June 2008

Nollywood filmmakers

From Welcome to Nollywood

I had a real day off yesterday and took advantage of the chance to do nothing. There was nobody around, and no pressing things that needed to be done. My local cable tv carries MHz Networks that includes a channel of Nigerian news and features from NTA (website still needs some work.) I turned it on just by chance, and found a number of items that interested me. I watched an hour long report on Nigerian agriculture, discussing working towards food security. I enjoyed the pictures of farming, but don’t think there was much new information there. I can get Ghana TV online through a subscription, but it is nice to to get African TV coming in over the cable. SABC News from South Africa is also on MHz.

Back in the late 70s and early 80s I had a bunch of friends from Calabar. I still hear from a couple of them from time to time, but most went back to Nigeria and I lost touch. I’ve never been much at writing letters, though I do like email. I enjoyed reading recently about how Calabar is a model for a clean and well kept town, Nigeria: Calabar – Why so Clean?

Otherwise, I spent the time outside just taking in the view. It was not a productive day, but very pleasant.

I also spent some of the day listening online to Radio Palmwine, mostly the Igbo channel. All the channels are good, but I particularly enjoy the music on the Igbo channel and listen fairly regularly. It is one of the more user friendly internet radio stations.

AfroPop carried an entertaining documentary on PBS about Nollywood, Welcome to Nollywood which I recorded and watched. It will be shown on some other PBS stations around the US, schedule here.
WGBXW * 7/4/08 Fri 11:00 AM Boston MA
WETADT4 * 7/4/08 Fri 11:00 AM Washington DC
WQED * 7/6/08 Sun 5:00 PM Pittsburgh PA
WETADT4 * 7/6/08 Sun 11:00 PM Washington DC
WETADT4 * 7/7/08 Mon 10:00 AM Washington DC
WETADT4 * 7/7/08 Mon 4:00 PM Washington DC
KVIE7 * 7/15/08 Tue 12:00 AM Sacramento Stockton Modesto CA
KVIEDT2 * 7/15/08 Tue 12:00 AM Sacramento Stockton Modesto CA

From an interview with the filmmaker Jamie Meltzer:

The lessons of Nollywood that I took, and anyone making films — whether they’re documentary or not — can take, is that there’s really no excuse and no obstacle that you can’t overcome. They show that by building this industry in this completely inhospitable environment that’s actively against them in a lot of ways — the heat, the traffic, the lack of infrastructure. But they have managed to create a thriving industry that you don’t see all around the world, an industry that can stand up to the cultural influence of Hollywood and the larger film industries …

… Nollywood exists entirely due to the digital video revolution. Everything they shoot is on digital video cameras, edited on digital nonlinear [systems] and distributed on video CDs. It’s an entirely digital system, and in that sense it’s far ahead of what Hollywood is.

Bonga FPSO vessel

Shell’s $3.6 billion “Bonga” Floating Production, Storage, and Offloading vessel (FPSO), 120km from shore in 1000m deep water, was recently attacked by MEND militants.

The Oil Drum has a post on the significance of MEND’s recent successful attack on the Bonga offshore oil platform. I’d been wondering a bit about the implications. This article spells them out.
Analysts previously believed these offshore facilities were out of MEND’s reach.
This assumption–that far offshore facilities are beyond the reach of militants–must now be reconsidered. The week’s most successful attack, shutting in 225,000 barrels per day, came against Shell’s Bonga facility. At 120 km offshore, the Bonga attack demonstrated a new militant capability in the offshore environment. As Nigeria is one of the few states with the geological potential to significantly increase oil production and exports, the Bonga attack may prove to be an extremely important development.

MEND has already demonstrated its capability to shut in large portions of Nigeria’s onshore oil production, and now it is threatening to re-attack offshore facilities, urging expatriate workers to abandon them immediately. Nigeria’s onshore production is already mature, and government hopes of raising total production to 4 million barrels per day are entirely dependent on the success of the offshore sector. If MEND can continue to interrupt offshore production, the prospects for any increase in production from Nigeria look dim. The situation in Nigeria is critical as Nigeria is one of the few states with the potential to significantly increase both production and exports.

