines, the internet, reinforcing the picture of helpless suffering in Africa.

Back in July, Uzodinma Iweala wrote in the Washington Post about “humanitarian” campaigns:

Such campaigns, however well intentioned, promote the stereotype of Africa as a black hole of disease and death. News reports constantly focus on the continent’s corrupt leaders, warlords, “tribal” conflicts, child laborers, and women disfigured by abuse and genital mutilation. These descriptions run under headlines like “Can Bono Save Africa?” or “Will Brangelina Save Africa?” The relationship between the West and Africa is no longer based on openly racist beliefs, but such articles are reminiscent of reports from the heyday of European colonialism, when missionaries were sent to Africa to introduce us to education, Jesus Christ and “civilization.”
There is no African, myself included, who does not appreciate the help of the wider world, but we do question whether aid is genuine or given in the spirit of affirming one’s cultural superiority. My mood is dampened every time I attend a benefit whose host runs through a litany of African disasters before presenting a (usually) wealthy, white person, who often proceeds to list the things he or she has done for the poor, starving Africans. Every time a well-meaning college student speaks of villagers dancing because they were so grateful for her help, I cringe. Every time a Hollywood director shoots a film about Africa that features a Western protagonist, I shake my head — because Africans, real people though we may be, are used as props in the West’s fantasy of itself. And not only do such depictions tend to ignore the West’s prominent role in creating many of the unfortunate situations on the continent, they also ignore the incredible work Africans have done and continue to do to fix those problems.

In advertising itself as a humanitarian agency, dispensing aid with guns, AFRICOM is riding on the back of these condescending perceptions.

But there is a much nastier side to the perceptions enabling Africom, its exploitation of terror and those it calls terrorists. And a large part of this exploitation is taking advantage of traditional racism in the US. Racism is an important piece of American political history and discourse, though these days the language of racism is carefully coded.

Pictures of the Niger Delta miltants touch the core of this racism, which has been described most eloquently by digby, including in posts on the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans.
The government wanted to quell the violence first — violence we continued to hear a lot about, but never actually saw. Rumors of gang rapes and shoot outs and even necrophilia in the convention center and the Superdome continued to be reported all day in the media as we watched the dehydrated elderly and crying babies waiting for rescue.

I remember watching what was happening in New Orleans and feeling there was a huge disconnect between what I was hearing and what I was seeing. Even so, I didn’t completely discredit what I was hearing, I just couldn’t make sense of it. If there was so much violence and danger, how come with camera crews all over, there were NO pictures of violence? TV loves pictures of violence, if there had been violence to film, we would have seen it.

Ever since 1791, there have been white Americans who get very nervous when they see a large number of angry black people in one place. That was the year that Haiti’s slaves rebelled and killed almost every Frenchman on the island. The fear of slave revolt — black revolt — entered the consciousness of the American lizard brain and has never left. From Gabriel Prosser to Nat Turner to Malcolm X to Stokely Carmichael and the long hot summers of 66 and 67, notions of barbaric vengeance being wreaked upon unsuspecting white people has lurked in our racist subconscious.
. . .
During the 60’s the anger became explicit and words like “by any means necessary” reached deep into the American psyche and fueled the backlash against the civil rights movement — and set the conditions for the Republican dominance of politics today.

Race is America’s deepest psychic wound that festers in different ways over and over again. It has lost much of its original blazing pain, but it is still there, buried and waiting to come to the surface.

I work with many white people who would be deeply shocked if someone were to call them racist. But I often hear comments revealing underlying assumptions about the helplessness of Africans, and the dangerousness of black people. And it isn’t just white people. I remember working in a city neighborhood during the 80s, where the mostly African American youth referred to Tarzan movies as a reference point when they talked about Africa. And I worked with a black colleague who was trying to change jobs so she would work mostly with white people because she didn’t like working with black people. Race truly is a psychic wound in America.

