November 2009

For an update regarding the March 2012 coup in Mali, see: Coup In Mali – AFRICOM’s Train & Equip Triumphs Over Democracy.

US foreign policy in Africa IS military policy. The US State Department is starved for money. The Pentagon’s gargantuan budget is still largely unquestioned and treated politically as free money. Major portions of the State Department budget are allocated for military activity and support instead of traditional diplomacy. This picture illustrates the institutional problem US policy has created, and that it faces.

BAMAKO, Mali - U.S. Army Master Sergeant Robert Price stands with Malian soldiers he helped train as he is congratulated by Malian Minister of Defense Natie Pleah during a Counter Terrorism Train and Equip (CTTE) transfer of equipment ceremony in Bamako, October 20, 2009. Price, a logistics NCO with Special Operations Command Africa's Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara, supervised maintenance and supply accountability training provided to Malian soldiers for tactical vehicles and communications equipment transferred to Malian units. Under the U.S. State Department's Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Program (TSCTP), U.S. Africa Command's Operation Enduring Freedom-Trans Sahara (OEF-TS) Counter Terrorism Train and Equip initiative provided 37 brand-new Toyota Land Cruiser pickup trucks and high-tech communications equipment that will allow Malian military units to move, transport and communicate across vast expanses of open desert in the northern region of the country. In addition, replacement parts, clothing, individual equipment and other supplies will be provided in the next few weeks as part of a U.S. government capacity-building equipment transfer totaling more than $5 million. The CTTE program is designed to develop stronger military-to-military relationships while underscoring U.S. support for partner nation sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. (Photo by Max R. Blumenfeld, JSOTF-TS PAO)

State Department money and contracts are paying for the equipment and the training described in this picture. The only significant budget the State Department has, particularly regarding African affairs is money that is spent on military supplies and activities, and therefore supplements the Pentagon’s already bloated military budget. In these circumstances the only possible product of US foreign policy is increased militarism.

Vijay Prashad recently published an article at Pambazuka that describes the ongoing effect of US policy on Mali:
Counterterrorism’s blindness: Mali and the US

Describing the military expenditure pictured above:

[T]he US government will provide US$5 million in trucks and military equipment to Mali. The aim of this donation is to help the Malian military fight the group known as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Last December, AQIM kidnapped two Canadian diplomats, who were released after four months. This is what they do these days: kidnap, extort, run guns and drugs. Islam is a veneer.

The association with al-Qaeda is a propaganda coup … AQIM is a small shop with a large sign, paying its franchise dues without increasing its own business. But since AQIM operates on the border between Algeria and Mali, and does some of its business in Mali, the US government decided to help fortify Mali’s military. US$5 million is not much money for the US, but for a country with total revenues of US1.5 billion, with a military budget of about US$70 million per year, this small disbursement is considerable. And it is set to increase – keep an eye on that.

Through the TSCTP, the US government wanted not only to fight the Islamists on the battlefield, but also take on their extremist ideology. To this end, USAID got some funds to help revise textbooks, pay for schools that teach a ‘tolerant ideology’ and run rural radio stations ‘by broadcasting moderate views and providing information on government services’. The money for these non-military functions was available in 2005 and 2007, but not in 2006. Because of this fluctuation, according to the General Accounting Office of the US government, ‘the mission suspended its peace-building program in northern Mali‘.

All attention was focused on the military aspect, although even here there is some uneasiness. The US Embassy in Bamako was quick to point out that the US$5 million for trucks and other military hardware comes not from the US military, but from the US State Department.

The fact that this money comes from the State Department is not a mitigating factor. It only makes the situation worse. The principal US institution that should be working for peace and democracy, that should be working to strengthen civilian institutions, becomes just another tool to subsidize military activity and war.

Although, the State Department is not the only one involved; from April to June this year, 300 US Special Forces ‘advisers’ trained the Malian military at three of its bases. These Sahelian initiatives are now run through AFRICOM, the US African Command, set up in October 2007. It operates a programme called ‘Joint Task Force Aztec Silence’. … The ‘silence’ after Aztec is chilling.

The insurgents in northern Mali are various. The longest tension is between the Malian government and the ‘Tuareg rebels’.

Prashad goes on to describe the tensions between Mali’s government and the Tuareg over the years. And as Keenan points out, quoted below, in 2006 US Special Forces worked with the Tuareg and the Algerians to destabilize Mali. Now in 2009 the US is backing Mali’s current government.

Prashad provides a summary history of Mali since independence. It came out of colonial rule almost completely dependent on cotton.

… a popular government led by the charismatic Modibo Kéita came to power. But the country was dependent on one crop (cotton) for more than half its GDP (gross domestic product), it had little processing and industry and almost no sources of energy. … Further, the cotton subsidy regime in both Europe and the United States strikes at the heart of Mali’s attempt to grow its already dismal economy.

Prashad recounts the changes in Mali’s leadership, and that immediately following Kéita, Mali came under military government:

Traoré had none of Kéita’s imagination, and none of the socialist movement’s patience with the devolution of power. When things turned bad, he went to Washington. The World Bank welcomed him in 1981, and Mali became the test case for its ‘structural adjustment’ policies.