I predicted a year ago that MEND would increasingly focus on Nigeria’s offshore facilities for two reasons: 1) to differentiate their ideologically-grounded struggle from the privateers and criminal bunkering that is also interrupting Nigerian production; and 2) as a result of the innovation that naturally results from their decentralized structure. While this most recent attack showcases MEND’s ability to operate in the deepwater environment, it also shows MEND’s potential to greatly increase the impact of future offshore attacks. MEND’s press release stated that their goal was to gain access to and destroy the facility’s main control room, but that they were unable to do so. MEND’s limited success, however, most likely identified to the group the specific capabilities, training, and equipment it will need to better succeed in the future. This process of tactical improvement forms a larger cycle of innovation (an OODA Loop).

The recent attack highlights three significant and separate advances by MEND: targeting, naval equipment, and training. By attacking far-offshore infrastructure that was previously considered beyond its reach, and by selecting projects that are key to the Nigerian government’s revenue plans, MEND has accurately identified a very high return on investment target. This demonstrates an advancement in their ability to pursue “effects-based targeting”—that is, the ability to carefully select targets that produce the desired ultimate (here, political) effect. For MEND, the desired effect is to force the Nigerian government to better meet the needs of the Niger Delta peoples. Previous tactics of kidnapping and attacking pipelines were imperfect choices for several reasons: they spawned criminal activity within the Delta, they increased pollution in the already polluted Delta region, and they did not effectively compel the desired action on the part of the Nigerian government. While it is yet to be seen if the current targeting choices will be more successful, in my opinion they represent an advancement in skill.

Finally, it is important to discuss the potential tactical race between offshore defenses and militant offensive capability. This is a situation of competing OODA loops–whichever side can innovate and learn from past experiences most quickly will prevail. Here, MEND enjoys two significant advantages over offshore operators. First, the decentralized nature of MEND allows it to try many different approaches, accepting failure of the vast majority of attempts. MEND can try 50 different ways to attack an offshore facility–only one needs to succeed to inflict massive losses that provides a high ROI on its investment. Oil companies, on the other hand, have one opportunity to get their defenses right or they risk losing a multi-billion dollar facility. While oil companies do have the opportunity to learn from past militant mistakes, they don’t have the luxury of learning from successful militant tactics without great cost. Second, oil platforms are fixed assets. While MEND can choose the specific target, time of attack, mode of attack, and staging area at will, oil companies must defend all fixed position at all times, and as a result permanently cede the initiative to their opponents. Any armchair general will recognize that this is an unenviable situation that heavily favors MEND.

MEND has made it clear that its recent choice of target was not chance. It stated in its press release that “The location for today’s attack was deliberately chosen to remove any notion that off-shore oil exploration is far from our reach.” Rebels followed up the Bonga attack by announcing a unilateral truce June 22nd to “give peace and dialog another chance.” This suggests we will have at least a short break before the next offshore attack. Unfortunately, it will also allow MEND time to integrate lessons learned from the Bonga attack and to prepare for the next wave of operations. This break is also an important political step for MEND to maintain its image as legitimate and principled freedom fighters in the eyes of the Delta peoples, and not merely a group of criminal thugs. It should not be viewed as a sign of either weakness or abandoning plans to conduct further offshore attacks. This reading of the “truce” is supported by the concurrent strike by Nigerian oil workers that named Shell as an “enemy of the Nigerian people.” Assuming that the Nigerian government won’t meet MEND’s minimum demands, we are likely to find out within a few months just how much offshore capability MEND has…
There are a number of comments following the article that are noteworthy:
… The way I see it – the only answer for these governments is to do what we did during the depression – massive public works projects. Will they do it – probably not! So – look for more troubles.

Your point underscores two alternative “geopolitical feedback loops”:
A) In the eyes of the average citizen, government fails to adequately distribute oil revenues. Result: violence, lower production & exports at higher cost.
B) Government does its best to use oil wealth for the benefit of its citizens, and in doing so realizes that limiting production now to a certain extent 1) maximizes revenues, and 2) preserves oil wealth for future generations when it will likely be more valuable. Result: lower production & exports.
It’s not a strictly A or B situation, but the danger (from the sense of oil supply) of avoiding one scenario is that the alternative may be just as bad, or worse… I agree that A is the most likely, but what happens if MEND “wins”? While they may fail at pursuing their own best interest due to corruption, short-sightedness, etc., their best interest may actually be to maintain lower levels of production…

Not to mention if you take option B, the US will call you a tyrant and accuse you of supporting terrorism. :)

… (B) won’t necessarily improve the export situation either. It would, I think, greatly improve the lives of the locals, but but it violates one of my laws of human behavior: any solution that requires many people to suddenly behave better than they have in the past is doomed to failure…