This is NOT to say that Africom is about racism. I don’t think that is true at all. I think it is about oil, and that it is about terrorism only insofar as exploiting terrorism is useful to coopting the oil. But Africom is carried along by the tide of American racial fears and perceptions. And the people who bring us Africom, the Bush GOP, have shown repeatedly that they are happy to exploit racial fears for gain.

Returning to the celebrity/humanitarian narrative, aside from gratuitous insults, what worries me is the macro aspect of the celebrity condescension and “humanitarian” ad campaigns. By painting Africans as people unable to help themselves, the celebrity humanitarian narrative, and the media attention it gets, make it much easier for the US, using Africom, to engage in imperial acquisition in the name of humanitarian aid and development. “They” are helpless and dangerous, so “we” need guns to help them. Africom presents a new and lethal round of western exploitation.

b real wrote in his comment on the previous post about the cover of a book on terrorism:

i recently finished reading a book, the history of terrorism: from antiquity to al qaeda, which i cannot recommend btw, and one of the things about it that perplexes me is the cover. the front photo is a shot of a boatload of niger delta militants, donning camo, masks, and clutching their AK-47’s, however, there is nothing in the book at all about the niger delta. there is a mention of nigeria, in that no international act of terrorism has ever occurred in nigeria, but, otherwise, the cover is entirely out of context. unless the message is that coal-black men w/ guns equates to terrorism. but again, that falls in the domain of the psychological characteristic of terrorism.

we already see how easy it is to evoke emotional reactions to stereotypical images of arabs in respect to western concepts of terrorists to “legitimize” u.s. foreign policies.

is that part of what is in store for africa, as the u.s. “takes” the GWOT to the continent? playing on white fears of stereotyped images of black men? hope i’m not reading too much into that one picture, but it’s really got me thinking about stereotypes.

I do not think the cover of the book was accidental. I wouldn’t necessarily blame the author, authors have varying degrees of control over the cover art, often none. Editors have a lot of say in the choice of artwork. As digby points out, the recent Republican majorities owe a great deal of their power and position to exploitation and manipulation of racial fears and attitudes, from Reagan and his talk of welfare queens, to Lee Atwater, to Karl Rove. The language is coded now. Open racism is generally not socially acceptable. And now, many of the people who are attacking immigrants have personal roots in the white supremacy movement. I have been worried for awhile about how the images of the militant young men in the Niger Delta might be used in ramping up terror fears. For many Americans these men will be the essence of danger and “other”, and it will be very easy to see them as terrorists, and very easy to persuade people that it is important to “do something” about them.

US Marines aboard the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa command ship USS Mount Whitney hone their small arms skills as she sails to the Indian Ocean. Photo: US Navy. (2003)

Newsweek has an oddly revealing headline on a recent article:

The United States is planning a new strategic command to take the global War on Terror to the Horn of Africa.
Note that the US is taking the War on Terror with it. As one of the soldiers quoted says: “It’s the Peace Corps with a weapon.” The US appears to be making a serious claim it can dispense aid from the barrel of a gun.

The policy has been a resounding failure so far:

Perhaps the biggest source of concern is the recent U.S. track record in the Horn of Africa, where Washington has been pursuing an increasingly militarized policy for more than a year with disastrous results . . . (The US has) failed spectacularly.

US citizens and taxpayers have not recognized or acknowledged the US has become an imperial power. It is not a position that sits well with the founding principles of the country. And the goal of Full Spectrum Dominance, described in an earlier post, is the essence of imperialism.

And then there is this from the Christian Century:

According to Chalmers Johnson in his book Nemesis, officially the U.S. has 737 military bases located in 132 of the 190 countries belonging to the United Nations. But the official count fails to mention bases in Israel, Afghanistan, Iraq and several other Middle Eastern countries. The DOD also doesn’t count the extensive military facilities maintained by the U.S. in Britain that nominally belong to the Royal Air Force. And then there are host countries, like Jordan, that—for the sake of relations with their own people—want to be able to deny that they have an American military presence. Johnson concludes that the total number of overseas bases is over 1,000 and that even the Pentagon doesn’t know how many there are for certain.

