July 2008

Chickens in Ghana

Chickens in Ghana

The latest WTO Doha talks have ended without an agreement.  This is good news for developing countries, and generally for the world at large.  For one thing it gives countries a bit more sovereignty:

The past has seen a tendency of nations to give up their sovereignty to some unaccountable organizations or contractual agreement frameworks. The EU, IMF, NATO or the WTO are example for such.

Afraid of mass imports of hugely subsidized goods from the U.S. and EU, developing countries insisted on their right to put tariffs on these and to protect their local long term food sources from economic ruin. The rich countries tried to deny that right to the poor even while they insisted on subsidizing their exports.

The real issue at stake here was the responsibility of a nation to provide for its people. That duty includes their security in a wide sense. Any nation is obliged to take care that it can feed its people from its own soil.

The failure of the Doha talks reaffirms this responsibility. The ability to adopt national policies on food production stays with the local people. Everyone who believes in real democracy should welcome this event. It is a win for the sovereigns of the world – its people.

The contractual agreements with unaccountable organizations mentioned above have traditionally locked developing countries into crushing cycles of debt.

The end of Doha is also a step in the right direction for the environment.

From Derailing Doha Trade Deal Essential to Saving Climate:

Global trade is carried out with transportation that is heavily dependent on fossil fuels.  It is estimated that about 60 per cent of the world’s use of oil goes to transportation activities which are more than 95 per cent dependent on fossil fuels.   An OECD study estimated that the global transport sector accounts for 20-25 per cent of carbon emissions, with some 66 per cent of this figure accounted for by emissions in the industrialized countries.

A derailment of Doha will not be a sufficient condition to formulate a strategy to contain climate change, but given the likely negative ecological consequences of a successful deal, it is a necessary condition.

I’m hoping the failure of Doha will help Ghana protect itself a bit more from EU and US agricultural dumping.  That dumping has made earning money with our small farms extremely difficult.  It is difficult to compete with goods that are priced below the cost of production.

h/t to Moon of Alabama and the well informed people who comment there.

Niger Delta oil pollution

Niger Delta oil pollution, photo by Ed Kashi

The African Loft has a two part interview with Wole Soyinka and Ed Kashi posted. Click over to the African Loft and watch Nigeria: Wole Soyinka and Ed Kashi on Niger Delta.
You can click on parts 1 and 2.

Kashi just published a book of photos taken in the Delta, Curse of the Black Gold. I ordered a copy and it is an extraordinary collection of photographs accompanied by lots of history and current information. Ed Kashi’s photos are also on display this summer in Rochester New York at the George Eastman House. One thing that struck me going through the book is that the Niger Delta should be one of the most beautiful regions of the world, lush and rich. It has been devastatingly polluted, neglected, and degraded by the oil business and the Nigerian government.

From Artdaily on Kashi’s book:

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.”

young corn in Ghana

young corn in Ghana

From  Food aid, a gigantic waste of money?, come the following figures:

It costs about $77 in fertilizers and hybrid seed for a smallholder African farmer to produce an extra ton of maize, based on our research at the Millennium Villages. To bring in the same ton of maize into Africa as U.S. food aid costs $670, based on a Government Accountability Office report. Both numbers are as of April 2007 … Since it may now cost an African smallholder farmer about $150 in inputs to produce an extra ton of maize, and she can sell it locally for $250 to $300, the farmer will generate income and begin the economic transformation from sub-subsistence into commercial entrepreneurs.

Based on this information, it seems fairly clear what the most effective way to finance food aid is.  Subsidize seeds and fertilizer for the people who are growing the food locally.  And make sure the seeds produce crops with seeds that can be harvested and regrown without paying tolls or tribute to some distant agribusiness imperial power.

Niger Delta from space

Niger Delta from space

Major A. A. Mohammed (rtd), a former chief security officer to President Ibrahim Babangida, recently gave an interview to Leadership Nigeria (also at allAfrica.com here) discussing the proposed US Africa Command, and related issues of importance.  Major Mohammed has a strong background in military intelligence.  He doesn’t mince words.  About AFRICOM he says:

It is another form of colonial-imperialist agenda to siphon our resources-oil, mineral resources, forest resources and the use of our soldiers to advance their selfish interests. We know they have continuous interest in our crude oil in the Niger Delta region of our country. And believe you me, it will boomerang some day. It will.

On terrorism:

If you invade a sovereign country for the simple reason that they have what you desperately want, I consider you a terrorist also.

