October 2008

Laurent Nkunda (inset) and captured "terrorists"

Laurent Nkunda (inset) and defeated "terrorists"

Rwanda is a key partner in the US “War on Terror”. But the US is looking for coltan, and other precious mineral resources, not terrorists, and the coltan and other resources are located in the Congo DRC, not in Rwanda. Coltan is critical to cell phones. The reason that people are being displaced in the DRC is because the US, and its clients in Rwanda and Uganda want the resources in the DRC. The destruction of villages, and the brutal and pervasive use of rape, is terrorism used to depopulate areas and preserve access to precious coltan and other natural resources. This terrorism is barely known in the US, even though the US helps fund it. The sale of DRC natural resources benefits the elites of Rwanda and Uganda, and powerful players in the United States.

The really main important things that people should know that is the war in the Congo is directly connected to the United States …

From an interview with Kambale Musavuli at Democracy Now

the root cause of the conflict in the Congo is the scramble for Congo’s mineral resources … the strife is not more so of an ethnic strife, but more so of the scramble for Congo’s mineral resources.

The rapes are a direct result of the war. We’re seeing it—the latest spasm that we’re seeing right now has been going on since ’96. The rapes, the murders, they all are being done as a way of mass displacement, if you have to put it in the context. As one person is brutalized in a community, the people in the neighborhood will be afraid, and that will cause them to be displaced. As you mentioned, we have about 1.5 million people internally displaced in the Congo. As this strategy has been used in the eastern part, we’re seeing masses of people being displaced from the villages, from the cities, simply because they live in a area rich of minerals. Now we’re seeing it very clearly, The Virunga Park was taken over yesterday, simply because there are resources that Laurent Nkunda exploit into the Virunga Park.

So, to end the rape, you must end the conflict. And to end the conflict, you must stop the resource exploitation of the Congo … we do know that Rwanda is supporting proxy forces in the eastern part of the Congo. And we can use such people who have Kagame’s ear, such as Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Cindy McCain, Rick Warren, to put pressure on Kagame to make sure that not—we do not see another nearly six million people dying in the eastern part of the Congo …

The US has paid at least $7 million to Rwanda in military assistance this year.

Just before Bush visited Rwanda in 2008, Bahati Ntama Jacques and Beth Tuckey wrote:

Will the leader of the most powerful country in the world have the courage to discuss Rwanda’s negative role in peace and economic development in the DRC? Will Bush castigate Kagame for not providing the political space for Hutus to return to Rwanda? This is not likely because of the strategic value of coltan, a metallic ore extracted from Central Africa, without which cell phones, computers, and other technologies cannot be made.

From 1996-2003, the Congolese people suffered a great deal from two wars that pitted Rwanda and its allies against the DRC. A recent report from the International Rescue Committee estimates that 5.5 million Congolese have died as a result of this conflict. According to Inter Press Service journalist Tito Dragon, “to control coltan mines that was the principal, if not the only, motivation behind the U.S.-backed 1998 occupation of part of DRC territory by Rwanda and Uganda.” In fact, in 2004, after a three-year investigation, a UN Panel of Experts implicated three major U.S. companies (Cabot Corporation, Eagle Wings Resources International, and OM Group) for fueling war in DRC by collaborating with rebel groups trafficking coltan. In spite of major human rights violations, Bush administration assistance to Rwanda continues today largely due to Kagame’s willingness to be engaged in the so called War on Terror.

From an interview with Paul Rusesabagina:

PR: … And there was no infrastructure in the Congo, so everything was fleeing the Congo by Rwanda. That was very well known. Smuggling minerals, smuggling coffee… Rwanda was producing more coffee than Congo… If you planted coffee over the whole country of Rwanda, you cannot have produced what we were selling outside. That was smuggling.

KHS: So, the Congo pillage is still going on by Rwanda
PR: So, it is as I told you. That is why General Nkunda is there. Nkunda is on a mission.
KHS: His mission is to make sure the raw materials keep coming into Rwanda
PR: And also that Kagame controls Eastern Congo And he does.