Overseas bases range from large, permanent facilities such as the ones in Germany, complete with officers’ clubs, bowling alleys and activity centers, to the “lily pad” bases constructed in areas of instability, which contain prepositioned weapons and munitions and have little or no American presence.
. . .
The presence of U.S. military bases breeds resentment in many of the host countries. Sometimes host countries themselves are expected to pay part of the cost of the bases. The conditions negotiated for the establishment of the bases are often not in the best interests of the host countries. The long-term presence of war matériel can have a devastating impact on the local environment. And American personnel are often insensitive toward local culture and customs, providing yet another offense to host countries.

. . . the U.S. is “an empire . . . that dare not speak its name. It is an empire in denial.” We won’t be able to overcome this state of denial until we realize what is happening in our name and with our tax dollars.

No country should welcome a US base on its soil at the present time.

I certainly hope the change in US government that should be coming in 2008 will begin to look at this realistically and begin to move away from it. For one thing, it is a path to economic disaster, for the US, and for everyone the US touches. I sense political changes coming in the US, but I don’t yet have a good sense of the direction. If the US can hang on to its democracy, changes in a democracy happen slowly. Large numbers of people rarely change direction all together at once.

Many people have noted that terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy. An enemy is someone who uses this tactic against you. So far, Bush administration actions have increased the use of the terror tactic all around the world, empowering terrorists, and putting the people of many countries at greater risk of violence.

In Mali, this machine can turn the local nut into fuel.

The New York Times had an article today about growing Jatropha curcas in Mali for use as biofuel, Mali’s farmers discover a weed’s potential power.

. . . jatropha is being hailed by scientists and policy makers as a potentially ideal source of biofuel, a plant that can grow in marginal soil or beside food crops, that does not require a lot of fertilizer and yields many times as much biofuel per acre planted as corn and many other potential biofuels. By planting a row of jatropha for every seven rows of regular crops, Mr. Banani could double his income on the field in the first year and lose none of his usual yield from his field.

Poor farmers living on a wide band of land on both sides of the equator are planting it on millions of acres, hoping to turn their rockiest, most unproductive fields into a biofuel boom. They are spurred on by big oil companies like BP and the British biofuel giant D1 Oils, which are investing millions of dollars in jatropha cultivation.
. . .
But here in Mali, one of the poorest nations on earth, a number of small-scale projects aimed at solving local problems — the lack of electricity and rural poverty — are blossoming across the country to use the existing supply of jatropha to fuel specially modified generators in villages far off the electrical grid.

“We are focused on solving our own energy problems and reducing poverty,” said Aboubacar Samaké, director of a government project aimed at promoting renewable energy.

If jatropha can be grown in conjunction with food crops, as the article implies, in a manner that actually facilitates local development, that would be a great boon. The article also describes huge plantations of jatropha for biofuel:

Countries like India, China, the Philippines and Malaysia are starting huge plantations, betting that jatropha will help them to become more energy independent and even export biofuel.
. . . farmers in India are already expressing frustration that after being encouraged to plant huge swaths of the bush they have found no buyers for the seeds. (And who paid for the seeds for the crop, and to put the land into cultivation? Are these farmers now in debt based on someone else’s speculation?)

For more information on the jatropha plant in Africa there is an article here from a biofuel corporation. And another document with a bit more information about some of the questions, and about storing and processing here: PDF: Jatropha investment in Africa:

. . . biofuel has been accused of having a negative energy payback . . . but there is great variation in the energy paybacks for various biofuels.
Jatropha is a perennial, yielding oil seed for decades after planting, and it can grow without irrigation in arid conditions where corn and sugar cane could never thrive.
. . . the oil . . . burns without emitting smoke.

As the pdf document points out, jatropha needs to be handled and processed quickly, with attention to certain factors such as guarding it from moisture, or the product will be damaged and degraded, and not necessarily usable. Some of the questions about its practicality have not been resolved.

Added April 2008: I crossed out the lines above because the link is dead. I found some information about the processing in another location. This article is about 3 years old, and is rather naively optimistic about jatropha’s potential yields, but it does contain some general information that is useful to know about processing jatropha.