And of the militants in the Delta he says:

We have to look back – who formed them in the first instance, who funds them, where do they get their weapons? These are the issues. From their utterances, you can understand that those behind them are the so-called powerful political elites in the region, either former or present political office holders. They have a lot of questions to answer, but Federal Government neglects that. I know we have a very strong military capability to deal with them. The Federal Government must look inwards within the military hierarchy and those behind them. It is unbelievable that this powerful nation will be held to ransom. I do agree the region has been neglected in terms of social amenities and educational opportunities, and they are fighting a just cause, but in a wrong way and manner. Killing innocent civilians, kidnapping foreign expatriates and putting shame and disgrace to our nation, blowing pipelines and stuff like that. I believe it could be solved without even military intervention. But I want to ask one question, where are the children of their sponsors? They are schooling abroad most of them on the nation’s expenses …

His prescription:

First, Yar’Adua should allow the security agencies to do their work, if really he agrees with the rule of law. Because it is only in this country, where someone who does not know anything about oil, but tomorrow he is a captain of the oil industry. They fly the best private jets, and you cannot talk about it. If security agencies are allowed free hand to do their work, honestly speaking, they can nail anybody that breaks the law.

Newly enlisted members of the Armed Forces of Liberia May 23, 2008

Newly enlisted members of the Armed Forces of Liberia May 23, 2008

MONROVIA, Liberia – Command Sergeant Major Mark Ripka assists with the in-processing of nearly 500 newly enlisted members of the Armed Forces of Liberia May 23, 2008, following their graduation ceremony from the Advanced Individual Training Course, where Ripka was a guest speaker. Ripka is the senior enlisted member for U.S. Africa Command. The United States partnered with the Liberian government to administer the training which was designed to equip new soldiers and officers with the military skills and techniques necessary for their future army assignments.(Photo by Lieutenant Colonel Terry VandenDolder, U.S. Africa Command)

I have a new article up at the African Loft. AFRICOM: Military Spending Instead of Development Aid? Follow the money. Click on over to read it.

Cameroonian Marine Corps members display their certificates of completion

Cameroonian Marine Corps members display their certificates of completion

CAMEROON – Cameroonian Marine Corps members display their certificates of completion, marking the end of a five-day training course on small unit reconnaissance and patrolling. The training, conducted June 9 – 13, 2008 by U.S. Marines, was sponsored by U.S. Africa Command. Its objective was to provide Cameroonian Marines with the opportunity to practice light marine infantry tactics and learn techniques for improving border patrol in the swampy region of the Bakissi Peninsula. (Department of Defense photo)

Refugees International released a report on July 17 saying:

In practice, the Pentagon is largely dictating America’s approach to foreign policy.

The rising military role in shaping U.S. global engagement is a challenge to the next president. Foreign assistance represents less than one percent of the federal budget, while defense spending is 20%. The U.S. military has over 1.5 million uniformed active duty employees and over 10,100 civilian employees, while the Department of State has some 6,500 permanent employees. Although several high-level task forces and commissions have emphasized the urgent need to modernize our aid infrastructure and increase sustainable development activities, such assistance is increasingly being overseen by military institutions whose policies are driven by the Global War on Terror, not by the war against poverty. Between 1998 and 2005, the percentage of Official Development Assistance the Pentagon controlled exploded from 3.5% to nearly 22%, while the percentage controlled by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) shrunk from 65% to 40%.

This civil-military imbalance has particular ramifications for Africa, where Global War on Terror imperatives do not address the continent’s biggest needs for security assistance. The U.S. is only helping four African countries transform their armies and security agencies into professional organizations that protect citizens rather than abuse them. Resources are allocated in a manner that does not reflect the continent’s most pressing priorities. For example, the U.S. has allocated $49.65 million for reforming a 2,000-strong Liberian army to defend the four million people of that country. In contrast, it only plans to spend $5.5 million in 2009 to help reform a 164,000-strong army in the DR Congo, a country with 65 million people where Africa’s “first world war” claimed the lives of over five million people.

The U.S. military’s new Africa Command (AFRICOM) is poised to become the dominant influence over U.S. policy on the continent.

More funding is needed to address the current 17 to 1 spending imbalance in staffing and resources between defense and diplomatic/development operations, and to reduce the use of contractors in foreign assistance programs.