The picture of gorillas at the top of this post comes from this report:

Rebels in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo have attacked and are now occupying the headquarters of Virunga National Park’s gorilla sanctuary. News is coming in that the forces of renegade general Laurent Nkunda are vandalizing the area, and are keeping the rangers trapped.

Sometimes it is easier to think about horrors on the small scale, as with the gorillas rather than the great numbers of people whose lives are being devastated. In some estimates 1.5 million people have been displaced just by the recent fighting. They are subjected to unimaginable brutality, and have lost homes, possessions and family. The press continues to portray the violence in the eastern DRC as ethnic conflict arising from the massacres in Rwanda in 1994. But that avoids mention of the true root cause, the scramble for resources. The ethnic issues could be resolved if it did not pay some people to keep them festering.

Right now the BBC is reporting thousands of people displaced. They have posted some current video here.

And there is also this report on the current situation:

The fighting had started on Sunday [Oct 26] when Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People (NCDP) launched a major offensive in eastern North Kivu province.

Late on Tuesday Nkunda’s men claimed to have taken a town near Goma, the provincial capital.

… “There are at least 850,000 internally displaced people from North Kivu province, and that was before the latest wave of fighting started in August. We’re talking of another 250,000 displaced since.

“If the UN is forced to withdraw from North Kivu, you’re talking about nearly a million displaced Congolese, with basically no protection from what are about about a dozen armed groups in North Kivu.”

Those groups are brutal, ruthless, and well supplied with arms. The more they can terrorize and drive the population out, the better they can control the resources. The people at the top of the militias get a percentage of profits. Many of the soldiers are children, whose experience in life is almost entirely violence. The soldiers doing the fighting live off what they can take from the people they terrorize. Nobody should have to live this way, neither terrorists nor terrorized. And none of us should be paying to facilitate this violence.

Added Oct 30:
For some additional perspective here are some further words from Kambale Musavuli from this article:

… [Every month] 45,000 people continue to die in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and that the scale of devastation seen in Darfur happens in the Congo every five and a half months.

In reality, the source of the conflict in Congo for most of its history has been the scramble for its enormous wealth, not the internecine, ethnic bloodletting more commonly blamed. In the late 1990s, Congo was invaded twice by Rwanda and Uganda with the backing and support of the United States, as documented in the 2001 congressional hearings held by Representatives Cynthia McKinney and Tom Tancredo. It was these invasions that unleashed the tremendous suffering that exists in Congo today.

Somali pirates

Somali pirates

Just who can stop the Somali pirates? We may not know who can stop them, but we know who did stop them. According to this report from Chatham House:

PDF: Piracy in Somalia – Threatening global trade, feeding local wars

Piracy has been a problem in Somali waters for at least ten years. However, the number of attempted and successful attacks has risen over the last three years. … The only period during which piracy virtually vanished around Somalia was during the six months of rule by the Islamic Courts Union in the second half of 2006. This indicates that a functioning government in Somalia is capable of controlling piracy. After the removal of the courts piracy re-emerged. (p3)

Piracy returned and has increased since the US/Ethiopian invasion of Somalia at the end of December 2006.  A Somali government with some support from Somali people can actually govern.   But the US and the Ethiopians decided  to crush it, resulting in humanitarian disaster and the return of piracy.

There is no question that piracy is a serious problem off the coast of Somalia. It is also a problem that is being hyped by western media resulting in certain inconsistencies in the story, some described in these three September posts from Kotare: Somali pirates and their lair, Pirates in Puntland, and The Bullshit Files: Pirates of Puntland.

It looks like the upsurge of piracy in Somalia is another result of the failure of Bush administration strategic thinking, and failed US foreign/military policy.

Using PMSCs, private military and security corporations, deregulates the military, just as was done with the banks. I’m blogging on the run, but I thought I’d bring these quotes from CorpWatch, (h/t b real).

“Why are we using private contractors to do peace negotiations in Sudan? The answer is simple,” says a senior United States government official who works on Sudan-related issues who preferred to remain anonymous. “We are not allowed to fund a political party or agenda under United States law, so by using private contractors, we can get around those provisions. Think of this as somewhere between a covert program run by the CIA and an overt program run by the United States Agency for International Development. It is a way to avoid oversight by Congress.”

