June 2008

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.

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