Two case studies emphasize the problems inherent in the U.S. approach. Military dominance over reform programs in Liberia has resulted in a policy focused solely on restructuring Liberia’s army by expensive private contractors, DynCorp and Pacific Architects and Engineers. Meanwhile, intelligence, judiciary, and prison agencies are sadly neglected. In the DR Congo, the State Department has played a very active role in facilitating dialogue among belligerents and is concerned about the humanitarian situation in the east, but the Defense Department is virtually ignoring the nation’s desperate need of military reform. As a result, an inadequately resourced security sector reform program has contributed to the Congolese army becoming a major source of insecurity for civilian communities.

Having the Pentagon dictate foreign policy, with AFRICOM poised to become the dominant influence in US Africa policy is precisely the problem with AFRICOM. Add to that the use of military contractors, mercenaries or PMCs, who lack any accountability, and you have a disaster already in operation. That disaster will hurt the US badly, although it will probably hurt a lot more people in Africa. It is what I, and many other people wish to avoid. It is the reason not one African government, aside from Liberia, has welcomed an AFRICOM headquarters on their sovereign soil. As the report states, the Global War on Terror, and I’ll add the US quest for oil, do not address the real security issues in Africa.

Gazprom billboard near Russian parliament, and map of Libya

Gazprom billboard near Russian parliament, and map of Libya

Asia Times has a story about how Russia is outmanuevering US energy policy in Africa and around the globe.

Russia’s energy drive leaves US reeling
By M K Bhadrakumar

… But what has truly incensed the Bush administration are Gazprom’s dramatic inroads into Africa.

Russian giant Gazprom, the largest extractor of natural gas in the world, has announced plans to build a pipeline across the Mediterranean to pump Libyan gas to Europe. This is the final lap of a Kremlin strategy that involves Gazprom handling the entire output of Libya’s gas, oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) designated for export to Europe and the US.
Look at Gazprom’s terse announcement in Moscow on July 9, “The Libyan side positively evaluated Gazprom’s proposal to buy all future volumes of gas, oil and liquefied natural gas assigned for export at competitive prices.” … Putin visits Tripoli in April, less than a month before he left office, and the two erstwhile colonels decided to jointly handle all of Libya’s energy resources.

And Gazprom seeks to buy exploration licenses in Nigeria and proposes to build a pipeline from there to Algeria, and with Algeria, Gazprom is developing a proposal on “joint” marketing of gas in Europe. US officials have gone ballistic. “The monopolistic Gazprom is behaving like a monopolist does. It tries to gain control of the market as much as possible and to stifle competition. And that’s clearly what is going on,” thundered Matthew Bryza, US deputy assistant secretary of state for Eurasian affairs. “The Kremlin wants Gazprom to be a dominant force in global energy, and the dominant force in global gas. Tying up gas resources in Central Asia and Africa is part of that,” he added. The plan is for Gazprom to dominate “in every corner of the planet”, he alleged.

This is pretty funny coming from a country that seeks Full Spectrum Dominance (wikipedia definition) of the planet, in large part to dominate the oil markets.  It is also pretty funny to hear the representatives of Big Oil, the Bush administration, complaining about energy monopoly.

Washington was relieved to see the back of Putin’s presidency, but it now transpires that Gazprom may have only stepped up the pace of overtures under Medvedev’s astute guidance. Besides, with its new assets in Africa, Gazprom will soon be knocking for access to the US market through supplies of LNG. The European and international companies which have been traditionally present in the African market will be compelled to play a role alongside Gazprom.

… Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller suddenly arrived in Tehran on Monday and discussed with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad the setting up of an organization of gas-producing countries.

… During the visit, an agreement was signed on the development of Iran’s oil and gas fields by Russian companies; on Russian participation in the transfer of Iran’s Caspian Sea crude oil to the Oman Sea; cooperation in the development of Iran’s fabulous North Azadegan oil field; and, possible participation of Gazprom in the planned Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project. Evidently, Moscow took a deliberate decision to press ahead with Iran in energy cooperation in the full glare of world publicity in complete disregard of US displeasure. Tehran loved it.

… By now it must be obvious to the Bush administration that the youthful-looking, post-communist lawyer-president who took over from Putin has lost no time drilling a hole through the entire US strategy to weaken Gazprom’s grip over the supply of gas to Europe.

… The geopolitics of energy security are a highly sensitive subject for the Bush administration, whose profound links with Big Oil are legion. It is a tremendous loss of face for the Bush-Cheney-Rice combine that Moscow is outwitting the US on the energy front.