Meanwhile, on another continent:

But DynCorp’s role in another State Department contract also appears designed to circumvent United States law under Plan Colombia. In the Colombian conflict, Washington has supplied more than 70 Black Hawk and Huey helicopters and other military hardware that are maintained and flown by private contractors.

Anxious to avoid the “secret wars” conducted by the Pentagon in Laos and Cambodia in the 1960s, Congress limited the number of US personnel that can operate in Colombia to 400 in uniform and 400 civilian contractors at any given time. US law also requires congressional notification before the government can approve the export of military services valued at $50 million or more.

By limiting each individual contract to several million dollars; labeling them peace-keeping missions; employing retired CIA and Special Forces personnel working for private contractors as well as foreign nationals (to whom the 400 person ceiling does not apply), Congress does not have to be notified, making the contracts harder to oversee.between a covert program run by the CIA and an overt program run by the United States Agency for International Development. It is a way to avoid oversight by Congress.”

I have a new post up at the African Loft: Obama’s Africa Policy: Does he have one? His Africa policy was described at the National Press Club in September by  Witney W. Schneidman, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Clinton administration.

He outlined three objectives for the continent:

  • One is to accelerate Africa’s integration into the global economy.
  • A second is to enhance the peace and security of African states.
  • And a third is to strengthen relationships with those governments, institutions and civil society organizations committed to deepening democracy, accountability and reducing poverty in Africa.

There is more discussion of these objectives and what they mean in the article.  Most positive were these lines:

the days of external powers on their own deciding what is best for Africa needs to come to an end, once and for all.

There is a lot more there.  Click over to the African Loft and read the whole story.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone

In September the Swiss Initiative on Private Military and Security Companies and the International Committee of the Red Cross published the The Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies PDF , described by David Isenberg:

The document, while not legally binding, recalls existing obligations regarding private security companies during armed conflict and identifies good practices to assist states in ensuring respect for international humanitarian law and applicable human rights law, and in otherwise promoting responsible conduct in their relationships with private security companies during armed conflict.

The document was signed by Afghanistan, Angola, Australia, Austria, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, Iraq, Poland, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United States. The signatories represent an interesting mix of past and present experience with private contractors. Afghanistan and Iraq are obvious choices, by dint of the enormous presence of contractors in those countries.

The United States and Britain, which are the world’s largest users of contractors presently, and the countries where the vast majority of private security contractors are headquartered, also must be included.

Finally, Angola, Sierra Leone and South Africa were all countries that had to deal with the now defunct Executive Outcomes, the mother of all security contractors. EO, based in South Africa, had fought in the civil wars in Angola and Sierra Leone. As a consequence, both South Africa and Sierra Leone had passed some of the most detailed legislation anywhere in the world on how to regulate private security contractors.

The document is divided into two sections. The first highlights existing international laws with which such companies should comply. The bottom line is that under existing international law, states cannot circumvent their obligations by using private military contractors. They have to take appropriate measures to prevent any violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law and to provide the necessary remedies for the suppression of such violations. They are directly responsible for the conduct of contractors if these enterprises act in a governmental capacity.

The second lists some 70 “good practices” for assisting countries in fulfilling their legal obligations. These include: avoiding the use of contractors for activities that clearly require the use of force; states must assure the good reputation of companies they send abroad, and they are encouraged to create a system of control, surveillance and sanctions in case of breaches; companies should be regulated and licensed; and the personnel from these companies, among other things, must be trained in the rules of international humanitarian law.

To its credit, the IPOA, the PMSCs trade and lobbying association welcomes the document.  I am not the biggest admirer of the IPOA, but to their credit, they have supported accountability to a much greater extent than the Bush Cheney administration has done.  The Bush Cheney administration employ PMSCs precisely in order to circumvent the law and avoid accountability.  It is their way of deregulating the military, just as the Republicans have done to the banks.