… My opinion is that Chevron, Shell, and Nigeria will not meet MEND’s minimum demands. If it is politically tenable to do so, the Nigerian government may try to placate MEND, but if past efforts to placate militants are any indication, this will be nothing but token gestures. Likewise, Shell and Chevron will probably continue their current policy of projects among the Delta communities. These can be viewed as either genuine efforts to compensate the Delta peoples for the resource extracted and environmental damage incurred, or they can be viewed as token gestures intended to temporarily buy them off–I don’t have any insight into the intent of the policies, but I do know that both Shell and Chevron are corporations with fiduciary duties to their shareholders that trump any perceived duty to the Delta peoples. To the extent that duty to shareholders to maximize profit is mutually exclusive of duty to Delta peoples, the former will win.
In my own pipedream best case scenario, the FG would employ youth to clean and build the cities, like the massive public works projects mentioned above. That does actually work, at least it did in the US. But I don’t see much of a will for it anywhere. Even in the US the Republicans have spent half a century persuading the voters that investment in the country and its people did not work and will not work, despite the evidence. And a lot of people have bought it.
From an interview with with Mike Davis about his book, Planet of Slums:
One of the major problems, however, is: We’re building cities without urban qualities. Poor cities, in particular, are consuming the natural areas and watersheds which are essential to their functioning as environmental systems, to their ecological sustainability, and they’re consuming them either because of destructive private speculation or simply because poverty pours over into every space. All around the world, the crucial watersheds and green spaces that cities need to function ecologically and be truly urban are being urbanized by poverty and by speculative private development. Poor cities, as a result, are becoming increasingly vulnerable to disaster, pandemic, and catastrophic resource shortages, particularly of water.
Conversely, the most important step toward coping with global environmental change is to reinvest — massively — in the social and physical infrastructures of our cities, and thereby reemploy tens of millions of poor youth.


UPDATE July 18, 2008: Google Alerts once again included an AFRICOM related post from Crossed Crocodiles on July 17, 2008. I hope this signals a change and we’ll see more from Crossed Crocodiles in the Google Alerts on AFRICOM. I’ll report on what I observe.

Starting in late February or in March, Crossed Crocodiles disappeared from Google Alerts on AFRICOM.

I posted the following at crossedcrocodiles.blogspot.com, but thought I would duplicate it here. Since I seem to be experiencing some censorship on Google’s Blogspot, I thought I’d see what happens if I post here.

From February 2007 through sometime in February or March 2008 the Google Alerts on AFRICOM included ALL Crossed Crocodiles articles on AFRICOM. Since some time in late February or in March 2008 NONE of Crossed Crocodiles stories on AFRICOM have been included in the Google Alerts. It was an abrupt change. First they were there, now they are not. That looks like censorship to me.

For awhile I thought they were just overlooking some posts, that Google was not as efficient as it would have us believe. But the stark contrast of all posts being included suddenly switching to none being included tells me the change is deliberate. This blog is not a large blog, but it has reported on AFRICOM longer and more consistantly than any other blog I know of. I use a number of Google Alerts to get news. Mostly I set the alerts for comprehensive, so I get notices of blog posts, as well as news articles.

Crossed Crocodiles began publishing posts on AFRICOM in February 2007, when the command was announced, and has been following its progress since then. For the first year of this coverage, February 2007 into February 2008, every blog post I wrote on AFRICOM was included in the comprehensive Google Alerts, News Alerts News Alerts, on AFRICOM. Sometime in February this year, 2008, there was a flurry of attention to Crossed Crocodiles blog from .mil sites. I get fairly regular hits from the US military and the contractors. They are more than welcome and I hope they learn something positive for the citizens of the US and the citizens of African countries when they visit. So I didn’t think too much about it. Then this blog got a visit from Google itself, google.com in Mountain View California, the first such visit to this blog to my knowledge. But I didn’t think about it much or record the details. Soon after that, in late February or early March, Crossed Crocodiles posts on AFRICOM disappeared from the Google Alerts on AFRICOM.

It is not as if there are so many blog and news stories on AFRICOM that it would be difficult for Google comprehensive Alerts to be comprehensive on the subject. The AFRICOM Alerts do not even come every day, and mostly there are very few stories listed when they do arrive, sometimes only one.