In 1995, Howard French reported from Bamako for The New York Times, ‘Diplomats also speak of this large landlocked country as a bulwark against the spread of Islamic militancy from its northern neighbor, Algeria. Already Mali faces a destabilizing conflict involving Tuareg tribesmen in the north, but any settlement has been thwarted by a lack of resources. At the same time, Mali’s debt burden, contracted under years of dictatorship, consumes so much of the country’s revenues that there is little left for development needs.’ The point was clearly made. No one listened.

Washington’s counterterrorism spectacles see only al-Qaeda. The debt burden and the impossibility of governance are not on the agenda. Whether the State Department or the Defense Department give arms to the Malian military says more about anxiety in the US than about the dynamic in Mali. Once more the US will strengthen the military against civil society, and once more we might see Mali fall the way of Guinea and others in the region that were set up to become dictatorships.

I have quoted from Demystifying Africa’s Security by Jeremy Keenan before, but he makes a number of points that are particularly relevant to Mali:

Beginning in early 2003, the US, in collusion with Algeria, its key regional ally in the GWOT, fabricated a string of false flag ‘terrorism’ incidents in the Algerian Sahara and across much of the Sahel (Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad) in order to justify the launch of a new or ‘second’ African front in the GWOT.

US presence sought to resolve conflicts in Africa by brute military intervention. Post-2006 interventions by US troops in the Sahara-Sahel have been widely documented(Keenan, 2006d, 2008b, 2009b). In May 2006, for example, US Special Forces, flown secretly from Stuttgart to Tamanrasset, accompanied Algeria’s secret military services into northern Mali to give support to the Algerian-orchestrated Tuareg rebellion designed to destabilise northern Mali. In February 2008, US Special Forces (possibly contractors – PMCs) accompanied Malian troops on a vindictive raid on a desert town in the same area, at the same time as AFRICOM’s commander, General William ‘Kip’ Ward and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, Theresa Whelan, were promoting AFRICOM at a RUSI meeting in London and at which Ms Whelan denied the presence of US ‘troops’ in northern Mali.

Since 2005-6, justification for the US’s militarisation of the continent has shifted from the GWOT and straightforward counterterrorism to the more humanitarian security-development discourse. The fundamental question with regard to AFRICOM is whether its website news headlines and its ‘peace and development’ oriented mission statements really do reflect a paradigm shift in US military thinking, or whether they are merely good PR, a further twist in Washington’s ‘information war’: a deceptive mystification process that enables AFRICOM to be portrayed as more benign than it really is. The answer is found on the ground – in Africa. Whether couched in the language of the GWOT or the security-development discourse, local-regional outbreaks of civil unrest and rebellion (‘incursions’) by minority-cum-opposition groups, frequently provoked by local US supported politico-military elites, continue to help legitimise the US military presence in Africa and are being dealt with by military means. Far from bringing ‘peace and security’ to Africa, AFRICOM is directly instrumental in creating conflict and insecurity.

Does AFRICOM have any prospect of bringing peace, security and development to Africa? While AFRICOM’s commanders have been preaching ‘security and development’, their operations on the ground have so far created insecurity and undermined democratic expressions of civil society.

many [African regimes] are now using the pretext of the GWOT to repress legitimate opposition by linking it with ‘terrorism’

Locally made guns

A photo of a real Makarov gun next to a fake one made by a Ghana blacksmith. (Anna Boiko-Weyrauch)

Suame Magazine, picture from

The gun business is creating harm in Ghana and among the neighbors: Locally made guns business flourish in Ghana.

Blacksmith Sarpong, 35, operates a small shop in Ghana’s second largest city, Kumasi. He is trained to produce cooking utensils, but prefers to make guns as he can earn more money that way.
When sales are good his shop brings in US$1,000 a week, he said. Foreigners paying better than Ghanaians. “Most of my buyers are from Nigeria or Sierra Leone.”

Sarpong sells to clients using a gun-runner – most of them are ex-peacekeepers or mercenaries according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime – in a growing clandestine small arms industry, according Ghana’s Deputy Interior Minister, Kwasi Apea-Kubi and confirmed by police officials.

Small arms proliferation destabilizes West African countries and has increased the intensity and human impact of conflicts in the region, according to regional arms experts.

Apea-Kubi recently toured the country to ascertain the state of Ghana’s small arms industry and along the way met with hundreds of gunsmiths who “openly admitted to producing guns”, despite that local small arms manufacturing is illegal.

“We know now that many of the armed robbery cases we are witnessing are being fueled by these small arms,” Apea-Kubi told IRIN.

Eighty percent of firearms Ghanaian police confiscate are homemade, according to Accra-based NGO Africa Security Dialogue and Research.

Gun production estimates vary. The National Commission on Small Arms, set up in 2007 to check the manufacture and cross-border movement of small arms, estimates 40,000 Ghana-made guns are in circulation; UNODC estimates 75,000, while Kwesi Aning, head of the conflict resolution department of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in the capital Accra, puts the figure at 200,000.

“Local production has recently gone through the roof,” Aning told IRIN.