Showing its inability to learn, the Bush administration continues its plans to address unrest in the Niger Delta with AFRICOM, expanding and militarizing the conflict. From Michael Klare:

… Although department of defence officials are loath to publicly acknowledge any direct relationship between Africom’s formation and a growing US reliance on that continent’s oil, they are less inhibited in private briefings. At a 19 February meeting at the National Defence University, Africom deputy commander Vice-Admiral Robert Moeller indicated that “oil disruption” in Nigeria and West Africa would constitute one of the primary challenges facing the new organisation.

Britain seems to be planning to join in this military approach: Britain to train army in Nigeria to combat delta rebels.  Every military ruler of Nigeria trained at Sandhurst, except Abacha.  Military training and cooperation does not have a positive history relative to democracy.  The UN envoy who was supposed to negotiate with MEND and the rebels in the Delta, Ibrahim Gambari, was revealed to be a close crony of Abacha.

It was Gambari who told the United Nations that Ken Saro-Wiwa should be hung because he was “a mere common criminal”. It is therefore a certain sign of the bad faith of Nigeria’s negotiation that they pressed for Gambari to be appointed mediator with the rebels.

Gambari has resigned because of the resulting controversy, and plans for talks in the Delta have been suspended.

Supporting bad faith negotiation and military bullying will not win hearts and minds, or even control on the ground.  The US needs to rethink its approach, especially if energy security remains a US goal.

The rebellion in the Niger Delta is not a spontaneous evil, a mindless outbreak of anarchic violence that must be met with still more violence. It is paused by the grinding poverty and economic ruination of one of the most economically productive regions on earth, with the profits channelled to billionaires in Nigeria and to big oil.

As the Asia Times article points out, the energy action is global, and the players are big.  The US does not necessarily have the advantage.  So the US needs to take some of the actual facts into account, and to smarten up its approach.

Government Executive brings a story based on yesterday’s hearing. AFRICOM, which has been trumpeting how it would combine aid and diplomacy with the Pentagon is having trouble filling the jobs that are supposed to come from civilian agencies such as the State Department and USAID. Africa Command has trouble filling key civilian slots.

Developing an integrated interagency command structure has proved much harder than planners expected, witnesses told the panel. Africa Command’s architects originally expected to staff as much as a quarter of the command with experts from the State, Treasury and Agriculture departments, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other civilian agencies. But that goal proved too ambitious.

“According to State officials this goal was not vetted through civilian agencies and was not realistic because of the resource limitations in civilian agencies,” said John Pendleton, director of defense capabilities and management issues at the Government Accountability Office. As a result, Africom reduced its interagency representation to 52 notational interagency positions, or about 4 percent of the staff.

It looks like the planners of AFRICOM failed to consult with anyone before declaring the command. They did not consult with Africans, and they did not consult with the people in the US government who supposedly were cooperative partners.

But even that substantially reduced goal will be difficult to achieve. “Personnel systems among federal agencies were incompatible and do not readily facilitate integrating personnel into other agencies, particularly into nonliaison roles,” Pendleton said.

By Sept. 30, Defense expects to have only 13 of the 52 interagency command positions, or about 1 percent of the overall staff slots, filled by representatives from non-Defense agencies.

“One DoD official suggested that the U.S. government could consider the command a success ‘if it keeps American troops out of Africa for the next 50 years,'” Ploch said.

… not everyone shares the Defense Department’s enthusiasm for the new whole-of-government command.

“The prospect that Defense will focus less on fighting wars and more on preventing them engenders mixed feelings in some U.S. government circles,” Ploch said.

While many officials welcome the military’s ability to leverage resources and to organize complex operations, others worry that the military will overestimate its diplomatic role.

“Some argue that the highly unequal allocation of resources between the departments of Defense, State and USAID hinder their ability to act as equal partners and could lead to the militarization of development and diplomacy,” Ploch said.

In a speech Tuesday to the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign in Washington, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said those concerns are legitimate, but he emphasized the importance of better cooperation between civilian agencies and the military services.

“Where our government has been able to bring America’s civilian and the military assets together to support local partners, there have been promising results,” he said, pointing to an effort in the Philippines. There, U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney has “overseen a campaign involving multiple agencies working closely with their Philippine counterparts in a synchronized effort that has delegitimized and rolled back extremists in Mindanao,” he said.

Worries about “a creeping militarization of some aspects of America’s foreign policy,” can be assuaged with “the right leadership, adequate funding of civilian agencies, effective coordination on the ground, and a clear understanding of the authorities, roles, and missions of military versus civilian efforts, and how they fit, or in some cases don’t fit, together,” Gates said.