The big drawback to the document is that it is not legally binding, but it articulates important points that need to be considered when states employ PMSCs.  It recommends the same principles for private entities and corporations that employ PMSCs, but does not really get into much depth or detail regarding private employers, other than recommending they follow the same practices.

The Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies PDF does a particulary good job of defining PMSCs, and the role of states in relation to PMSCs.   It divides involved states into contracting states, territorial states, and home states as follows:

That for the purposes of this document:

a)  “PMSCs” are private business entities that provide military and/or security services,  irrespective of how they describe themselves. Military and security services include, in  particular, armed guarding and protection of persons and objects, such as convoys, buildings and other places; maintenance and operation of weapons systems; prisoner  detention; and advice to or training of local forces and security personnel.

b)  “Personnel of a PMSC” are persons employed by, through direct hire or under a  contract with, a PMSC, including its employees and managers.

c)  “Contracting States” are States that directly contract for the services of PMSCs,  including, as appropriate, where such a PMSC subcontracts with another PMSC.

d)  “Territorial States” are States on whose territory PMSCs operate.

e)  “Home States” are States of nationality of a PMSC, i.e. where a PMSC is registered or  incorporated; if the State where the PMSC is incorporated is not the one where it has its  principal place of management, then the State where the PMSC has its principal place of  management is the “Home State”.

The document includes the subcontractors as part of the contractual obligations of the states involved and the PMSCs.

Following are the first four of the understandings that guided this document:

1.  That certain well-established rules of international law apply to States in their relations with  private military and security companies (PMSCs) and their operation during armed conflict,  in particular under international humanitarian law and human rights law;

2.  That this document recalls existing legal obligations of States and PMSCs and their  personnel (Part One), and provides States with good practices to promote compliance with  international humanitarian law and human rights law during armed conflict (Part Two);

3.  That this document is not a legally binding instrument and does not affect existing  obligations of States under customary international law or under international agreements to  which they are parties, in particular their obligations under the Charter of the United  Nations (especially its articles 2(4) and 51);

4.  That this document should therefore not be interpreted as limiting, prejudicing or enhancing  in any manner existing obligations under international law, or as creating or developing new  obligations under international law;

The first two understandings state that there is already applicable international law regarding the employment and conduct of PMSCs.  The second two understandings make it clear that this document is nonbinding, and does not create any new obligations under international law.

On the plus side, the accountability described in the document is supposed to come from the three categories of states involved in the contracting process, and is not dependent on international law except in its guiding principles.

The gigantic problem that is not mentioned is how do you enforce either the guidelines or the law.  We have seen in Iraq, even in circumstances when there have been serious and visible violations of applicable law, even under the jurisdiction of military justice, bringing perpetrators to justice, collecting and preserving evidence, and finding witnesses is close to impossible.  So until there is law that is binding, and has both reach and teeth, accountability will be elusive and PMSCs will be outside the law.  We hope that the Montreux Document will begin to bring some influence and pressure between states to move in the direction of accountability.

A U.S. Special Forces soldier instructs Malian troops in counterterrorism tactics through a translator (right, in black turban) on the outskirts of Timbuktu. Photographs by Justin Bishop.

A U.S. Special Forces soldier instructs Malian troops in counterterrorism tactics through a translator (right, in black turban) on the outskirts of Timbuktu. Photographs by Justin Bishop (2007).

To understand AFRICOM, it is important to look at where the energy and where the money are focused.

In May b real wrote at Moon of Alabama:

… maintaining control of the perception of AFRICOM is very important in the initial stages of the new command. However, since the official public image of AFRICOM (”a new kind of command” combining humanitarian missions with the pentagon’s soft power capabilities to help Africans help themselves) hardly matches up with the command’s true mission (secure and guarantee U.S. access to vital energy sources and distribution channels while containing China’s growing superpower status), AFRICOM, and everyone involved in promoting it, will remain beset by their own contradictions and weaknesses.

An article at CNN reports:

Africom’s deputy for military operations, Vice Adm. Robert T. Moeller, said in a telephone interview Monday … “Our primary responsibility … is working with our African partners to help them build their security capacity” — mainly by training armies and peacekeepers. Moeller added that “a secure and stable Africa is very, very much in U.S. strategic interests.”