Blacksmiths have the knowledge and skills to manufacture single-shot pistols, multi-shot revolvers and shotguns, according to UNODC. When IRIN investigated a locally-made pistol sale in Tudu neighbourhood – Accra’s small arms hub – a dealer known only as Musah would not go lower than $130 for a single-barrel shot gun.

UNODC’s July 2009 West Africa threat assessments report establishes a direct link between trafficked arms and instability in the region, with the chief clients of clandestine arms groups seeking to overthrow or challenge state authority.

“Instability in Togo, Nigeria, and Côte d’Ivoire has resulted in higher prices of Ghanaian manufactured arms,” Aning said.

Ghanaian gunsmiths have been invited to teach their gun-manufacturing skills to local blacksmiths in the Niger delta, Aning said.

However buyers of Ghanaian guns tend to be individuals while established insurgent groups purchase heavier weapons from outside the region, according to UNODC.


The government is seeking creative solutions to the problem, the Interior Ministry’s Apea-Kubi told IRIN, as past arrests and detention of guilty blacksmiths have only pushed the trade further underground.

“We know we have to do something but we don’t want to use force,” he said.

Interior Ministry officials are consulting gunsmiths across the country to explore how to attract them to alternative – legal – ways of making a living, as well as to examine how to prevent cross-border trafficking.

Apea-Kubi also hopes gunsmiths will allow their names and locations to be logged on a national database so their activities can be monitored. At least that way the industry will be less secretive, he said.

But Sarpong is not convinced. “No alternative can give me enough money like what I get selling the guns. They should not waste their time.”

Armed robbery is a dreadful scourge in Ghana. Recently we lost a young employee, shot to death by armed robbers. He left a wife and two young children. We can make sure the children go to school, but we can’t replace their father. And it has been an ongoing source of sorrow, as he was a good friend and someone who had always been there to help us. There are a number of precautions we take at the house, it is deeply painful to feel that any of them are necessary. This is the main “terrorism” we fear in Ghana, and it is only fueled by the arms trade and increasing militarization in the region. (For some perspective, I have lost more Ghanaian friends to gun violence here in the US over the years, than in Ghana, from a much smaller population of Ghanaians.)

At the same time I have much sympathy with the blacksmith Sarpong in the article. US$1,000 a week is a fabulous income in Ghana. It would be very difficult to voluntarily give that up. I would certainly find it difficult if I had the skills and was making that money in Ghana.

From Marketplace:

Drug dealers and thieves like handmade guns because they can get them under the table and don’t have to register them with the government. But, handcrafted guns didn’t used to be such a problem. Blacksmiths in Ghana have been making them for centuries, mostly for hunting and protecting farmland. When the British came in, they outlawed gun-making — but the demand continued.

Blacksmith Philip Nsiah lives five hours north of the capital.

… Nsiah says local guns are cheaper than imported ones, so they’re popular with farmers. He used to sell each shotgun for about $100. Those cheap pistols I saw earlier can go for as little as $4.

Nsiah trained for years to learn his craft. But then he found out how much harm these guns cause. Nowadays, he helps lead the local blacksmiths’ association, encouraging others to stop making illegal guns.

Nsiah: I can do any type of gun. If they allow me, I can do it. But since, I know the dangers involved that is why I don’t go in.

When the crime rate got bad, the police started rounding up blacksmiths. Many stopped making guns, because they didn’t want to be arrested and lose their legitimate business. The crackdown helped. But it pushed the industry underground.

Now, Police Superintendent Aboagye Nyarko says they’re encouraging blacksmiths to produce something else, like tools to prune cocoa trees and handcuffs for the police.

Blacksmith Philip Nsiah shows me some handcuffs he made seven years ago.

Nsiah: But you see, it’s still there rusting. Nobody is buying it.

But he’s been able to make a living without making illegal guns. He repairs authorized weapons, used by security personnel, he works on cars. And he’s made a tool-shed full of other products — garden shears, hunting traps and gong-gongs, or cowbells for making music and calling community meetings.

Nsiah says the government hasn’t been effective at promoting these types of alternative products. And without that backing, illegal handmade guns will continue to be the product of choice for many blacksmiths.

Ghana has enormously talented craftsmen. In general people are inspired by the hope of creating and accumulating for themselves and their loved ones. People in business understand business, understand its potential and its motivations. So businessmen and women should be far better suited to being partners in development than eleemosynary organizations, provided their motives are not entirely exploitive.

I may sometimes write as if I am anti capitalist, but that is not the case. Capitalism needs the regulation of democratic controls, otherwise it is the same as organized crime, but the hope of accumulation drives all of us. That is why I particularly liked this quote from the following article: what poor people need most is a way to make more money.

Slumdog engineers of Suame magazine

As he pours dangerous molten metal from a home-made furnace at a ferocious 600 degrees, a worker flings a skimpy T-shirt around his head for protection. Another worker grabs a chunk of mud and shoves it into the makeshift foundry to plug the flaming lava flow of molten metal.

None have safety helmets or other equipment. Their neighbours at nearby industrial workshops are wearing plastic flip-flops and shorts. Their welding cables are ripped and exposed, risking a high-voltage shock, and few of the welders wear safety glasses.