More recently I set up a comprehensive Google Alert on the International Peace Operations Association, the IPOA, the trade association of the PMCs, private military corporations. I have recently written two posts, dealing with the IPOA. Neither post was picked up by the Google Alert on the International Peace Operations Association, although a couple of posts on other blogs that linked back to the two posts on Crossed Crocodiles did get listed in the Google Alerts on the IPOA. That made me wonder if Crossed Crocodiles is being censored from the Google Alerts on the IPOA as well.
And who knows what other subjects covered here, or on other blogs, may be censored from Google Alerts? If you subscribe to Google Alerts you may not be getting the most relevant results and information you need on your topic, especially if someone regards it as a politically sensitive topic. I will still subscribe, but I’m not relying on them to keep me informed.

So far, Crossed Crocodiles posts do turn up in Google Searches. Although if you want to be sure of getting the most relevant hits, I’d use more than one search engine. Ask.com has a Blog Search, and you can try Bloglines. There are a number of possibilities.

As I said in a previous post, I write about AFRICOM because I am old enough that I observed the post independence western interference, and the rivalries and proxy wars of the cold war in Africa, when the US and Russia poured “military assistance” onto the continent, and the death and devastation that created. Friends and I used to joke about applying to Reagan and Bush 1 for military assistance to help us in our petty arguments with each other. It appeared all you needed to get military assistance was to call your enemy a Communist (now call them a Terrorist.) AFRICOM seems designed to make it all happen again, only this time it could cause infinitely more suffering. This time it is driven far more by greed for oil than ideology. I decided this time I would record what I see, what I learn, and what I think, hence the focus on AFRICOM in this blog.
Here are a couple of posts that have received a lot of attention from .mil sites and the contractors:

AFRICOM, US military bases, and Ghana

US State Department recruiting mercenaries to work in Africa

You can read my article on mercenaries in Africa over at the African Loft: The Rising Mercenary Industry and AFRICOM.

Is Nigeria now planning to cooperate with AFRICOM, or waffling about a decision?

Recently, the minister of foreign affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, briefed reporters on the latest position of Nigeria with regards to the US Africa Command (AFRICOM).

… Maduekwe said that Nigeria had examined the US proposals on AFRICOM and found them suitable for the survival of the nation, arguing further that Nigeria should not “maintain a cold war posture by exhibiting old communist anti-West stance”.

… “many of the pundits who have been engaged in the strident debate on AFRICOM have failed somehow to come to terms with the fact that AFRICOM is no longer a matter of hypothetical conjecture, but a reality….. In other words, AFRICOM is already a fait accompli and what ought to be Nigeria or Africa’s major preoccupation at this point is how to parley and make the best of this new initiative…..”

“In this regard”, according to Ambassador Hart, “Nigeria ought to consider herself as a strong ally of the US and give AFRICOM the required cooperation….It is pertinent to mention that the chosen country (or countries if there will be mini-bases) will enjoy the lucrative economic benefits traditionally enjoyed by those countries that host American bases around the world…..It is believed that the African country that comes out to host AFRICOM will be better off in the end”.

This sure sounds a lot like the “joke” that got McCain in trouble for a fundraiser hosted by

Clayton ‘Claytie’ Williams, a Texas oilman who joked about rape when running for governor in 1990. Williams had compared rape to the weather, saying, “If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.” He later apologized.

If AFRICOM is inevitable, just relax, enjoy it, and take the money.

As Abba Mahmood, the author Still on AFRICOM in Leadership points out:

If President Yar’Adua is surrounded by a foreign minister who sees the AFRICOM issue not from the point of view of sovereignty but from the narrow perspective of a moribund ideology and a foreign affairs adviser who looks at the issue purely from short term economic gains of a few (pockets) without taking into consideration the long term security implications of exposing the country to sure terrorist attacks, then one does not have to wonder why Yar’Adua’s position keeps oscillating between hypocritical neutrality and outright blind support for this dangerous enterprise.

The questions to be asked are: Will America contemplate establishing a military command in Africa to help the Africans?

Secondly, what military lessons can the US teach Africans in general and the Nigerian Armed Forces in particular?

Checkout the American military records: they were chased out of Somalia by a rag-tag militia under Clinton. They had to send UN troops, including Nigeria’s, to that country to take charge in the early 1990s. The US invasion of Afghanistan is still inclusive as the president they imposed, Karzai, is in charge of only Kabul, the capital about six years after.

In Iraq, American troops are still battling the insurgents with many US casualties and billions of dollars in a lost cause. So, what will American soldiers teach our soldiers in this “long existing…..military relationship” that Maduekwe was referring to?