Of course not everyone sees the US military activity in the Philippines in such a positive light. See How the US got its Philippine bases back by Herbert Docena in Asia Times. It has lessons for Africa.

And I doubt worries about “creeping militarization” can be assuaged so easily. Keeping American troops out will need to be looked at, since they are already there in a number of countries. Individual troops rotate in and out, but the presence is always there. And even if American troops are not there, if the US government or US corporations are arming and paying Africans to kill each other, as in the past, or employing mercenaries for the same purpose, the US will not have gained anything positive, or any return for the taxpayers funding the destruction.

For transcripts of testimony at yesterdays Congressional hearing, scroll down this page: AFRICOM: Rationales, Roles, and Progress on the Eve of Operations

h/t to Outside the Silver Lining for the graphic above.

Tommy the Cork

cover of book: Tommy the Cork

I came across the column below awhile back, and was able to track it down this evening.  It has always seemed to me extremely dim witted to vote for the candidate and not the party.  People often say they do this as though it was some indication of their good judgement and virtue.   As a canny politician once told me, vote for the person whose party will push him (or her) in the right direction.  This is particularly true in those cases where you think all the candidates are bums.  Here is advice on how to pick a president from Tommy the Cork via Molly Ivins:

How to Pick a President
Molly Ivins |  September 24, 2004

This is the Tommy Corcoran column. Tommy the Cork, so dubbed by FDR, was a Washington wise man. His various biographers called him the ultimate insider, the super lawyer, and the master fixer. He came to Washington in 1926 to clerk for Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and became a fixture, an almost institutional source of wisdom about American politics, before his death in 1981.

The Cork had a theory about how to choose a president. He always said it didn’t matter who was running, that it was unnecessary to pay any attention to them. What matters, he said, is the approximately 1,500 people the president brings to Washington with him, his appointments to the positions where people actually run things. The question to consider is which 1,500 people we get.

Chinese Contingent of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) during a medal ceremony held today (06/20/2008) in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein

Chinese Contingent of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) during a medal ceremony held June 2008, in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein

The Human Security Brief 2007 reports:

… the extraordinary, but largely unnoticed, positive change in sub-Saharan Africa’s security landscape. After a surge of conflicts in the 1990s, the number of conflicts being waged in the region more than halved between 1999 and 2006; the combat toll dropped by 98 percent.

… Between 2002 and 2006 the number of campaigns of organized violence against civilians fell by two-thirds.

During the first 6 years of this century peace and stability have 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.

Then the Bush administration dreamed up AFRICOM.

From Michael Klare:

American policymakers have long viewed the protection of overseas oil supplies as an essential matter of “national security”, requiring the threat of – and sometimes the use of – military force. This is now an unquestioned part of US foreign policy.

… Although department of defence officials are loath to publicly acknowledge any direct relationship between Africom’s formation and a growing US reliance on that continent’s oil, they are less inhibited in private briefings. At a 19 February meeting at the National Defence University, Africom deputy commander Vice-Admiral Robert Moeller indicated that “oil disruption” in Nigeria and West Africa would constitute one of the primary challenges facing the new organisation.

AFRICOM is about oil. It is a combatant command. There has been lots of talk about its humanitarian role, lots of photo ops in African countries, and lots of talk about working with the State Department and USAID. But the State Department and USAID are just tools for AFRICOM to insert itself into target countries such as Nigeria. The Pentagon can kill lots of people, or arrange for others to kill lots of people. It can devastate the environment. But it will not be able to secure the oil.

The Pentagon intends most of the actual fighting to be done by African surrogates, hence the AFRICOM emphasis on training. Or have it done by mercenaries, who are unregulated and unaccountable. And that is one reason the Cheney Bush administration likes them so much. They are subject to the laws of no nation. The mercenary corporations are looking to AFRICOM for their next contracts.

Theresa Whelan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, and frequent spokesperson for AFRICOM addressed a dinner of the IPOA, the association of military contractors.

Contractors are here to stay in supporting US national security objectives overseas.

… some times we may not want to be very visible.

The US is investing more money in the IPOA, the International Peace Operations Association, for “peacekeeping” and “stability operations. At the same time, just before Bush visited Africa this year, he he made huge cuts to the US peacekeeping contribution to the UN.

But to think the US or any country can secure the world’s oil by use of military force is to live in Dick Cheney’s own version of cloud cuckoo land.

As Klare concludes:

After all, other than George Bush and Dick Cheney, who would claim that, more than five years after the invasion of Iraq, either the US or its supply of oil is actually safer?