From Jatropha in Africa:

1) Jatropha oil is hydroscopic – absorbs water and needs nitrogen blanketing on steel tanks. One issue that is quite clear is because Jatropha is high in acid, it has the tendency to degrade quickly, particularly if not handled properly through the supply chain.

2) Right from the time of expelling, the oil needs to be kept in storage conditions that prevent undue degradation. Exposure to air and moisture must be minimized – hence the need for nitrogen blanketing on the tanks.
. . .
Seeds degrade as soon as they are picked and so careful storage and handling is required. In the warm humid atmosphere in countries such as Ghana the degradation of seeds can be rapid. (end 2008 addition)

Other things I’ve been reading lately may or may not be relevant to this issue.

Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels could change the nature of grasslands and decrease their usefulness as grazing pastures, say researchers . . . Woody shrubs . . . thrived.
. . .
The main reason why these woody shrubs out-compete grasses in conditions of high carbon dioxide, says Morgan, is because their method of photosynthesis is better suited to high levels of the gas.

The major concern, he says, is that woody shrubs . . . are unpalatable to most domestic livestock, so domination by these types of plants would render land poor for grazing.

. . . there is already evidence of shrub encroachment in many grasslands of the world.

Jatropha is a woody shrub and might be advantaged by this climate change. I’m not sure what the implications are for food or fuel, though I can guess at a few. There are some suggestions on how to control this change:

. . . a possible way to lessen the transformation of grasslands is to use controlled burning, which kills shrubs but not grasses, and to prevent overgrazing, which weakens grasses and allows woody plants to move in.

I think the question to ask about jatropha is, does the crop provide direct advantage to the local farmers and their community rather than promising some trickle down advantage later, a promised advantage that will likely never arrive. And, are the farmers still able to feed themselves and their communities, and profit from growing food?

For centuries slavers ravaged this coastline and sailed up the Congo river, and from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries one and a half million slaves were sent from here in a triangular trade that took slaves to the Americas, American cotton and sugar to Europe, and European goods to Africa. Slavers gave guns and money to local potentates, who ruled from colonial trading posts and drained the tribes of the interior, subverting local politics in ways that are eerily reminiscent of today’s oil trade.

Other curious similiarities exist. You can find one at Pointe Indienne, a quiet area of coastal bush and farmland, where bamboo thickets tumble down to a pretty beach and where onshore oil wells flare gas that lights up the bush and warm surf at night. . . . This was the regions main slave export point, and it was also at this very spot, in 1957, that oil was first found in Congo. Museum documents say they crammed three hundred to five hundred slaves per boat, making them dance to tone their muscles and to stop them slipping into “melancholy,” and a good male nègre à talent was worth the annual wage of a ship’s captain (females fetched 25 percent less). You can play mischievously with this data. Take a tanker captain’s wage today of, say, $100,000, multiply by 500, and this values a boatful of slaves at $50 million in today’s money — about the same as a million-barrel oil cargo.
(Poisoned Wells by Nicholas Shaxson, p.106-7, ISBN 978-1403971944)

It may be that one can make too much of this conjunction and comparison. Yet it certainly has symbolic resonance.

Playing on people’s fears is about the only thing the Bush administration knows how to do well. Every time Bush dipped in the polls in his first term, and before the 2004 election, a new terror threat was announced and the US would suddenly have a heightened terror alert. Now Bush cannot run again, he does not have so much need of terror alerts in the US. But it looks like they still might be useful elsewhere.

LAGOS, Sept 6 (Reuters) – U.S. and other Western interests in Nigeria are at risk of “terrorist attack”, the United States embassy in Africa’s top oil producer said on Thursday.

The official warning, in a message for U.S. citizens in Nigeria, gave few details, but said potential targets included official and commercial installations in the capital Abuja and the commercial city of Lagos.

“The U.S. Mission in Nigeria has received information that U.S. and other Western interests in Nigeria are currently at risk for terrorist attack,” the statement said.