Safety is an afterthought for the 200,000 people in horrific conditions in one of Africa’s biggest industrial slums. Survival comes first, and they need to eat.

The slum, known as Suame Magazine because of its origins among the artillery-makers at a local armoury, is a 180-hectare cluster of 12,000 repair shops and small-scale metal works on the outskirts of Ghana’s second-biggest city, Kumasi.

At first glance, it seems like a vast wasteland of tin shacks and wrecked cars and impoverished mechanics, where the dust-choked air is filled with hammering, banging, pounding and shouting.

But some look at this post-apocalyptic junkyard and see hope for the future. If the small-scale artisans and repairmen can be linked into the supply chain of multinational corporations, could they escape poverty and work in safer conditions?

That’s the experiment a Canadian group has launched. With a new aid philosophy that aims at business-oriented solutions, the Canadians are marketing the skills and ingenuity of the slum-dwellers, connecting them to foreign investors and helping them bid on valuable contracts that could transform their lives.

“My heart beats faster just thinking about this,” says Florin Gheorghe, a 21-year-old engineering student at the University of British Columbia who has been immersed in this giant scrapyard for the past seven months.

“I’ve come to believe that what poor people need most is a way to make more money,” he says. “Many development projects treat the poor as if they were incapable of fending for themselves, just sitting around waiting for whites to give them free food and clothes. It creates dependency and crushes local capacity …. The difference in our business-like approach is the dignity that comes in choosing to live a life that you value.”

Though the mechanics and metalworkers of Suame Magazine are poorly educated and 98 per cent lack any Internet access to help them seek customers, many are astonishingly skilled.

Some build entire buses or fuel tankers from scratch, or design drilling rigs or foundries. All they need, the Canadians believe, is a helping hand to market themselves.

Mr. Gheorghe, supported by a Canadian non-profit group called Engineers Without Borders, arrived at the slum in January to work for its industrial development organization. He put on a suit and tie and began knocking on the doors of multinational companies around the city, giving out his business card and sending a deluge of e-mails to companies around Ghana.

After weeks of going door-to-door, he and his colleagues began to persuade some companies to award business to slum-dwellers. They won contracts at several major U.S. companies, including Newmont Mining Corp., Coca-Cola, and the cocoa division of Archer Daniels Midland Co.

Under the first Newmont contract, valued at $30,000, the Suame Magazine artisans and repairmen were hired to build stairways, railways and platforms for massive Caterpillar trucks at the mining company.

It was followed by agreements on further contracts from Newmont, providing the much-needed prospect of steady revenue for the workers.

amusement and disdain soon gave way to respect as the mining company saw what the artisans could produce.

One group of 10 workers earning less than $4 a day were able to double their income when they landed the Newmont deal, with the prospect of further revenue from profit-sharing at the end of the contract.

The contract helped them learn new skills, including the ability to read computer-aided engineering drawings. And it encouraged them to invest some of their profit in safety equipment. For the first time, they have switched to steel-toed boots and safety glasses, instead of flip-flops and bare eyes.

“When we went to Newmont, our guys came back flabbergasted at the safety equipment there,” Mr. Gheorghe said. “Now they are always reminding me to put on my equipment.”

The workers say they’ve benefited from the marketing efforts and the multinational contracts. “We’re getting more experience and more jobs,” one worker said. “Since we started wearing the safety equipment, we don’t get injured any more.”

George Roter, the Toronto-based co-founder of Engineers Without Borders, says the project in Suame Magazine is an innovative approach that could produce broader lessons for the foreign aid sector.

“The concept of stimulating business development using demand from international resource-extraction operations could be powerful in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.

“It’s certainly a contrast to traditional aid-based approaches, and fits well with EWB’s philosophy of development that sees successful African businesses and entrepreneurs as the engine of development.”

As for Mr. Gheorghe, he is returning to the University of British Columbia this fall to finish his engineering degree after seven months of toil in the slum. But he’s already planning a life of activism. He is convinced that he can find more capitalist innovations to help the developing world.

“My ambition,” he says, “is to become incredibly rich, and to lift a million people out of poverty. I don’t think you have to be poor to help people.”

I like Mr. Gheorghe’s ambition.

There is another story I read recently that may relate to the guns:

Niger Delta militants training Ghanaians

A respected legal practitioner and lecturer at the University of Ghana, Law Faculty, Dr. Raymond Atuguba has chillingly revealed that militants in the Niger Delta region, notorious for blowing up oil pipes, kidnapping and demanding huge ransoms and causing unrest in the oil rich Nigerian region have started tripping to Ghana in droves.

He said, when he visited the Western region a few weeks ago, he discovered that “groups there were already creating linkages with groups in the Niger Delta”. According to him, the people were “preparing to create the same amount of chaos we have in the Niger Delta if we neglect their concerns.”

Dr. Atuguba stopped short of stating the exact ‘lessons’ the Ghanaians could be taking from the ‘visiting’ militants, but said people were preparing to protect their interest. He remarked that if the security agencies were on their toes, they would have noticed the movement of arms.

Dr. Atuguba is of the view that the culture and livelihood of the people located at the coast of the region will be greatly affected due to the infiltration of various forms of social vices the region will have to embrace.