And from General Ward in another story:

“Our primary mission is to work with the nations of Africa and their organizations to assist them in increasing their capacity to provide for their own security,” Gen. William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, told reporters during the inauguration ceremony of AFRICOM.

And yet, Refugees International reports AFRICOM’s security budget is meager:

Currently, no funds are allocated for security sector and governance capacity-building for African nations. Instead, funding is being requested for Global War on Terror priorities.

[In Africa] Global War on Terror imperatives do not address the continent’s biggest needs for security assistance.

From CNN again:

Africans believe Africom is aimed at promoting America’s interests, not Africa’s,” said Wafula Okumu, a Kenyan analyst at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies.

Most Africans don’t trust their own militaries, which in places like Congo have turned weapons on their own people.

As is also decribed by Refugees International:

… the Defense Department is virtually ignoring the nation’s [Congo’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.

Refugees International also describes the funding imbalances that both drive and describe the militarization of US foreign policy:

Foreign assistance represents less than one percent of the federal budget, while defense spending is 20% … 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%.

An article in HStoday (unintentionally) makes even more clear the contradictions in the role of the Africa command:

The CT [AFRICOM counterterrorism] officials told HSToday.us that Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda-influenced Muslim jihadists in Africa are becoming an increasingly serious terrorist threat that has forced much greater attention to be focused on the region.
one of the Command’s fundamental roles is indeed counterterror intelligence and disruption operations.

Yet from the same article:

“in many parts of Africa it is perceived as the US bringing its war on terror to Africa. That is not what AFRICOM is about, but that is how it has been seen.”

Which is almost funny, considering the content of most of the article.

While long-term US strategic interests in Africa clearly are of concern and under the purview of AFRICOM, the more immediate problem for the US is Islamist terrorism, the CT officials told HSToday.us.

For the time being, AFRICOM will be based in Stuttgart, with covert intelligence operatives working out of US installations and front companies throughout Africa.

This last strikes me as nightmarishly bad foreign policy. It sounds like the US is replaying all the worst features of US foreign policy in Africa (and in Asia and Latin America) from the last 60 years. This is how you destabilize governments, with “disruption operations”.  It is not capacity building, it does not strengthen human security.  It is not partnering or peacekeeping.  It does not help refugees return home or economies develop.  It does not make things anywhere more secure and stable.  It promotes trade in contraband and the destabilizing movement of money across borders facilitating more trade in contraband.  As well as being destructive, covert disruption operations are not cheap, and they are not easy to justify in budget requests, which makes using and encouraging contraband for funding more attractive.

Contrast again the two statements above:

[In Africa] Global War on Terror imperatives do not address the continent’s biggest needs for security assistance.


… one of the Command’s fundamental roles is indeed counterterror intelligence and disruption operations … the more immediate problem for the US is Islamist terrorism …

The representatives of AFRICOM are telling the American and African public that AFRICOM is all about peacekeeping, capacity building, and security.   But the focus of the energy and funding for AFRICOM is all about counterterrorism, military development, psyops and disruptive covert operations.  The public narrative is lies and illusions.  The public narrative creates a false front and false face to those whose lives will be most seriously impacted.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, left, and U.S. Africa Command Commander Army Gen. William E. Ward, right, stand next to the flag during the activation ceremony of U.S. Africa Command in the Pentagon, October 1, 2008. (DoD photo by U.S. Petty Officer 2nd Class Molly A. Burgess) AFRICOM Photo ID 20081002085926

Sokari shares this:

US launches AFRICOM

For the past 500 years, Africa has been a target for exploitation of both human and natural resources. With the establishment of AFRICOM, the Pentagon attempts to increase access to Africa’s oil and to wage a new front in the Global War on Terror without regard for the needs or desires of African people. Enabled by oil companies and private military contractors, AFRICOM serves as the latest frontier in military expansionism, violating the human rights and civil liberties of Africans who have voiced a strong “No” to U.S. military presence. U.S Government spending – our tax dollars – should not enable the Department of Defense to pursue its Middle East agenda in Africa.