In comparison, the Nigerian Armed Forces have been excelling in all their international peacekeeping engagements around the world for almost five decades now. The Nigerian Armed Forces helped to stabilise our sister ECOWAS country of Liberia and even flushed out soldiers and reversed a coup in neighbouring Sierra Leone. In fact, the Gen. Malu- led ECOMOG in these two countries is still considered the finest peacekeeping model in the whole world!

And America may be a particularly weak reed to cling to right now, with an unpopular lame duck president who:

has so far brought untold hardship to his fellow citizens and made the whole world insecure by his military misadventures.

The US is not dealing from a position of strength:

Another issue is that the US is in decline economically. It is right now the largest debtor nation on earth. Investing in the US is now risky. Even oil transactions that were being done in dollars are now being diversified with many countries advocating for a basket of currencies due to the decline of dollar power. Real wages for the majority in the US have largely stagnated or declined and are now close to the lowest level among industrial societies.

The number of people who go hungry because they cannot afford to buy food rose to over 38 million in 2004 (12 percent of households) an increase of 7 million in the first five years of the Bush administration. How can we mortgage our interest to a power that is on terminal illness due to injustices perpetrated by their leaders across the world?

As Mahmood concludes:

If a nation cannot feed its population, it is not independent. Similarly, if a nation (or continent) cannot guarantee the security and territorial integrity of its area, then it is not sovereign.

Click here for the interactive version of this map.
Then, in the frame on the left you can view the list of these oil and military involvements in Africa.

Foreign Policy in Focus had an article by Antonia Juhasz titled AFRI(OIL)COM, speculating as to whether the next war for oil will be in Africa. Many of her points have been discussed here at Crossed Crocodiles at one time or another. She states:

Under the rubric of the Global War on Terror, the Bush administration has implemented the greatest realignment of U.S. forces since the end of the Cold War. With a map of Big Oil’s overseas operations, the world’s remaining oil reserves, and oil transport routes, one can now track the realignment and predict future deployments of the U.S. military.

And for a picture of this, click on the link below the map. In a frame on the left you will be able to scroll down a list of Major Oil Corporation and U.S. Military Activities in Africa. The list is by no means complete. But it provides a lengthy introduction.

Sniffing hard on the heels of the US military come the dogs of war, the mercenaries, the International Peace Operations Association, who are organizing to feed at the AFRICOM trough, feeding on the blood and the futures of African citizens.

Kotare kindly tagged me for the latest chain blog thing. Here’s the rules:

Link to your tagger and post these rules on your blog. Share seven facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs. Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

I won’t tag anyone else, although anyone reading is welcome to consider themselves tagged.

(1) I can’t reveal much about myself, because although I find anonymity a nuisance, I promised members of my family I would remain anonymous as a blogger, so that my opinions will not cause gossip or interfere with business.

(2) I have a home in Ghana where I hope to retire, but currently have a job I like, live in and am a citizen of the US.

(3) I am part of some start up small businesses in Ghana, and with another family member have several small farms, growing cocoa, chickens, sometimes pigs, and a variety of vegetables. We tried goats, but they didn’t do well.

(4) I pay school fees for a number of elementary and secondary school students. It hurts me a lot when a young person wants to go to school and is not able to afford it. Unfortunately, what I can do is only a very tiny drop in a very large bucket.

(5) I take pride in paying people well who work for us, and try to help create opportunities. People being people, sometimes that works better than others.

(6) I have studied t’ai chi since the late 70s. I am not a particularly great student, but both my principal teachers take the martial origins and applications of t’ai chi seriously and have read and studied it as a martial art. Although I have no interest in fighting at my age, I find t’ai chi does develop useful psychological skills, even for the less distinguished student. It makes it easier to stay relaxed and calm when people get angry and upset. It is useful for negotiating. And it can help defuse potentially dangerous situations when you are cool and physically relaxed.

(7) I am old enough that I observed the post independence western interference, and the rivalries and proxy wars of the cold war in Africa, when the US and Russia poured “military assistance” onto the continent, and the death and devastation that created. Friends and I used to joke about applying to Reagan and Bush 1 for military assistance to help us in our petty arguments with each other. It appeared all you needed to get military assistance was to call your enemy a Communist (now replaced by Terrorist.) AFRICOM seems designed to make it all happen again, only this time it could be far more horrible. I decided this time I would record what I see, what I learn, and what I think, hence the focus on AFRICOM in this blog.