As if making a case for the them, Dr. Atuguba said as a result of the governmental decision to drill oil in their area, “prostitution is going to increase in their community, stealing and contract killings are going to increase in their community, land grabbing has started in their communities such that they can’t even buy a piece of land in their communities to build a house.”

“You have dislocated the man in his own society and you expect him to sit there and watch you do it …and the politicians will take the money and stuff it in their foreign accounts somewhere…”

Dr. Raymond Atuguba who is also the director of the Law and Development Associates warned that it will be ghastly to ignore the concerns of those communities. “We should not underestimate it…”he advised.

I wonder about this. The oil in the west will be offshore, so, other than potential oil spills, the environmental degradation should not be similar to the Niger Delta. There are certainly some in the Western Region who feel agrieved. And there is much potential for them to feel more agrieved. I also get the impression that there are those who want to stir up more trouble over oil in the west. When I asked friends about this they said it was someone trying to make trouble, but I think this was more opinion than information. I wondered when I first read this story whether it might be part of a US Africa Command “information operation”. I don’t have enough information myself to make an intelligent guess. Dr. Atuguba may be trying to do his best for the people of the Western Region.

Land ownership issues are huge throughout Ghana, and are particularly bad around cities and towns, but hardly limited to the urban areas.

There are Delta militants across West Africa, and there are certainly some in Ghana, and likely in the Western Region. If they are there in organized groups, they are probably not buying the locally made guns, as the …

… buyers of Ghanaian guns tend to be individuals while established insurgent groups purchase heavier weapons from outside the region …

If the militants are visiting the Western Region, it is unlikely they are there to learn gunsmithing, because the skilled practitioners are likely to be in the larger urban areas where there are more customers. The proximity of Ivory Coast, and its recent civil conflicts might be a factor if there are organized militants in the area. I am doubtful about how much organization there is at this point.  People from the Niger Delta are moving away in many directions, to avoid the problems there, and to try and make a living.  Unfortunately some bring criminal training and skills with them.

The government needs to listen to the people in the Western Region and throughout Ghana. The business model in Suame Magazine working with the Canadians, described above, is something that the government and other organizations interested in development should look at long and seriously. And suggesting people go into another form of business, as with the gunsmiths like Mr. Nsiah or Mr. Sarpong, without assisting them to reach current markets or create new markets, is a waste of time and effort.

The U.S. government needs to change its Somalia policy—and fast. … The international community`s repeated attempts to create a government have failed, even backfired.


Somalia`s President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed is surrounded by AU troops upon his arrival in Mogadishu, February 7, 2009. Ahmed arrived in the Somali capital for the first time since he was elected President in neighboring Djibouti.

In the Quicksands of Somalia: Where Doing Less Helps More in the Nov. Dec. 2009 issue of Foreign Policy, describes the problem.

The brutal occupation of Somalia by its historical rival Ethiopia from late 2006 to early 2009, which Washington openly supported, only fueled the insurgency and infuriated Somalis across the globe. One of Washington`s concerns today is that al Qaeda may be trying to develop a base somewhere in Somalia from which to launch attacks outside the country. Another is that more and more alienated members of the Somali diaspora might embrace terrorism, too. … isolated incidents have generated more hype than they deserve, but they have nonetheless put the Obama administration in a tough position. If only to avoid seeming weak in combating terrorism, it must prevent these threats from escalating, but it is entering the fray at a time when almost any international action in Somalia is likely to reinforce the Somalis` anti-Western posture.

Alarmingly, the State Department seems not to realize this or the failures of past policy. …
… the TFG`s presence in Somalia hurts U.S. goals. Resistance to the so-called government has united various radical groups that would otherwise be competing with one another.
… With 3.8 million people urgently in need of relief, Somalia has once again become the site of one of the world`s worst humanitarian crises. This error stems from Washington`s mistaken belief that state building is the best response to terrorism. Because Washington has lacked both the political will and the resources to launch a large enough state-building program, U.S. efforts in Somalia have been inadequate.
Somalis may have grown weary of war, but they remain highly suspicious of centralized government. And they disagree about questions as fundamental as whether a Somali state should be unitary, federal, or confederal; whether the judicial system should be wholly Islamic or a hybrid of sharia and secular law; and whether the northern territory of Somaliland should be granted its long-sought independence. Efforts to create a central government under such conditions are a recipe for prolonging conflict.
… Another major problem with Washington`s Somalia policy is that it has not kept pace with important shifts in U.S. thinking about how to confront terrorism.

U.S. intelligence analysts have argued that Somalia is fundamentally inhospitable to foreign jihadist groups. Al Qaeda is now a more sophisticated and dangerous creature, but its current foothold in Somalia appears to be largely the product of the West`s latest interference. In fact, the terrorist threat posed by Somalia has grown in proportion to the intrusiveness of international policies toward the country. Al Shabab metamorphosed from a fringe movement opposed to the foreign-backed TFG into a full-blown political insurgency only after the U.S.-supported Ethiopian invasion.

Giving up on a bad strategy is not admitting defeat. It is simply the wise, if counterintuitive, response to the realization that sometimes, as in Somalia, doing less is better.