Contrast this with China’s approach. China’s interest is at least as self serving as the US. It wants and needs Africa’s oil and other resources. But so far it is behaving in a far more practical manner.

From Elaine Wu at the University of Southern California comes this report:

China’s Presence Increasingly Important in Cooling the World’s Hot Spots

China, which has long been wary of foreign entanglements and has historically had a policy of nonintervention, is playing an increasingly prominent role in U.N. peacekeeping operations and other humanitarian aid undertakings. …

In efforts to expand its role as a global leader, China has increased diplomatic ties and economic linkages with resource-rich regions of the world, including … Africa

Currently, of the five permanent members on the U.N. Security Council, China and France are the two largest contributors to peacekeeping missions.

However, China continues to shy away from any form of direct military involvement. Most of China’s peacekeepers are non-military personnel. Some serve as military observers, advisors and liaisons, but the majority of Chinese forces deployed are involved with engineering, transportation, medical and other civilian projects.

According to 2007 statistics released by the Peacekeeping Affairs Office of China’s Ministry of Defense, Chinese peacekeepers have built more than 7,300 kilometers of roads, constructed over 200 bridges, treated more than 28,000 medical patients, performed over 230 surgical operations, and have cleared more than 7,500 explosives.

China has never deployed any military troops in any of its missions,” Wen Long told US-China Today. Wen is a Chinese counter-terrorism unit officer and a former member of a Chinese peacekeeping delegation. “China’s attitude towards peacekeeping missions is one of giving help and aid, not to take any kind of aggressive stance. We want to show we care about humanitarian crises.”

It’s not easy for a Chinese police officer to be chosen to go on a mission,” Wen said.

China sets rigorous standards for selecting and training its peacekeepers. In order to be selected for the government’s intensive training program, officers must be at least 25 years old, have an associate degree from an institution of higher education and at least five years of professional work experience in public security fields. In addition, they must have proof of proficiency in English, two years of driving experience and be in top physical and mental condition. In the government’s 2004 screening examination only about 10% of the 500 candidates were accepted, according to a statement by Guo Baoshan, deputy director general of the international co-operation department of the Ministry of Public Security.

In 2002, China built Asia’s largest peacekeeping civil police training center on the outskirts of Beijing. The center trains its cadets in physical and technical skills, as well as in extensive foreign language proficiency and other areas of expertise required for specific missions. In addition to being trained and screened by the Chinese government, all peacekeeping candidates must pass a strict selection examination organized by the U.N., which tests cadets on their knowledge of and skills in U.N. field procedures.

China is very careful to send its best-trained troops, the cream-of-the-crop, to foreign countries,” said Daniel Lynch, an associate professor of international relations at the University of Southern California. “They’re very concerned with projecting a good image.”

“China is under a lot of pressure to be seen as a responsible power as its economic and military power is growing,” Lynch said. “It’s taking small steps, but it wants to prove that it’s a non-threatening, benign power.”

Most China experts agree that as long as China’s economy continues to grow, it will continue to become increasingly involved in world affairs. However, a heated discussion persists in academic, business and political fields over whether China’s rising influence will be a detriment to the current world order or a balancing force for a more stable global system.

And John Taplin writes regarding oil that the:

… Chinese have locked up supply all over Africa, just with a piece of paper, a contact stating they will buy all of the oil output at whatever the prevailing spot price is, for 10 years. They then introduce the local oil company to their local banking partners which lend the driller money against the Chinese contract. So while we have spent six years getting our ass shot off in Baghdad, the Chinese have been busy locking up much more oil than us without even writing a check and without getting their soldiers killed.

To recap, the US creates the Africa Command, trains surrogates, and employs mercenaries to secure oil resources by military force in Africa, damaging prospects for peace and stability.  China writes contracts to buy the oil at the going price, and helps build infrastructure.

Which approach looks more like the approach of a responsible world citizen and benign world power? Which approach looks like the best business practice and best investment? Which approach looks the most patriotic, benefiting the citizens at home while saving lives and money?

Carpenters with coffin in the shape of a Coca Cola bottle
Carpenters with coffin in the shape of a Coca Cola bottle. You can see more pictures at Ghana Web.

The Economist has an article up about how sales of Coke track economic change in Africa:

AFRICANS buy 36 billion bottles of Coke a year. Because the price is set so low—around 20-30 American cents, less than the price of the average newspaper—and because sales are so minutely analysed by Coca-Cola, the Coke bottle may be one of the continent’s best trackers of stability and prosperity.