A young girl walks across the NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum) pipelines that run through her town, Okrika near Port Harcourt, 2006.

From Artdaily:

This summer George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film presents National Geographic photojournalist Ed Kashi’s images of oil exploitation in Africa’s Niger Delta, in the powerful exhibition Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta. The display of 37 photographs, on view now through Sept. 1, takes a graphic look at the profound cost of oil exploitation in West Africa. The work traces, in an original and compelling way, the 50-year impact of Nigeria’s relationship to oil interests and the resulting environmental degradation and community conflicts that have plagued the region.

“This exhibition provides a visual inventory of the consequences of a half century of oil exploration and production in one of the world’s centers of biodiversity,” said Kashi, who photographed the region from 2004 to 2006. “These images expose the reality of oil’s impact and the absence of sustainable development left in its wake. My eyes and heart were opened and my anger and disgust were ignited. To tell this difficult but profoundly important geopolitical story in a visual way became the focus of my work.”

… While the Delta produces 95 percent of the country’s wealth, it is the poorest region in the nation. The first oil wellheads were tapped in 1958, and since then $500 billion worth of oil has been pumped out of the fertile ground and remote creeks of one of Africa’s largest deltas and the world’s third largest wetland.

Oil production has caused devastating pollution to the Niger Delta due to the uninterrupted gas flaring and oil spillage. According to Kashi, these operations have destroyed the traditional livelihoods of the Niger Delta. Fishing and agriculture are no longer productive enough to feed the area and the residents are lacking schools, proper housing, and clean water.

“From a potential model nation, Nigeria has become a dangerous country, addicted to oil money, with people increasingly willing to turn to corruption, sabotage, and murder to get a fix of the wealth,” wrote Tom O’Neill, in the 2007 National Geographic article illustrated by Kashi’s images. “The cruelest twist is that half a century of oil extraction in the delta has failed to make the lives of the people better. Instead, they are poorer still, and hopeless.”

Even without Kashi’s powerful photographs, O’Neill’s words evoke images of despair: “Villages and towns cling to the banks, little more than heaps of mud-walled huts and rusty shacks. Groups of hungry, half-naked children and sullen, idle adults wander dirt paths. There is no electricity, no clean water, no medicine, no schools. Fishing nets hang dry; dugout canoes sit unused on muddy banks. Decades of oil spills, acid rain from gas flares, and the stripping away of mangroves for pipelines have killed off fish. Nigeria has been subverted by the very thing that gave it promise—oil.”

The exhibit at the George Eastman House starts today, June 14, and runs through September 1 2008. The museum is located in Rochester New York:
George Eastman House · 900 East Ave · Rochester, NY 14607 · 585-271-3361

Curse of the Black Gold is also available as a book you can purchase, or suggest your library purchase.

The text is written by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, plus prominent Nigerian journalists, human rights activists, and University of California at Berkeley professor Michael Watts.

From the description at Amazon:

Now one of the major suppliers of U.S. oil, Nigeria is the sixth largest producer of oil in the world. Set against a backdrop of what has been called the scramble for African oil, Curse of the Black Gold is the first book to document the consequences of a half-century of oil exploration and production in one of the world’s foremost centers of biodiversity. This book exposes the reality of oil’s impact and the absence of sustainable development in its wake, providing a compelling pictorial history of one of the world’s great deltaic areas. Accompanied by powerful writing by some of the most prominent public intellectuals and critics in contemporary Nigeria, Kashi’s photographs capture local leaders, armed militants, oil workers, and nameless villagers, all of whose fates are inextricably linked. His exclusive coverage bears witness to the ongoing struggles of local communities, illustrating the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty.

The Curse of the Black Gold book and exhibit add to the testimony that is finally coming forward about what the extraction of oil actually means, to people, and to the ecosystem.

Also look for the documentary film Sweet Crude.

Nobody really believes in democracy. Everyone is for democracy when they are on the popular winning side. But when you are not winning, looking for a fix is overwhelmingly tempting. After all, you know you are right (whether you are or not.) And it is totally unfair when you lose. Look at the US, supposedly the premier democracy, trying to make the Justice Department an arm of the Republican party. Or look at them trying to bring “democracy” to Iraq and Afghanistan down the barrel of a gun. The means determine the ends. Justifying is irrelevant. Violent and oppressive means lead to violent and oppressive ends. Criminal means lead to criminal ends.