Under the Bush administration, Somalia became a front in the war on terrorism. A messy decades-long conflict was recast as an ideological battle between secular democracy and Islam, between “moderates” and “extremists”—blunt categories that blurred important differences in ideologies and tactics. This oversimplification has both severely undermined the capacity of U.S. and other international representatives to relate to the Somali public and allowed al Shabab to unify an otherwise diverse array of actors into a motivated armed opposition.

Even if the TFG were able to control more territory, this would serve little good: the government is simply incapable of governing. The parliament has swollen to an unwieldy 550 members. Most of its members reside safely outside the country, and the remainder are paralyzed by factionalism and infighting; just getting a parliamentary quorum in Mogadishu requires Herculean support from the UN.

AMISOM is widely viewed as a combatant in the conflict and has been accused by the local press and some clan leaders of firing indiscriminately on civilians. Both al Shabab and legitimate authorities among the clans and Mogadishu`s local clerics council have called for ousting the troops. Under these circumstances, bolstering the AMISOM contingent is a fool`s errand.

As al Shabab has gained ground, it has attracted opportunists and consequently has fractured along both ideological and clan lines.

The presence of al Qaeda operatives in al Shabab`s ranks is indeed alarming, but it is as much a tactical arrangement as an ideological alignment. And the utility for al Shabab of having foreign jihadists fighting by its side will decrease as doing so begins to impede the group`s hopes of governing Somalia: many Somalis condemn the presence of foreign fighters in the country on the grounds that they are bound to promote non-Somali values or act like brutal colonizers.

The tenuous nature of these alliances means there is no clear horse on which the U.S. government can bet. Both the TFG and al Shabab have backers among Somalis, but neither can count on a critical mass. The ostensibly moderate ASWJ has local supporters, but its factionalism and its dependence on Ethiopia are likely to undermine its capacity to generate a national constituency. No doubt this is a problem for the advocates of state building, who were counting on the TFG to be the solution to anarchy. But the weakness of all the parties is also something of a blessing: it means that al Shabab is less powerful than is often feared. The implications of this are clear. With no side capable of keeping the peace if it wins the war, the U.S. government, as well as the rest of the international community, should not focus its efforts on backing any one group. It should also forget about grand political projects to create a central government authority, which are likely to be futile.

Exploiting these tensions is the most reliable and cost-effective means of fighting terrorism in Somalia.

It will be impossible to isolate the truly dangerous elements from the nationalist, the pragmatic, and the merely thuggish factions of al Shabab until the United States stops supporting one group over another and disconnects local conflicts in Somalia from broader counterterrorism efforts.

The article provides much more detail on what has worked, and what has not worked in Somalia, and why, and on what is going on there now.

For now, the United States should commit itself to a strategy that promotes development without regard to governance. At the same time, it will have to continue its counterterrorism efforts, although preferably in the form of monitoring and de-radicalization strategies pursued in cooperation with the local population rather than air strikes.

There is a great deal more to Bruton’s article, and much food for thought for US policy makers if they are smart enough to pay attention. Of course this assumes the intent of US policy is to improve the situation in Somalia. Observation of US actions to date allows many to doubt US motives, and some assume the US prefers acting to destabilize Somalia, and to keep it weak and unstable. If US intentions toward Somalia are positive there is much in the article on how to proceed. I recommend the entire article: In the Quicksands of Somalia: Where Doing Less Helps More

africa comments

photo credit

What is likely to make the majority of Americans more secure right now, the defense appropriation bill, or universal affordable healthcare? Which is most likely to insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare?  Defense that actually defends US citizens extends way beyond military action.  We face some far greater and more immediate threats than enemy weapons and enemy soldiers.


Obama signs the defense authorization bill, Oct. 28, 2009

Defense spending is treated is if it carries no cost. I am continually puzzled that there is almost no discussion in the news, no questions asked about the vast sums involved in what is called defense spending. Those who allege they are fiscal conservatives never blink at these massive sums, or the seas of red ink they create. Obama signed a $680 billion defense bill amidst heated debate about spending $90 billion on healthcare. You hardly heard a peep anywhere in the news about the vast sums in the defense bill.

Bush’s last defense spending bill, in effect through September 2009, came to $608.6 billion.

No ordinary person can get a sense of how much money that is. It helps to divide the $608.6 billion by the 365 days in a year and realize Bush’s new defense budget will cost the taxpayers $1.7 billion a day. This works out to $1.2 million a minute counting Saturdays and Sundays. Yet the main threat to the country as advertised by Bush are terrorists who have no standing army; no warships; no warplanes; no tanks; no satellites.

I am not against defense spending.  The money needs to be spent more wisely, and that requires public debate and participation in the process.    That debate requires news media willing to research and discuss the issues.  Unfortunately, there is little sign of that at present.

In fact those parts of the defense establishment actually fighting to defend the US interests, the soldiers, are under resourced and underfunded because the defense contractors set the spending priorities through their lobbyists and networks of government friends.  The needs of defense contractors are very different from the needs of soldiers.