For more on AFRICOM as a manifestation of the American corporate predator state, see my previous post, and be sure to check the comments there for more highly relevant information.

As AFRICOM stands up, it might be worth looking at the short essay by Thomas Palley featured on RGE Monitor from Nouriel Roubini, The Origins of the American Corporate Predator State (also here).

Jamie Galbraith’s recent book describes modern (Bush-Cheney) Republicanism as creating a “predator state”. Its predatory aspects are starkly visible in the gangs of corporate lobbyists who roam Washington DC, the Halliburton Iraq war procurement scandal, and the corruption and incompetence that surrounded the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

However, the broad concept of a predator state needs qualification as we are really talking of an “American corporate” predator state. Thus, the predatory nature of contemporary US governance is quintessentially linked to corporations, and it is also a uniquely American phenomenon.

… [The] origins clearly trace back to the military – industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned about in his final televised address to the nation on January 17, 1961.

That complex has captured politics and corrupted the business of government, including of course the conduct of national security policy. The fact that it has wrapped itself with the flag and entwined itself with the military makes it impossible to confront without being charged as unpatriotic. Worst yet, its enormous enduring profitability has provided a model for imitation by other industrial complexes like Big Pharma and Big Oil.

Another feature … is a tendency to conflate profit with free markets. That means the distinction between fair competition (which is good) and fat profits (which are bad) is lost, thereby providing cover for predators.

The Africa Command is a creation of the Bush Cheney American corporate predator state. It was conceived by people who were focused on Africa’s oil, other natural resources, and on opposing China. These are the same Bush Cheney cronies that have done the most to convert American democracy into a corporate predator state, and destroy American democracy in the process. I have tried to document these origins since February 2007 when the command was announced. For another excellent introduction to AFRICOM, see: Understanding AFRICOM:
A Contextual Reading of Empire’s New Combatant Command Part I
, part II , part III.

Look at the AFRICOM logo. It bears an unfortunate metaphorical resemblance to female genitalia, with target Africa in the middle. In the metaphorical context of the phallic shapes of the military weaponry being shopped to Africa, it is additionally unfortunate. Intentional or not, it speaks to the underlying motives for creating the command.

In his essay Why AFRICOM has not won over Africans Samuel Makinda divides the questions about AFRICOM into three areas, paraphrased here:

  • The lack of any clear explanation or rationale for creation of the command.
  • The complete lack of transparency in creation and presentation of the command.
  • The creators of AFRICOM discount or disparage the advances Africa has made with respect to African security through the African Union as well as regional organizations.

Although there is a lot of talk from AFRICOM about partnerships, there has been little real consultation with Africans. Most of the Africans consulted have been those trained, one might say indoctrinated, in US military training programs such as IMET. Regarding the lack of transparency, Makinde says:

African analysts and policy makers point out that in Africa today there is little or no transparency in discussions of AFRICOM or of U.S. military relations with African states generally. They note that . . . it has not been freely and openly discussed by the legislatures of the African states, even in countries that have been mentioned as possible sites for AFRICOM’s headquarters.

This prompts the question: what governance ethos would AFRICOM foster in the future if its current relationships with African governments are shrouded in secrecy?

AFRICOM is a major manifestation of the militarization of US foreign policy. The Pentagon is swallowing the traditional diplomatic and foreign assistance programs of the United States. The process and budget are described in the report from Refugees International: U.S. Civil Military Imbalance for Global Engagement

And most important of all Makinda points out:

Africans know that the militarization of political and economic space by African military leaders has been one of the factors that has held Africa back for decades. While African states are trying to put the culture of military rule behind them, the United States appears determined to demonstrate that most civilian activities in Africa should be undertaken by armed forces. To some African policy makers, this suggests that the U.S. Government lacks sympathy for what Africans so deeply want today, namely democratic systems in which the armed forces remain in the barracks.

What is needed is energy, focus, and money to strengthen civilian democratic political, economic, and social institutions, so that democracy, participation of all the people, can grow and flourish.