“We see political instability first because we go down as far as we can into the market,” says Alexander Cummings, head of Coca-Cola’s Africa division. The ups and downs during Kenya’s post-election violence this year could be traced in sales of Coke in Nairobi’s slums and in western Kenya’s villages. Events in the Middle East, such as the 2006 war between Hizbullah and Israel, can dent sales in Muslim parts of Africa, though anti-American feeling usually wears off quite quickly.

At a macro-level, when Coke fails, the country whose market it is trying to penetrate usually fails too. Coca-Cola’s bottling plant in Eritrea hardly works because the country’s totalitarian government makes it impossible to import the needed syrup. The factory in Somalia sputtered on heroically during years of fighting but finally gave out when its sugar was pinched by pirates and its workers were held up by gunmen. Mr Cummings admits that Coca-Cola is “on life support” in Zimbabwe.

Still, if Coca-Cola’s predictions are anything to go by, Africa’s future is mostly bright. The company expects sales in Africa to grow by an annual 10-13% over the next few years, handily outstripping economic growth.

I have a new post up on at the African Loft: The Vultures are Gathering – Mercenary Corporations look to AFRICOM for new Contracts. The IPOA, the orwellianly named International Peace Operations Association is looking to AFRICOM and Africa for their next contracts. Take a look.

corn in Ghana

Corn in Ghana

The Guardian obtained an unpublished study by the World Bank. The reason it has not been published is probably because it would embarrass President Bush and create tensions between the World Bank and the White House. So it has been completed and sitting unpublished since April.

Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% …The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.

The figure emphatically contradicts the US government’s claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.

“Political leaders seem intent on suppressing and ignoring the strong evidence that biofuels are a major factor in recent food price rises,” said Robert Bailey, policy adviser at Oxfam. “It is imperative that we have the full picture. While politicians concentrate on keeping industry lobbies happy, people in poor countries cannot afford enough to eat.”

Rising food prices have pushed 100m people worldwide below the poverty line, estimates the World Bank, and have sparked riots from Bangladesh to Egypt. Government ministers here have described higher food and fuel prices as “the first real economic crisis of globalisation”.

President Bush has linked higher food prices to higher demand from India and China, but the leaked World Bank study disputes that: “Rapid income growth in developing countries has not led to large increases in global grain consumption and was not a major factor responsible for the large price increases.”

Even successive droughts in Australia, calculates the report, have had a marginal impact. Instead, it argues that the EU and US drive for biofuels has had by far the biggest impact on food supply and prices.

… The basket of food prices examined in the study rose by 140% between 2002 and this February. The report estimates that higher energy and fertiliser prices accounted for an increase of only 15%, while biofuels have been responsible for a 75% jump over that period.

It argues that production of biofuels has distorted food markets in three main ways.

  1. First, it has diverted grain away from food for fuel, with over a third of US corn now used to produce ethanol and about half of vegetable oils in the EU going towards the production of biodiesel.
  2. Second, farmers have been encouraged to set land aside for biofuel production.
  3. Third, it has sparked financial speculation in grains, driving prices up higher.

“It is clear that some biofuels have huge impacts on food prices,” said Dr David King, the government’s former chief scientific adviser, last night. “All we are doing by supporting these is subsidising higher food prices, while doing nothing to tackle climate change.”

scene from torture training video in Mexico

Still from a video in which a US Contractor Leads Torture Training in Mexico.

AFRICOM plans to make Ghana its anchor in the west African version of the DoD “War on Drugs”. Drugs are the DoD (Department of Defense) tool of choice for coopting a country. Nevermind that the US “War on Drugs” has gone on for decades with no apparent success, and has often been allied with the same people who are trafficking and profiting from drugs, as in Columbia, Afghanistan and Southeast Asia.

The Drug War Expands to Western Africa describes the problems faced by Guinea-Bissau, but also states:

DoD has identified Ghana as its “anchor country” for emerging counternarcotics efforts through AFRICOM.

Whichever is your richest and strongest government department, that is where the most opportunities for corruption lie, and where you will find people taking advantage of those opportunities. By investing heavily in African militaries, the US strengthens the opportunities and the likelihood of corruption in the countries it targets, and increases the likelihood of military coups. When the military controls the government, it is much easier to control the trade in contraband, the profits, and to protect cronies from the law.

The article describes the military complicity in Guinea-Bissau:

The military is thought to be complicit in the drug trade; last year, two military personnel were detained along with a civilian in a vehicle carrying 635 kilos of cocaine. The army secured the soldiers’ release and they have not been charged.