The reasons Congress will swallow … defense requests without even chewing on them are the same old ones. No politician … wants to give his opponent or anyone else grounds to call him or her weak on defense. And the pols shrink from canceling even an obsolete weapon experiencing huge cost overruns because of the jobs attached to it back home. Defense contractors, rather than try to justify their weapons on the basis of the threat beyond our shores, focus instead on showing state by state all the jobs that would be lost if their widgets were cancelled.

I don’t see anything likely to change this pattern.  It is the military industrial complex President Eisenhower warned against, after spending his two terms as president locking it into place.  The State Department, that is supposed to be the face of US foreign policy has no constituency, certainly nothing as massive and powerful as the defense industry.  It does not have the funding, power, or influence of the Pentagon.

I sometimes think the real death blow to American democracy came when the US Supreme Court ruled that money is the same as free speech.

The US Supreme Court, in its 1976 decision in the case Buckley v. Valeo, essentially concluded that free expression can be counted in dollars. Money spent to influence elections, the court concluded, is a form of constitutionally protected free speech. [link]


Somalia is a counterterrorism planner`s dream.

“We’ve moved from using UAVs primarily in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance roles … to a true hunter-killer role with the Reaper.”

… there is no longer any doubt that targeted killing has become official U.S. policy.


Predator MQ-9 Reaper

These predator drones are now being deployed over East Africa and the adjacent waters, based by the US in the Seychelles. At present we are told the drones are unarmed, and are part of anti-piracy surveillance. But that is only the toe in the door. The CIA uses these drones for extrajudicial killings in Pakistan, a country that is supposedly a US friend, and with whom the US is not at war. In Pakistan the CIA is probably assassinating some genuine international terrorists. It may also be assassinating innocent individuals, or local political leaders. The CIA appears accountable to no one in the US or the world at large for these actions. In all cases these are assassinations.

The CIA and the US Africa Command now appear ready to expand this predation in East Africa, most likely in order to continue efforts to destabilize Somalia (called stability operations). The US has been pushing the notion that Islamist fighters in Somalia are allied with al-Qaeda. There is no real evidence for this, see the commentary about halfway+ down this page, in response to a comment. But since it is repeated over and over in the US media, many people believe it. Just as the New York Times pushed the bogus story of weapons of mass destruction before the Iraq war, it is pushing the supposed link between al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab.

From the:

UNITED NATIONS: US drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan could be breaking international laws against summary executions, the UN’s top investigator of such crimes said. “My concern is that drones/Predators are being operated in a framework which may well violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” he [UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Philip Alston] said.

“The onus is really on the United States government to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary extrajudicial executions aren’t in fact being carried out through the use of these weapons,” he added.

… you have the really problematic bottom line that the CIA is running a program that is killing significant numbers of people and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international laws,” Alston said.

Since August 2008, around 70 strikes by unmanned aircraft have killed close to 600 people in northwestern Pakistan.

“I would like to know the legal basis upon which the United States is operating, in other words… who is running the program, what accountability mechanisms are in place in relation to that,” Alston said.

“Secondly, what precautions the United States is taking to ensure that these weapons are used strictly for purposes consistent with international humanitarian law.

“Third, what sort of review mechanism is there to evaluate when these weapons have been used? Those are the issues I’d like to see addressed,” the UN official said.

b real provides more research in his africa comments, where you can read in more detail the information from the following sources:

AP: US drones protecting ships from Somali pirates

Military officials said Friday the drones would not immediately be fitted with weaponry, but they did not rule out doing so in the future.

Analysts said they expected the Reapers would also be used to hunt al-Qaida and other Islamist militants in Somalia. While Moeller said the aircraft would “primarily” be used against pirates, he acknowledged they could also be used for other missions.

“The long-term solution to the piracy issue is basically [us] getting the conditions right in Somalia,” he said.

More information about the Reaper here: MQ-9 Reaper Hunter/Killer UAV

… the [Reaper] aircraft can carry up to 14 Hellfire missiles, compared with two carried on the Predator. The Reaper can stay airborne for up to 14 hours fully loaded.

Trading off some of the missiles, Predator B can carry laser guided bombs, such as the GBU-12. MQ-9 is equipped with both Lynx II SAR and the MTS-B 20″ gimbal, an improved, extended range version of the MQ-9’s EO payload. The availability of high performance sensors and large capacity of precision guided weapons enable the new Predator to operate as an efficient “Hunter-Killer” platform, seeking and engaging targets at high probability of success.

The Wikipedia entry adds:

Then U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael Moseley said, “We’ve moved from using UAVs primarily in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance roles before Operation Iraqi Freedom, to a true hunter-killer role with the Reaper.”

The New York Times adds its voice to the war machine fear mongering: In Somalia, a New Template for Fighting Terrorism. The NYT starts with the popular but unsubstantiated assertion that: “Al-Qaeda is working feverishly to turn Somalia into a global jihad factory”.

So a new template for fighting terrorism may be emerging as the United States shows less desire to get involved in the local intricacies of nation building and more interest in narrowing its focus to Al Qaeda. …

To Mr. Nagl, in fact, Somalia is a counterterrorism planner`s dream, with its desert terrain, low population density and skinny shape along the sea; no place is more than a few minutes` chopper flight from American ships bobbing offshore. “It`s far, far harder to do counterterrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan than in Somalia,” he said.