In addition, in the words of Vandana Shiva:

Centralized economic systems also erode the democratic base of politics. In a democracy, the economic agenda is the political agenda. When the former is hijacked by the World Bank, the IMF, or the WTO, democracy is decimated. The only cards left in the hands of politicians eager to garner votes are those of race, religion, and ethnicity … fundamentalism effectively fills the vacuum left by a decaying democracy.

And speaking of centralized economic systems, giant transnational corporations are dwarfing sovereign countries, even large and wealthy sovereign countries. I read the following over at Global Guerrillas:

There’s a mountain of evidence that the global system is now so large, fast, and fluid that nation-states have lost control. The market is now in charge, and even the most powerful nation-states are merely participants. Worse, uncontrolled markets are prone to disruptions (price spikes, shortages, starvation, etc.), corruption (hollow states, predatory money, etc.), and melt-downs (economic, environmental, etc.).

He does mention that some, such as Thomas Barnett see it as a frontier. But adds:

In my view, the global system is an open source platform (in engineering speak, a bow-tie control structure). This type of platform grows very quickly due to simple rules of interconnection and is VERY resistant to upgrades after they are established. This simplicity is actually a design feature, not a flaw, since it enables a bewildering level of complexity to develop on the periphery (the two ends of the bow-tie, radiating outwards). Doesn’t look like a frontier to me…

Now there may be an element of diagnosing the problem according to his area of specialization here, but what he describes is well worth considering.

here’s michael klare, from his latest book

In the emerging international power system [energy-surplus vs energy-deficit], we can expect the struggle over energy to override all other considerations, national leaders to go to extreme lengths to ensure energy sufficiency for their countries, and state authority over both domestic and foreign energy affairs to expand. Oil will cease to be primarily a trade commodity, to be bought and sold on the international market, becoming instead the preeminent strategic resource on the planet, whose acquisition, production, and distribution will increasingly absorb the time, effort, and focus of senior government and military officials.
h/t to b real

One thing I wonder is, will the importance of controlling resources pit corporations and government interests against each other in the US? Up until now they have moved most of the time in lockstep since the founding of the country (see the quotations at the bottom of this page.) Or will the quest for resources tighten the lockstep? Partly this will depend on the voters. In recent years many US voters have been locked into the developed world version of the fundamentalism that characterizes a decaying democracy. Will it be possible for voters to break out of that pattern and realistically consider their economic interests, especially considering the way news is reported in the US? There are plenty of people and institutions that will be working hard to prevent democratic trends. Or will the desire of the government and the military to control resources lead to an end of democracy and to an even more autocratic state? That certainly seems the desire of the present US government.

Africa is in the sights. The International Peace Operations Association has their annual “Summit” meeting in October. As recorded in Dogs of War: Back to Africa, with Iraq inevitably winding down, they need another focus for their contracts and their paychecks, and Africa is their target. AFRICOM provides the perfect enabler.

This does not promise improved peace and stability in Africa. During the first 6 years of this century, peace and stability, human security, has improved in Africa, largely due to pressures from within Africa, and with help from the UN. With increased stability, Africa has become a better prospect for investment, and business and markets are starting up and taking off. An influx of mercenaries, “peace and stability operations” could bring an end to trends towards peace and stability, and an end to business opportunity, except for the IPOA military corporations.

You can read my article on mercenaries in Africa over at the African Loft: The Rising Mercenary Industry and AFRICOM.

France 24 did a brief feature on Wasis Diop this week:
Wasis Diop in French
Wasis Diop in English with translator

Listen and watch Automobile Mobile on YouTube. France 24 had clips from this video on their feature.

Diop writes and performs some of the most beautiful and sophisticated music I have heard. It is hauntingly visceral, speaking to the heart and mind and gut. He has been around long enough and seen enough to understand what he is doing. As he says of the work he is doing with his colleagues “we have never created, all we have done is receive and transform.” That is one of the best definitions of creativity I have heard.

You can read a biography of him at RFI Musique. He has travelled and worked with musicians from all over the world, including touring Japan with Japanese saxophonist Tasuaki Shimizu. The RFI biography mentions his visit to Jamaica in 1979-80, but does not mention he worked and recorded with Lee Perry. Throughout his wanderings, and with the multitude of influences he has experienced, it is clear he has been able to preserve a hard core of integrity that acts as a lens and filter. This is no small accomplishment.

The song I find most haunting among his works is Le Passeur, you can listen to a sample at Sterns.