In Washington, a U.S. official said the advisory was based on “very nonspecific threat information.”
. . .
Analysts said the alert on Nigeria, which is the fifth largest oil supplier to the United States, could be related to the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Or, could these “threats” be related to attempts to find a home for Africom?

If countries are truly concerned about terrorism, the US under Bush is about the last place I would think they would want to turn for advice or help. And hosting a large US military installation seems like an invitation to trouble. Bush and company have had NO successes in their “war on terror” other than keeping the American people sufficiently scared, and manipulating the vote just enough to keep Bush in office. Look at Afghanistan, where the US could have made a difference, but blew the opportunity. Or look at the needless destruction of Iraq, which is now a breeding and training ground for terrorists. Or look at the absence of successful terror prosecutions, because their cases can’t stand up in courts, even courts packed with their own judges.

Back in June North African countries signaled their unwillingness to host Africom. And Southern Africa, the SADC, has said no, with South Africa being particularly vocal. West Africa, ECOWAS, and East African countries have not sounded such a unified voice. But the press I read from every country, with the possible exception of Liberia, shows the citizens as being overwhelmingly opposed to hosting US troops on African soil.

In July, Theresa Whelan, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Africa tried to drive a wedge between African countries.

Answering questions about her government’s response to the outright rejection of Africom by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Whelan said that would be fine, but that the US would simply cut off military relations with SADC as an organisation while continuing to engage with amenable countries in Southern Africa on an individual basis.

And neo-con Africa “expert” Peter Pham chimed in early August with more wedging action:

. . . smaller countries will tend to view the new command as a potential hedge against the aspirations of their larger neighbors to regional hegemony, while larger nations may conversely come to view AFRICOM as a potential obstacle to those ambitions. That certainly appears to be case with South Africa.

As the previous South African article concludes:

It is apparent that there is a considerable gap to be closed between African and US perceptions of each other’s legitimate security interests and how these should find expression in military and security co-operation.

I have no doubt South Africa wants to flex its muscles. And I have some reservations about their actions in Ghana at times. But I am terrified at the thought of Bush messing up Ghana, or any other African country, calling anyone who gets in the way of US oil interests a terrorist. In politics it is often important to avail oneself of allies where you find them. It can pay off with improvements in the long run. And South Africa is part of Africa, and has a right to speak in this regard. Africa is still vulnerable, and it is still iffy as to whether individual countries will stand up to the Africa Command.

Added September 7:
b real brings some important information and questions to the issue. I’ll excerpt from his comment below, but please read the full comment for details:

consider the following as a possible motive for the “nonspecific” terror threat in nigeria.

OPEC is meeting in vienna on 11 sept. there have been stories over the past week, quoting different OPEC representatives, that the cartel would not be increasing output at the upcoming meeting.

for instance, see tuesday’s african oil journal: OPEC Will Not Increase Production at the Next Meeting on Sept 11

Qatar’s energy minister on Tuesday declared that there were no plans to increase crude oil production at next week’s OPEC meeting in Vienna as the 12-nation cartel sees no shortages in the market.
. . .
after the announcement of the “terror” threat to production & distribution facilities in the niger delta, crude prices have increased.
Oil climbs on Mid-East tension, US inventory falls
. . .
so could this warning from the u.s. embassy in abuja be part of a tactic to help push the price of crude up so high that it puts more pressure on OPEC to increase quotas next tuesday?

or is it a ploy to push up the price in order to grab a lot of quick profits? perhaps of which some of that $$$ is needed to help stabilize the troubled financiers requiring bailout in the us?

or is it part of a campaign to justify an increased military presence in the delta? the “year-long trial deployment of a U.S. navy vessel to the region in October” is just around the corner, after all.

or has there actually been a legit threat from one of the militant groups or gangs warning specifically of the targeting of u.s. installations? definitely not enough info in the few news copies on the warning right now to determine how serious to take it, although the stuff like the former u.s. ambassador to nigeria’s story about AQ finding haven in nigeria can be dismissed out of hand for the baloney that it is. which lowers the credibility of threat itself, leading me to wonder about a connection to the OPEC meeting this tuesday.

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