And from an abstract of Jane Mayer’s article in the October 26th issue of The New Yorker: The Risks of the CIA’s Predator Drones: The Predator War:

Hina Shamsi, a human-rights lawyer at the New York University School of Law … said of the Predator program, “These are targeted international killings by the state.”

The Predator program, as it happens, also uses private contractors for a variety of tasks, including “flying” the drones.

According to a new study by the New America Foundation, the number of drone strikes has gone up dramatically since Obama became President. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the defense contractor that manufactures the Predator and its more heavily armed sibling, the Reaper, can barely keep up with the government’s demand.

there is no longer any doubt that targeted killing has become official U.S. policy.

Somalia will make a convenient African practice field for targeted killings by robot assassins. There is no government to stand up for the Somali people in this, especially as the United States claims to be the one standing up for Somalia. As Mr. Nagi said above, Somalia is a counterterrorism planners dream. As long as Somalia is kept destabilized, aka stability operations, it will be an easy target.

Somalia is just the beginning, it may have oil, but it looks like there is a lot more oil in the African great lakes region, beginning with the recent finds in Uganda. Southern Sudan has oil and is the site of US corporate and international land grabs. The DRC has vast quantities of minerals including 80% of the world’s coltan. Its mineral resources are considered a US strategic interest. That is why the US helped overthrow Lumumba and installed Mobutu, dismissing Mobutu’s 30 years of failed government as an African problem. For US purposes, Mobutu was a success, he was a faithful client. When he was no longer useful, the US helped overthrow him.

The term terrorist is evolving to mean anyone who questions or stands up to the US in its quest to coopt and control oil, minerals, and other natural resources, or who stands up to the forces of global capitalism. A “terrorist” is a political or economic opponent, only a few of them have violent intentions towards the US.

A robot assassin looks like just the tool to eliminate an obstructive political opponent. It appears risk free and cost free to the US. Few outside the neighborhood will care about the collateral damage, the many innocent civilians killed at the same time. The term terrorist is necessary to give political assassination a figleaf of legality.

From africa comments:

… US targeted killings of Al Qaeda terrorists is a legal act of self defense under international law. (You can get a free pdf download, here, at SSRN, “Targeted Killing in US Counterterrorism and Law.

… US law and regulation contains a ban on “assassination.” Assassination in that specific legal sense is prohibited – but also not defined in US law or regulation. However, successive administrations dating from the 1980s have taken the position – e.g., the speech in 1989 to which the article refers – that a targeted killing is not (prohibited) “assassination” if it meets the requirements for self-defense under international law, including self defense against terrorists.

The Reaper may be a perfect tool for global capitalism to assassinate and decapitate any growing movements and civil society groups with economic or democratic aspirations. Jeremy Keenan reminds us that an estimated 55% of the world population are left out of global capitalism, neither producers or consumers. Many of these live in Africa. If these people continue to be marginalized, the profits and benefits will continue and increase for the elites controlling their resources now. So the elites have strong incentives to prevent and crush democratic movements.

Jeremy Keenan describes this use of the war on terror and the reason for the Africa Command in: Demystifying Africa’s Security:

[The] Bush administration decided to use a military structure to secure access to and control over African oil and opted to use the GWOT as the justification, rather than acknowledging that US military intervention in Africa was about resource control.

emphasizing the threat posed by the marginalised and excluded, Africa’s ‘dangerous classes’, and the role of aid and ‘development’ … merging the development and security agendas so that the two have become almost indistinguishable

The securitisation of Africa has been further promoted by drawing attention to the association between underdevelopment and conflict and the various discourses on ‘failed states’, which, in no time at all, were linked directly to the 9/11 attacks. It took only a few steps – from ‘poverty’ and ‘underdevelopment’ to ‘conflict’, ‘fear’, ‘failed states’ and the black holes of the ‘ungoverned areas’ – to recast Africa as the ‘Heart of Darkness’ and to transpose the GWOT into its vast ungoverned spaces: the DRC, Sudan, Somalia and EUCOM’s infamous ‘swamp of terror’, the Sahara.

Far from bringing ‘peace and security’ to Africa, AFRICOM is directly instrumental in creating conflict and insecurity.

Social scientists unfamiliar with the new ‘security development’ discourse may find its emphasis on ‘security’ and ‘development’ seductive. What more does Africa need? However, as Abrahamsen (2005) has already pointed out, London and Washington have used this discourse to link Africa’s underdevelopment with the threat of terrorism. And the regimes of Africa have followed suit: many are now using the pretext of the GWOT to repress legitimate opposition by linking it with ‘terrorism’. … Above all, the ‘security-development’ discourse explicitly links Africa’s poor, her ‘dangerous classes’ as Abrahamsen calls them, the marginalised and excluded to international security ‘problems’ and ‘terrorism’.

And so the war on terror becomes the war on the poor and marginalized, the “dangerous” classes. Keenan gives us a number of examples of countries in Africa where this is already happening. If the US is using the Reaper to kill, and is not engaged in open war with a country, it is using the Reaper as a tool of political assassination, killing opposing leaders and their families to control the economy and the politics.