He has a new album out this year that I have not yet heard, aside from the samples, Judu Bék.

In Dogs of War: Back to Africa, David Isenberg asks and answers:

Where does the future lie for the private military industry? (When) Iraq, the mother of all private military contracting opportunities … draw(s) to a close

Most likely they will return to their point of origin, Africa. In fact, some are already there.

US contracts for PMCs in Africa are being set up and renewed now.

AFRICAP contracts have a ceiling of approximately $500 million, or $1 billion total. In February the State Department sent out a notice that it was looking to re-complete the contracts.

In Iraq the Bush administration is trying to extend the conflict by extending multi year contracts with the PMCs, as reported by Walter Pincus in the Washington Post:

The depth of U.S. involvement in Iraq and the difficulty the next president will face in pulling personnel out of the country are illustrated by a handful of new contract proposals made public in May. … The proposals reflect multiyear commitments.

And in Africa Dyncorp is already training the Liberian Army under US contracts, and as Isenberg points out:

A more serious concern was noted by the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In a study released in March, the institute concluded that “the image of DynCorp creating an armed elite is disconcerting to many Liberians.”

The existence of an armed elite is alarming to many people in Africa across a variety of countries. Armed elites already exist. To make them better armed, better trained, and more elite, is a huge threat to security and safety. The money invested by the US in African militaries makes them elites. There is no similar financial investment in any other sector of African societies or economies. Money spent on capacity building for civilian government would be a positive investment, instead we have this destructive investment in militarization.

AFRICOM plays a major role in this privatized militarization:

The establishment of the U.S. military’s latest regional command, the new Africa Command, has also played a role in opening up the market. Private contractors have been seen as an integral part of AFRICOM since its inception. This is not surprising, considering that in October 2003 James Jay Carafano and Nile Gardiner, both from the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, proposed to the Bush administration the creation of a centralized Africa command for the U.S. military. Their proposal made clear that the objective was to preserve U.S. access to African oil and other natural resources on the continent. The Heritage report also points to the strategic importance of Africa in the global “war on terror.”

A study published in spring 2007 by the Industrial College of the Armed Forces noted that “Africa may do for the (private military) industry in the next 20 years what Iraq has done in the past four, provide a significant growth engine.”

Sarah Meyer has cataloged the activities and the histories of PMC involvement in Iraq:

Iraq: Security Companies and Training Camps

and updated at:

Security Company Death Squads Timeline

She quotes:

Dirk Adriaensens has been involved with Iraq for 17 years. He is on the executive committee of the BRussels Tribunal and is the coordinator of SOS Iraq. He writes:”

Security guys and gals don’t have to abide by the Geneva Conventions. They do as they wish. No rules, no regulations. They can operate with impunity.

As such these “security companies” can be called “death squads”. Not “Angels of Death” but “Devils of Death”. For this, they make a lot of money. Privatization of war is big, big business.”

This makes security companies uniquely unqualified to help build stability and provide peacekeeping. There are problems enough with legitimate peacekeepers with reports of child abuse by UN peacekeepers. But with PMCs, there is no accountability.
AFRICOM was dreamed up by the same people who promoted “Constructive Engagement” with South Africa to shore up and continue apartheid. In a brilliant article on the battle of Cuito Cuanavale, Horace Campbell writes:

In the second term of Ronald Reagan (1984-1988), and with help from the Thatcher government in Britain, [US] support was stepped up for the SADF, UNITA, Mobutu and the anti-communist forces in Southern Africa. It should be stated here that at this time all African freedom fighters had been deemed terrorists. Both Osama Bin Laden and Jonas Savimbi were at this time allies of the USA in the fight against communism. While Savimbi was called a freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela had been branded a terrorist by the USA and the South Africans. … This period is most important in so far as the very same forces in Washington that supported Jonas Savimbi and Osama Bin Laden are the same political forces seeking to mobilize the world against today’s so called war on terror.

The Heritage Foundation, which initially proposed AFRICOM to Donald Rumsfeld, were the same people who supported and promoted Renamo in Mozambique, promoted funding them through apartheid South Africa, and and promoted funding and support for Savimbi in Angola. Both Renamo, and Savimbi’s UNITA maintained long and brutal campaigns of terror. Considering the violence against civilians that characterizes the current involvement of the US and US contractors in Somalia and in the Great Lakes Region, there is no reason to think AFRICOM will be any improvement. A larger investment just means more harm.