When Ghana had military governments they regulated the price of cocoa. Then the military smuggled cocoa across the border and sold it for higher prices, and officers pocketed the profits. There was no point in most farmers investing much in cocoa, they could not profit on their own. Strengthening the military in the face of the drug trade just provides these same opportunities to make even more money through the same practices that harm the country and enrich corrupt elites. There are passionately patriotic Ghanaians who would oppose this, within the military and without. But there are always plenty of people who are corruptible. It is very difficult to fight corruption when corruption becomes the norm.

It is the current elites in Ghana, and the NPP party in power who have been most often associated with cocaine and drug scandals in the press, such as MP Eric Amoateng, and even rumors regarding the Asantehene.

It gets a lot uglier than this. Keep in mind that the Pentagon via AFRICOM plans to use PMCs, the Private Military Corporations, that are currently gathering to feed at the AFRICOM trough, now that Iraq is passing laws that strip the PMCs of immunity for their actions, and the Iraq war may be winding down.

PMCs have been training the military and police in a number of countries. They are training in Mexico where videos of torture training for the Mexican police by an American PMC have just emerged.

Supposedly the people being tortured are trainees who “volunteered”, and they are learning how to psychologically withstand torture. But according to the account, the torture techniques they are learning are not typical of those used by the local gangs and criminals. From the article:

Leon city Police Chief Carlos Tornero told the AP that the English-speaking man in the videos is a contractor from a private US security firm. Tornero refused to elaborate on the man’s identity, details about the US company, and who contracted the company.

The government’s response has been to defend the program, attack the media for reporting on the videos, and deny the illegality of torture.

Mexico’s national daily La Jornada was quick to point out that torture is in fact prohibited, contrary to the public security chief’s assertions: “Torture is a crime in Guanajuato: in accordance with Article 264 of the state Penal Code, the public servant who ‘intentionally exercises violence against a person, be it in order to obtain information or constituting an illicit investigation method,’ faces a punishment of 2-10 years in prison.”

The existence of a training led by a US defense contractor to teach Mexican police
torture tactics in order to combat organized crime and the local government’s adamant defense of the program is particularly disturbing considering the US government’s recent approval of the $1.6 billion Plan Mexico, also known as the Merida Initiative. Plan Mexico is an aid package specifically designed to support President Felipe Calderón’s deadly battle against organized crime. It will fund more US training for Mexican police and military, in addition to providing them with riot gear, spy equipment, and military aircraft. Plan Mexico allows funds for the deployment of up to fifty US defense contractors to Mexico.

This is not the first time US defense contractors have directed torture in foreign countries.

Representatives of the US training other countries’ police and military how to torture is not unprecedented, but it is still deeply shocking. Contraband and coups are the legacy of the US “War on Drugs” in Latin America. We do not need to spread that. Is this what AFRICOM and the US are bringing to West Africa?

Cornstalk in Ghana

Cornstalk in Ghana

Yash Tandon writes at Pambazuka that there are:

… five basic guidelines, or principles, that must form the basis of any food policy. These are:

1. The Principle of food sovereignty. This is not the same as “food security”. A country can have food security through food imports. Dependence on food imports is precarious and prone to multiple risks — from price risks, to supply risks, to conditionality risks (policy conditions that come with food imports). Food sovereignty, on the other hand, implies ensuring domestic production and supply of food. It means that the nationals of the country (or at the very least nationals within the region) must primarily be responsible for ensuring that the nation and the region are first and foremost dependent on their own efforts and resources to grow their basic foods.

2. The Principle of priority of food over export crops produced by small farms sustained by state provision of the necessary infrastructure of financial credit, water, energy, extension service, transport, storage, marketing, and insurance against crop failures due to climate changes or other unforeseen circumstances.

3. The Principle of self-reliance and national ownership and control over the main resources for food production. These are land, seeds, water, energy, essential fertilizers and technology and equipment (for production, harvesting, storage and transport).

4. The Principle of food safety reserves. Each nation must maintain, through primarily domestic production and storage systems (including village storage as well as national silos) sufficient stocks of “reserve foods” to provide for emergencies.

5. The Principle of a fair and equitable distribution of “reserve foods” among the population during emergencies.

He concludes:

A proper analysis of the food crisis is a matter that cannot be left with trade negotiators, investment experts, or agricultural engineers. It is essentially a matter of political economy.

Which is very similar to what Vandana Shiva writes:

In a democracy, the economic agenda is the political agenda.